!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'June 14, 1997: New York Times Editorial Warns of Militia Threat'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event June 14, 1997: New York Times Editorial Warns of Militia Threat. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

The logo of the Posse Comitatus.The logo of the Posse Comitatus. [Source: Underground News Network]The Posse Comitatus, an anti-Semitic, right-wing “Christian Identity” organization (see 1960s and After), is founded by retired dry-cleaning executive Henry L. Beach in Portland, Oregon, who calls his organization the Sherriff’s Posse Comitatus (SPC) or Citizen’s Law Enforcement Research Committee (CLERC). Beach has supported Nazism since the 1930s, and formerly led a neo-Nazi organization called the Silver Shirts (see January 31, 1933). The Posse Comitatus is quickly taken over by William Potter Gale, a retired Army colonel who founded a similar organization called the US Christian Posse Association in Glendale, California, and manages to roll the two groups, and a few other loosely organized entities, into one. The Posse Comitatus dedicates itself to survivalism, vigilantism, and anti-government activities; its bylaws state that no federal or state governmental entity has any legal standing, and only county and town governments are legitimate. Furthermore, the organization believes that the entire federal government is controlled by Jews, and as such has no authority over whites. Beach’s original Posse manual states, “[O]fficials of government who commit criminal acts or who violate their oath of office… shall be removed by the posse to the most populated intersection of streets in the township and, at high noon, be hung by the neck, the body remaining until sundown as an example to those who would subvert the law.” According to a 1986 advisory published by the IRS, “members associated with some of the Posse groups wear tiny gold hangmen’s nooses on their lapels.” Posse members refuse to pay taxes whenever they can get away with it, and ignore laws that they feel cannot be enforced by “the enemy.” Instead, they claim to abide by a “common law,” defined as a set of principles that they themselves create and change at will. The organization begins making inroads into the farm communities of the Northwest and Upper Midwest after federal mismanagement of agricultural policies threatens the livelihood of many area farmers; the Posse tells them, “Farmers are victims of a Jewish-controlled government and banking system, federal taxes are illegal and loans need not be repaid.” Some area farmers embrace the message, and the Posse begins heavily recruiting in Michigan. [Ian Geldard, 2/19/1995; Nicole Nichols, 2003]
Anti-Government, Anti-Tax Ideology - The Posse Comitatus believes that the federal and state governments are inherently illegal and have no authority whatsoever; the highest elected official of the land, it says, is the county sheriff, who can form juries and call out “posses” of citizens to enforce the law as necessary. The movement strongly opposes paying taxes, particularly to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and considers money issued by the Federal Reserve System as illegal. It says that the Constitution’s 16th Amendment, which gave Congress the right to tax citizens’ incomes, was illegally ratified and therefore unconstitutional; moreover, it says, careful examination of federal law tells it that income taxes are entirely voluntary. The Federal Reserve System is, as one Posse publication puts it, “a private monopoly which neither the people nor the states authorized in the Constitution.” The Federal Reserve’s printed money violates the Constitution. Some, but not all, Posse Comitatus members also express racist and separatist views similar to those of Christian Identity believers (see 1960s and After); these members say that the Federal Reserve is controlled by a small cabal of international Jewish bankers who intend to destroy the American economy. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; US Constitution: Sixteenth Amendment, 2011; Anti-Defamation League, 2011] Posse Comitatus members use the threat of violence, and sometimes actual violence, to express their anti-tax and anti-government ideologies (see 1972 and 1974).
Township Movement - The Posse spawns a directly related ideology, the “township movement,” led in part by Utah resident Walt P. Mann. Township advocates advocate setting up small sovereign communities that are answerable only to themselves. The Posse will set up a “constitutional township” on a 1,400-acre plot in Wisconsin and name it “Tigerton Dells,” posting signs that say, “Federal Agents Keep out; Survivors will be Prosecuted.” Tigerton Dells will appoint its own judges and foreign ambassadors before federal authorities seize the property (see 1984).
Movement Spreads throughout Northwest, Plains States - By 1976, an FBI report says that the Posse Comitatus movement will consist of up to 50,000 adherents throughout the Northwest and Great Plains states. The center of the movement is at Tigerton Dells; Posse members there will disrupt local government meetings and assault public officials. The farm crisis of the early 1980s will allow the Posse to begin converting angry, frightened farmers throughout the region. In 1996, the Anti-Defamation League’s Mark Pitcavage will write, “The Posse offered up targets for people to blame: the courts, the money system, the federal government, the Jews.”
Waging Legal Battles - While some Posse members offer violence to law enforcement and public officials (see February 13, 1983 and After), most of their battles with the government take place in court. Posse members most frequently use two common legal strategems: filing frivolous liens on the properties of public officials who oppose or anger them, particularly IRS agents, and flooding the courts with a barrage of legal documents, filings, motions, and appeals. The liens carry no legal weight but sometimes damage the recipients’ credit scores and interfere with the recipients’ ability to buy or sell property. The court documents, often written in arcane, archaic, and contradictory legal language, clog the court system and frustate judges and prosecutors. A related tactic is the establishment of “common law courts,” vigilante courts that often threaten public officials. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]
Inspiration to Other Groups - The Posse Comitatus’s ideology will inspire other anti-government groups, such as the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994).

