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False Patriots

Extremists like Eric Rudolph destroy their own movements

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Think of it as shooting yourself in the foot, just on a much grander scale. In the final analysis, no two terrorists did more to harm their respective causes in the last decade than Timothy McVeigh and bombing suspect Eric Rudolph. It's domestic terrorism's greatest untold story, one that doesn't mesh well with the media's recently revived fascination with the sort of hate groups credited with influencing McVeigh and Rudolph.

Before they executed Timothy McVeigh in 2001, Lamar University Professor Stuart Wright spent weeks getting to know him. Wright, an expert on fringe religious movements and domestic terrorism, says McVeigh's main goal in planning the Oklahoma City bombing was to start a revolution. But by the time they strapped McVeigh into the gurney for the final time, it was clear that he had failed miserably -- and may have doused the fire of the very revolution that was probably gaining momentum just fine without him.

The height of the patriot/militia movement in America in the mid-1990s coincides neatly with the 1995 date of the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people. At the time, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the foremost non-law enforcement authority on radical movements in the United States, listed over 800 rightwing patriot/militia groups across the country. Today that number has dwindled to less than 200. Two Charlotte rightwing hate groups that made the Southern Poverty Law Center hate group list in 1996 -- the Carolina Patriots and the Citizens for the Reinstatement of Conservative Government -- have failed to reappear on the list in recent years.

Wright says that the images of dead children -- in particular, dead white children -- being carried from the rubble of the Alfred P. Murrah building instilled doubt, and even revulsion among many in the ranks of the militia movement. The bloody terrorist plots hatched by the movement's energized leadership in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing -- the majority of which never came to fruition -- scared off even more of its membership, says Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Of course, the FBI crackdowns didn't help much either. Suddenly, those who found these groups' ideology attractive faced surveillance by law enforcement. In the end, what remained of the groups' leadership went underground and much of the flock dispersed.

The Christian Identity Movement, which is widely credited as the inspiration for Rudolph's alleged crimes, including the Olympic bombing and the bombings of an abortion clinic and a gay club, appears to be in the midst of suffering the same fate. Adherents of the Christian Identity ideology believe that the Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Scandinavian and Germanic tribes are the racial descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, and that Jews are "imposter Israelites" who are genetically descended from the devil and are bent on exterminating all other races. This belief, called Anglo-Israelism, dates back over 200 years and has been used to justify the belief that homosexuals and those of all other races are impure and will be destroyed in an Armageddon-like battle at the end of the world.

While Christian Identity ideology may still be prolific on the web, Potok says the movement as a whole is in decline, and has suffered serious setbacks in recent years due to the arrests and deaths of many of its most prominent leaders. Like McVeigh, Rudolph's wished-for revolution is in shambles.

In many ways, the grand designs of these men and those who think like them have been trumped by the grander-scale September 11 attacks by Arab Muslim fundamentalists whose carnage has only served to unify the nation that people like McVeigh and Rudolph had tried to divide.

In the history of terrorism on US soil, the two are likely to go down as bit players from fringe movements that bit the dust, joining the ranks of leftwing extremists from fringe groups like the Symbionese Liberation Army, which used kidnapping and armed robbery to accomplish its goals, in the end doing much more to depress the spread of its ideology than to promote it.

Thanks in part to the internet and modern technology, the ideology of hate in America is becoming a faddish and rapidly changing one -- so rapidly changing, in fact, it makes those who act upon its teachings outdated by the time they're caught and executed.

At the moment, says Potok, the future of ideological hate appears to belong not to the Christian Identity movement, but to pagan or secular groups whose racist teachings promote white supremacy in a war for racial dominance. Potok says that the love-your-neighbor / turn-the-other-cheek nature of Christianity itself is becoming a sign of weakness to those who see Christianity as the weak link in a racial war they believe whites are losing.

While the momentary media focus on Rudolph and the Christian Identity movement may make it seem like these folks are everywhere, the truth is that Rudolph's capture is merely the final page in a chapter of American history that has long been over.

Like McVeigh, Rudolph is a has-been. In the end, the joke was on them.

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