ARE THESE FOLKS REALLY A THREAT TO NATIONAL SECURITY?
Cheryl Burgess, a member of the Wickenburg Town Council, said she had documents and information about the explosion in Oklahoma City.
A self-described Arizona patriot, Burgess is a faithful trooper in the militia culture that President Bill Clinton has blamed for the bombing of the federal building.
Today, Cheryl Burgess is looked at more seriously by people who used to think of her--when they thought of her at all--as hard evidence of the diversity of God's bounty upon this Earth. Once regarded merely as eccentric, this politician is now viewed with alarm.
In fact, two weeks after the bomb went off in Oklahoma City, Burgess was pilloried by a fellow member of the town council for her obsession with U.N. troops, black helicopters, the federal government in general and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in particular. During the tongue-lashing of Burgess, a muscular man sat off to the side and watched the fireworks in Wickenburg's Town Hall. The silent visitor resembled the sketch of the elusive John Doe No. 2. The similarity of the stranger to the likeness of the federal fugitive was so striking that a shaken observer phoned in a tip to the FBI.
Despite the rash of rumors spreading across the landscape, I couldn't simply dismiss the possibility that Cheryl Burgess might know something. It is a fact that Arizona's trailer parks have already coughed up Timothy McVeigh, Steven Colbern, Dennis Kemp Malzac, Michael Fortier and Preston Haney, as well as ersatz John Doe No. 2s Robert Jacks and Gary Land, all of whom have been arrested, detained or questioned closely since the blast. The tin-can homes that sheltered these weapons enthusiasts are all within hailing distance of Councilmember Burgess, fitting neatly inside a roughly 130-mile radius--by western standards, a very small piece of real estate indeed.
After the Oklahoma blast, President Clinton cited the Dungeons and Dragons netherworld of the militias and McVeigh's links to these paramilitary groups as justification for his Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995. As a package, the president's bill plays fast and loose with the constitutional safeguards of our civil liberties. This legislation calls for 1,000 new federal agents, wide-ranging wiretaps, increased access to financial and credit records, and the establishment of a Domestic Counterterrorism Center.
The president has also asked Congress to suspend the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, a law that bars the use of America's armed forces in domestic law enforcement.
The problem with Clinton's finger-pointing at the patriot movement is that no one has been able to demonstrate that Timothy McVeigh is, in fact, part of the militia.
McVeigh has allegedly denied any association with militias. And militias across the country have rejected the idea that the suspected bomber was a fellow patriot.
Nor have federal agents established any firm militia ties to Colbern, Malzac, Fortier, Haney, Jacks and Land.
If the three most prominent targets of the FBI investigation, McVeigh, Fortier and Terry Nichols, have anything in common, it certainly is not the militia: What all three men share are their days together in the U.S. Army.
The pieces in the bombing puzzle, at least as described by President Clinton, do not fit. If Cheryl Burgess had an answer, I wanted to hear it.
When I arrived in Wickenburg, Councilmember Burgess had a seven-page fax and a photograph that she wanted me to review.
The photograph Burgess points to is in the May issue of Soldier of Fortune, attached to a story titled "Wacogate." The black-and-white print on page 50 shows three men, all of whom are identified as government agents, one of whom, the magazine claims, attended the trial of the Branch Davidians with a machine gun hidden under his trench coat.
Burgess says that the "BATF agent, the one with the burp gun," is a dead ringer for Timothy McVeigh.
"Of course, photographs can be misleading, but we've done an analysis of his ear in relation to his jaw," she notes.
Whatever the results might be of Burgess' phrenological survey, it cannot mask the problem that the man in the photo looks about as much like McVeigh as does Burgess herself.
The seven-page fax Burgess possesses was distributed throughout America's militia outposts on April 22, three days after the explosion in Oklahoma City.
It is a remarkable document, part of an alternative communication system that bypasses traditional media and unites the patriot movement by means of ham radio, videotape, fax machine and the Internet. The communiqu has been ignored by the press even though it is read as gospel by the militias.
