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Profile: Stephen O’Leary

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Stephen O’Leary was a participant or observer in the following events:

Around 10,000 people attend the “Center for Preparedness Expo” in Denver to prepare for the imminent “Y2K” collapse of society warned of by many white separatists and “Patriot” movement members (see October 20, 1999 and February 4, 1999). The expo has traveled the country, including a stop in Philadelphia in June. Promoter Dan Chittock says the show offers “practical information for the uncertain times we live in,” but Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center says the expo features what he calls “a queer mix of people interested in organic farming and political extremism.” Visitors can buy anything from radiation detectors, tents, and survival rations to guides on avoiding income taxes and making their own license plates to avoid paying licensing fees for their vehicles. Lectures are offered with such titles as “Trapping Techniques for Self-Reliance and Survival,” “Don’t Get Caught With Your Pantry Down,” and “Save Your Life, Be Your Own Doctor.” Three seminars are about life under martial law. Previous expos have featured speakers such as militia leader Bo Gritz, who has spoken about coming plagues, imminent food shortages, and how President Clinton has sold out America. Stephen O’Leary, a University of Southern California professor who studies beliefs about the millennium, says that the expos have become recruitment centers for anti-government, survivalist militia groups who often hold racist and anti-Semitic views. “It’s not just about preparing for an emergency or disaster,” he says. “What they’re selling is a whole world view—a program for the apocalypse.” Potok, who has attended previous expos, says “it’s not unusual to see booths for the John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) and the Montana Militia next to a granola salesman.” The radical right, Potok says, is using fears of the upcoming millennium—“Y2K”—to fuel hysteria about what they say is the imminent declaration of martial law by the federal government and the eradication of constitutional liberties. Chittock calls such concerns “nonsense.” Barry Morrison of the Anti-Defamation League says of the expos: “What we’re concerned about is that some people take the position that the government is not to be trusted. Some of these exhibitors… portray people like Jews in an unfavorable light and as having undue control over their lives.” Morrison says anti-Semitic tracts espousing “Christian Identity” ideology (see 1960s and After) have appeared at previous expos. He also says Gritz’s Liberty Lobby is “the most influential anti-Semitic propaganda organization in America today.” He adds: “I’m not saying everyone [at the expos] is an extremist or subscribes to those views, but this is a vehicle that attracts that element. It’s part of the mix.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/11/1999; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]

Entity Tags: Stephen O’Leary, Montana Militia, Dan Chittock, John Birch Society, Barry Morrison, Mark Potok, James (“Bo”) Gritz

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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