Cover Story: Making America hate again? Hate and extremist group activity on the rise

(Cover illustration: Christopher Street)

(Cover illustration: Christopher Street)

Active HateFor many people, including the 1 in 4 Oklahomans each year who marry a member of a different race, “separatist” versus “supremacist” is a distinction without a difference. Intolerance, discrimination and segregation are simply different shades of the same things: extremism and hate.

Despite its avowed passivity and public disavowal of hate as a community philosophy, to the general public, Elohim City has come to symbolize both hate and extremism, attracting members of such groups in search of spiritual counsel. And the number of those groups is rising nationally. Mark Potok, senior fellow at Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), said his organization tracks hate and extremist groups based ideology rather than actions or criminality. He said the number of active hate groups in the U.S. went up from 784 in 2014 to 892 in 2015. The number of extremist, antigovernment “patriot” groups also spiked in recent years, far surpassing their previous peak of 858 in 1996 to 1,360 in 2012. After two years of decline, activity spiked in 2015. SPLC tracked 998 active antigovernment groups last year.

Active PatriotsIn Oklahoma, hate group numbers went up from 11 in 2014 to 17 last year. However, antigovernment groups fell from 15 in 2013 to 10 in 2015. Potok said it is hard to pin down an actual trend for the state, due in part to low population numbers compared to states such as California, which historically have large numbers of such groups.

“I went back to look at the counts in Oklahoma, and they went up and down and up again,” Potok said. “These are essentially, by and large, accidents of history. There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to it. Groups pop up and disappear very often because somebody’s girlfriend left the state and they left and took their little organization with them, or somebody leaves the movement or somebody gets into it.”

Those 17 hate groups in the state are dominated by multiple Ku Klux Klan (KKK) groups, three black separatist organizations, a neo-Confederate ministry and Windsor Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. The church was placed on SPLC’s hate groups list after pastor Tom Vineyard made several antigay statements before the Oklahoma City Council in 2011. Vineyard did not respond to an interview request.

Potok attributes the rise of KKK groups nationally to the 2015 fight over the Confederate flag in South Carolina — the number of chapters rose from 72 in 2014 to 190 in 2015, and there were rallies in support of the flag in 26 states last year.

Ryan Lenz, editor of SPLC’s Hatewatch blog, said the increase of KKK activity in Oklahoma can be traced to the state’s geography and recent immigration trends.

“Oklahoma is one state removed from the border,” Lenz said. “So something like the Klan, while historically an anti-black organization, in recent years, as the realities of current affairs that animate hate groups have diversified or changed, immigration is a large factor.”


IMG_2368 (1)
‘Not much has changed’

Editor’s Note: 21 years after the Oklahoma City bombing, Elohim City’s founding family is done talking about its alleged association with convicted antigovernment and white supremacist domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh. But the Millar family’s views on race and the genetic superiority of whites definitely makes that difficult.

God’s city

In early 1996, almost one year after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Gazette photographer Mark Hancock and I drove east on Interstate 40 in my wife’s 1987 Grand Am. As we passed the Shawnee Mall on our way to a remote white separatist community on the eastern border of Oklahoma, a black-and-yellow religious billboard loomed near the Shawnee City limits:

Are You Going to Heaven, or to Hell?

It’s the kind of question most visitors to the tiny village of about 100 people could answer easily for themselves, depending on their response on their approach to Elohim City, or “God’s City.” It was the smiling residents with their Jim Crow attitudes about race that clinched most visitors’ assessment of the heaven/hell binary.

(Google Maps / Oklahoma Gazette)

(Google Maps / Oklahoma Gazette)

We went there to report on a place of particular intrigue for reporters covering the labyrinthine backstories of the bombing, a place to which Timothy McVeigh allegedly placed a phone call two weeks before the attack — most likely to Andreas Karl Strassmeir, a German national McVeigh met at a Tulsa gun show in 1993. The resulting story, “Welcome to Elohim City,” prompted many letters to the editor and phone calls, and not all of it praise. Due to my straightforward journalistic decision to let the members of the community tell their own story of Christian Identity, a white separatist doctrine and apocalyptic ideology, with little editorializing on my end, one of my former history professors at the University of Oklahoma wrote a scathing letter to the Gazette, calling for me to be fired, apparently for not flicking a lighted match out the window on my way out.