The directive, labeled "Intelligence Survey," contains a quiver full of barbed allegations: There were two explosions, ten seconds apart, in Oklahoma. The government and the media hid this fact. A third bomb was discovered. A pair of witnesses saw a black helicopter over the top of the federal building shortly before the explosion. The "top personnel" of the BATF and other federal departments were moved out of the building 24 hours before the blast, ensuring that none of the agents or their children would be injured during the explosion.
The writer concludes that a "clandestine inner-federal government plot" was behind the bombing, "thus creating a mental crisis in the minds of everyone . . . "
The fax is signed, "James P. Wickstrom, former director of Counter-Intelligence of Posse Comitatus of the U.S., former Constitution Party U.S. Senate and Gov. candidate of Wisconsin, former VFW Post-Commander in Wisconsin."
Burgess believes the federal government blew up its own building in Oklahoma City and killed all those people, like the Nazis who torched the Reichstag building in Germany, to precipitate a crisis that would justify the government going after the militia movement.
Instead of dismissing Burgess out of hand, I decided to punch through the allegations in her inflammatory "Intelligence Survey."
The available evidence says Burgess and the survey are 100 percent, 180 degrees wrong. But being wrong--even extraordinarily, crazily wrong--ought not make you a state enemy.
Cheryl Burgess is a middle-aged redhead whose titian locks are sometimes so frizzy you think she's been up all night dwelling on things.
And she has.
"Paranoia is the cutting edge of the realization that all things are connected," she tells me, snapping her cigarettes back into their leather pouch.
While some have followed the path of the Tao, Cheryl Burgess has been seat-belted on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.
Her life has been contentious.
Her current obsession with the Constitution is just that, the current obsession. Before the militia period, there was the narcotics period.
"Drugs are wrong, I am very much against drugs. But I was very naive in those days," says Burgess, explaining how in 1983 she had come to be married to a man who was a drug dealer.
"For a year, I didn't even know he was doing drugs. All I knew was I couldn't understand his mood swings.
"He chased me with cars, and he chased me with guns. One time, he sat on top of me and put a gun in my mouth."
Burgess quit the marriage after two years and in 1985 went to work as a volunteer informant with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
"Everyone I knew then was involved with drugs, especially meth and coke."
In 1987, weary of undercover work, she tried to quit the life. Old patterns, however, are hard to break. About the same time, she bumped into an old friend, Jim Seagoe.
"Jimmy was heavily involved in drugs, but he wanted to get out and start over. He was murdered three months after we moved to Idaho."
She returned to the one thing she knew, building cases as a drug snitch, this time on behalf of the U.S. Marshal's Office.
Her first husband popped up again in 1990 in Idaho, claiming to have cancer and the need to spend his remaining days with the woman he loved. She believed him.
"It was good for a while there, and then he tried to kill me," recalls Burgess. She swore out assault charges on her husband, who responded by disappearing with her truck.
In 1992, she returned to her hometown, Wickenburg, and in the midst of a recall ran for the town council on the reform ticket and won.
Your mind does not need the all-terrain capacity of a Humvee to travel from the paranoia of sleazy drug dealers to the paranoia of one-world government. For Burgess, the journey is a short one.
Burgess understands that people may find her views outrageous, if not downright crazy. But she is not dismayed by what others think of her and her colleagues in the militia movement. "We all have, I would say, above-average IQs."
While the rest of Arizona is tuned in to the playoff game between the Phoenix Suns and the Houston Rockets, Cheryl Burgess and the seven members of what she describes as her "militia pod" are meeting in a Wickenburg apartment to study the Constitution and discuss the bombing in Oklahoma City. There is no radio or television tuned to the game; no one, over the course of several hours, inquires about the score. In one bedroom, more than 600 law books accumulated by heavy-equipment operator David Riggs sit ready, should a legal question arise.
Some of these folks have been poring over tracts for years. In addition to this home-study group, several members attend three-hour classes on Saturday morning in a Mesa church to research English common law, the foundation of militia theory. Although all are proficient with firearms, the more ardent plan to take advanced training in Phoenix from Special Forces hero and former presidential candidate Bo Gritz.
Those present include two miners, a farrier, a check-out clerk at Bashas', a retired electrician, an ex-sheriff, Riggs and Burgess. Another militia member who had just completed a session in tactical shotgun maneuvers estimates that there are almost 50 patriots in greater Wickenburg. The apartment is no less noisy for their absence.
