Who is behind these anthrax letters?
Nobody really knows!
by Chip Berlet
Political Research Associates
Well, it's now May 31, 2003 and not much has changed. In late 2001 we
argued that "it is likely that at least two groups/individuals are involved
in the larger situation, with different suspects sending the real live
anthrax letters and the hoax anthrax letters." This has turned out to
be the case, with the vast majority of the hoax anthrax letters being
generated by an activist in the militant anti-abortion
wing of the Christian Right. Most of this page remains unchanged
since late 2001. A search for more recent stories is a good idea,
especially coverage of the arrest in the anthrax hoax letters sent to
reproductive health clinics. Most of the articles claiming information
on who sent the live anthrax letters continue to contain unsupported
1) The Osama bin Laden networks
2) Other Muslim or Arab terrorists
3) Other pro-Muslim or pro-Arab terrorists
4) Agents of an anti-US government being opportunitic
5) Foreign terrorists who hate the US government but are being opportunitic,
and are not directly related to pro-Muslim or pro-Arab terrorists
6) The militant anti-abortion wing of the Christian Right (claiming
credit for the hoax letters to Planned Parenthood clinics, but
very unlikely in other cases involving real anthrax)
7) Patriot & militia movement members or followers
8) The Extreme Right (including neofascists and neonazis,
and proponents of Third Position ethnonationalism)
9) One crazy person or several crazy people
10) A person or persons affiliated with a US weapons laboratory
with a political agenda.
11) A person or persons affiliated with a US weapons laboratory
seeking monetary gain.
More than one category can be involved. For instance a person
at a weapons lab could have sold the processed powder to someone
else with a political agenda.
11.15.01 NPR senior correspondent Howard Berkes
Some investigators and researchers believe Osama bin Laden might still
be getting help from within the United States. They suggest that help
might not be coming solely from people with extreme views about Islam.
It could also be coming from white supremacy groups." Hear
the story using Real Player -- from Thursday's All
DIVERSION: PROFILING THE ANTHRAX ATTACKS: by Paul de Armond
Jump to these sections:
What about the US Political Right?
The Hard Right:
The Extreme Right
Christian Right and Anthrax Hoax Letters
The Patriot & armed militia movements
What is the history?
Larry Wayne Harris
Third Position ethnonationalist
fascism and foreign/domestic ties
Caution in Reporting
What about the US Political Right?
They are certainly in the list of potential suspects, but it is still speculation.
Anyone who limits the list of suspects to Arab or Muslim terrorists is
perpetuating stereotypes. See the discussion
of using caution with terms and concepts.
Given the trend in the extreme right towards a cell structure or "lone wolf" types
of violent activity, suggested by Louis Beam in his essay "Leaderless Resistance," it
is possible that even if an individual is influenced by a group ideology, he
or she may be acting alone or in a tiny cell not directly connected to or controlled
by the larger group.
There is a current faction fight inside various US government agencies between
the people who stereotype Arabs and Muslims and the people who stereotype US
right-wing groups. Government employees have been leaking to reporters misleading
claims about evidence to support their faction. This spills over into the analysis
of "experts" who have left government agencies but remain loyal to their faction. It
is a civil liberties nightmare.
Generally lost in this war of egos and bad analysis are those serious scholars
of right-wing and religious violence who might actually provide the type of
complex and nuanced information that could assist investigators. This is what
happened during the stand-off between government agents and the Branch Davidians
in Waco, Texas. See the views of some of
these serious scholars such as Alan A. Stone and Nancy T. Ammerman regarding
government analytical mistakes concerning right-wing and religious violence
involved with the Waco seige. Michael Barkun of Syracuse University is an especially
useful source on the apocalyptic nature of religious revolutionary violence.
For more on the role of apocalypticism, see Terms & Concepts:
Use with Caution.
After the first wave of hyperbolic and misleading news reports, more cautious
and accurate articles and newscasts began to emerge, but other sensationalist
stories continued, especially in the British press.
The Extreme Right
There is no hard evidence linking domestic U.S. right-wing groups
to either the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 or the mailing of anthrax letters,
real or hoax. The list of potential suspects is long, and the evidence is missing.
