Twenty Years Ago
Right Wing Reign of Terror Harassment, Threats and Intimidation by Militia Groups
by Margo Malone
Margo Malone is a political activist living in Bellingham
To celebrate over 20 years of publishing Whatcom Watch, we will be publishing excerpts from 20 years ago. David M. Laws has been generous enough to volunteer to review the Whatcom Watch for 20 years ago to find suitable material to reprint. The below excerpts are from the August 1995 issue of Whatcom Watch.
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee’s May 3rd  hearings on domestic terrorism barely scratched the surface of the rising tide of violent right-wing movements whose existence have been brought to public attention since the Oklahoma City bombing last April. Despite the fact that civil and human rights organizations have provided plenty of conclusive evidence of this movement’s anti-democratic activities, these hearings served largely as a soapbox for militia leaders to portray themselves as patriotic, down-home Americans live via C-SPAN. Senator Arlen Specter, who demonstrated his prowess by grilling Anita Hill, failed to show similar determination in questioning the likes of John Trochman, leader of the infamous Militia of Montana, a man with established links to the white supremacist Aryan Nations. Militia leaders were asked such tough questions as this one, posed by California Democrat Diane Feinstein: “Are there any circumstances under which an individual would be justified in bombing a building?” to which, predictably, all present chorused “No!” What did she expect them to answer?
In reality, a number of buildings have been bombed … includ[ing] a U.S. Forest Service (U.S.F.S.) office in Nevada, site of sharp controversy over U.S.F.S. jurisdiction by right-wing county-separatists. Other extreme right groups with militia ties have been behind a rising number of death threats and violent attacks against federal employees and others, like environmentalists, deemed to be of the same ilk. What links these groups and their followers is a strong opposition to federal control over federal lands, as well as what they perceive as general government interference into their private “rights.” Their enmity extends to others judged to be preventing full exercise of those rights, whether they be gun use or exploitation of public or private land. One would be mistaken in thinking that these issues might be considered worthy of inquiry by the Senate panel, however.
Following the Judiciary Subcommittee’s weak performance, New York Democrat Charles Schumer and sixty-one other House Democrats called on Speaker Newt Gingrich to hold formal hearings of the House Judiciary Committee where the question of militia activity and its threats would be seriously addressed. Gingrich refused, citing the Senate’s recent charade, and instead scheduled nine days of hearings on the incident at Waco, a particularly prominent rallying cry of the militias and their allies. Representative Schumer accused the Republican majority of being afreaid to upset “the radical fringe of their own party” and suggested that right-wing extremists maintain a protected status in the Republican-cntrolled Congress. Indeed one has to wonder how differently a group of well-organized, paramilitary men threatening armed revolt against the distrusted U.S. government would be treated in Congress if they were, say, Black instead of white, or ultra-left instead of ultra-right.
Congressman Schumer and seven other Democratic House members proceeded to schedule informal hearings on right-wing, anti-government groups with ties to the militias on July 11 . A number of federal and state employees, environmental activists, and others flew to Washington, D.C., many at their own expense, to testify on the harassment, threats, and violence they have experienced by members of property-rights, county-separatist, tax resister, and other related groups. Those testifying included Martha Bethel, a Montana judge who, along with her children, has been threatened by local “Freemen” who claim she has no legal jurisdiction over them … California clerk-recorder Karen Matthews requires police protection against harassment by local tax protesters. She … was physically attacked and slashed with a knife in her own garage. Close to home, Ellen Gray of the Pilchuck Audubon Society testified on how she was threatened with a hangman’s noose and told “we have a militia of 10,000 and if we can’t beat you at the ballot box, we’ll beat you with a bullet” by members of the Snohomish County Property Rights Alliance.
These Threats are not isolated incidents and their numbers are increasing. They have occurred in Whatcom County against local environmental activists. They are occurring disproportionately in the West because this is the site of so many heated land use battles, this is where the majority of federal lands are being exploited by timber, mining, and ranching interests. It is significant to note that mining, logging and other corporations have provided substantial financial backing to the anti-environmental property-rights and Wise Use movements, and thus to the violent actions they spawn.
What the latest Congressional hearings show, and what civil and human rights groups have been warning of for some time, is that there are many groups, ranging from the anti-abortion to the Wise Use to the white supremacist movements (with significant overlap among them), who pose grave threats to individual citizens as well as to the practice of law and democracy in our country.