When the deadly toxin ricin was found February 3 in the mailroom of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), there was no change in Homeland Security colors. Although biological attacks on the apparatus of government are a veritable shortcut to domestic insecurity, they don’t register on the chromatic terrorism scale.
Americans have been trained to disassociate such attacks from the war on terrorism. Many experts make this distinction because they believe that homegrown terrorists likely mailed the ricin. And because our domestic haters tend to be Christian rather than Muslim, they don’t fit the “terrorist” mold.
Experts also believe that an individual or a domestic terrorist group was responsible for the anthrax attack of 2001 that killed five and injured 17. But in the wake of 9/11, we have tended to discount the danger of domestic terror. That may be a deadly mistake.
Right-wing extremists long have shown an interest in using chemical and biological weapons. Jessica Stern, formerly with the National Security Council, said in 2002 that they are “obsessed” with biological agents and have been trying to perfect their use for years.
The literature of the racist right is rife with references to biological agents, and authorities have evidence that many groups are actively trying to procure or produce these agents. The Feds were first put on notice about these efforts in 1972, when a Chicago-based white-supremacist group called the Order of the Rising Sun created as much as 40 kilograms of typhoid bacteria culture with the intent to contaminate water supplies in large Midwestern cities. The group’s goal was to eliminate “inferior” populations.
Since that time, investigators have uncovered a number of right-wing bioweapons plots. Among the most prominent cases was the 1995 conviction of Douglas Baker and Leroy Wheeler, members of the Minnesota Patriots Council, for planning to assassinate government officials with ricin. These two were the first people convicted under the Biological Weapons and Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989.
In 1998 the Feds arrested Larry Wayne Harris in Ohio for threatening to use biological weapons on U.S. officials. Harris, an activist with ties to the Christian Identity Church and Aryan Nations, was apprehended with three vials of the bacterium that causes plague. Identity teaches that Jews are the literal children of Satan, and people of color are subhuman “mud people.”
The Army of God, a shadowy band of Christian terrorists, has a long history of terrorizing women’s health clinics, claiming responsibility for several bombings and praising individuals who have killed abortion providers. Shortly after 9/11, more than 250 health clinics and more than 200 abortion rights groups received letters signed by the Army of God containing a white, powdery substance falsely claimed to be anthrax.
The latest example of this right-wing obsession was the arrest and conviction in November of three people involved in a plot to explode a cyanide bomb capable of killing thousands of people. The conspirators, William Krar and Judith Bruey, both of Tyler, Texas, and Edward Feltus, a member of a right-wing paramilitary group called the New Jersey Militia, were caught last May with forged identity passes to the United Nations and the Pentagon and a variety of racist and anti-government pamphlets — including The Turner Diaries, the book that reportedly inspired Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
When investigators searched a storeroom rented by Krar and Bruey, they seized a cyanide bomb, chemicals and components for additional biological weapons, half a million rounds of ammunition, 65 pipe bombs and briefcases that could be detonated by remote control.
According to the CBS affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth, the station that broke the story, the case sparked one of the most extensive probes of domestic terrorism since the Oklahoma City bombing.
“It was clearly one of the most lethal arsenals associated with the U.S. paramilitary right in the past 20 years,” Daniel Levitas told the U.K.-based Guardian. Levitas is author of The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right and is one the nation’s foremost experts on right-wing extremism.
In a December 13, 2003, column in the New York Times, Levitas wrote: “Americans should question whether the Justice Department is making America’s far-right fanatics a serious priority. … It is also worrisome that the discovery of lethal chemicals in President Bush’s home state was not deemed occasion for a high-profile announcement by Attorney General John Ashcroft … trumpeting the arrest of Mr. Krar and his compatriots.”
Unless you live in East Texas, you’ve probably heard nothing about this investigation. The growing presence and deadly intentions of these homegrown hate groups remind us that our own faith-based terrorists may be more lethal a threat than color-coded Islamists.
The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors domestic hate groups. For more go to www.splcenter.org.
Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor of In These Times and host of “The Salim Muwakkil Show” on radio station WVON-AM in Chicago. Muwakkil was also contributing columnist for both the Chicago Sun-Times (1993 – 1997) and the Chicago Tribune (1998 – 2005). He is also a co-founder of Pacifica News’ network daily “Democracy Now” program and served as an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, University of Illinois, the Art Institute of Chicago and Chicago’s Columbia College.