One of the most talkative is Charlie Wright, an elderly veteran closing in on 80.
Wearing a cap emblazoned with "I Dislike Our Presidents," Wright is something of a legend in these parts. It was Charlie Wright, and none other, who ran off the U.N. troops that invaded Wickenburg.
It is sacred scripture among militia groups that the American establishment has turned over control of this country to an international cartel whose army is the armed forces of the United Nations. Burgess possesses literature that shows Irish troops occupying California in the near future. To the south, Mongolian soldiers will oversee post-NAFTA Mexico.
Charlie Wright's faith in these verities was strengthened by what happened last summer. It is the only recorded instance of patriots confronting their worst nightmare, and it is instructive.
On August 18, 1994, a member of the militia spotted 18 Germans camped six miles west of Wickenburg. Attached to their country's air force, the Germans, primarily psychologists, were undergoing desert survival training. Word of their presence spread like wildfire among the militia, who drove out to the Germans and demanded an explanation of why they were on American soil.
A German officer tried to reassure the Americans: "We are U.N. peacekeepers."
Despite this provocative confirmation of its fears, the militia delegation left without incident.
Charlie Wright, however, returned on his own and ran off the Germans.
Asked at the study group what he had said to the foreigners to drive them away, Wright responds, "I asked them, 'What is your national debt to the International Monetary Fund?'"
Another militia member's account of Wright's actions is more plausible.
"Old Charlie opened up his trunk and showed the Germans his hardware. He told them if they didn't clear out peacefully, he would light the place up."
The entire affair, however, was more farcical than menacing. The local sheriffs never even issued Wright a ticket. Even Soldier of Fortune hooted at the encounter in a cover story.
But Wright is undaunted by the magazine's lampooning. On the night the study group gathers in Burgess' apartment, he says his only mistake was in letting the Germans go instead of marching them into town as prisoners.
When Wright pauses to draw a breath, others plunge into the momentary silence.
One-world government, foreign troops on American soil, United Nations treachery, and, above all else, the Federal Reserve--the words and theories pour out faster than notes can be taken. People speak out excitedly for the new pair of ears in the room, "And another thing . . . " or "Oh, oh . . . "
"They're giving our country away. Money flows freely overseas. They spent $160 million to house Russian soldiers, but there is no money for our own veterans. . . . We slave all week and have no enjoyment left. There is no money; it's all taken in taxes. . . . More firearms were sold in the last two years than in the last 15 combined, all because of the Brady bill. . . . I didn't go to school in Russia like Bill Clinton. . . . The Nazis didn't kill as many Jews as people think. Lots of Poles and Germans died in those camps, too. . . . They have to target militias--that's what the bombing was all about, to justify taking our guns. . . . There will be all-out war if they come to try to take our guns . . . "
The litany of complaints is fit into a historical analysis unlike anything you were taught in school. If history is indeed written by the winners, Cheryl Burgess and her colleagues are studying from a text penned by the losers.
They actually trace the root causes of today's conflicts all the way back to Biblical times, contending that there are two classes of Jews, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, that define good and evil. They have identified what they call the "Rothschild banking conspiracy," at the time of the French Revolution, as a pivotal example of this theory.
This duality--the world as it appears to most, and the world as it really is, controlled by secret societies, yet understood by militia members--saturates their political analysis.
Burgess claims there are really two groups residing in this country, a quasi-secret elite of "Americans" and the rest of us "citizens."
The distinction has to do with a convoluted, seemingly inexplicable relationship between the 14th Amendment's granting citizenship to blacks and FDR's New Deal. The result is that where once we had God-given rights under the Constitution, now we have all become slaves to rules.
Burgess and her colleagues chafe under these rules, yearning for a day of unfettered constitutional rights.
People who subscribe to this arcane theory often send local officials paperwork renouncing their "14th Amendment citizenship" in a futile effort to disentangle themselves from the government.
During the meeting of the study group, Wright hands over a Congressional Record transcript, which Riggs proceeds to read aloud.