Entity Tags: US Federal Reserve, William Potter Gale, Walt P. Mann, Internal Revenue Service, Posse Comitatus, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Henry L. Beach, Mark Pitcavage, Sherriff’s Posse Comitatus, US Christian Posse Association

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

An image of a fraudulent ‘Freeman check’ signed by LeRoy Schweitzer.An image of a fraudulent ‘Freeman check’ signed by LeRoy Schweitzer. [Source: Anti-Defamation League]During this time period, over a dozen Montana anti-government tax resisters—the kernel of what will become the “Montana Freemen” movement (see 1983-1995)—establish themselves, creating what they term “common law courts” in Garfield and Musselshell Counties, and mounting a massive bank fraud scheme. [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]
Beliefs - According to a Washington Post article, the Freemen espouse a number of beliefs that directly contradict federal, state, and local laws. These are:
bullet All forms of organized government are illegitimate and have no right to perform duties routinely assigned to governments, from collecting taxes to requiring automobile licenses.
bullet Thusly, the Freemen can perform a multitude of actions, such as defying foreclosures, issuing arrest warrants, and even putting government officials on “trial.”
bullet They can also act as their own central banks and defraud the government, financial institutions, and area merchants.
Racist 'Christian Identity' Ideology - According to the Montana Human Rights Network and local citizens, most of the Freemen espouse some form of “Christian Identity” religious ideology, which claims that whites are inherently superior to other “inferior” races (see 1960s and After); they also hold radical anti-government views. [Washington Post, 4/1996; Washington Post, 4/9/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] The Anti-Defamation League traces the roots of the Freemen ideology to the the Posse Comitatus movement (see 1969). [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996] They call themselves “Freemen” because, in their view, white Christian males have special “Freemen” citizenship status, while non-whites, non-Christians, and women have second class status or worse. Freemen are above government prosecution and taxation. As US currency has no intrinsic value, any loans taken by Freemen need not be repaid. The US government is run by Jews and therefore has no legitimacy. “Common law” is the rule of the land. [New York Times, 6/15/1996] The Reverend Jerry Walters of Roundup, Montana, will later characterize the Freemen’s beliefs as a “bizarre distortion of the Christianity taught in most churches on Sundays.” (Rodney Skurdal will file a $100 billion lien against Walters after Walters refuses to alter his sermons to reflect Skurdal’s Christian Identity beliefs.) The Post will observe: “American history is littered with examples of how hard economic times produce hard-edged political splinter groups, but the Freemen of Montana are a particularly virulent strain. Their philosophy, a hodgepodge drawn from the Old Testament, the Magna Carta, the anti-tax Posse Comitatus of the 1980s, and a highly selective reading of the Constitution, is laced with racism and talk of a Jewish conspiracy, and puts them at the extreme of the Christian patriot movement.” Steven Gardner of the Coalition for Human Dignity will say: “The Freemen have, in effect, appointed themselves judge, jury and executioner. They are trying to form their own shadow government for a white Christian republic.” [Washington Post, 4/1996; Washington Post, 4/9/1996; Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] “What’s driving them is their biblical and theological agenda,” Walters will say. “Their anti-government conspiracy theories, their anti-tax stance—they’re looking at these things through the lens of Christian Identity.” [Washington Post, 4/9/1996]
Fraudulent Liens - LeRoy Schweitzer and the others concoct a scheme to generate money by filing phony liens against various Montana property owners, or the Montana or US government. The liens have no value; however, once they are created, it takes time for bank computers to recognize them as invalid. During that “window” of time, the liens can be used to generate money transfers from unsuspecting banks. The Freemen file the liens and deposit fake money orders at other banks to be drawn upon the bank listing the lien. The money orders are usually signed by Schweitzer, though Skurdal, Daniel Petersen, and William Stanton (see October 17, 1994) also sign them on occasion. The money orders look quite official, though sometimes they deliberately spell the words “United States” with a lowercase “u.” The Freemen also issue bogus checks labeled “Certified Bankers Check—Controller Warrant,” instead of a bank name, along with account and lien numbers. Many checks are drawn against a non-existent account in a Butte, Montana, branch of the Norwest Bank. The checks state that they are also redeemable at the Office of the US Postmaster. The scheme is, on the whole, quite profitable. The Freemen also sell the money orders, advertising them to their fellow citizens as a quick means of getting out of debt. One distributor explains on a Web site: “LeRoy Schweitzer does have their [sic] own monetary system. When you attend their course on location, they will issue you CHECKS times two (biblical) to pay off all IRS debts and all loans to banks for no charge. They are having success in this area, but it is hard fight [sic].” One Omaha, Nebraska, county treasurer will later explain, “People see these and, if you’re a very unsuspecting person, they really do look authentic.” [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996] Schweitzer, Skurdal, and Petersen are influenced by Roy Schwasinger, described by federal authorities as a right-wing con artist and head of the Colorado extremist group “We the People.” Schwasinger originated the financial schemes that the Freemen run. [New York Times, 6/15/1996]
Appointing Themselves as Legal Officials - The Freemen appoint themselves “justices,” issue “arrest warrants,” and flood local courts and counties with what the Billings Gazette will term “bogus documents.” One of the documents, written by the three Freemen leaders, Skurdal, Schweitzer, and Petersen, is interpreted by local law enforcement officials as a threat. It states: “We the Honorable justices, will not hesitate to use our Lawful force by whatever means necessary to fully support, protect, guarantee, and defend our (common) Law… and… Right of self governing as a free sovereign and independent state.” District Court Judge Peter Rapkoch calls the documents “a bucket of snakes.” In July 1994, one of the Freemen, Skurdal, is prohibited by court order from filing or recording any “frivolous” document with any Montana county clerk of court, clerk and recorder, or the secretary of state (see 1994); Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean A. Turnage calls Skurdal’s filings “not only nonsensical but meritless, frivolous, vexatious, and wasteful of the limited time and resources of this court, of the clerk of this court, and of the various public officials and counsel that are forced to deal with and respond to Mr. Skurdal’s abuse.” Garfield County prosecutor Nick Murnion files misdemeanor charges of impersonating public officials against 13 residents and a felony charge of solicitation of kidnapping against Ralph Clark for a $1 million bounty posted around the county for court officers, the sheriff, and Murnion. Garfield County Sheriff Charles Phipps organizes a posse of about 90 local residents to come to the aid of his outmanned, outgunned three-person department (see January 1994). Murnion eventually files felony criminal syndicalism charges against Freemen members. US Attorney Sherry Matteucci works with local and state officials to share information on anti-government activities. “I think their purpose is to intimidate people and to cause chaos in governmental operations,” she says. [Washington Post, 4/9/1996; Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996; Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: Charles Phipps, Daniel Petersen, Montana Human Rights Network, LeRoy Schweitzer, Jerry Walters, Jean A. Turnage, William Stanton, Anti-Defamation League, Sherry Matteucci, Nick Murnion, Steven Gardner, Posse Comitatus, Peter Rapkoch, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Ralph Clark, Montana Freemen, Roy Schwasinger

