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Patriot acts

An organization tracking anti-government patriot groups finds growth in Oklahoma mirrors what is occurring nationwide.

Clifton Adcock August 29th, 2012

Twenty years ago this month, federal agents surrounded a remote cabin in northern Idaho after the man inside, Randy Weaver, refused to surrender on weapons-related charges.

Before the end of that nine-day standoff, Weaver’s wife and son would be killed along with a deputy U.S. marshal. And the repercussions of the siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, would help fuel the anti-government militia movement of the 1990s.

Now, the nation and Oklahoma are seeing a resurgence of the so-called patriot movement beyond levels from that decade, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based nonprofit that tracks alleged hate, militia and patriot groups.

The number of patriot groups in the U.S. showed an eightfold increase from 2008 to 2011, according to the SPLC. Last year, 1,274 patriot groups were active, reports the organization, compared to fewer than 150 in 2008.

With the possibility of re-election of a U.S. president widely despised by patriot group members, observers of the movement expect such groups to grow and become more active.

SPLC lists 10 patriot groups as operating in Oklahoma in 2011, compared to a single group in 2008.

The report differentiates between patriot groups and those that espouse hate. While hate groups see the enemy as people of color or those with different religion or sexual orientation, patriot members view the federal government as their foe, according to SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok.

“They believe some variation of the idea that the government secretly plans to impose martial law on the country,” he said, “very likely with the aid of foreign troops, that it will seize the guns of all Americans, followed by throwing those who resist into concentration camps ... and force the United States into a socialist, one-world government.”

The Oklahoma groups identified by SPLC include: the John Birch Society, an anti-communist organization formed in 1958; the Tulsa-based Oklahomans for Sovereignty and Free Enterprise, or OK SAFE; the Republic for the United States of America, a sovereign citizens group; the Tenth Amendment Center; and a conspiracy-oriented group called We Are Change.

Seeds of discontent

Patriot groups first began seeing major growth in the mid-1990s following Ruby Ridge and the FBI siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. The movement reached its peak in 1996 — a year after anti-government hatred spurred the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing — with more than 850 groups identified by the SPLC.

The symbolic end to that growth spurt, Potok said, came when the so-called Y2K millennium crisis failed to materialize, contradicting the predictions of many militias. The movement received a boost with the rising national profile of Obama.

“We’ve never seen growth like this,” Potok said. “It’s almost 400 groups higher than the all-time high in 1996, when things were really hot out there. It’s hard not to notice that this precisely coincides with the first three years of the Obama administration.”

The so-called patriot groups that responded to Oklahoma Gazette’s request for comment accused the SPLC of being a liberal front group with an ideological ax to grind.

“I think the Southern Poverty Law Center is itself a hate group and their list is meaningless,” said Amanda Teegarden, executive director of OK SAFE. “I don’t want to waste much time with them because I think they’re politically motivated.”

She disputed the SPLC’s claim that patriot groups have blossomed since 2008.

“The SPLC is a drama queen,” Teegarden said.

Her sentiments are shared by Patrick Ross, the former northeast Oklahoma coordinator with Oath Keepers. The group — made up of current and former military, police, firefighters and other public servants — has vowed to reject orders they consider unconstitutional.

“I’m aware of them (SPLC) and I have no time for them. It’s a liberal activist group,” Ross said.

He did say, however, that he has seen an increase in groups ideologically similar to Oath Keepers, viewing the rise of such groups as backlash from what Obama “is doing to the country.”

What’s ahead

Potok said the SPLC anticipates continued growth in the patriot movement.

“We’ve noticed that a lot of groups on the extreme right are staring to melt down over the prospect of four more years under Obama,” he said. “For the real hate groups, it’s four more years under the hated black president. For the patriot groups, they’re looking at four more years under a man they regard as some kind of imposer of the New World Order.

“I don’t want to suggest the nation is doomed or we’re headed toward a fascist government or race war or anything like that. I think the reality is we’re going through a period of very serious backlash that’s quite dangerous, but similar to other backlashes we’ve seen in our history.

“Presumably, this, too, shall pass.”

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