It is a long speech given on the floor of the House by Representative Louis T. McFadden in the 1930s. Riggs does not read a summary, nor does he limit himself to the interesting parts highlighted in yellow underliner. He reads the entire tirade, a ringing harangue about the evils of the Federal Reserve system with its paper money and international contracts. As Riggs reads, Burgess passes around a bowl of hard candies.
At the conclusion of the McFadden speech, hard candies long since sucked away, Wright tells the group that Congressman McFadden died mysteriously after a state dinner.
"He was the onliest one that was poisoned at the banquet."
Last June, on official Town of Wickenburg stationery, Burgess spelled out her beliefs in a notorious 12-page position paper in which, among other astounding claims, she asserted that "300,000 Russian, Yugoslavian and Korean troops have been dropped by parachute quietly into America."
Citing presidential orders, she repeats in her position paper a militia cornerstone: FEMA is the federal agency that will govern America under martial law.
There is no chipping away at even the most far-fetched of Burgess' beliefs.
Told that the beef most Arizonans had with FEMA is that the federal relief agency was not very efficient during the flooding of the Colorado River, Burgess has a ready reply. FEMA wasn't efficient, she says, because disaster aid isn't actually its job; that's just a cover story. FEMA is really set up to take over the country.
Given how strongly she feels, it is only natural to wonder what she would do to advance the militia agenda as an elected official. She replies in an instant.
"I would fire Harry Craig if I could," she says, referring to the town attorney. "I would fire his ass in a second, and he knows it."
Cheryl Burgess' war with the town attorney shows, once again, that all politics is local, even constitutional politics involving an international banking conspiracy and U.N. troops.
Burgess' ongoing legal battle with Craig is the longest-running courtroom drama in the history of Wickenburg, a town founded in 1909.
They are fighting over Cheryl's dogs.
Like a refugee from a George Booth cartoon in the New Yorker, Burgess' life is covered in dog hair. She favors chows, husky-looking brutes that lean to matted fur and slobber. Her official town council portrait in Town Hall shows Cheryl with a large red example of the species.
The other 40-some dogs she is alleged to have kept at one time or another in her downtown apartment did not sit for the photographer.
Burgess has been found guilty on 12 of 13 counts lodged against her by Craig. All of these convictions--dogs running wild, no tags, operating an unlicensed kennel--are on appeal. In nearby Yarnell Justice Court, she pleaded guilty to three of the 14 dog counts lodged against her in that jurisdiction over the operation of a kennel. During the Memorial Day weekend, more charges were lodged in Wickenburg.
Burgess has fought these cases with rabid fury. She has fought these cases on constitutional grounds and any other ground that would provide momentary footing.
She questioned her elderly neighbor, Emma McCandless, who filed the original complaint, about the physics of dog barking, demanding to know the elevation in feet between their two yards, linear distance and the speed with which a dog yap travels.
"Your dogs run wild when they get out," an exasperated McCandless told the court. "They run all over the neighborhood. They attack other dogs, and they are constantly in our yard going to the bathroom on our tires, barking at us. We can't even go out in our backyard."
McCandless, who retired to Wickenburg with her sick husband for peace and quiet, kept a three-month log registering barking dogs, incessantly barking dogs, at all hours of the night and early morning. She and her husband noted in their written victim's report that the stench was overwhelming.
Burgess told the court that people lurked in her bushes, that neighborhood boys broke into a nearby restaurant, stole steaks and flipped the meat to her dogs. "Even recently, someone had opened my gate there. There's lots of strange things going on for someone wanting my dogs to run, wanting these things to happen. Because I don't believe these things are accidental things."
Craig was not moved by the case Burgess presented, telling the judge, "I think the court can very well discount Ms. Burgess' testimony, because it is disjointed, confused, and maybe her memory is gone, or maybe, actually, she's falsifying it."
Burgess filed a bar complaint, which was dismissed, accusing Craig of altering evidence.
She also introduced into the court records the constitutional arguments that are the bedrock of her militia faith.
Burgess and her colleagues believe that as free people, Americans are not subject to licenses, that only slaves need permits from the states.
She does not need a driver's license, a car registration or a marriage license. And she certainly does not need dog tags.