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A poster issued by the Freemen placing a $1 million bounty on the head of Garfield County Attorney Nick Murnion.A poster issued by the Freemen placing a $1 million bounty on the head of Garfield County Attorney Nick Murnion. [Source: Anti-Defamation League]Frustrated at the foreclosure of their farm, the Clark family of Jordan, Montana (see 1980s-1994), takes part in an armed takeover of the local county courthouse. The assault is carried out by a group of Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994), an anti-government, tax-resister group recently joined by members of the Clark family. The Clarks set up their own “common law” court, and join some three dozen Freemen in taking over Garfield County’s courthouse. They hold a meeting declaring themselves the county government. Presiding at the meeting are two of the Freemen founders, Rodney Skurdal and Daniel Petersen (see 1983-1995). Richard Clark is the presiding judge. The “court” charges the real judge, and others whom the Clarks feel have persecuted them, with contempt. Richard Clark tells the 30 people, “We’ve opened our own common law court and we have the law back in the county now.” They even videotape the meeting. Within days, posters appear around Jordan, offering a $1 million bounty for the arrest of the Garfield sheriff, county attorney, and judge. A rather bemused Sheriff Charles Phipps asks one of the Freemen if he would get the bounty if he turned himself in. The Freeman replies he would get the money, he wouldn’t live long enough to enjoy it: he’d be “tried, convicted, and hung.” Phipps’s amusement drains quickly, but he realizes there is little he can do: he has one deputy and a two-cell jail and little more. He realizes that if he intends to force the Clarks off of their farm, he will require outside help. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Daniel Petersen, Charles Phipps, Richard Clark, Montana Freemen, Rodney Owen Skurdal

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Montana Freemen member Ralph Clark (see 1980s-1994 and 1993-1994) is issued an order to appear in court to face charges of solicitation of kidnapping, based on his threats to kidnap and “hang” Garfield County Sheriff Charles Phipps (see January 1994). Clark refuses to appear. Phipps, who has only one deputy while Clark has a heavily armed group of family members and fellow Freemen, is unable to compel Clark to appear. Phipps issues a warrant for Clark’s arrest, but has no way to enforce it. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Charles Phipps, Ralph Clark, Montana Freemen

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Helen Chenoweth in a 1995 photo.Helen Chenoweth in a 1995 photo. [Source: Joe Marquette / Associated Press]Representative Helen Chenoweth (R-ID), in her first two months as a member of the US House of Representatives, accuses the federal government of sending “black helicopters” filled with “armed agency officials” to terrorize Idaho citizens. Chenoweth, who has extensive contacts among area militias and will be characterized as the militia’s “best friend” in Congress (see May 2, 1995), is repeating a canard often used by far-right extremists who believe the UN and the federal government will use “black helicopters” filled with foreign troops to impose tyranny on US citizens. In a press release, Chenoweth says the federal government is violating the Idaho Constitution by using “armed agency officials and helicopters” to enforce the Endangered Species Act and other fish and wildlife regulations. The language of the press release implies that if a federal agent is armed and in Idaho, it is a violation of the Idaho Constitution. Chenoweth orders the government to immediately cease its alleged actions, and in the release, threatens Assistant Agriculture Secretary Jim Lyons by saying, “If it does not, I guarantee you I will be your worst nightmare for at least the next two years.” Chenoweth later tells a reporter, who asks about the black helicopters: “I have never seen them. But enough people in my district have become concerned that I can’t just ignore it. We do have some proof.” Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, says, “All I can say is, we have never had helicopters, have not flown them as part of any endangered-species activity, and we’ve always worked hand in glove with local officials.” [New York Times, 5/2/1995; Sierra Magazine, 5/1996]

Entity Tags: Endangered Species Act, Brian Gorman, Clinton administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, Helen P. Chenoweth, James (“Jim”) Lyons

