When militia members talk about seeing black helicopters--and they talk about it all the time--they might as well be talking about extraterrestrials as far as the rest of us are concerned.

When their "Intelligence Survey" states that a black helicopter was seen hovering above the federal building in Oklahoma City shortly before the deadly explosion, it confirms the general impression that the level of mental instability among patriots borders on what we see in the paranoid schizophrenic world of the homeless population.

The difference is that the patriots are armed to the teeth.
It never occurs to us that there might actually be black helicopters.
Harvey Perritt, chief of operations and intelligence for the U.S. Army Public Affairs Office at the Pentagon, readily confirms the existence of black helicopters.

"They are part of Special Operations Aviation," says Perritt. "They are part of the group that includes the Green Berets, Rangers and SEALs. They fly low level, high speed at night, as much as 120 knots, 50 feet off the ground. During Desert Storm, they led the attack to take out Baghdad's air defenses. They are loaded with all kinds of antennas. We have some Hueys, mostly Black Hawks, as well as Apaches and Chinooks.

"Why do you see them in Arizona? Because we have another component that we don't talk about much, which is antiterrorism. And we train in all environments, including the desert."

Perritt says the number of black helicopters is classified.
Explanations from the Pentagon, of course, do not put the fears of militia members to rest; their fears have little to do with empirical data.

Although there is usually some reality to what the patriots fear, the problem is their need to take a grain of truth and build a very odd beach of shifting sands. Black helicopters aren't simply black helicopters; they're part of a conspiracy. And because the militias' communication systems bypass traditional media, errors seldom get corrected. Misinformation lives forever.

When the patriots' "Intelligence Survey," for example, claims federal agents were evacuated from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building prior to the explosion, thereby confirming the government was behind the blast, the militias are flat-out wrong.

No FBI agents were injured because they are headquartered in another building.

But other federal agencies suffered terrible losses.
On the morning of the blast, five employees, a normal contingent of the BATF, were in the federal building. All five were injured, two seriously. Thirteen employees and agents with Customs, DEA and the Secret Service were killed in the explosion.

"I remember the wall coming down on me, and the ceiling, and the shock wave coming down and flipping me in my chair," BATF agent Luke Framey told the Oklahoma City morning paper.

The charge in the "Intelligence Survey" that there was a second blast, covered up by the government, had, again, a grain of fact attached to it. But no more than a grain.

In an interview several weeks ago, Dr. Charles Mankin, director of the Oklahoma Geological Survey, told me his seismographs did record more than one set of vibrations from the Oklahoma City blast.

"Everybody's scratching their heads," Dr. Mankin said then. "There is a second event. It is clearly there. I can tell you what it's not, but I can't tell you what it is. The simplest explanation is that it's a blast."

At that time, Fred Nichols, general manager of Controlled Demolitions Inc., the company that brought down the remains of the building in Oklahoma City, warned against jumping to any conclusion about a second blast.

"This is an extremely complex issue," Nichols said. "It doesn't lend itself to easy analysis, which is all anyone has had time to do. Dr. Mankin's equipment are earthquake machines. They are not tuned to read blasts."

Numerous witnesses on site--and you don't have to rely upon federal agents--also reject the theory of multiple blasts. Detective Bob Horath and his partner with the Phoenix bomb squad accompanied the 62 Phoenix firefighters who rushed to Oklahoma City to deal with the carnage.

"My partner and I arrived the morning after the blast," says Horath. "We worked the crime scene for five days. If there was a second explosion, we would have known about it. . . . There was no indication of any other device planted anywhere."

Late last week, the Associated Press reported that the U.S. Geological Survey studied the controlled blast that demolished what remained of the federal building.

Seismographs recorded the same, multiple vibration peaks for that blast as were recorded for the initial bombing--providing all but definitive evidence that only one bomb exploded at the Murrah Federal Building on April 19.

Let's not quibble about the anti-Semitism and the racism that coil through the militia movement; and, yes, its members clearly have a deep-seated need to turn toothpicks of isolated data into forests of conspiracy. This is not the point.

Are we supposed to suspend constitutional safeguards to go after people like Cheryl Burgess who are engaged in that fundamental American activity: carping and complaining about the government?

Are you really threatened by Cheryl Burgess or simply infuriated by her bullheaded lack of reason?

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