"I'm not a 14th Amendment citizen," Burgess told the court. "I am simply an inhabitant of the state of Arizona . . . and therefore the statutes and laws as presented in these ordinances do not even apply to me."
This argument has yet to find favor with a judge.
Burgess also claimed Arizona's dog laws were unconstitutional because the state legislature that passed the statute contained lawyers.
Burgess and her militia colleagues view the bar as another secret society. Bar members stand in open defiance of the Constitution, she claims, because they have accepted titles of English nobility--esquire and squire--a legal insult to common law.
While Burgess was educating the local judiciary, Channel 12 aired an investigation on problem kennels whose slovenly practices inadvertently promote inbreeding and disease.
Though Burgess was not identified by name, her operation, including "an obviously sick dog" with a persistent mange problem, was highlighted in the on-air segment.
The television reporter counted "15 to 20 dogs in and around the apartment" and another 25 out at her kennel.
To Cheryl Burgess, the problem is not her dogs. The problem is government regulations that hound a person to distraction. Burgess does not need to look over her shoulder for black helicopters; she has Harry Craig.
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?
Rational discourse is not the basis of the militia movement. Theirs is a religion; as such, it is beyond common sense.
Deep-faith patriots are almost mystical in their anger against the federal government and Bill Clinton.
Last summer, Ron Elliot, a resident of Wickenburg and a friend of Cheryl Burgess, left town headed for the remote village of Crown King in the nearby Bradshaw Mountains. He had a case of dynamite strapped to his back.
Though stricken with cancer, Elliot did not focus upon his illness when he talked to sheriff's deputies who tried to prevent the man's suicide. The former Green Beret Vietnam veteran told the lawmen that he was furious at President Clinton's participation in Europe's V-E Day celebration of the triumph over Nazi Germany. The despondent veteran was enraged that Clinton, who ducked the war in southeast Asia, participated in a military observance.
After explaining his thoughts, Elliot detonated the dynamite.
There wasn't enough left of him to hold a closed-thimble service.
It would be a mistake to build a case against President Clinton's policies based upon the demented actions of one man.
So, too, it is a mistake to build federal policy upon the deranged behavior of Timothy McVeigh, even if Bill Clinton could connect McVeigh to the militia movement, which he cannot.
You do not stop psychopaths with wiretaps.
There is a national sentiment, reflected in the polls, to crack down on the patriots, the militias, the white supremacists and other fellow travelers in the aftermath of the 168 bodies recovered in Oklahoma City.
The mood is such that the ACLU was literally barred from testifying before Senator Arlen Specter's Judiciary Committee during the April 27 hearing on Clinton's antiterrorism legislation.
Commenting on the bill, ACLU's legislative director Lauren Murphy Lee labeled it "one of this country's periodic descents into hysteria and overreaction."
Under Clinton's legislation, foreigners could be deported without the government showing cause. You'd have to take the government's word that something was wrong. The potential for abuse of American citizens is just as bad.
The civil liberties watchdogs are particularly concerned that Clinton's bill would allow the FBI to infiltrate organizations without any reasonable proof that a federal law was broken, which the ACLU says is "a radical departure from current rules."
It was just such a departure that created one of the militia movement's martyrs.
In 1992, the BATF tried to force Randy Weaver, a man with no criminal record, to infiltrate a neo-Nazi group. A BATF informant had convinced Weaver, who barely made ends meet for his family, to saw off two shotgun barrels shorter than the law allowed and sell the weapon to the informant. Using this firearms violation as leverage, the BATF then tried to make a snitch of Weaver, an admitted white separatist.
After Weaver declined, then missed his court date, six marshals sneaked onto his property. The family dog raised a ruckus as the half-dozen strangers advanced, camouflaged and faces painted. When Weaver's 14-year-old son and a friend went to investigate, the marshals shot the dog dead. The two young men returned fire, killing a marshal. The 14-year-old in turn was shot to death. Later, lawmen would wound Weaver and kill his wife in a doorway as she held their ten-month-old daughter.
A grand jury eventually absolved Weaver of any wrongdoing except his failure to make his initial court appearance.
In the uproar over the National Rifle Association's clumsy fund-raising letter that identified federal agents as "jackbooted thugs," the public and the press have completely lost sight that militia members and patriots have legitimate beefs with the conduct of federal agents.
