The Threat of Domestic Terrorism

by Lynn F. Fischer

DoD Security Institute

While the international terrorist threat to U.S. persons and property is the continuing concern of U.S. defense and law enforcement organizations, there is another dimension to contemporary terrorism that must receive at least as much attention in security awareness programs: domestic terrorism. This brand of programmed violence which also has the objective of influencing governmental policy or public opinion, however, is homegrown. The recent increase in domestic violence is said to be associated with the rise of anti-government sentiment and the proliferation of self-styled militia and paramilitary groups-some of which take extremist positions on race, religion, federal authority, gun control, or taxation.

Not all bombings in this country fall under the category of domestic terrorism, but most of the violence associated with anti-governmental attacks takes this form. According to a recent Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) report, bombings or attempted bombings increased from 2,098 in 1990 to 3,199 in 1994 (the latest year available), a 52% increase. [See Note] Property damage from bombings rose to $7.5 million, with 308 people injured and 31 killed. Not included in the report was the tragic Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

What’s going on here?

How can this be explained? Some ATF experts call attention to the ready availability of materials and easy access to instructions and explosives information on the Internet. Others point to the copy-cat effect following Oklahoma City, anger or revenge against specific persons or agencies, or more ominous cultural or sociological trends. The purpose of this article is not to explain the mind-set, values, or motivations of those who would commit acts of domestic terrorism, but to document the fact that there is a growing threat to government facilities and federal employees throughout the nation.

What we as security educators or entrusted federal employees or service members need to be aware of is that terrorism has become not just a special concern for personnel who travel or live overseas. In very recent years it has become a subject of special interest for all of us, no matter how far from the border or remotely located we are. In fact several of the more terrorist-related events have occurred in places where we would have least expected it. Although not proven in court to be domestic terrorism, the destruction of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma, America’s heartland, in April of 1995, was a terrorist act which few of us would ever have thought possible. Over 100 Federal employees and members of their families died in that tragic event.

What follows is a review of some of the lesser known events also involving federal facilities or personnel, most of which followed the Oklahoma City bombing. These successful or attempted acts of terrorism which were reported in the public media clearly have domestic (as opposed to foreign) instigators:

March 1995, Central Minnesota. Two members of an anti-tax Minnesota militia, the Patriots Council, were convicted of making an illegal batch of ricin, a toxic derivative of the castor bean, that they planned to use against law-enforcement officers who had served legal papers on members of the group. Douglas Baker and Leroy Wheeler are the first offenders to be convicted under the Biological Weapons and Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989. In August, indictments were returned against two additional alleged conspirators. According to trial testimony, members of the group planned to poison U.S. agents by placing ricin on doorknobs and to blow up a federal building.

October 11, 1995, The Arizona Desert. Unknown terrorists derail a passenger train 60 miles southwest of Phoenix. One person was killed and 80 injured when the Amtrak train jumped the track and plunged over a bridge. Saboteurs had removed a section of track and bridged the gap with wire to disable the electronic warning system. Notes found at the scene referred to the federal siege at Waco and to Ruby Ridge. At least one note was signed “Sons of Gestapo,” a group unknown to terrorism experts.

November 13, 1995, Muskogee, Oklahoma. A self-proclaimed “anti-government prophet,” Ray Willie Lampley and three others are charged with plotting a series of bombings against abortion clinics, homosexual gathering places, welfare offices and offices of the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. The four members of the Oklahoma Constitutional Militia were arrested before any of their plans were carried out and charged with conspiracy to manufacture and possess bombs to blow up federal offices in several cities. Lampley and two others were found guilty of the bomb charges in April 1996.

December 18, 1995, Reno, Nevada. Two unemployed and heavily indebted construction workers, Ellis Hurt and Joseph Bailie attempted to bomb the Reno, Nevada, office of the Internal Revenue Service. The pair placed a bomb made of about 100 pounds of fertilizer and kerosene with a lit fuse in a parking lot next to the IRS building. However, the triggering mechanism failed and bomb did not ignite. Authorities on the scene believe that many deaths and injuries would have occurred had it gone off. Bailie was described by an assistant U.S. Attorney as a man obsessed with the IRS who boasted that he had not paid taxes since 1985. Hurst testified against Bailie and was sentenced to 10 years. Both were convicted of conspiracy, attempted destruction of a government building, and the use of an explosive device while committing a violent crime. Bailie received a 36-year sentence.

January 6, 1996, Espanola, New Mexico. A bomb exploded outside of a U.S. Forest Service headquarters. The blast caused $25,000 damage to the offices but no injuries as it occurred on a Saturday night. A Forest Service employee in Nevada has been targeted twice. His unoccupied office was hit by a pipe bomb in March 1995 and another blew up a van parked outside his house in August. His wife and daughter were at home, but not injured. The Forest Service has been involved in local controversies over Federal land management, grazing, and logging. To date no significant leads have been reported.

April 15, 1996, Vacaville, California. The Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health office in Vacaville received a threat from a caller who said “You guys are all dead. Timothy McVeigh lives on.” Several hours later a bomb exploded in the truck of a federal employee injuring him and his wife. The employee, an inspector at the mine office, and his wife were driving home when they heard an explosion and lost control of the vehicle. They escaped the truck before it burned, but were hospitalized.

May 20, 1996, Laredo, Texas. An explosion blew out the windows of a five-story office building which was the location of an FBI field office staffed by 12 agents. There were no injuries or structural damage. It is not known whether the FBI was the intended target; the building housed a bank and several other offices. An anonymous caller claiming responsibility for the blast said he belonged to “Organization 544.”

