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'Right-wing militias on the rise in US'

world Updated: Aug 13, 2009 12:24 IST
Alex Ogle
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Incensed by the election of the first black US president, right-wing militia groups are rising again in the United States after lying dormant for nearly a decade, a study said on Wednesday.

Ideologically driven by racism and a virulent anti-government, anti-taxation and anti-immigrant agenda, the homegrown groups that thrived in the 1990s and spurred numerous deadly terror attacks are expanding, said the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks US hate groups and extremist activity.

“This is the most significant growth we’ve seen in 10 to 12 years,” said a law enforcement official quoted by the SPLC in its special report “The Second Wave: Return of the Militias.”

“All it’s lacking is a spark,” noted the official, adding it is “only a matter of time before you see threats and violence.”

Attacks continued in the last decade after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing of a government building that killed 168 people -- the deadliest attack on US soil until the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Such violent movements mostly subsided in the past nine years, however, following prosecutions and the election of conservative president George W. Bush, said the SPLC’s Mark Potok.

A key difference today, the Center said, is that “the federal government -- the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy -- is headed by a black man,” tapping into the latent rage of white supremacist culture.

According to SPLC research released in February, the number of race-based hate groups in the United States has grown 54 percent since 2000, from 602 then to 926 in 2008.

The study also drew direct correlations between Barack Obama’s presidential win and numerous murders of law enforcement officials this year.

“One man ‘very upset´ with the election of America’s first black president was building a radioactive ‘dirty bomb,´” said Larry Keller at the SPLC.

“Another angry at the election and said to be interested in joining a militia killed two sheriff’s deputies in Florida.”

A key component for the expansion of militias is a vibrant world of unsubstantiated yet widely publicized conspiracies.

The report noted the “birther” movement continues to claim Obama cannot be president because he is allegedly not a natural born US citizen. Extremist groups have also latched onto conspiracy theories on government involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

“The current political environment is awash with seemingly absurd but nonetheless influential conspiracy theories, hyperbolic claims and demonized targets,” said longtime analyst of radical right-wing movements Chip Berlet. “This creates a milieu where violence is a likely outcome.”

Militias are also boosted as mainstream media commentators and politicians ape and champion their ideology.

Commentators on cable news were singled out by the Center for airing and promoting conspiracy theories -- notably Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, who has described Obama alternatively as a “fascist,” a “Nazi” and a “Marxist.”

Beck, with a regular audience of some 2.5 million viewers for his late-afternoon show, has even “re-floated militia conspiracy theories of the 1990s alleging a secret network of government-run concentration camps,” said the SPLC.

Earlier this year, Texas Governor Rick Perry raised the prospect of his state’s secession, while Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said she feared Obama was planning “reeducation camps for young people.”

In April, an internal government report warned of right-wing extremists exploiting the economic downturn and Obama’s election as recruiting tools, which could lead “to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violence attacks.”

Greater Internet usage has also increased access to bomb-making know-how and the ability to reach a vast audience of like-minded people, the Department of Homeland Security said in a report later criticized by conservatives and veterans groups for designating returning soldiers as a specific threat.