Michael J. Whidden,
Unequal Justice: Arabs in America and United States Antiterrorism
Legislation, 69 Fordham L. Rev. 2825, 2853-2860 (May 2001)
FBI statistics indicate that most acts of domestic terrorism are not committed by Muslim or
Arab groups. Indeed, from 1984 to 1998, 95 percent of the terrorist incidents in the United
States were attributed to domestic groups. In the three years after the Oklahoma City bombing,
1996 to 1998, almost 70 percent of all potential terrorist events were attributed to domestic
sources, and the figure climbs to 96 percent if we discount one series of intercepted letter bombs
in 1997. More specifically, in 1993, for example, there were two bombings by an extreme right-wing group in Tacoma, Washington, and nine fire bombings by an animal rights group, the Animal
Liberation Front, in Chicago, Illinois. In 1994, there were no incidents of terrorism at all.
Indeed, when AEDPA was passed in 1996, the looming threat was extreme right-wing domestic
groups, particularly militias.
Militia groups started appearing in 1994. The involvement of Timothy McVeigh, who had
lingered in the militia movement, in Oklahoma City alerted the public to the militia danger but a
number of experts had already forecast the growing threat of right-wing terrorism. In 1994, a
detailed study of terrorism in America by Brent L. Smith warned that "right-wing . . . terrorists
show distinct promise of increasing in number and activity." In October 1994, Morris Dees of
the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno to warn her of the militia
threat. Responding to a congressional request, Kenneth Stern issued a report warning of the
militia movement nine days before the Oklahoma City bombing.
The militia movement is composed of armed, paramilitary, extremist groups and sympathizers
dedicated to armed opposition to the allegedly tyrannical federal government, considered to be
conspiring globally in the "New World Order." The movement consists of unrelated groups
throughout the United States motivated by recent firearm restrictions such as the Brady Law and
fatal law enforcement mistakes in Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas. They are part of a
broader "very, very extreme right-wing" movement that believes in white supremacy, opposition
to abortion, hatred of homosexuality, hatred or fear of foreigners, and isolationism.
While the words of right-wing militia interests are not, and should not, be criminal unto
themselves, they reveal a frightening world view hardly different from that which is expressed by
Arab extremists invoking jihad to justify their violence. A publication of the Militia of Montana
revealed the paranoia that drove their opposition to gun control efforts:
There are individuals in this world, within this country, and in our own government who would
like to rule the world. These power hungry individuals have corrupted our government and are
working on sabotaging our freedom by destroying the Constitution of the United States, in order
to establish the "New World Order." . . . To bring about this New World Order, and ultimately
the single World Government, [they the American people must be disarmed.
William Pierce, the leader of a racist and anti-Semitic group called the National Alliance, wrote
an underground book, The Turner Diaries, which he sells as a "Handbook for White Victory."
Timothy McVeigh had sold the book, his "bible," on the gun show circuit. Over 200,000 copies
of the book have been sold. The 1978 book depicts the bombing of a federal building that is
ominously similar to McVeigh's act and provides a chilling justification for the violence.
It is a heavy burden of responsibility for us to bear since most of the victims of our bomb were
only pawns who were no more committed to the sick philosophy or the racially destructive goals
of the System than we are . . . . But there is no way we can destroy the System without hurting
many thousands of innocent people--no way. It is a cancer too deeply rooted in our flesh. And if
we don't destroy the System before it destroys us--if we don't cut this cancer out of our living
flesh--our whole [White] race will die. Sixteen years after the book's publication, Pierce
remained unrepentant in his hatred when he proclaimed, "millions of white Americans who five
years ago felt so cowed by the government and [the Jewish-]controlled media . . . are becoming
fed up, and their exasperation is giving themcourage" to join his movement.
Violent activity and conspiracies have corresponded with such words and ideology. In the mid-1980s, an Aryan Nation offshoot, The Order, engaged in a rampage of violence to advance its
revolution. Inspired by The Turner Diaries, they counterfeited money, robbed over $4 million,
bombed a synagogue, and killed at least three people in their quest to overthrow the United States
government and establish an exclusively White fascist nation. Law enforcement ultimately
charged twenty-four members for racketeering based on their various conspiracies; twenty-three
people were convicted.
