Didn't the Y2K millennium scare have something to do with the decline of the militia movement, also?
Yes, but it was kind of icing on the cake. The militias really took it on the chin in 1997 and 1998. Then, in the year or so leading up to Y2K, the far right went into overdrive with its predictions of domestic chaos and the end of civilization. A lot of this fear-mongering was built on the racist prejudices of those far-right activists living in isolated rural communities in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest who believe that urban blacks and other minorities will come streaming out of the cities during times of chaos to wreak havoc. The militias told their followers to spend thousands of dollars on weapons and other survivalist gear to survive the coming riots. Basically, they merchandized the hell out of Y2K. But when the millennium came and went without incident, quite a few supporters felt ripped off and the militias lost further credibility and more recruits.
What about the people who didn't quit the movement?
They have become even more radicalized, more hard-core. After all, they believe that the Clinton administration bombed the Murrah Building on purpose — and set up Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols as patsies in order to persecute the "Patriot" movement. This is the same crowd that believes that the planes used on 9-11 were remote-controlled by the Israeli Mossad and the CIA. They used the tragedy at Waco to bolster their argument. "Look," they said, "If Bill Clinton and Janet Reno could kill all those innocent Branch Davidians down in Waco, what makes you think they weren't behind the Oklahoma City bombing?" This all fit in rather nicely with fanatical gun culture and extreme religious beliefs of the radical right. After all, the Davidians were wanted on gun charges and had unconventional religious beliefs. So, for those white supremacists who worship fully automatic weapons and believe that Jews are the children of Satan, it wasn't all that difficult to convince them that the government was out to murder them, as well.
Is this really a new trend? I thought that this process of radicalization began long before Oklahoma City. After all, back in 1984, there were neo-Nazi groups like the Order, whose members killed radio talk show host Alan Berg in Denver and plotted to overthrow the government.
You're absolutely right, but the Oklahoma City bombing and the events of 9-11 have accelerated that process. And the seeds for the destruction of the Murrah Building were planted many years earlier, in 1978, with books like The Turner Diaries by William Pierce [writing under the pseudonym Andrew McDonald], the founder of the neo-Nazi group the National Alliance. As I tell the story in the book, it also was men like William Potter Gale, who founded the right-wing Posse Comitatus — which is Latin for "Power of the County" — back in 1971, who helped move the radical right in a more violent, revolutionary direction.
What set it all off, then; this process of far-right radicalization?
This really began as a rejection of the social progress of the 1960s, and, most importantly, as a reaction to the actions taken by the federal government and the courts to end segregation and promote civil rights, however haltingly. But you can also go back further, to, say, 1948, when President Harry Truman ended segregation in the military. Then came the Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation with the Brown decision in 1954. And after that came the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. By the early 1970s, you had this growing constituency of Americans, many who had been involved in the losing fight to preserve segregation, who now began to see the federal government as more of the central enemy. The emerging anti-government message of these groups owed a great deal to the vicious anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that had always circulated within the movement. After all, the belief in an all-powerful cabal of bloodthirsty Jews has been around for generations. It was in this environment that William Pierce and others launched a deliberate effort to refocus right-wing resentment from run-of-the-mill race hatred to a more explicitly revolutionary philosophy. Groups like the Aryan Nations in Idaho — which is now defunct — and the leaders of the Order did this too. They left a lot of bodies in their wake, including more than a handful of murdered law enforcement officials. After 20 years of that, it really was kind of predictable that guys like Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were going to come along and do something as heinous as blowing up the Murrah Building.