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Alfred P. Murrah Building after being bombed.The Alfred P. Murrah Building after being bombed. [Source: CBS News]A truck bomb destroys the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people in America’s worst domestic terrorist attack. Timothy McVeigh, later convicted in the bombing, has ideological roots both in the Patriot world and among neo-Nazis like William Pierce, whose novel, The Turner Diaries (see 1978), served as a blueprint for the attack. [Washington Post, 4/20/1995; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 127] Initially, many believe that no American set off the bomb, and suspect Islamist terrorists of actually carrying out the bombing (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After). Their suspicions prove groundless. Investigators will find that the bomb is constructed of some 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, carried in 20 or so blue plastic 55-gallon barrels arranged inside a rented Ryder truck (see April 15, 1995). The bomb is detonated by a slow-burning safety fuse, most likely lit by hand. The fuse is attached to a much faster-burning detonation cord (“det cord”) which ignites the fertilizer and fuel-oil mixture. [New York Times, 4/27/1995] The Murrah Federal Building houses a number of federal agencies, including offices for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF); the Social Security Administration; the Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Veterans Affairs, and Agriculture departments; and the Secret Service. [Washington Post, 4/20/1995] It encompasses an entire city block, between 5th and 4th Streets and Harvey and Robinson Streets, and features a U-shaped, indented drive on 5th that allows for quick pickup and delivery parking. The entire building’s facade on this side is made of glass, allowing passersby to see into the offices in the building, as well as into the America’s Kids day care center on the second floor, which by this time is filling with children. It is in this driveway that McVeigh parks his truck. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 99-102]
Entering the City - McVeigh drives into Oklahoma City, entering around 8:30 a.m. from his overnight stop in Ponca City, Oklahoma; the details reported of his entrance into the city vary (see 7:00 a.m. - 8:35 a.m., April 19, 1995). At 8:55 a.m., a security camera captures the Ryder truck as it heads towards downtown Oklahoma City [Douglas O. Linder, 2006] , a sighting bolstered by three people leaving the building who later say they saw the truck parked in front of the Murrah Building around this time. At 8:57, a security camera captures an image of McVeigh’s Ryder truck being parked outside the Murrah Building in a handicapped zone. One survivor of the blast, Marine recruiter Michael Norfleet, later recalls seeing the Ryder truck parked just outside the building next to the little circle drive on 5th Street leading up to the main entrance of the building. Norfleet had parked his black Ford Ranger in front of the Ryder.
McVeigh Lights Fuses - McVeigh drives the Ryder truck west past the Murrah Building on NW Fourth Street, turns north on a one-way street, and turns right on Fifth Street. He pulls the truck over and parks near the Firestone store, next to a chain-link fence. He then lights the five-minute fuses from inside the cab (see 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995), sets the parking brake, drops the key behind the seat, opens the door, locks the truck, exits, and shuts the door behind him. A man later claims to have hit his brakes to avoid someone matching McVeigh’s description as he crossed Fifth Street around 9:00 a.m. McVeigh walks quickly toward a nearby YMCA building where he has hidden his getaway car, a battered yellow Mercury Marquis (see April 13, 1995), in the adjoining alleyway, crossing Robinson Street and crossing another street to get to the alleyway. He begins to jog as he approaches his car. He later says he remembers a woman looking at him as she is walking down the steps to enter the building; he will describe her as white, in her mid-30s, with dirty blonde hair. According to McVeigh’s own recollection, he is about 20 feet into the alley when the bomb goes off. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 184-185; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 158; Douglas O. Linder, 2006; The Oklahoman, 4/2009]
Truck Explodes - At 9:02 a.m., the truck explodes, destroying most of the Murrah Building and seriously damaging many nearby buildings. Eventually, it will be determined that 168 people die in the blast, including 19 children. Over 500 are injured. The children are in the second-story day care center just above the parking space where McVeigh leaves the Ryder truck. McVeigh will later tell his biographers that he is lifted off his feet by the power of the blast.
Devastation and Death - When the bomb detonates, the day care center and the children plummet into the basement. The building, constructed with large glass windows, collapses, sending a wave of flying glass shards and debris into the building and the surrounding area. The oldest victim is 73-year-old Charles Hurlbert, who has come to the Social Security office on the first floor. Hurlbert’s wife Jean, 67, also dies in the blast. The youngest victim is four-month-old Gabeon Bruce, whose mother is also in the Social Security office. One victim, Rebecca Anderson, is a nurse who runs towards the building to render assistance. She never makes it to the building; she is struck in the head by a piece of falling debris and will die in a hospital four days after the blast. Her heart and kidneys will be transplanted into survivors of the bombing. [Denver Post, 6/3/1997; New York Times, 6/3/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 153-154; Oklahoma City Journal Record, 3/29/2001] Sherri Sparks, who has friends still unaccounted for in the building, tells a reporter in the hours after the blast, “Oh, I can’t stand the thought of… those innocent children, sitting there playing, thinking they’re safe, and then this happens.” The explosion leaves a 30-foot-wide, 8-foot-deep crater in the street that is covered by the wreckage of the building’s upper floors. The north face of the nine-story building collapses entirely. [Washington Post, 4/20/1995; Washington Post, 4/22/1995] Mary Heath, a psychologist who works about 20 blocks from the Murrah Building, says the blast “shook the daylights out of things—it scared us to death. We felt the windows shake before we heard the noise.” In a neighboring building, a Water Resources Board meeting is just commencing; the audiotape of the meeting captures the sound of the blast (see 9:02 a.m. and After, April 19, 1995). [Washington Post, 4/20/1995; The Oklahoman, 4/2009] Norfleet, trapped in the Marine Corps office, is thrown into a wall by the explosion. His skull is fractured, and a shard of glass punctures his right eye. Three separate arteries are pierced, and Norfleet begins bleeding heavily. Two supply sergeants in the office are far less injured; Norfleet asks one, “How bad am I hurt?” and one replies, “Sir, you look really bad.” One of the two begins giving Norfleet first aid; Norfleet later recalls: “He immediately went into combat mode and started taking care of me. He laid me on a table and he started looking for bandages to administer first aid. And while I was laying on that table, I just knew that I was losing strength and that if I stayed in the building, I would die.” Norfleet wraps a shirt around his head and face to slow the bleeding, and the two sergeants help him to the stairs, through the fallen rubble, and eventually out. Norfleet will later say that he follows “a blood trail of somebody that had gone down the steps before me” to get outside, where he is quickly put into an ambulance. He loses almost half his body’s blood supply and his right eye. He will never fly again, and will soon be discharged for medical incapacity. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 161-162] Eighteen-month-old Phillip Allen, called “P.J.” by his parents, miraculously survives the blast. The floor gives way beneath him and he plunges 18 feet to land on the stomach of an adult worker on the floor below, Calvin Johnson. Landing on Johnson’s stomach saves P.J.‘s life. Johnson is knocked unconscious by the blast and by the impact of the little boy falling on him, but when he awakes, he carries the toddler to safety. P.J.‘s grandfather calls the child “Oklahoma’s miracle kid,” and media reports use the label when retelling the story of the miraculous rescue. P.J. is one of six children in the day care center to survive the blast. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 275-277] Some people later report their belief that the Murrah Building was rocked by a second explosion just moments after the first one, the second coming from a secure area managed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) that illegally stored explosives. Law professor Douglas O. Linder will later write, “Both seismic evidence and witness testimony supports the ‘two blast theory.’” [Douglas O. Linder, 2006] That theory is later disputed (see After 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995).
Explosion's Effects Felt Miles Away - Buildings near the Murrah are also damaged, seven severely, including the Journal Record newspaper building, the offices of Southwestern Bell, the Water Resources Board, an Athenian restaurant, the YMCA, a post office building, and the Regency Tower Hotel. Two Water Resources Board employees and a restaurant worker are killed in the blast. The Journal Record building loses its roof. Assistant Fire Chief Jon Hansen later recalls, “The entire block looked like something out of war-torn Bosnia.” Every building within four blocks of the Murrah suffers some effects. A United Parcel Service truck 10 miles away has its windows shattered by the blast. Cars in parking lots around the area catch fire and burn. Millions of sheets of paper, and an innumerable number of glass shards, shower down for hundreds of feet around the building. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 28-30]
Truck Axle Crushes Nearby Car - Richard Nichols (no relation to bomber Timothy McVeigh’s co-conspirator Terry Nichols), a maintenance worker standing with his wife a block and a half away from the Murrah Building, is spun around by the force of the blast. They throw open the back door of their car and begin taking their young nephew Chad Nichols out of the back seat, when Richard sees a large shaft of metal hurtling towards them. The “humongous object… spinning like a boomerang,” as Richard later describes it, hits the front of their Ford Festiva, smashing the windshield, crushing the front end, driving the rear end high into the air, and sending the entire car spinning backwards about 10 feet. Chad is not seriously injured. The metal shaft is the rear axle of the Ryder truck. Later, investigators determine that it weighs 250 pounds and was blown 575 feet from where the truck was parked. Governor Frank Keating (R-OK) points out the axle to reporters when he walks the scene a day or so later, causing some media outlets to incorrectly report that Keating “discovered” the axle. The scene will take investigators days to process for evidence. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 32; New York Times, 6/3/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 187-189]
First Responders Begin Arriving - Within minutes, survivors begin evacuating the building, and first responders appear on the scene (see 9:02 a.m. - 10:35 a.m. April 19, 1995).
McVeigh's Getaway - McVeigh flees the bomb site in his Mercury getaway car (see 9:02 a.m. and After, April 19, 1995), but is captured less than 90 minutes later (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995).