For many others, it became one of the defining stories of the Gazette’s post-bombing coverage, a view of the lifestyle and philosophy of antigovernment, back-to-nature white separatists in the logging-rich forests of eastern Oklahoma. It was a story that needed telling.

Two decades later, discussions about race are far less civil than they were in the mid-1990s, and presidential campaigns have done much to stoke that incivility. With white nationalist groups robocalling voters during primary season and the sound of quasi-racist “dog whistles” on the campaign trail becoming its own toxic noise pollution, it was time to revisit this place — this time, through the providence of cellular technology.

— By George Lang

Robert Millar founded Elohim City in 1973. After his death in 2001, his sons John and David have helped keep the community going.  (Gazette / File)

Robert Millar founded Elohim City in 1973. After his death in 2001, his sons John and David have helped keep the community going. (Gazette / File)

Defining character

Twenty-one years after the Oklahoma City bombing, David Millar is done talking about Timothy McVeigh. According to Millar, McVeigh — the convicted murderer of 168 people on April 19, 1995 — never visited Elohim City, and the attendant rumors and theories about his community’s involvement in the bombing were dispensed with long ago.

Timothy McVeigh (File)

Timothy McVeigh (File)

“We have people calling us and wanting to talk about the Oklahoma City stuff — you know, the bombing and the federal building — and we’re not interested in discussing that at all anymore,” Millar said in a recent Oklahoma Gazette phone interview. “We’ve been through that, and it’s been proven that we didn’t have anything to do with it. And we actually don’t remember the details, so it doesn’t solve anything to just continually rehash that.”

Millar, 48, is the younger son of Robert Millar, a Canadian ex-Mennonite who founded the 400-acre community in 1973. Since 2001, David Millar’s older brother, John, has served as Elohim City’s spiritual leader. Other than his father’s death and the installation of cellphone service; high-speed Internet; and a new, 7,000-square-foot church, David Millar said that not much has changed in Elohim City since the days when federal investigators and journalists made regular visits to the village, looking for clues or connections to the bombing. The buildings still run the gamut from mobile homes to rounded, low-to-the-ground structures that would not look out of place in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Shire.

“I think we’ve maintained a similar population,” David Millar said. “We usually run about 100 or more, half of them children. People come, and some people get married and move, get jobs and others show up, so we probably don’t have many more people than we did back then.”

Other things remain the same, such as the presence of James Ellison, the former leader of the Arkansas white supremacist paramilitary group known as The Covenant, The Sword and the Arm of the Lord (CSA). Ellison, now in his mid-70s, has lived there two decades. Richard Wayne Snell, an Arkansas white supremacist who was executed on the day of the Murrah Building domestic terrorist bombing for the 1983-84 murders of a pawnbroker he thought was Jewish and an African-American state trooper, is still buried in Elohim City.

Millar said that Elohim City is labeled frequently as a militant group or a hate group and it is often lumped in with the kind of people who have visited there, including members of the Aryan Republican Army, a group of white supremacists who robbed 22 Midwestern banks in the mid-1990s. Millar said that journalists often misidentify his community as white supremacists and describe Elohim City as a “compound” (a term at which he bristles), and John and David Millar both fervently deny in the press that Elohim City is a hate group. Such terminology, David Millar said, amounts to what he calls “paper terrorism.”

In concrete terms, many Elohim City residents are part of Christian Identity, a belief that the Anglo-Saxon, Germanic and Nordic people are the true descendants of the biblical Israelites and other races are barred from achieving salvation and will not take part in the Kingdom of Heaven. According to Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery, Alabama-based legal research organization devoted to the study and reporting of intolerance, Christian Identity rose to prominence in the 1980s as an influential philosophy among militant right-wing groups such as the CSA.

“We get labeled white supremacist. We don’t think there’s anything supreme about us, but our God is supreme. And he chose our people to do particular work,” Millar said.

