WASHINGTON, D.C.—As U.S. intelligence agents strained to pick up conversations among Al Qaeda members gloating over their September 11 success, soldiers in America’s racist underground gnashed their teeth over not having carried out the attack on “Jew York” themselves.
“It’s a DISGRACE that in a population of at least 150 MILLION White/Aryan Americans, we provide so FEW that are willing to do the same,” bemoaned Rocky Suhayda, Nazi Party chairman from Eastpointe, Michigan. “[A] bunch of towel head/sand niggers put our great White Movement to SHAME.”
Suhayda’s chilling online comments, collected with other racist postings by the Southern Poverty Law Center, merely hint at the virulent hatred shared by thousands of extremists within U.S. borders. Though the feds may have considered the white-power gang too dumb (not to mention lazy) to launch a major assault, the recent anthrax attacks look increasingly like their doing. Some of these people have yearned to acquire the means of biochemical warfare, and today they’re openly calling for an assault.
“The current events . . . have caused me to activate my unit,” wrote Paul R. Mullet, the Aryan Nations chief in Minnesota. “Please be advised that the time for Aryans to attack is now, not later.”
Scarier still, there’s always the chance the white-power guys in the U.S. wouldn’t have to do this all by themselves. Fueled by a shared anti-Semitism, the white supremacists of America’s hinterland have forged links with extremists in Europe—and perhaps even the Middle East.
Last week, U.S. News & World Report revealed that officials at the Defense Department were speculating that the late Timothy McVeigh, a Gulf War veteran, acted as an Iraqi agent when he bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. That might seem a far-fetched idea, but federal agents initially put out a global dragnet, thinking the terrorists might have been Middle Eastern. Later, in preparation for McVeigh’s trial, defense attorney Stephen Jones traveled around the world, stopping off in London, Tel Aviv, Belfast, and Manila.
In the Philippines, Jones found people who told him Terry Nichols had met there with Middle Eastern terrorists, including Ramzi Yousef (the kingpin of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing) and, possibly, Osama bin Laden himself. Al Qaeda was using the Philippines partly as an auxiliary base and partly as a pool of new recruits. McVeigh ridiculed the idea of Nichols’s involvement in the Philippines, but Jones reports that his client later admitted it was possible.
What makes these theories even more bizarre is that the leaders seem to have crossed paths and exchanged notes. At one moment, they all came together in one wing of a federal prison in Colorado. There, McVeigh, Yousef, and the Unabomber met and became buds.
A few far-right groups have in the past sought to embrace the Arabs as a way of getting at Jews. In 1990, Gene Schroeder, a leader of the underground Posse Comitatus, accompanied a group of farmers to Washington for a powwow in the Iraqi embassy. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Dennis Mahon, then a Tulsa Klan leader, organized a small demonstration in that city to support Saddam Hussein, for which he says he got a couple of hundred dollars in an unmarked envelope from the Iraqi government.
White-power interest in bioterrorism goes back to the early 1980s, when movement leader Bob Miles gave one group called the Covenant Sword and Arm of the Lord a barrel of cyanide to poison a major city’s water supply. The Aryan Republican Army, a cadre of bank robbers who claimed they were robbing banks to finance the revolution, produced a video with one of its people dressed in a hazmat suit.
In 1993, Thomas Lavy, a member of the Aryan Nations, mixed up a batch of ricin, a deadly poison made from castor beans. The FBI arrested Lavy in Arkansas, and he hung himself in jail before anyone could figure out what he was up to. That same year, a Minnesota woman went to the cops complaining her husband had leveled a shotgun at her. She told of a stash of poison, which on investigation also turned out to be ricin, meant for U.S. marshals who seized a friend’s property for tax violations.
In 1995, a onetime Aryan Nations member was convicted of wire fraud after buying three vials of inert bubonic bacteria from a Maryland laboratory. Interviewed in 1997 by CNN, Larry Wayne Harris explained, “I said, ‘OK, is there any regulation governing this stuff?’ And they said, ‘No, there’s none whatsoever. There is no regulations.’ ” Harris stored the plague in the glove compartment of his car. “I just threw it in, locked it up.” Harris was later arrested for suspected possession of anthrax, but charges were dropped when the specimens turned out to be vaccines.
Law-enforcement insiders say whoever is behind the recent anthrax attacks will likely fit one of two prototypes. The first is that of the Unabomber, a lone anarchist nut operating with no outside support. The second is that of Eric Rudolph, a follower of racist right groups and suspected bomber of abortion clinics. Rudolph has spent the past few years on the lam, after disappearing in the North Carolina mountains.
Their cases may provide a clue as to what’s going to happen next, says Mike Reynolds, a former Southern Poverty Law Center investigator. Both men slowly perfected their weaponry, with Kaczynski trying one bomb after another, starting in 1978, until a 1985 explosion killed a man in Sacramento. He would make his bombs in Montana and then transport them to sites as far away as Berkeley, California.
Cops say Rudolph also perfected his bombs. He stands accused of beginning with the clumsy backpack explosion at Centennial Park in Atlanta during the Olympics, then of setting one off in a local gay bar. No one was killed. By the time he allegedly got to the Birmingham, Alabama, abortion clinic, he was using timers and setting off the explosions by radio from a car. The message from both these cases is pretty simple: Hone the technique and use it with astounding success again and again.
That abortion clinics have received hundreds of new anthrax threats—on top of the ones they’ve gotten in years past—serves to shore up the theory that current attacks are domestic. Nor is raw anthrax a particularly hard weapon to get, since it requires only a specimen, an incubator, and hate.
As the bioattacks unfolded, William Pierce, a former physics teacher and current leader of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, suggested Americans shouldn’t be surprised. “What the people mailing out anthrax-infected letters are giving us is just a reminder that we can have no real security—in fact, no real future for our children and our grandchildren—until we regain control of our own government,” Pierce wrote online. “You must not believe the generals and the politicians who tell you confidently from your television screens that if we just use enough cruise missiles and smart bombs and kill enough of the Jews’ enemies in the Middle East we’ll be safe again. Americans will never again have real security or real peace of mind until they have regained control of their government and their media.”
Additional reporting: Arison-Lisabeth Anderson, Meritxell Mir, and Sarah Park