Driven by anger toward “political, demographic, and economic changes,” a surge of anti-government extremist groups occurred this year, according to a report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
It stated that anti-immigrant vigilante groups, “organizations that go beyond mere advocacy of restrictive immigration policy to actually confront or harass suspected immigrants,” increased by 80 percent. Extremist “patriot” groups jumped by 244 percent last year, with nearly a quarter of them being militias.
It added that the patriot movement made “significant inroads into the conservative political scene,” where groups that “cannot fairly be considered extremist” are still “shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism.”
This report, released last Tuesday, comes at a time when several radical, anti-government individuals have carried out attacks in the US.
On Thursday night, John Patrick Bedell, a 36-year-old man from California, allegedly walked up to a Pentagon entrance and opened fire. Officers immediately retaliated; two officers were hospitalized with minor injuries, while Bedell was fatally wounded and died later that night. He had been carrying two semiautomatic pistols and several magazines of ammunition, while more ammunition was found in his car afterward.
In posts on Wikipedia and other web sites, Bedell showed strong anger toward the government. In one podcast, he declared the “seizure of the United States government by an international criminal conspiracy” a “long-established reality,” and called the US military and intelligence services tools of an oppressive regime.
He also posted rants about property rights and the prohibition of marijuana, once saying he grew 16 cannabis plants on his balcony in California to protest those laws. Court records show he had been arrested and charged with illegally growing marijuana in 2006.
Richard Keevil, the Pentagon police chief, said in a morning news conference there was no indication that the incident had anything to do with domestic or international terrorism. “At this time it appears to be a single individual who had issues,” he said.
This comes three weeks after an incident on February 18, where 53-year-old software engineer Joe Stack slammed his plane into the IRS offices in Austin, Texas, killing two and torching the seven-story building. He left behind a long, rambling suicide note rallying against “big brother,” big business, the Catholic Church and the IRS, among other groups.
“Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well,” he wrote.
Several individuals on the web posted comments praising Stack’s actions. Emily Walters of Louisville, Kentucky, founded a Facebook fan group in honor of Stack that garnered more than 200 members before the site took it down. “Finally an American man took a stand against our tyrannical government that no longer follows the Constitution,” she wrote.
Greg Lenihan, an engineer in San Diego, posted on Twitter, “Joe Stack, you are a true American Hero and we need more of you to make a stand.”
The House adopted a resolution to call the IRS attack an act of terrorism on a 408-2 vote, which said it “rejects any statement or act that deliberately fans the flames of hatred or expresses sympathy for those who would attack public servants serving our nation.”
In the same week as the attack, Dianne Capps, a Tea Party movement organizer, called for the hanging of Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) to cheers from the crowd of 500. She compared Murray to a character from “Lonesome Dove,” saying, “What happened to Jake when he ran with the wrong crowd? He got hung. And that’s what I want to do with Patty Murray.”
Several liberal columns and blogs have commented on how they perceive an echo of right-wing extremism or extreme Tea Party movement in Stack’s and Bedell’s anti-government messages. Conservative commentators have responded that considering the perpetrators’ stances on subjects such as marijuana, conspiracy theories about secret US military operations and quotations on Marx and communism, they were on the far left.
In an interview, Austin Tea Party co-founder Greg Holloway said that Stack was not a member of the movement and that his use of violence was a strong indicator of this.
“He took the law into his own hands,” Holloway said. “We’re against that. We will never use violence to force our agenda.”
The SPLC has documented 75 domestic terror plots since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Of these, five between 1995 and 2009 targeted the IRS.
Mark Potok, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, related the recent IRS attack to the rise in the anti-government movement, which attracts thousands who believe the federal income tax is illegal.
“There is a populist rage out there about what is seen as the coddling of rapacious elites, like the mortgage bankers who kept receiving multimillion dollar bonuses, even as working Americans seem to keep losing more and more,” he said.