US Militia Movement In Retreat
By Kevin Johnson

WASHINGTON -- Patriotism stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks has hastened the demise of the anti-government militia movement, an anti-hate group says.
The number of armed citizen militias and ''patriot'' groups associated with extreme anti-government doctrine dropped by nearly 20% in 2001, according to a new analysis by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The movement rocketed to prominence after the U.S. government's 1993 assault on an armed religious group's compound near Waco, Texas. Membership in militias had been sliding steadily since 1996, after militia sympathizer Timothy McVeigh was identified as the mastermind in the Oklahoma City bombing. But analysts and even some militia leaders acknowledge that activity has slowed and membership rolls have thinned significantly since Sept. 11.
''Sept. 11 may well have been the capper of this whole decline,'' says Mark Potok, editor of Intelligence Report, the non-profit law center's magazine. ''This moribund movement may now be headed for the grave.''
The law center, based in Montgomery, Ala., has tracked the militia movement's rise in the early 1990s and its decline during the past five years.
At its height in 1996, the movement included 858 groups, many of them galvanized by federal agents' raid of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco that resulted in 80 deaths.
Others were rallied to action by a collective distrust of the Clinton administration, its efforts to restrict the availability of firearms and its peacetime reduction of the military.
''Now, we don't seem to have an objective or target,'' says Norm Olson, a senior adviser to the Michigan Militia Corps-Wolverines, one of the first groups of its kind to emerge in the early 1990s.
''It's almost as if there is total loss of faith that we can make any kind of difference. There is a general lethargy; people are giving up hope,'' Olson says.
In the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the hard-line anti-government group actually offered its citizen army to the U.S. government to help defend the homeland. Government officials declined.
''If the militia did not offer its services in support of America's security now, it would renege from its stated purpose for being: We have vowed to defend America with our lives if necessary,'' Michigan Militia Commander Gordon Dean said at the time.
''The whole atmosphere of the country has changed,'' says Jim McKinzey, a lieutenant in the Missouri 51st Militia.
At one time, McKinzey's group, based near Kansas City, had more than 125 ''hard-core'' members. Now there are about 50, he says, and ''you really have to hit the phone tree and e-mail to get people together.
''You . . . look at what happened on Sept. 11 and understand that there are other enemies out there than Uncle Sam,'' McKinzey says.
Copyright © 2002 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.


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