While the Third
Position is an obscure ideology, there have been published reports that have
reported on it. An excellent discussion of the emergence of the Third Position
and the revivial of a national socialist/Strasserite version of intrernational
fascism can be found in Kevin Coogan's 1999 book, Dreamer of the Day: Francis
Parker Yockey and the Postwar Fascist International
and in Martin A. Lee's 1997 book, The Beast Reawakens. The convergence
among racial nationalists in North America and Western and Eastern Europe is
discussed at length in Jeffrey Kaplan and Tore Bjørgo, eds., Nation
and Race, and Jeffrey Kaplan and Leonard Weinberg, The Emergence of a
Euro-American Radical Right.9 There
is a theoretical discussion of the European Third Position and racially separate
nation-states by Robert Antonio in "After Postmodernism: Reactionary
anti-U.S. aspect of the Third Position is examined in "´Neither
Left Nor Right´" in the Southern Poverty Law Center magazine, Intelligence
In considering potential suspects, the Extreme Right in the U.S. is certainly
on the list. The Extreme Right in the U.S. includes White Supremacists,
militant antisemites, neofascists, neonazis and an assortment of hate groups.
Activists in the Extreme Right have been involved in numerous violent incidents
over the last 30 years; however, most have involved guns or bombs.
The U.S. Extreme Right shares three ideological affinities with some Islamic
clerical fascist movements such as the Taliban and the al Qaeda networks:
See this discussion continued at Third
- A hatred of Jews who are seen in the traditional antisemitic caricature
of running the world through secret conspiracies.
- A hatred of the U.S. government, seen as not just a global bully but
also controlled by Jews. U.S. neonazis sometimes refer the administration
in Washington, D.C. as the Zionist Occupational Government--ZOG.
- A desire to overthrow existing governments and replace then with monocultural
nation states built around the idea of supremacist racial nationalism
or supremacist religious nationalism or both mixed together. This ethnonationalist
philosophy is sometimes called the "Third Position."
The Patriot & armed militia movements
Members of the the Patriot & armed militia movements range from libertarian
constitutionalists to White supremacists. Many are not engaged in any illegal
activity, though some have been arrested for planning attacks on government facilities.
the New World Order: Patriots and Armed Militias
Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort by Chip Berlet and Matthew
N. Lyons. New York: Guilford Publications, 2000.
One Patriot group, albeit one on the right-wing fringe of the movement closer
to the Extreme Right, was found to have brewed the toxic agent ricin.
What is the History?
According to an article by Jerry Mitchell in the
...there's a danger in reading too much into targets, said Daniel
Levitas of the Kansas City-based Institute for Research and Education on Human
Rights and a researcher on hate groups. "The reason the media were chosen is
what seems most simple — they're a great megaphone for the transmission of
He said those on the radical right have dabbled in biological warfare for
In 1995, members of the Minnesota Patriots' Council were arrested and charged
with possession of ricin, a deadly biochemical substance.
In the years that followed, a white supremacist from Ohio was accused of
possessing a weakened form of anthrax, and members of an anti-government
group in Texas were arrested for plotting to use a cactus thorn dipped in
anthrax or HIV as a weapon.
The possibility that the Extreme Right might use biological weapons has been
discussed for several years. See: "Anthrax
find raises issue," by Stephanie Simon in the Los Angeles Times 2/26/98.
See also the ADL report from 1998: Biological
Terrorism Threat. The following is from that report:
Use of Biological Agents in the U.S
Unauthorized use of biological agents in the U.S. has thus far been limited
to a few isolated cases. The only known case of an actual germ attack in
the United States was in 1984 when an American religious cult sprayed salmonella
on 10 salad bars in Oregon in an effort to make voters sick and influence
a county election. Within two weeks, 751 people became violently ill.
In May 1995, white supremacist and microbiologist Larry Harris ordered
samples of the organism that causes bubonic plague from the American Type
Culture Collection (ATCC), a clearinghouse for microbiological samples.
(There are 453 such repositories worldwide.) Mr. Harris was prosecuted
for mail fraud because it is not illegal to possess biological agents in
the U.S. Since the Harris case, shippers and receivers of certain biological
agents have been required to register with the Centers for Disease Control.
Also in 1995, members of the far-right Minnesota Patriots Council were
found guilty of producing the toxic agent ricin in a 1992 plot to assassinate
Federal officials. Militia members reportedly manufactured enough ricin
from a book recipe to kill 125 people. Detailed techniques for extracting
ricin from castor beans are widely available.
