WASHINGTON -- Portraying themselves as law-abiding citizens who decry violence, several militia leaders warned Congress yesterday to heed the public's growing distrust of government and take action to allay citizens' fears.
"The British didn't get the hint until they saw dead redcoats out there," said James J. Johnson, a Columbus, Ohio, utility worker and spokesman for the Ohio Unorganized Militia.
Mr. Johnson was among five militia leaders testifying at a Senate subcommittee hearing called to assess the breadth of the citizen movement, its activities and the threat, if any, the armed groups pose to the safety of the country.
The movement garnered much publicity in the wake of the April 19 terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City when law enforcement officials reported that two key suspects shared the anti-government views of many militia members.
While confirming their members' distrust of government, the militia leaders denied that their groups promote violence against federal agents and officials.
Each condemned the Oklahoma City bombing.
But they acknowledged an extreme element exists within the movement.
"We are the calm ones. We are the ones who calm people down," said Mr. Johnson, dressed in a conservative dark suit, unlike his camouflage-clad counterparts from the Michigan Militia Corps. "We are not baby-killers; we're baby boomers. We are not terrorists; we're extremely ticked off."
Federal and state law enforcement officials testifying at the hearing offered another view of the militia groups they have encountered. When given a choice of several adjectives to describe the militias in their states and nationally, the officials chose two words: "disturbing" and "dangerous."
"They are too apt and too ready to interfere with any law enforcement," said John Bohlman, a prosecutor in rural Montana who says the militia members there "outgun" the local sheriffs.
Richard Romley, the top prosecutor in Phoenix and surrounding Maricopa County, cautioned the senators against portraying all militia members as extremists and suggested law enforcement focus its efforts on the "fanatical fringe" who often call themselves "patriots."
"They have literally declared war on the very system that guarantees the rights they demand," said Mr. Romley.
Several members of the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information used the hearing to explore the often inflammatory rhetoric used by militia leaders and reflected in the groups' literature and videos.
Some civil rights groups have charged that the militias hold racist and anti-Semitic views.
The militia leaders denied the claims and blamed the media for perpetuating them.
"You are trying to make us out to be something we are not," Norman E. Olson, a commander of the Michigan Militia Corps, said in a testy exchange with committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican. "The thing we stand against is corruption. We stand against tyranny in government. We believe you represent corruption in government."
Mr. Specter shot back: "I want your ideas fully exposed. I want your ideas compared to mine, and I want the American public to judge whether you're right or I'm right. I don't take lightly your saying that I represent corruption."
Despite the militia leaders' disavowal of any racist ideology, several did share with the committee some of their other views.
Robert Fletcher, an investigator-researcher with the Militia of Montana, said the government had devised "weather-tampering techniques" to help carry out their plan for a "New World Order."
Mr. Olson provided the committee with a black binder that contained information on his allegation that Japan was involved in the Oklahoma bombing. "If we wait until the investigation is done we will find collusion between governments in the Oklahoma City bombing," said a stone-faced Mr. Olson.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, asked the law enforcement officials if they had enough authority under present law to investigate militia groups.
Robert M. Bryant, assistant director of the FBI's national security division, said the laws were adequate but "we'd certainly like to have them reviewed, which is ongoing."
Mr. Bryant and the others said they supported a proposal to establish a national clearinghouse for domestic terrorism information and intelligence.
Ken Adams, a member of the Michigan Militia Corps, sought to persuade the committee that most militia members are mainstream Americans from whom the country has nothing to fear.
"We are law-abiding, God-fearing Americans and we ask this Congress to recognize that," he said.