GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Timothy McVeigh, the perpetrator of the single largest act of domestic terrorism in US history in Oklahoma City in 1995, stands only as the most well-known right-wing militia member.

In the 1990s, McVeigh, white supremacist secessionist Randy Weaver, the anti-American secessionist Freemen of Montana, David Koresh and his armed cult, and various state ‘militias’ were among the many armed and paranoid individuals and groups who justified or used violence as retribution against government entities.

They formed the terroristic vanguard of the right-wing backlash against the US government then headed by Democrats.

According to a new report, titled ‘The Second Wave: Return of the Militias,’ from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks the activities of terror and hate groups in the US, the militias are experiencing a resurgence.

The SPLC report found that one law enforcement agency uncovered 50 ‘militia’ training groups and the increase in the use of ‘paper terrorism’ against enemies (creation of phony property liens in so-called ‘citizen courts’).

Another strong signal of the right-wing paramilitary resurgence, the SPLC reported, has been the renewal of popular right-wing conspiracies, such as a needed armed defense against an impending invasion by Mexico of the Southwest, the government is building thousands of interment camps for political prisoners or the phony controversy over the citizenship of the President. (Notably major media personalities like CNN’s Lou Dobbs and FOX News’ Glenn Beck has helped spread these conspiracies.)

While the violence and conspiracies also targeted the government generally in the 1990s, one big difference provides the pretext for a qualitative change in the right-wing militia movement of today, SPLC argued. ‘A key difference this time is that the federal government – the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy – is headed by a Black man.’ The election of President Obama, the report found, has produced ‘a remarkable rash of domestic terror incidents.’

The report also tied the rise in the right-wing terror movement to statements and claims of right-wing media pundits and Republican politicians who pander to hard-right constituents about the birth certificate conspiracy, for example, or accuse the president of authoritarian tendencies.

SPLC’s Larry Keller reported that while the situation has not yet returned to the level of terror experienced in the 1990s, the signs are ominous. ‘The situation has many authorities worried,’ Keller wrote. ‘Militiamen, white supremacists, anti-Semites, nativists, tax protesters and a range of other activists of the radical right are cross-pollinating and may even be coalescing.’

‘In the words of a February report from law enforcement officials in Missouri,’ Keller added, ‘a variety of factors have combined recently to create ‘a lush environment for militia activity.”

So far violent attacks on police, women, Dr. George Tiller and Holocaust Museum security guard Stephen T. Johns have been carried out by people tied to the Republican Party-controlled National Right to Life group, and white supremacist organizations or individuals who have publicly expressed racial hostility toward President Obama personally.

‘The current political environment is awash with seemingly absurd but nonetheless influential conspiracy theories, hyperbolic claims and demonized targets,’ Chip Berlet, a researcher with Political Research Associates told SPLC. ‘And this creates a milieu where violence is a likely outcome.’

The report warned law enforcement and the media to take such threats and signs of right-wing paramilitary resurgence seriously.


Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of The Collectivity of Life: Spaces of Social Mobility and the Individualism Myth, and a former editor of Political Affairs.