The Montana Militia calls newly elected Representative Helen Chenoweth (R-ID) the best friend militia groups have in Congress, according to a report by the New York Times. The Montana Militia’s fall 1994 catalogue sells, among other items, a bomb-making manual, tapes explaining the “one-world government” conspiracy, and a video of a speech made by Chenoweth in late 1993, in which, the catalogue claims, she told listeners over 50 percent of the United States is now under “the control of the New World Order” (see September 11, 1990). She does not use the actual term on the videotape. “We are in a day and age now when we are facing an unlawful government from time to time,” she told listeners. “We are in a battle today that is far more insidious and dangerous as far as conquering our people and our soul than we have ever faced before. Our land has been taken. It’s time we reclaim our land.” The tape is titled “America in Crisis” and is sold along with tapes like “En route to Global Occupation,” which states, “The anti-Christ is not coming—he’s here!” Chenoweth has also made claims of an impending “New World Order” takeover of the United States, and has cited as proof the UN’s designation of Yellowstone National Park as a world heritage site. (The Sierra Club will note: “In real life, the UN label means only that the site has ‘outstanding universal value.’ The regulations under which it was designated were drawn up by Ronald Reagan’s Interior Secretary, James Watt.”) Chenoweth is now under pressure to explain her contacts with militia groups, an issue that did not significantly arise during the 1994 election but was sparked by recent revelations that Representative Steve Stockman (R-TX) received faxes from militia groups in the hours after the Oklahoma City bombings (see 10:50 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 23-24, 1995). Ken Toole of the Montana Human Rights Network says, “Given what we know about the conspiratorial world view and violent tendencies that are at the core of militia beliefs, for elected officials to be supportive or even neutral does nothing but embolden these people.” In March 1995, Chenoweth issued a press release demanding that the federal government immediately stop sending “black helicopters” filled with armed federal agents to interfere with private citizens’ affairs in her state (see February 15, 1995). Chenoweth, Stockman, and other congressional members who have had militia members as campaign volunteers and have presented militia concerns to the House insist that they are doing nothing more than looking out for their constituents. [New York Times, 5/2/1995; Sierra Magazine, 5/1996]

Entity Tags: Steve Stockman, Helen P. Chenoweth, James Watt, Sierra Club, Ken Toole, New York Times, Montana Militia