“What we do believe in is racial purity. Kind begets kind, and it’s generally a better environment if white people marry white people and black people marry black people and Chinese marry Chinese,” he said. “We’re different not by a freak accident of evolution, but this is the creation that the Lord made. We all have unique abilities and a unique plan, so to confuse the issue and make one brown race — that’s all; just a little bit of everything, which I guess is the humanist view of this that would be politically correct — to do that would just add confusion.

“We don’t have a problem with the other races, but the wonderful distinctions in our culture, our genetics are something that should be amplified.”

Race relations

Robert Millar died on May 28, 2001 and was buried near the final resting place of Snell, his friend and spiritual follower. He died three years before Illinois State Sen. Barack Obama gave his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention and seven years before that same man, the child of a white American woman and a black man from Kenya, became president of the United States, an obvious worst-case scenario for the leader of a community that believes in “racial purity” as a key tenet.

David Millar said he thinks Obama’s election was an experiment by a young generation with noble intentions, but according to his interpretation of scripture, the election of an African-American man as president of the United States flouted the word of God.

“We’re still a predominantly white country; the majority in America would still be the Anglo-Saxon Germanic people. If that’s the case, then they ought to have somebody in the chief office ruling over them. I think that would bring more peace and tranquility in the nation,” Millar said.

“The idea of having Barack Obama as president brought a downhill spiral to our nation’s economic growth and recovery after all the war spending that Bush did, the racial tensions have grown rapidly since he’s been in there, and it hasn’t brought peace. The scripture talks about that,” he said. “It says, ‘Don’t have a foreigner that is somebody from another race lead over you. Do not elect them into that office.’ It will not bring peace, tranquility or stability in the nation, right?”

At this point, a shift toward “birtherism” should not be too surprising coming from one of Elohim City’s leaders, especially since Donald Trump, a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, popularized the concept. But it underlines how the ideas that originate from fringe groups can be so effectively mainstreamed in today’s political climate.

“If you put an Arab … if you got one of them that believes in Islam in as president of the United States or in a place of power and they don’t really have any of the Western civilization thoughts on equity that most of America does, it’s going to be a problem. They can’t really relate in that way,” Millar said. “As a matter of fact, I think that’s why there’s a lot of racial tensions and it’s hard for the children to be brought up in an interracial family, because you have one heritage, African-American, they have a different way of looking about things; they have different way of eating certain foods. It’s just going to be different than the average Anglo-Saxon man and his family in their house.

“It’s not that one’s right and one’s wrong; it’s that they’re different, and then the child grows up and doesn’t really know where to fit in,” he said. “One of them likes the cornbread and one likes the Irish potatoes.”

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses a crowd while protestors hold up a sign during his rally at the Mabee Center at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Jan. 20, 2016. (Photo Ian Maule / Tulsa World / File / Provided)

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses a crowd while protestors hold up a sign during his rally at the Mabee Center at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Jan. 20, 2016. (Photo Ian Maule / Tulsa World / File / Provided)

The end

In 1996, Robert Millar talked about a future in which Chinese armies would descend on the continent, destroying American society and spurring on the “wars and rumors of wars” promised in Matthew 24:6 that presage Armageddon. In the end, Elohim City would remain to rebuild the world in its image.

When asked about his father’s end-times scenario, David Millar said it remains true, but with 21st century updates.

“I think some of the fundamental concerns are definitely the same today in 2016 as they were back in ’96, although the face of some of them takes different shapes,” he said. “I’ve had people talk with me about the Chinese invasion, and there were large concerns about that back in the ’80s. In a sense, they have been invading; they own a lot of the ports, and the market share in America has gone up, and we owe them a lot of money.

“I think some of the ideas of how that’s going to play out have changed. It’s looking a lot different with Trump running now, isn’t it? Nobody knows what’s going to happen.”

Millar is a supporter of Trump, though he quickly pointed out that Elohim City’s political stance on the Republican primaries is hardly monolithic. One niece told him she could not stand how Trump comports himself on the campaign trail with a level of crassness that occasionally gives Millar pause as well. But Millar said he approves of Trump’s international policies, including the Trump Wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and playing tough with China’s army of commerce.

