By David Montgomery and Paul W. Valentine
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 14, 1995

Here in the shadow of the federal government, against which militias in the provinces are arming themselves, some people are worried about Waco and Oklahoma City.

But, this being the Washington area, the response has been decidedly lobby-like and passionately process-oriented. Citizen guerrillas are not training in Rock Creek Park.

The weapons of choice are the fax machine, the Rolodex and the modest posting on the Internet. "The proper response would be hearings," says Alan Forschler, a member of the Committee for Waco Justice in the District. "I want to get all the facts."

The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed on April 19, the second anniversary of the immolation of the Branch Davidian religious cult near Waco, Tex. The federal raid on David Koresh's compound heightened distrust of the federal government in a lot of folks. In places such as Montana, Michigan and Texas, they donned camouflage and joined do-it-yourself militias.

In Northern Virginia, they planned commemorative vigils. "We must speak out in a rational manner," says Carol Valentine, of Burke, a founder of Waco Remembrance, which staged a peaceful "lunchtime observance" outside FBI Headquarters on April 19.
Bombing suspect Timothy James McVeigh's alleged sympathy for militia-style anti-government fervor has resulted in 15 minutes of fame for extreme paramilitary groups. The most extreme of the extreme are invited onto national television.

They believe the United Nations plans to conquer the world. They are not from the Washington area. "I don't hear a lot of gun owners say, I'm going to shoot back,' " says Richard Pennington, a suburban Baltimore advocate of the right to bear arms. "The only place I hear that is one or two screwballs on television."

Nearly one in five workers in the region is employed by the federal government, not counting those in the military. That may be why it's hard for many people in these parts to believe there's a conspiracy afoot to suspend the Constitution and set up a dictatorship, as the self-styled patriots preach on shortwave radio.

Not that the Washington area is without suspicious musings, of course. Conspiracy theorizing is a favorite pastime, but near the Beltway, some people try to be more witty than way out.

Dave Sharp and his rock band, Enemies of the People, have been promoting a new CD that includes the tune "Children of Waco." Sample lyric: "After the fire, politics took hold. The Donkey and the Elephant reversed their roles. Even Janet Reno went up in the polls."

"If I play it at a blue-collar drinking bar, people really like it," says Sharp, 39. "If I play it in a more sophisticated place" (he names a veggie hangout in Dupont Circle), "with that type of crowd it doesn't go over."

Carol Moore, 44, of the District, author of a coming book on the raid, helped form the Committee for Waco Justice after the Branch Davidian incident. The group, with about 10 core members, has held four demonstrations on the anniversaries of both the initial raid and the climactic inferno. Committeemembers also planted 82 crosses for the dead Davidians on the Ellipse, hoping President Clinton would look out his White House window and see them. Moore stops short of accusing the government of murder or seeing a sinister government conspiracy linking Waco, the Oklahoma City bombing and the New World Order. In fact, Moore and several other local Waco activists are busy debunking the more exotic theories floated by militia spokesmen.

Valentine, 52, of Waco Remembrance, who passes out Waco-related pamphlets at downtown Metro stops and on Capitol Hill, uses more radical rhetoric. "Clearly, murder and mayhem were committed at Waco," and Clinton is exploiting the Oklahoma City bombing as a convenient pretext for cracking down on civil liberties, she says. But her proposed remedy is in the grand Washington tradition: hearings, special prosecutors and, if necessary, indictments.

William Thomas, another Waco skeptic and leader of the peace protesters in Lafayette Square, says of Clinton and Reno, the attorney general: "I don't think they're evil folks. They're just really confused."

Says John Judge, of the Committee for Open Archives, an anti-government-secrets group, "I think {Waco} is part of a broader problem ... the militarization of the police and the crossover of the military into a police function."

That's anti-government radicalism Washington-style: not a good fit for a bumper sticker or talk radio.

More extreme voices can be heard -- barely -- in the region. Armed citizen militias are absent from Maryland and the District, according to law enforcement officials.

"We don't have anything" in the way of paramilitary groups, says Lt. Dallas Pope, chief of the Maryland State Police intelligence unit.

None has surfaced in Northern Virginia, although small groups have appeared in the central and southern parts of the state. Virginia State Police Superintendent M. Wayne Huggins said recently that the only confirmed militia is a 15-member group in Pulaski.

In Westminster, in central Maryland, a group of self-styled "tax patriots" and "constitutional revivalists" called the Save-A-Patriot Fellowship espouses some of the same views as militia extremists, without the call to arms.

Roger Lee Kelly, imperial wizard of the Invincible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Maryland's largest Klan faction, says the Oklahoma City bombing has stirred no additional interest among people thinking of joining.

That is not surprising, says Kelly, 41, of Frederick County. While some Klan groups may be "into violence and military training," Kelly says, his organization, which is active in 10 states, works "strictly to oppose immigration and keep the separation of the races." Not to be left out, the area's far left has its own theories.

Even though authorities believe the Oklahoma City bombing was a right-wing action, the federal government in times of political tension "historically has targeted the left," says Tim Wheeler, 55, a longtime Baltimore-based activist in the Communist Party USA and editor of its newspaper, People's Weekly World.

"We don't know who set the fire {near Waco} or blew up the Oklahoma City federal building," Wheeler says. "But it really played into the hands of the cultists, because they rely so much on paranoia."

But what if it's all true? What if the United Nations activates the microchips planted in everyone's buttocks, suspends the Constitution and occupies America?

Many Washington area Waco watchers think the militias have it wrong. Guns won't help. "Suppose the tanks come down my street and the helicopters start shooting overhead," says Valentine, of Waco Remembrance. "What am I supposed to do?"