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

June 13, 1996: Freemen Surrender Peacefully

A distant shot of the Freemen compound. Reporters were not given much access to the area, and photographs of the area and the participants in the standoff are limited.A distant shot of the Freemen compound. Reporters were not given much access to the area, and photographs of the area and the participants in the standoff are limited. [Source: CNN]The besieged Montana Freemen (see March 25, 1996) surrender peacefully to federal authorities. Officials credit Freemen leader Edwin Clark (see June 11, 1996) with playing a key role in negotiating the surrender. [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] The New York Times writes that the siege ends “so peacefully that the surrender [does] not even disturb the cows grazing at the group’s remote Montana ranch.” Local postal carrier and rancher Ruth Coulter exclaims after the surrender: “My God, it’s finally over! And nobody got killed! Wonderful. Wonderful!” [New York Times, 6/14/1996]
16 Freemen Surrender - CNN identifies 16 people still inside the compound: Ralph Clark (see 1980s-1994), the elderly leader of the Clark family and one of the group’s leaders; Clark’s wife Kay; Clark’s brother Emmett Clark, the actual former owner of the 960-acre wheat farm occupied by the Freemen and dubbed “Justus Township” (see September 28, 1995 and After); Emmett Clark’s wife Rosie; Ralph Clark’s son Edwin; Edwin Clark’s son Casey Clark; Rodney Skurdal, a founder of the group (see 1983-1995); Russell Dean Landers, one of the leaders of the group and a member of a North Carolina anti-government, anti-tax group called “Civil Rights Task Force”; Dana Dudley Landers, Landers’s common-law wife, a fugitive from federal and state charges, and a member of the “Civil Rights Task Force”; Dale Jacobi, a former Canadian policemen; Steven Hance, who faces state charges from North Carolina; Hance’s sons John Hance and James Hance; Cherlyn Petersen, the wife of arrested Freemen member Daniel Petersen; Casey Valheimer; and Barry Nelson, who with another man entered the ranch after eluding blockades (see March 25 - April 1, 1996). [CNN, 6/12/1996] The surrender is peaceful; the Freemen drive to the ranch gates in cars, trucks, and a Winnebago motor home. They gather in a quiet circle for a final prayer. Then Edwin Clark approaches an agent and shakes hands. Finally, in pairs escorted by Clark, they surrender to waiting agents, who ease them into passenger vans. Clark is the last one to enter custody. Fourteen of the Freemen are taken to the Yellowstone County jail in Billings, 175 miles away from Jordan. Two, Kay Clark and Rosie Clark, face no charges and are not jailed, though the FBI says they will not be allowed to return to the compound. After hearing of the surrender, President Clinton tells guests at a state dinner, “We will all say a little prayer tonight for this peaceful settlement.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/14/1996]
FBI Director 'Obviously Relieved' - FBI Director Louis Freeh, described by the Los Angeles Times as “obviously relieved,” says the FBI “put patience above the risk of bloodshed” to end the standoff. He says the bureau “made no deals to drop or lessen the federal charges” against any of the Freemen in order to precipitate the surrender. Of critics who called for quicker and perhaps more “tactical” solutions, Freeh says: “I understand their impatience. But it was essential that we followed our established crisis management procedures.” He says the standoff proves the worth of the new crisis response plans implemented after the tragedies in Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992), and Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). This time, the bureau used “a fundamentally different approach” that “may not always work, but it worked here.” Giving negotiators more influence during the standoff did cause some “disagreements” and “friction” within the FBI, Freeh acknowledges, but it was the right decision to make. Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick says “[t]he tactical option was always on the table.” Freeh notes that as the standoff wore on, the Freemen gained a certain level of reluctant trust in the bureau. “We never broke a promise to them,” he says, and “we told them before things happened,” such as cutting off electrical power (see June 3, 1996). [Los Angeles Times, 6/15/1996]
Outreach to Rightist Figures, Low-Key Techniques Brought Successful Resolution - FBI agents credit help they received from militia members in helping to resolve the standoff, along with the new, more low-key techniques of handling such confrontations now being used by the bureau. “Overall, our approach was to find a balance between negotiations and other lawful means,” says FBI agent Ron VanVranken, who took part in the final settlement negotiations. “We recognized it would be prudent and beneficial to use the services of third-party intermediaries and to be constantly soliciting the advice of outside experts.” Freeh says he was supportive of the decision to use third-party negotiators who hold similar anti-government views to those of the Freemen: “I think that, given all the other cumulative steps over the last 81 days, that that helped persuade the remaining subjects to finally come out of the compound.” The Los Angeles Times says that the FBI’s strategy of reaching out to far-right figures may have had an added benefit of creating dissension among rightist groups (see March 25 - April 1, 1996) and avoiding a “united front” of opposition that might have helped strengthen the Freemen’s resolve to continue holding out. “It was probably a wise move that the Freemen came out, as opposed to being burned out or shot,” says Clay Douglas, publisher of the far-right Free American newspaper and a leading member of the “Patriot” movement. “And it’s an election year, so the FBI had to be good.” However, the FBI’s decision to use “Patriot” negotiators “was pretty smart on their part. It has divided a lot of patriots. A lot of people thought they were being traitors for going in and trying to talk them out. Some people side with the Freemen. Some people side with the ‘Patriot’ leaders. So it’s just another small part of how the government keeps America divided. It’s called gradualism. They keep gradually encroaching on our freedoms.” The FBI brought in militia leaders James “Bo” Gritz and Jack McLamb (see April 27, 1996), Colorado State Senator Charles Duke, a rightist sympathizer (see May 15-21, 1996), and white supremacist lawyer Kirk Lyons (see June 11, 1996); even though most of their attempts at negotiations failed, it served to build a “bridge” between the FBI and the Freemen. Another technique was to promote Edwin Clark, the Freeman the FBI considered the most likely to leave the compound, as a leader in the absence of arrested Freemen LeRoy Schweitzer and Daniel Petersen (see March 25, 1996). The final element was the introduction of Lyons, who was contacted three weeks ago by FBI agents and asked for a plan to negotiate with the Freemen. Lyons’s colleague Neill Payne says somewhat incredulously, “It is to Director Freeh’s credit that he was broad-minded enough to go along with a crazy scheme like ours.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/15/1996]