Larry Wayne Harris
Larry Wayne Harris is not appropriate as
either an "expert" on terrorism and chemical/biological warfare, nor as a poster
boy for claims that the U.S. political right is behind the current wave of anthrax
attacks and hoaxes.
Former Aryan Nations member Larry Wayne Harris is
a notorious braggart. According to an article by Jeff Stein, "Harris claimed
he had worked for the CIA and several U.S. Army germ warfare laboratories.
The CIA and Army both denied it."
The James Ridgeway Village Voice article on Harris was misleading because
it reported his arrest charges that included allegations of threats to wipe
out a city with a toxin, but failed to report that those charges were almost
immediately disnmissed. See the Ridgeway article at: http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0142/ridgeway.php.
The Ridgeway article on Harris failed to mention that in the original case
involving the bubonic plague, Harris was convicted only on the charge of using
phony credentials to obtain test samples. In his second arrest, he had harmless
veterinary grade anthrax in the form of vaccine.
See a longer discussion of Larry Wayne Harris.
Third Position fascism and foreign/domestic
Hannah Arendt discussed fascism as a form of racial nationalism. Today there
is a new form of fascism, a neofascism, called the Third Position, which seeks
to overthrow existing governments and replace them with monocultural nation states
built around the idea of supremacist racial nationalism and/or supremacist religious
nationalism. Third position neofascists have organized in the U.S., Europe, and
the Middle East, and they maintain some kind of loose network, at least for the
purposes of discussing their shared ideas and agenda. This has been discussed
by scholars such as Jeffrey Kaplan,
Tore Bjørgo, and Leonard Weinberg. Continue
Goldenthal, Howard. (1991). “Khadafy Connections,” Now (Toronto alternative
weekly), July 4.
Kaplan, Jeffrey, and Tore Bjørgo (Eds.). (1998). Nation and Race: The
Developing Euro-American Racist Subculture. Boston: Northeastern University
Kaplan, Jeffrey, and Leonard Weinberg. (1998). The Emergence of a Euro-American
Radical Right. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press
Christian Right and Anthrax Hoax Letters
The "Army of God" claimed credit for the 250+ hoax anthrax letters sent to
Planned Parenthood & reproductive health clinics in October, and an additional
120+ Fedex packages sent in early November. This turned out to be Clayton Waagener.
The Army of God
The Army of God does not exist as a single entity, but is primarily a common
name used by a loose network of Christian Right anti-abortion militants. This
represents a very tiny wing of the Christian Right. There is some overlap between
the Army of God (and other militant Christian Right activists) and the militia
movement, and some in the militia movement are anti-abortion activists. There
are suspected links to the Extreme Right. In one case police have charged that Eric
Rudolph, probably influenced by the Extreme Right Christian Identity, seems
to have claimed credit for alleged bombings using the name "Army of God." View
the letters released by the FBI
Right-wing terrorism against clinics is not new. NARAL has produced a large
report on Clinic
Violence, Intimidation, and Terrorism in the PDF format. There is an article
on health implications at the California
HealthCare Foundation website. There is also a report on Violence
and Harassment at U.S. Clinics with a more comprehensive picture, as well
as a useful Christian
Science Monitor article.
A snapshot of the role of Christian Right militants in attacking clinics can
be found in the report "Crimes
Against Reproductive Rights in California," California Senate Office of
Research, May 2001, (Updated 2nd Edition - August 2001), prepared by Gregory
deGiere. (Note that this page sometimes shows as not online due
to high demand. Keep trying.)
Geographic Map of
Clinics Receiving Threats
11/09/01 article by Frederick Clarkson: "FBI: High Priority To Anti-Abortion
2001 article by Fred Clarkson on federal fugitive Clayton Waagner and AOG
2001 article by Fred Clarkson from Salon on Nuremberg Files in AOG context.
1998 articles by Fred Clarkson from Intelligence Report, mostly about Rudolph
and far-right interconections.
Anti-abortion extremism: Extremists,
'Patriots' and racists converge. by Frederick Clarkson
Anti-abortion extremism: Anti-Abortion
Violence. by Frederick Clarkson
AOG itself: http://www.armyofgod.com/
See also: http://www.armyofgod.com/ChristianNews.html
Army of God & background cites:
Baird-Windle, Patricia and Eleanor J. Bader. (2001). Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion
Terrorism. New York: Palgrave/St. Martins. (Long discussion of Army of God
Manual with extensive quotes from manual, plus other cites.)
