Patriots No More

#405304: Timothy McVeigh headshot, defendant in Alfred Murrah Federal Building bombing, photo AP (file)

In her latest Political Points commentary, CBS News Senior Political Editor Dotty Lynch takes a look at the decline of the "Patriot" and militia movement.

April 19 was designated as Patriot's Day in Massachusetts in 1894 to commemorate the opening battles of the Revolutionary War in Lexington and Concord in 1775, and the end of the war in 1783.

Now, however, April 19 will go down in American history as a day of horror in two southwestern cities: Waco in 1993 and Oklahoma City in 1995.

The Patriot movement and its militia wing mushroomed in the mid-1990s and its most notorious advocate, Timothy McVeigh, came to epitomize patriotism gone twisted and mad. (Actually McVeigh was never a member of any formal Patriot organization but he passionately espoused many of their beliefs and articulated them at gun shows around the country).

According to a new book, "American Terrorist" by Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck, it was not lost on McVeigh that April 19, the day he planned the bombing of the Murrah Building, was the first day of the Revolutionary War as well as the anniversary of Waco.


For a look back at the Oklahoma City bombing, click here.

Today, as Timothy McVeigh sits in his cell awaiting his own execution on May 16, the anti-government Patriot movement is also on the wane. A new report issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center says that Patriot groups, which reached their peak of 858 in 1996, were down to 194 last year.

"PATRIOT" GROUPS
Year and Number
  • 1995: 224
  • 1996: 858
  • 1997: 523
  • 1998: 435
  • 1999: 217
  • 2000: 194

    (source: Southern Poverty Law Center)

  • The reasons for the decline in groups and membership according to Mark Potok of the SPLC are several: a crackdown by law enforcement on weapons violations and terrorist plots which scared off members; bickering and power struggles inside the groups over how militant their tactics should be; general disillusionment of some who were tired of waiting for the "revolution"; and the departure of some members for harder line groups.

    Other explanations include he improved economy, which has dissipated some of the anger, and the fact that many of the dire forecasts of federal government roundups didn't occur.

    The beginning of the movement in the early '90s, especially in the West and Midwest, coincided with the success of the gun control movement and a deep anger among some against perceived government attempts to control the environment and the land. There was also tremendous resentment among some people over what they believed was a transfer of American jobs to Third World countries.

    But the two events that really sparked the Patriot and militia movements were the federal sieges of white supremacist Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge in 1992 and the Branch Davidians at Waco in 1993. Timothy McVeigh gives revenge for Waco as his main motivation for bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center takes pains to distinguish the Patriot groups, many of which were nonviolent and organized around a strong anti-government ideology, from "hate groups." However the decline of the Patriot groups has been accompanied by a 10 percent jump, from 457 to 602, in the number of hate groups currently operating in the United States.

    The SPLC Intelligence Report identifies "White Power Music," which has been a draw to youth, and neo-Nazi groups, which have also tried to recruit young people and anti-immigrant group, as movements on the rise. And as the Ku Klux Klan has decreased in membership, a neo-Confederate movement has sprung up in the South.

    So while the good news is that McVeigh has been captured, tried and been brought to justice, and some of the violent anti-government groups have lost steam, hate and evil still persist. Using nationalistic calls and noble cries, these groups confuse violence with bravery. The horror of Oklahoma City and the loss of 168 lives mandates that we remember that McVeigh's actions were those of a murderer not a patriot.


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    • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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