“One thing that is refreshing about Trump is that he speaks his mind,” Millar said, closely approximating the sound bites that have come from the real estate mogul’s supporters since he began surging in the polls. “I don’t always like what he says, but at least he’s just saying whatever comes to his mind. With a lot of the other politicians, you don’t have any idea what they’re really thinking.

“He’s not refined as much as Cruz, but at the same time, you sort of appreciate that because you think, well, you’re getting the real Trump. I think that’s one thing this nation’s had sort of enough of, this political correctness where you’re afraid to say what you think, you know, without being accused or frowned on or having to look around and see who’s staring at you.”

Millar frequently paraphrases Daniel 2:21 in describing how politics work in his world view, saying that “the Lord sets up whom he will.” So, if Donald Trump were to be elected the 45th president of the United States, it would be God’s will, according to Millar.

“Everybody thought he didn’t have a leg to stand on, and here he is, dominating the Republican Party,” Millar said. “We’re finding that pretty interesting.”

So, here is the end of the world, 2016 edition.

“Are you familiar with George Washington’s Vision?” Millar asked. “In the vision, which some people say is doctored or made up, he pretty clearly spells out all the different wars, major wars, we’ve been in. It talks again of a final, if we can say, Armageddon situation.”

Again I heard the mysterious voice saying, ‘Son of the Republic, look and learn.’ At this the dark, shadowy angel placed a trumpet to his lips and blew three distinct blasts; and taking water from the ocean, he sprinkled it on Europe, Asia, and Africa. Then my eyes beheld a fearful scene. From each of these countries arose thick black clouds that were soon joined into one; and throughout this mass there gleamed a dark red light by which I saw hordes of armed men, who, moving with the cloud, marched by land and sailed by sea to America, which country was enveloped in the volume of cloud. And I dimly saw these vast armies devastate the whole country and burn the villages, towns, and cities that I had beheld springing up.

“America is almost lost,” Millar said. “But all of a sudden, fires start springing up and the nation is saved again.”

George Washington’s Vision is definitely made up. The story was published in 1861 by sometime journalist Charles Wesley Alexander writing under the pen name Wesley Bradshaw, and it is supposedly based on the reminiscences of an elderly veteran named Anthony Sherman who fought with Washington at Valley Forge.

In fact, Alexander/Bradshaw wrote several of these “visions” attributed to other Americans such as Gen. George B. McClellan as patriotic inspiration pieces, along with pulp stories like Pauline of the Potomac, which was about a French woman with wizardlike powers fighting for the Union army. Yet this short piece of fiction now shows up on countless end-times websites as if it were a true religious vision experienced by the father of our country.

“I think it’s talking about the spiritual warfare that’s going on for the hearts and minds of Americans,” Millar said. “Whether this election will help with it or not, I don’t know, but I think there is a core in America that are going back to the Lord. They’re wanting to get back to the fundamentals of our founding fathers.”

Of course, that all hinges on a President Trump or a President Cruz, who is just European enough, it turns out, to make the cut for Elohim City.

“As a matter of fact, I think Cruz would be an excellent president. But when you get into genetics like that … really you have to get into the real genetics,” Millar said. “When you go over to a lot of these countries like England or Italy or Spain, you have to find out who you’re really talking about because some of them are really genetically closely related to the majority of Americans and some of them are not.

“So Cruz is far more closely related — seemingly, genetically — to the bulk of America than he is to a lot of the Cubans that are over there. If somebody has a lot of Cuban values, that is something that has to be considered.”


Kuma Roberts left shouts support to Muslims marching with the Oklahoma branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations during the Tulsa Veterans Day Parade Nov. 11, 2015. At right Jim Gilles protests the inclusion of Muslims in the parade. (Photo Mike Simons / Tulsa World / File / Provided)

Kuma Roberts left shouts support to Muslims marching with the Oklahoma branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations during the Tulsa Veterans Day Parade Nov. 11, 2015. At right Jim Gilles protests the inclusion of Muslims in the parade. (Photo Mike Simons / Tulsa World / File / Provided)

Confederate flag supporters gather in the shade of Tulsa’s City Hall as they hold a rally to support the flag, July 25, 2015. (Photo Michael Wyke / Tulsa World / File / Provided)

Confederate flag supporters gather in the shade of Tulsa’s City Hall as they hold a rally to support the flag, July 25, 2015. (Photo Michael Wyke / Tulsa World / File / Provided)

Defining extremism

Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) recently released its annual Intelligence Report and identified what it considers active hate-based and antigovernment groups across Oklahoma in 2015. This list includes Oklahoma groups determined by SPLC and groups discussed in Oklahoma Gazette’s cover story.