Clarkson, Frederick. (1997). Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy
and Democracy. Monroe, ME: Common Courage. (Several pages of discussion.)
Mason, Carol. (1999). “Minority Unborn.” In Lynn M. Morgan and Merideth W.
Michaels (Eds.), Fetal Subjects, Feminist Positions. Philadelphia: University
of Pennsylvania Press. (Includes discussion of Army of God).
Juergensmeyer, Mark. (2000). Terror in the Mind of God. Berkeley: University
of California Press. Passing reference in chapter on "Soldiers for Christ."
Blanchard, Dallas A. (1994). The Anti-Abortion Movement and the Rise of the
Religious Right: From Polite to Fiery Protest. New York: Twayne Publishers.
Not mentioned, but excellent history.
Risen, James and Judy Thomas. Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War.
New York: Basic Books, 1998.
This highly readable account, written by two investigative journalists, chronicles
twenty years in the lives of several key personalities in the abortion debate.
Detailed coverage by Anne Bower in The Body Politic, December 1995.
Anne Bower, "Soldier in the Army of God."
Also, for general background on "Killing for Life," see work of Carol Mason:
Anne Bower, "Clinic violence: the python of choice."
Mason, Carol. (2000). “Cracked Babies and the Partial Birth of a
Nation: Millennialism and Fetal Citizenship.” Cultural Studies, vol.
14, no. 1, pp. 35–60.
See longer set of resources
on Reproductive Rights. (In PDF Format)
Mason, Carol. (2000). “From Protest to Retribution: The Guerilla Politics
of Pro-Life Violence. New Political Science, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 11–29.
What about Eric Robert Rudolph using
the term Army of God in his letters?
According to the FBI:
"On October 14, 1998, Eric Robert Rudolph, age 32, was charged with
the fatal bombing at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park, as well as the double
bombings at the Sandy Springs Professional Building in north Atlanta on January
16, 1997, and the double bombings at The Otherside Lounge in Atlanta on February
21, 1997. An arrest warrant has been issued on these charges. Rudolph was charged
in February of 1998, with the bombing at the New Woman All Women Health Care
Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, on January 29, 1998. That bomb killed Birmingham
police officer Robert Sanderson, and severely injured the clinic's head nurse,
Rudolph may have been using a generic claim of being part of the "Army
of God," since his ideology was closer to the Extreme Right Christian
Identity movement rather than the Christian Right anti-abortion movement.
Caution in Reporting
As David Neiwert observed in an article on Salon, in the past much domestic terrorism,
especially against abortion providers, has been ignored by the major press, and
that some incidents that actually involved harmless substances were hyped in
a sensational manner, and the "witless reportage of them actually inspired a
wave of very real terrorism" in copycat incidents.
Some caution is a good idea.
There have been several articles that discussed a number of suspect groups
including those on the political right in a cautious and responsible manner.
An example of a cautious article is by Kevin
Cullen in the Boston Globe. Another example is the article cited above
by Jerry Mitchell in the Clarion-Ledger. There
are many other examples of responsible reporting. These generally cautious
articles report on what is clearly identified as speculation.
Some of the earliest articles were the most sensational and credulous. One "expert" in
Australia announced the prime suspects were the militias. This was pure speculation
and reporting it uncritically was hardly professional.
Articles linking convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols
to Islamic terrorists are outlandish speculation derived solely from the fact
that he visited the Phillipines at a time when Islamic militiants were also
present. The Phillipines are a large collection of dispersed islands. Islamic
militants have been organizing there for years. There is no evidence he ever
met with any Islamic militiants.
It is a bad idea to lump together the Christian Right, Patriot/militias, and
Extreme Right, because these are three distinct movements (with some overlap).
One article in the British press not only mixed up all three movements, but
also tossed off the line "illegal militias." The militias are a right-wing
vigilante movement with a subtext of White supremacy and antisemitism. They
should be opposed, but are not "illegal."
Civil liberties and accuracy are important and related. Carelessness can fuel
the idea that the government should just arrest all political dissidents in
a time of crisis. I am opposed to government repression against folks across
the political spectrum; but if that doesn't work for you if you are a progressive,
consider that any power we give the federal government right now to go after
the political right, will be used against the political left really soon.
to Base 9/11/01 Page