Anti-government militias reportedly terrorize West

July 12, 1995|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- In Northern California, county recorder Karen Mathews was beaten, slashed with a knife and had a gun pressed to her head after she refused to accept bogus legal filings from local tax protesters.

In western Montana, municipal Judge Martha Bethel learned someone had planted a pipe bomb in a highway culvert on her route to work after she refused to dismiss traffic tickets against a local militia member.

Last month, Judge Bethel said, federal officials told her a contract had been issued "for my murder."

Across the American West, a shadowy network of violent anti-government extremists is terrorizing local officials and federal agents, the victims told members of Congress yesterday.

With threatening phone calls, night stalkings and bombings of federal offices, militia members and their allies have forced officials into hiding and disrupted life in rural communities, the witnesses said.

"I think it's important that people understand how much intimidation there is," said Ken Toole, executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network, who testified at the forum on the right-wing militia movement. "People tend to think there are no victims of these militias."

The forum was organized by House Democrats, including New York Rep. Charles E. Schumer and Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr., after Republican leaders ignored their demands for an official congressional inquiry into the militia movement, which has been blamed for cultivating the hatred that spawned the April 19 Oklahoma City bombing.

House Republicans are responding to the bombing with another inquiry -- scheduled to start next week -- into the federal government's botched 1993 raid on an armed religious cult in Waco, Texas, an event that is believed to have fueled the fury of some militia members, as well as Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy J. McVeigh.

Last month, Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, did quiz five militia members about their organizations. But Mr. Specter did not delve deeply into the fear that militias are generating in isolated areas throughout the West, and his hearing has been criticized as little more than a soapbox for the militias' views.

Rep. Bill McCollum, a Florida Republican and chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee that will conduct the Waco hearings, is considering hearings on the militia, aide Andi Dillin said yesterday.

As the most anti-gun politician in the House, Mr. Schumer made it his mission to step into the breach. Yesterday, he summoned three panels of witnesses, including experts on the right-wing, paramilitary movement and four representatives of employees of the National Park Service, the National Forest Service and other federal agencies that have been targets of attack.

In the most disturbing incidents, anti-environmentalists are suspected in three Nevada bombings, including two Forest Service offices this year and one Bureau of Land Management office in 1993.

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