Robbery suspects might have bankrolled hate groups Case could offer evidence crimes fund supremacists

March 31, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- For nearly two years, a gang of bank robbers roamed the Midwest, displaying a warped sense of humor, a fondness for pipe bombs and sympathy for the militia movement.

Depending on the season, they left their bombs in a Santa's hat or nestled in the grass of an Easter basket. In one holdup, they wore caps that said ATF, as in the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms -- the agency involved in the fiery siege in Waco, Texas, in 1993. They rented a getaway car in the name of an FBI agent involved in the 1992 shootings at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

In letters and cartoons mailed to newspapers, they signed themselves the "Mid-Western Bank Bandits."

Now, with two suspects in custody, federal officials say they believe the robbers went by another name as well: the Aryan Republican Army.

Law enforcement officials and specialists in the extremist right say the gang's story will open an important window on the financing of militant white supremacists. Authorities have suspected that some in the "patriot movement" are committing crimes to build up their treasuries, following the example of The Order, a right-wing revolutionary group that stole millions during the 1980s. If investigators are correct, the Midwestern bank bandits might provide the first solid evidence that large amounts of stolen money continue to flow to hate groups today.

The two suspects -- Richard Lee Guthrie Jr., 38, and Peter Kevin Langan, 37 -- allegedly are dedicated to the overthrow of the government, the slaying of Jews and the deportation of blacks. Authorities believe they and their partners have provided more than $500,000 in illegally obtained funds to right-wing groups whose goals they share.

Special Agent Jim Nelson, who heads the FBI office in St. Louis, said that the government is investigating whether at least $250,000 in unrecovered stolen bank money was funneled to the Aryan Nations and people who were affiliated with the Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord, a paramilitary group active in Arkansas during the 1980s. Both groups believe the U.S. government has become tyrannical and must be confronted.

In addition to banks being robbed, stores apparently were swindled. Mr. Guthrie previously was arrested in West Virginia in 1991 in connection with a bogus-refund swindle at Kmart stores through which, he told sheriff's deputies, he'd raised at least $250,000. At the time, he also told them that he sent the bulk of the money to the Aryan Nations. He disappeared after his father posted bond.

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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