August 10, 1996, Austin, Texas. Charles Ray Polk was sentenced to more than 20 years for plotting to bomb the office of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in Austin. Polk, a car salesman, had been convicted on six counts of explosives and firearms violations. Evidence presented at the trial showed that he had planned to plant more than a thousand pounds of explosives in the IRS service center.

October 11, 1996, Clarksburg, West Virginia. Seven men having connections with a local anti-government paramilitary group were arrested on charges of plotting to blow up the Criminal Justice Information Services Division complex near Clarksburg. The arrests were made as members of the West Virginia Mountaineer Militia were assembling large quantities of explosives and blasting caps. Militia leader Floyd Raymond Looker is alleged to have obtained blueprints of the FBI facility from a Clarksburg firefighter. Plastic explosives were confiscated by law enforcement officials at five locations in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

As in the Clarksburg case, effective preventative law enforcement action surely saved many lives. In several instances, domestic terrorists were apprehended before they could implement their deadly plans. And the above examples are not the complete story. Reports of other arrests related to terrorist conspiracies or to the illegal possession of explosives are appearing frequently in the press and news wires. Here is a sample of news items over the same timeframe:

In Las Vegas, New Mexico, a district attorney’s office is hit with molotov cocktails. A Romanian immigrant is stopped as he attempts to board a flight at Tampa and is arrested for carrying five hand-made explosive devices, weapons, and 180 rounds of ammunition. A man identified as a member of an anti-government Freeman group is apprehended in Topeka, Kansas, after authorities find a bomb-triggering device in his car. In April of this year, two members of the Georgia Republic Militia are arrested after plotting to make dozens of pipe bombs. The accused claim they were arming themselves for war against the United Nations and the New World Order.

In June, 12 members of the so-called Viper Militia in Phoenix are arrested for a conspiracy to make bombs and other weapons. On November 17, three of the members are convicted for conspiring to use deadly weapons. In July 1996, the FBI arrests eight people including four members of an anti-government militia in Bellingham, Washington, for possession of guns and explosives . The eight are accused of arming themselves for a clash with the government. In the same month, four members of the Washington State Militia and four members of a Seattle-based Freeman group are arrested on Federal conspiracy charges. The eight are accused of arming themselves for war against the U.S. Government or the United Nations. In September, a Staten Island, New York, man who was stockpiling weapons for “an upcoming battle with a secret organization” is arrested by ATF agents.

The bottom line for federal personnel

What does all of this mean in terms of effective action on our part to counter the threat of domestic or even foreign-sponsored terrorism? For the security educator, as always, after having established the credibility of the threat, the next step is to tell us what to do about it. Part of the answer is found in remarks of Senator Mike DeWine quoted in the Cleveland Plain Dealer following the Oklahoma City bombing.

Commenting on recent acts of domestic terrorism, Senator DeWine stated that strong undercover work has no substitute and that these events reinforce the need for human intelligence penetration into these terrorist groups. He went on to say, “Human intelligence is the only way you find information that will prevent actions such as this.” The corollary to this is that good human intelligence depends on the free flow of relevant and timely communications to law enforcement officials who then can take action. The best source of this information is an alert, aware, and committed workforce who are in a position to see things and hear things which might signal a life-threatening situation or conspiracy to destroy U.S. government facilities.

Preventative action

A related article in this issue of the Bulletin, focuses on the issue of employee involvement in the process of counterintelligence investigations. In “Looking for the Unexpected” we discuss the recent White House security guidance on anomalies-the recognition and reporting of unexpected behavior, patterns, or events which are clues that an adversarial interest has penetrated our security.

The reporting of anomalies to stop espionage is essentially the same idea as keeping law enforcement and security authorities informed about indicators that might signal an intensified or immediate terrorist threat. In both situations U.S. government assets and even lives are at risk, and aware and motivated employees and service members have an important role to play. This raises the question: What should be recognized as important, reportable indicators and events that security and law-enforcement professionals need to know about? The following list has been compiled from suggestions made by counterterrorism experts for use in security education to combat domestic terrorism. (For personal protection measures please consult anti-terrorism publications listed in this issue as available through the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)

Any of the following events might mean danger and should be a reason for an immediate report or for seeking advice from security or law enforcement officials:

Anonymous tips, phone calls, or notes of a threatening nature which may identify groups or carry extremist messages.

Surveillance by suspicious persons of federal offices or federal employees performing official duties.

Unidentified or unattended packages, cans, or other containers left in or near government offices.

Unattended and unoccupied vehicles parked in unauthorized or inappropriate locations, particularly those in close proximity to buildings or other structures.

Requests for plans, blueprints, or engineering specification for federal buildings or commercially-owned buildings that house government offices, by those who have no official reason to have them.

Unauthorized access even to unsecured areas by unknown or unidentified persons who have no apparent reason for being there.

Packages or heavy envelopes which arrive in the mail from unknown senders or which have a peculiar odor or appearance-often without a clear return address.

Confrontation with angry, aggressively belligerent, or threatening persons by federal officials in the performance of their official duties.

Extremely threatening or violent behavior by co-workers who indicate that they may resort to revenge against a group, company, or government agency.

Living with the Threat

We live with many dangers in our lives, ranging from everyday household accidents to natural disasters. We do so without relentless fear. Just as we face the possibility of having our home burglarized or vandalized, we might also face similar crimes at our place of work. Terrorism is a fact of contemporary life. It is important to be aware of the threat of violence and to take intelligent and reasonable steps to protect ourselves and government facilities. But it is also important to know that we can do something to prevent it. Recent events have demonstrated that those who would use violent acts to achieve political objectives can be stopped in their tracks, before they kill or destroy, by vigilance and timely communications to those entrusted with the job of counterterrorism.

NOTE: Based on the ATF 1994 Arson and Explosive Incident Report as described in several news media reports.

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