Two confrontations in the early 1990s, at Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas, served as
catalysts for the militia movement. Although the episodes were not deemed official terrorist acts,
these fatal showdowns illustrated the fervent opposition of domestic right-wing groups against the
federal government. In 1992, in Ruby Ridge, white separatist Randy Weaver, with his wife, four
children, and a family friend, resisted well over one hundred law enforcement authorities after
federal marshals attempted to arrest him for failing to make a court date stemming from illegal
gun sales. Protestors for the Weavers carried signs saying "Government Lies, a Patriot Dies,"
"Christians Against Tyranny," and "FBI Burn in Hell." Those in support included Aryan Nation
members, skinheads, and Order members' families. After an eleven-day standoff, the bloodshed
underscored the vehemence of government opposition: three people dead (a federal marshal,
Weaver's wife Vicki and his son Sam) and three people shot (a federal marshal, Weaver, and
The standoff in Waco, Texas truly "galvanized" the militia movement; it is quite possible that
Timothy McVeigh memorialized the Waco events by bombing the Murrah building on its two-year anniversary. Seeking to execute warrants for illegal firearms on the Branch Davidian
compound, federal authorities set off a fifty-one day confrontation which resulted in, initially, a
shootout that killed four federal agents, wounded other agents, killed a few of the Branch
Davidians, and wounded two others and, ultimately, an inferno that killed more than eighty people
including children. Waco, "with its overtones of the abuse of state power" reflected by the
tragedy, stimulated the growth of the militia network. The escalating tension and violence that
the Davidians were willing to absorb in resisting the government again illustrated the depth of
anti- government sentiment.
In this context, the FBI recorded four incidents of right-wing terrorism between 1990 and April
1996 (when The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996(1)
"AEDPA" was signed
into law), including two July 1993 bombings in Washington state, by the American Front
Skinheads--one of a gay bar in Seattle and the other of the NAACP headquarters in Tacoma.
More generally, from 1989 through 1991, the Justice Department reported that the number of
bombing incidents in the United States increased from 1208 to 2499; none were acts of Arab
terrorism. In 1993, there were forty-three deaths and over three hundred injuries due to
bombings not tied to international terrorist groups.
Because the FBI's application of the "terrorist" label has often been suspect and haphazard,
other right-wing terrorist incidents and activity may be unearthed by applying the definition to
reported events. In December 1994, an anti-abortion protestor killed two clinic receptionists and
injured five during a two-day shooting spree of three different clinics in Massachusetts and
Virginia. The killings were the outgrowth of "a violent, insurrectionary" anti-abortion movement
linked to seven murders and at least forty bombings and attacks of abortion centers from 1993 to
1998. In other words, the spree was one of numerous acts of anti-abortion terrorism. In March
1995, two members of the anti-government Minnesota Patriots Council were convicted for
conspiracy to use ricin, an extremely deadly poison used as a biological weapon. A speck of ricin
can kill a person and it is 12,000 times more lethal than rattlesnake venom. In October 1995, an
Amtrak train was derailed, killing one person and seriously injuring twelve, and a letter expressing
outrage about Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas attributed the incident to the "Sons of the
Gestapo." In merely the first six months after the Oklahoma City bombing, there were six other
near-incidents with right-wing groups.
Right-wing terrorist activity continued after April 1996, when AEDPA was passed. In July
1996, the Justice Department uncovered an Arizona militia group, the Arizona Vipers, that had
made a video depicting how to blow up several local buildings, including those for the Federal
Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the
police, and the National Guard. During arrests of the twelve suspects, authorities seized a
"witches' brew of explosives" and an "arsenal" of firearms and ammunition. The suspects were
eventually convicted for conspiracy to make bombs and for weapons charges, receiving sentences
of one to nine years. At the end of July 1996, a bomb linked to right- wing extremists exploded
at the Atlanta Olympics, killing two and injuring 112 people.
In October 1996, the FBI arrested seven West Virginia Mountaineer Militia members for
plotting to blow up a Bureau fingerprinting facility and several other government buildings. The
group's leader, Floyd Looker, had agreed to sell blueprints of the facility to an undercover agent
posing as a broker for a Middle East terrorist network. The group had even considered
assassinating United States Senator Jay Rockefeller and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan
Greenspan in a "holy war" against the federal government. Looker was ultimately sentenced to
eighteen years in prison for conspiring to manufacture anddeal in explosives.
In 1997, the FBI recorded two suspected acts of domestic terrorism against presumable right-wing targets: the bombing of a women's health facility and an "alternative lifestyle night club."
The Bureau further prevented seven other acts of probable right-wing terrorism, including the
arrests of a group planning to engage United Nations troops which they believed were stationed
at an army base in Fort Hood, Texas. The primary suspects, self-proclaimed "Brigadier General"
Bradley Glover and Michael Dorsett, were each sentenced to five years.
In 1998, the FBI recorded five incidents of domestic terrorism, one of which was the bombing of
a women's health clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, linked to right-wing sources. The Bureau was
further involved in preventing twelve incidents of terrorism by domestic groups. The most
prominent case involved several members of the white supremacist group "The New Order" who
plotted to commit numerous crimes, including killing the founder of the Southern Poverty Law
Center, poisoning the water supply of East St. Louis as a diversion for a bank robbery, and
attacking the New York office of a Jewish social service organization. Four defendants were
sentenced to prison.
In the face of a burgeoning homegrown terrorist movement, the United States directed its most
public antiterrorism measure at international groups. No American groups connected to terrorism
were subject to AEDPA's foreign-oriented antiterrorist provisions.
1. Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat.1214 (1996).