It wasn't the NRA fund-raising letter that blew the whistle on the excess of federal agents.
On January 10, 1994, Ira Glasser, executive director of the ACLU, contacted President Clinton seeking relief.
Glasser wrote that there were numerous cases, some of which he detailed, that merited investigation. He cited chapter and verse, case after case, of lying informants, entrapment, outrageous and forcible entry ending with wanton killing by federal agents.
In the summer of 1991, I covered the prosecution of Earth First! in Prescott, Arizona. The FBI infiltrated the environmental group when a handsome agent pitched romance to a lonely woman who sometimes fantasized about striking a blow for Mother Nature. The band of eco-warriors was arrested, prosecuted and sent to prison when its members tried to topple a power line linked to a nuclear energy plant.
The deed would never have come to pass without the FBI agent who channeled the group's unfocused anger into action; the agent fanned the heated dialogue, supplied the tools, as well as the car and even the gas to fuel the trip. Not content to jail the perpetrators, the government reached out and charged the national founder of Earth First!, Dave Foreman.
As part of a chilling plea agreement, the federal government insisted upon silencing Foreman's articulate voice. He was ordered never to talk again of Earth First!.
In legal circles, the conduct of federal agents is no secret.
Randy Weaver wasn't represented in court by a right-wing paranoid. His lawyer was Gerry Spence.
The survivors of the Branch Davidian holocaust are represented by Ramsey Clark.
These men are lifelong civil libertarians.
Yes, there are elements of the militia movement which, in isolated cases, go off the reservation and become a threat.
In the mid-'80s, tax protester Gordon Kohl was killed in a firefight with law enforcement. Closer to home, eight members of the Arizona Patriots were indicted in 1986 for planning to knock over an armored car in a scheme to finance a white supremacist survival camp.
The point is that these criminals are always run to ground under current laws that respect constitutional safeguards.
Now President Clinton wants to give federal agents sweeping new powers citing a national conspiracy that does not exist. Timothy McVeigh, as the evidence shows, is too sick to have ever fit into any movement.
Why isn't it enough to understand McVeigh as an isolated psychopath whose delirium was fueled by the methamphetamine that reduced him to a skeletal frame and helped finance his apocalyptic travels?
The answer isn't very pleasant.
With his Democratic coalition shattered, his domestic agenda up in flames, the U.S. Senate announcing yet another look into Whitewater and indictments flying out of the special prosecutor's investigation in Arkansas, Bill Clinton has found a new source of momentum. He has isolated the militia movement and tar-brushed it with Oklahoma City.
The press has lapped up Clinton's suggestion that blaming the militia movement made sense out of the senseless slaughter in Oklahoma. The coverage has boosted the president's image.
"Clinton's public approval ratings have risen significantly since the bombing April 19," wrote the New York Times' Todd S. Purdum. "The White House is eager to keep the initiative on an issue that makes the president appear tough."
President Clinton is pushing national security legislation to create a new level of spying upon American citizens, target his natural political enemies on the right and enhance his law-and-order credentials.
President Clinton even wants to use American troops to police United States citizens.
The last time such remarkable security measures were in effect, the radio was playing Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Four Dead in Ohio" and psychiatrists' offices were being burglarized for dirt on antiwar dissidents. In those days, Bill Clinton was a pot-smoking, draft-dodging member of a culture Nixon and Kissinger thought was a threat to national security. It was wrong then to turn federal agents loose upon the entire antiwar movement because of the deranged actions of a handful of lunatics in the Weather Underground.
It is wrong now.
The president's proposal is a ruthless and cynical manipulation of a tragedy, but it is not out of character.
I remember Bill Clinton on the campaign trail when he wanted to bolster his crime-fighting image. He didn't think twice before flying home to Arkansas and executing a mentally retarded inmate.
Cheryl Burgess looks at the Constitution through the lens of a crackpot.
But I don't think Burgess and the militia faithful merit the surveillance of a police state because of their controversial notions.
I do believe she has a right to her opinions and her guns. And if she, or her dogs, step over the line, Harry Craig, not J. Edgar Hoover, is the appropriate dogcatcher.
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