New York Times columnist Frank Rich urges the nation to forego the idea that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s conviction (see June 2, 1997) brings “closure” to the possibility that domestic terrorism could be a problem in America. Rich writes that the national media seems more than ready to move to new subjects, and shows little interest in McVeigh’s connection to what Rich calls “a diverse, violent right-wing fringe, ranging from neo-Nazis to gun-absolutists to Christian Identity white supremacists (see 1960s and After), that most journalists ignored prior to April 19, 1995.” Rich notes that the Anti-Defamation League has documented a sharp spike in “militia-related crime[s]” over the past 18 months, most of which gain little or no national news coverage. Two serious bombing plots in Oklahoma and Michigan by militia cells have recently been foiled. Abortion clinics have been hammered by assaults, prompting Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt to say: “There seems to be an inability to recognize that this terrorism is terrorism. Isn’t bombing a women’s health center terrorism?” Most militia operations and abortion-clinic bombings are being ignored by the national media, even the above-ground operations such as a recent series of public “conclaves” held by the neo-Nazi National Alliance. Author Frederick Clarkson, an expert on far-right violence, writes that it is “an authentic crisis of democracy when people seek to blame the government” for all ills, and “solve” those ills through violence rather than by voting, civil demonstrations, and other means. Another expert on far-right violence, Chip Berlet, says that “perhaps as many as five million” Americans adhere to the most enraged varieties of right-wing populism and are part of “the recruitment pool” for “neo-Nazi demagogues” waiting “to exploit and channel unresolved anger toward bloodshed and terror.” America, Rich concludes, ignores this at the nation’s peril. [New York Times, 6/5/1997]

Entity Tags: Frederick Clarkson, Anti-Defamation League, Chip Berlet, Frank Rich, Timothy James McVeigh, Gloria Feldt, National Alliance

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

James Blassengill and his wife, Willie, who lost six family members in the bombing, comfort one another after the verdict.James Blassengill and his wife, Willie, who lost six family members in the bombing, comfort one another after the verdict. [Source: AP / Washington Post]The jury in the trial of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997) unanimously decides that McVeigh should be sentenced to death by lethal injection. The verdict is written in heavy black ink by jury foreman James Osgood, a single word: “Death.”
Statements by Prosecution and Defense - The prosecution puts an array of survivors and family members of the victims on the stand to tell their harrowing stories, and shows videotapes of some of the surviving children battling grave injuries in the months after the bombing. The defense counters with testimonials from some of McVeigh’s former Army friends (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990 and January - March 1991 and After), and a presentation by McVeigh’s divorced parents, Bill McVeigh and Mildred Frazer; the father introduces a 15-minute videotape of McVeigh as a child and concludes simply, “I love Tim.” The defense emphasizes McVeigh’s far-right political views, insisting that his misguided belief that the government intended to impose tyranny on its citizens was fueled by the Ruby Ridge (see August 31, 1992 and August 21-31, 1992) and Branch Davidian (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After) incidents, and drove McVeigh to mount his own strike against a government facility. However, defense lawyer Richard Burr tells the jury, “He is just like any of us.” The defense brings in soldiers who served with McVeigh in the Army to testify about McVeigh’s exemplary service, but their statements are quickly neutralized when prosecutors remind them that they are all taught as their first rule of duty “never to kill noncombatants, including women and children.” Another damning moment comes when prosecutor Beth Wilkinson elicits testimony that shows McVeigh killed more people in the bombing than US forces lost during Desert Storm—168 to 137. Jones pleads for a life sentence without parole. At no time do defense lawyers say that McVeigh feels any remorse towards the lives he took.
Unanimous Verdict - The jury takes about 11 hours over two days to reach its verdict. The jury unanimously finds that at least seven “aggravating circumstances” were associated with McVeigh’s crimes, including his intention to kill, his premeditation and planning, that he created a grave risk to others with reckless disregard for their lives, that he committed offenses against federal law enforcement officials, and that he created severe losses for the victims’ families. They are split in consideration of “mitigating factors” proposed by the defense. Only two find McVeigh to be a “reliable and dependable person”; only four say he had “done good deeds and helped others” during his life; none see him as a “good and loyal friend”; and none agree with the proposition that he “believed deeply in the ideals upon which the United States was founded.” Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler says: “This is not a day of great joy for the prosecution team. We’re pleased that the system worked and justice prevailed. But the verdict doesn’t diminish the great sadness that occurred in Oklahoma City two years ago. Our only hope is that the verdict will go some way toward preventing such a terrible, drastic crime from ever occurring again.” Juror Tonya Stedman says that the jury wrestled with the idea of taking McVeigh’s life for his crimes: “It was difficult because we’re talking about a life. Yes, 168 died as a result of it, but this is another life to consider. This was a big decision. I feel confident in the decision we made.” Most relatives of the bombing victims echo the sentiments expressed by Charles Tomlin, who lost a son in the explosion: “I could see the strain on them [the jurors]. You know it was a hard decision to make to put a man to death, but I’m glad they did.” However, some agree with James Kreymborg, who lost his wife and daughter in the blast. Kreymborg says he “really did not want the death penalty” because “I’ve had enough death.” Mike Lenz, whose pregnant wife died in the blast, says: “It’s not going to bring back my wife and lessen my loss. My reason for believing or wanting to put McVeigh to death is it stops. It stops here. He can’t reach out and try to recruit anybody else to his cause.” Marsha Kight, who lost her daughter in the explosion, says she would have preferred a life sentence in prison: “There is a lot of pain in living—death is pretty easy.” Lead defense attorney Stephen Jones acknowledges respect for the jury’s decision, and adds: “We ask that the barriers and intolerance that have divided us may crumble and suspicions disappear and hatred cease. And our divisions and intolerance being healed, we may live together in justice and peace. God save the United States of America. God save this honorable court.” President Clinton had publicly called for the death sentence after the bombing (see April 23, 1995), but avoids directly commenting on the jury’s decision, citing the impending trial of fellow bombing suspect Terry Nichols (see November 3, 1997). Instead, Clinton says: “This investigation and trial have confirmed our country’s faith in its justice system. To the victims and their families, I know that your healing can be measured only one day at a time. The prayers and support of your fellow Americans will be with you every one of those days.” McVeigh faces 160 murder charges under Oklahoma state law. [New York Times, 6/4/1997; Denver Post, 6/14/1997; Washington Post, 6/14/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 297-300, 308, 313-315; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Douglas O. Linder, 2006; Douglas O. Linder, 2006] McVeigh shows no emotion when the sentence is read. When he is escorted out of the courtroom, he flashes a peace sign to the jury, then turns to his parents and sister in the front row, and mouths, “It’s okay.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 315]
McVeigh Will Be Incarcerated in Colorado 'Supermax' Facility - McVeigh will be held in the same “supermax” federal facility in Florence, Colorado, that houses Theodore Kaczynski, the “Unabomber” (see April 3, 1996), and convicted World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef (see February 26, 1993 and February 7, 1995). In a letter to the authors of McVeigh’s authorized biography, American Terrorist, Kaczynski will later say he “like[s]” McVeigh, describing him as “an adventurer by nature” who, at the same time, is “very intelligent” and expressed ideas that “seemed rational and sensible.” [Douglas O. Linder, 2006] A person who later speaks to McVeigh in prison will call him “the scariest man in the world” because he is so quiet and nondescript. “There’s nothing alarming about him—nothing,” the person will say. “He’s respectful of his elders, he’s polite. When he expresses political views, for most of what he says, Rush Limbaugh is scarier. That’s what’s incredibly frightening. If he is what he appears to be, there must be other people out there like him. You look at him and you think: This isn’t the end of something; this is the beginning of something.” [Nicole Nichols, 2003] McVeigh is one of only 13 people to be sentenced to death under federal law. It has been 34 years since any prisoner sentenced to death under federal law was executed. [New York Times, 6/4/1997] He will speak briefly and obscurely on his own behalf when Judge Richard Matsch formally sentences him to death (see August 14, 1997).