White supremacist

A person who believes the white race is exceptional compared to nonwhite races and is the only group that should have ultimate authority over nonwhite races.
• Ku Klux Klan (KKK): A secret, fraternal group that confines membership to American-born white Christians. In Oklahoma, it includes:
• Rebel Brigade Knights of the True Invisible Empire (statewide)
• Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Oklahoma City)
• United White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Lawton)
• Ku Klos Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Tulsa)
• United White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Broken Bow)
• Oklahoma Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Broken Bow)
• Oklahoma Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Idabel)
• United White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Haworth)
• United White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Hugo)
• Oklahoma Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Hugo)
• Aryan Republican Army (A white supremacist group Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh associated himself with in the 1990s. In 1997, The New York Times defined it as a group “dedicated to the violent overthrow of the United States Government and the death of all Jews.”)

Antigovernment

These people are generally considered conspiracy theorists. They advocate extreme antigovernment doctrines and often believe citizens must be well-armed to defend themselves from impending New World Order removal of citizens’ property rights, tyrannical gun control laws and/or mass confiscation of weapons. Examples include patriot groups, militias, sovereigns and “common law” courts. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was drawn to the extreme antigovernment tenets of mid-1990s militia groups.
• American Patriot Party (statewide)
• Constitution Party of Oklahoma (Chandler)
• Eagle Forum of Oklahoma (Oklahoma City)
• Oath Keepers (Oklahoma City)
• Oklahoma Defense Force (militia; Inola)
• OK-SAFE, Inc. (Oklahomans for Sovereignty and Free Enterprise) (Tulsa)
• Outlaw Militia (Creek County)
• Overpasses for America (Tecumseh)
• The Three Percenters — III%ers (Pottawatomie County)
• We the People (Tulsa)

White separatist

A political movement that believes whites should live separately from nonwhites and/or exclude nonwhite races.

White nationalist

White nationalists endorse a racial definition of national identity, including white supremacist and/or separatist ideologies. Groups include the Council of Conservative Christians, the Ku Klux Klan, racist skinheads, Christian Identity, neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis.

Black separatist

A political movement that typically opposes integration and racial intermarriage and asserts that blacks are the biblically chosen people of God — often strongly anti-white and anti-Semitic.
• Israel United in Christ (Oklahoma City)
• The Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ (Oklahoma City)
• Nation of Islam (Tulsa)

Neo-Nazi 

A group that believes in ideas and policies of Adolf Hitler’s Nazis; espouses hatred of Jews, minorities, LGBTQ communities and some Christians.
• National Socialist Freedom Movement (Tulsa)

Neo-Confederate

Endorses 20th- and 21st-century revivals of pro-Confederate sentiments held by secessionist American states. Neo-Confederates often view the Confederate States of America and its role in the Civil War positively. They oppose immigration and acculturation and endorse standards of American heritage they believe modern society has abandoned.
• Kingdom Treasure Ministries (neo-Confederate, Owasso)

General hate

Advocates intolerance, hatred, animosity, malice and/or violence based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, sector or class of society, disability, race, religion and/or national origin that differ from their own.
• Windsor Hills Baptist Church (anti-LGBT, Oklahoma City)
• Tony Alamo Christian Ministries (Muldrow)

Sources: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Southern Poverty Law Center, Merriam-Webster, The New York Times, Harvard, Wikipedia

By Oklahoma Gazette


Print headline: The rise of hate?, While specific trends of hate and extremist antigovernment group activity in Oklahoma is hard to pin down, their national numbers are on the rise.

Gazette Staff

This article was written by the Oklahoma Gazette staff. To reach an editor, please email jchancellor@okgazette.com with this story headline in your subject line.

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