Entity Tags: Joseph H. Hartzler, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Tonya Stedman, James Kreymborg, Charles Tomlin, James Osgood, Beth Wilkinson, Timothy James McVeigh, William (“Bill”) McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols, Marsha Kight, Theodore J. (“Ted”) Kaczynski, Mildred (“Mickey”) Frazer, Mike Lenz, Richard P. Matsch, Stephen Jones, Richard Burr

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A New York Times editorial warns that the conviction and death sentence of domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh (see June 11-13, 1997) has done nothing to stem what it calls “the violence of the militias that inspired him.” The editorial warns: “The militias are different from anything that preceded them because they gather not to take out their rage on Communists or minorities, but to wage war against a government they consider treasonous. In recent years militia groups have assaulted, harassed, and threatened scores of government officials. It is difficult for most Americans to take seriously a group of people whose targets include America’s county clerks and whose members hold that manufacturers’ labels on the backs of road signs actually point the way to the nearest concentration camp. But militia ideology has already provoked the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), the worst act of terrorism ever to take place on American soil. Since that act the militias have continued to grow, and the possibility of more terrorism is undimmed.” Some American communities, the editorial observes, “can no longer enforce their land, tax, and weapons laws, unwilling to risk that an employee might be attacked by militia members” (see January 1994 and April 1994). Firefighters fear taking helicopters over land owned by some militia members, because they worry they will be shot down. Militia officials have filed phony liens against local officials in at least 23 states (see 1993-1994). The editorial states: “The militias are a particularly insidious strain of the American viruses of paranoia and violence. They echo the white supremacy of the Ku Klux Klan and the conspiracy theories and gun obsessions of the John Birch Society. They draw on the American icon of the man who wants to be left alone to live by his creed, taking ideas and leaders from the rural Posse Comitatus movement that reached its peak during the farm crisis of the 1980s (see 1969).… [W]ith the end of the cold war, it may be that conspiracy theories once obsessed with Communism turned inward toward the American government. The militias, most of which operate in small, autonomous groups, now also have the Internet to propagate theories and plans.” The McVeigh case has invigorated many hardcore militia groups, many of whom insist the bombing was carried out by the government to discredit the militia movement and to justify its intention to implement martial law and tyranny. Many mainstream groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) welcome militia members and echo many militias’ ideologies and beliefs. And some lawmakers, such as Representative Helen Chenoweth (R-ID), are openly sympathetic to the militias (see February 15, 1995 and May 2, 1995). The editorial concludes with praise for the federal government’s peaceful resolution of the Montana Freemen standoff (see June 13, 1996), stating: “The Freemen standoff also showed the importance of public condemnation of violence. The Freemen found little support in surrounding communities. While militia forces thrive on government attacks, they cannot withstand the disdain of their neighbors. The militias are so widespread because they ostensibly draw on ideas strongly rooted in American history. But even citizens with sympathy for those ideas need to distinguish between their peaceful and their violent expression.” [New York Times, 6/14/1997] The editorial echoes concerns recently expressed by Times columnist Frank Rich (see June 5, 1997).

Entity Tags: National Rifle Association, Frank Rich, Helen P. Chenoweth, Montana Freemen, Timothy James McVeigh, New York Times

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike