White Power, White Supremacy : Throughline It has been nearly twenty years since 9/11 and during that time much of the media coverage and government attention has been directed at the threat of radical Islamist terrorism. Yet, during that time, it has been domestic terrorism from armed, mostly white American men, that has posed the biggest threat. This week, the rise of the modern white power movement.

The Modern White Power Movement

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Hey, everyone. 2020 is almost over, and we're reflecting on conversations we've had with some of our favorite guests.


So we called them up.

ABDELFATAH: Do you think they'll remember us?

ARABLOUEI: Honestly, they probably think we're spam callers.

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: THROUGHLINE is probably the best podcast.

ABDELFATAH: But Khalil Gibran Muhammad remembered us. He was on two episodes of ours - Mass Incarceration and American Police.

MUHAMMAD: I can always tell how much an interviewer has read the work and totally invested in the details, the minutia, the (laughter) footnotes. And that's not common.

ARABLOUEI: And when the American Police episode came out...

MUHAMMAD: I was blown away by how much it translates to a general audience. And so the show works so well is because you're committed to the past.

ABDELFATAH: But Khalil isn't the only one that feels this way.

MUHAMMAD: All right. Hold on a second. Let me go get her.


ARABLOUEI: This is Stephanie, Khalil's wife. She told us that she actually played the American Police episode for her town's community police coalition.

LAWSON-MUHAMMAD: I'm like, this should be part of your training because how can you be a police officer and not know the history of your profession? And our chief actually said that he would loop that into training.

ABDELFATAH: So whether you listen to our episodes for your own enjoyment or share them with others, thank you.

ARABLOUEI: And we know it's been a really hard year. But if you have the means and you want to continue listening to shows like ours, please go to donate.npr.org/throughline to get started with your donation to an NPR station.

ABDELFATAH: By donating to your local NPR station, you help support THROUGHLINE.

ARABLOUEI: Thank you. And now, on with the show.


ABDELFATAH: A quick note before we get started - this episode contains hate speech and depictions of violence.


ABDELFATAH: Just a few months ago, in October, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report that said white supremacist groups are the most persistent and lethal threat to domestic security.

ARABLOUEI: And that same month, another report, this time by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, found that 41 of the 61 terrorist plots and attacks in the first eight months of 2020 were connected to white supremacists.

ABDELFATAH: It's been nearly 20 years since 9/11. And during that time, much of the media and government has directed our attention to the threat of radical Islamist terrorism. Yet during that time, it's been domestic terrorism from groups of armed, mostly white American men that's posed the biggest threat.

ARABLOUEI: The reality is some of these groups are highly organized. They have paramilitary capabilities, and they are part of a deeply interconnected movement.


ABDELFATAH: I'm Rund Abdelfatah.

ARABLOUEI: I'm Ramtin Arablouei.

ABDELFATAH: And on this episode of THROUGHLINE from NPR, the modern white power movement.


KATHLEEN BELEW: The white power movement refers to a new kind of mobilization for white supremacist extremism in the United States.

ARABLOUEI: This is Kathleen Belew.

BELEW: I am a assistant professor of history at the University of Chicago.

ARABLOUEI: She's also the author of a book that came out this year called "Bring The War Home: The White Power Movement And Paramilitary America."

BELEW: What it is, is a movement brought together around a common story of government betrayal in the Vietnam War. This happened in the late 1970s. And the reason that it's important to call it white power is, first of all, that's what these activists called themselves.

ARABLOUEI: In her book, Kathleen says that the post-Vietnam War years provided a launching point for a new white supremacist narrative that could...

BELEW: ...Unite a whole bunch of groups and activists that had not been able to get together before. These included people like Klansmen, neo-Nazis, people who followed white supremacist theological beliefs.

ABDELFATAH: Kathleen says it was the birth of a new movement, a movement that advocated for new kinds of tactics.

BELEW: Not just sort of the vigilante violence that Klan groups had been operating with earlier in American history, but instead in a project of guerrilla warfare and revolution against the United States.


ARABLOUEI: In this episode, we're going to explore the history of the modern white power movement - how it was inspired, how it evolved and how it became the greatest domestic terrorist threat in the United States.

THEA: This is Thea (ph) calling from Los Angeles, Calif. And you're listening to the THROUGHLINE podcast from NPR. This is my fourth attempt doing this. I screwed up every other one. I love your show. Keep up the good work. I've been listening for 12 hours. Bye.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Part 1 - Birth of a Movement.






RICHARD NIXON: My fellow Americans, I ask for your support because let us understand, North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting unintelligibly).

ABDELFATAH: In 1975, the U.S. war in Vietnam officially ended.


GERALD R FORD: Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Six days after the president spoke, the last Americans were evacuated from Saigon, many flown by helicopter from the grounds of the American Embassy. The next day, the army of North Vietnam occupied Saigon, and the government of South Vietnam surrendered. At last, the war was over.

ABDELFATAH: The Vietnam War lasted for 20 years. And for all of that time, the American people were told that the war was about stopping communist North Vietnam from conquering South Vietnam. They were told it was part of a bigger effort to stop the spread of global communism, to fight the Soviet Union. For most of the 20th century, Americans were fed a steady dose of anti-communist propaganda. So when the U.S. was unable to defeat communism in Vietnam, even after giving up so many American lives and resources, it wasn't just seen as a military loss, it was seen as a national embarrassment.


BELEW: It stands as the first lost war, and people take that very deeply to heart. The nature of engagement is very different. It's a war not for territory but for this much more amorphous sense of victory. It's a war with a very difficult to measure outcome.

ABDELFATAH: Many of the soldiers who fought in the war were drafted, meaning they had to fight. It was the last time the U.S. instituted a draft. The war happened in difficult terrain in Vietnam, sometimes in areas where there were lots of civilians. And when soldiers returned home, they weren't always welcomed as heroes.

BELEW: And then on top of that, there's all kinds of structures around how people are deployed that really threaten bonds of the unit and also create problems for people processing combat trauma, or PTSD, on the way home. So that's, like, the whole experience of the war that makes it a very traumatic event for a whole lot of people.

ABDELFATAH: And that complicated experience of failure in Vietnam birthed a narrative of betrayal - betrayal by the government because it failed to give the troops the support they needed to win the war, and betrayal by the public, who failed to properly encourage the war effort.

BELEW: That narrative has been sort of mobilized as a way of appearing to be making a neutral statement but actually working to kind of obscure a bunch of kinds of critiques people might make of the war.


SYLVESTER STALLONE: (As Rambo) You just don't turn it off. It wasn't my war. You asked me. I didn't ask you. And I did what I had to do to win, but somebody wouldn't let us win.

ABDELFATAH: And this narrative of anger, shame, embarrassment and resentment was hammered home by Hollywood films like "Apocalypse Now" and the original Rambo movie, "First Blood."


STALLONE: (As Rambo) And I come back to the world, and I see all those maggots at the airport protesting me, spitting, calling me baby killer and all kinds of vile crap. Who are they to protest me, huh?

BELEW: When I started writing this book, I wondered if what I would find was a Rambo story about veterans who sort of can't turn off the violence of combat and so they keep doing that at home. But to be clear, this is not just about veterans who come home and do violence. And in fact, what I'm talking about is a super tiny percentage of veterans as a whole. What we see in the scholarship is that all of us are more available for violence in the aftermath of warfare.

ABDELFATAH: The humiliation of the Vietnam War sank deep into the psyche of the American public. And it contributed to some people joining white power, anti-government groups.

BELEW: We know that the Vietnam War was used effectively to recruit people and that the people in the movement doing that were making a claim that they believed they had been wronged. They made a claim that they had been wronged. Therefore, it showed that they needed to bring the war home, as they said over and over again. Surges in Klan membership and white power activity align more consistently with the aftermath of combat than they do with any other major historical factor.

Just a few veterans can bring an enormous amount of escalation in violence because of the tactics and skills and access to weapons that they provide these groups.


LOUIS BEAM: Do you promise them your everlasting hate, contempt and utter opposition until this country is rid of them, until America is taken back, until they are off the land or under the land?

ABDELFATAH: This is the voice of a man named Louis Beam. He was a Vietnam War veteran from Texas and someone who would become a leader in the white power movement.


BEAM: Why would you give it away to the satanic, devil-worshiping, child molesting, homosexual, bathroom sodomites in Washington?

BELEW: Louis Beam served two tours as a Huey helicopter gunner in the Vietnam War and wrote and spoke often about that experience as deeply traumatic and as kind of a rationale for continuing the violence of Vietnam in the United States. So when he returned to Texas, Louis Beam got involved in Klan activity, eventually affiliating his group with a national organization called the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which was led, at that time, by David Duke.

ABDELFATAH: He used the money from a Texas state veterans land board grant to buy a property and create a paramilitary training facility. And then...

BELEW: He found a community of local fishermen not that far away in the Galveston Bay area who were really, really angry about the resettlement of Vietnamese refugees in their region.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I went to my government and worked with them for over a year and a half, begged them to help the situation and do something about it, and they wouldn't do it. So I'm a white American. I went to the KKK. Those boats had to be taken out of the water, destroyed.

ABDELFATAH: Beam trained KKK members in paramilitary tactics. They used that knowledge to then harass and threaten the Vietnamese refugees.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Mr. Beam, the grand dragon of the Texas Ku Klux Klan, has issued an ultimatum. And that is that if the fishermen are not out by the 15 of May, the day shrimping season opens, he will take matters in his own hands.

ABDELFATAH: Fishing boats and a mobile home owned by members of the Vietnamese fishing community were firebombed. The community, however, wasn't just going to take it. They fought back in court with the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center. They filed a suit against the Knights of the KKK, who Beam was involved with at the time. At the trial, a video was presented of Beam conducting military training at one of his camps. He said in the video, utterly destroy everybody - maximum damage, maximum violence in the shortest period of time. They can only do one thing - die.

BELEW: He's somebody who kind of came from the Southern Baptist kind of charismatic speaking tradition. And, you know, part of why he rose in this movement was that he was very effective at rallying people and moving them towards action.

ABDELFATAH: The court ruled in favor of the fishermen and ordered the harassment to stop.

It also issued an order disbanding Louis Beam's paramilitary camps.


ABDELFATAH: After the incident, Beam emerged as a leader in the modern white power movement, using his abilities as an orator and his military tactical skills. And with that leadership, the movement would become more interconnected and more anti-government.


TIMOTHY FOX: This is Timothy Fox (ph) calling from Washington, D.C. THROUGHLINE is our family's favorite podcast - never a dull moment, always a powerful story. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Part 2 - War in the Streets.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing, unintelligible).


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Death to the Klan. Death to the Klan. Death to the Klan. Death to the Klan. Death to the Klan.

ARABLOUEI: On November 3, 1979, the Communist Worker's Party of America, or CWP, held a rally in Greensboro, N.C.

BELEW: A number of leftist demonstrators staged a Death to the Klan rally in a Black housing project in Greensboro.

ARABLOUEI: For months prior, CWP had been attempting to organize Black workers in local textile mills. When the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan got wind of this, tensions started to rise. Both sides exchanged insults. So on the day of the Death of the Klan rally, a combined force of Klan members and neo-Nazis showed up.

BELEW: The Nazis and Klansmen show up in a caravan of cars.

ARABLOUEI: Witnesses later reported that they were heavily armed.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: They were so heavily armed. It's hard for me to believe they were just bringing them along like they take them to church. They had little knives secreted in their underwear and little derringers in their boots and all this stuff. There were like three and four weapons per man.

ARABLOUEI: People in the anti-Klan rally also had weapons. After only a few minutes of exchanging insults and threats, the KKK...

BELEW: ...Opened fire on the leftist demonstrators.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Now the Klan, or whoever it was, jumped out and just started shooting in the direction of the biggest concentration of people.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: They came through, and they opened fire. They opened fire on us.

BELEW: A couple of them returned fire.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: And we fired back to protect ourselves.

BELEW: But not very effectively.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: There were several police in the area who did nothing until after these murderers left.

ARABLOUEI: Video of the incident is intense - gun battles on the streets, in neighborhoods, on front lawns with injured people everywhere.

BELEW: Five people are killed and more injured.


BELEW: This is 1979, so this is, you know, much later than what we think of as typical civil rights era Klan activity. And it's also much different, right? The set of victims are different.

ARABLOUEI: The victims were openly communist, which in the aftermath of the Vietnam War was kind of a dangerous thing to call yourself. After all, the public had been fed a steady dose of anti-communist propaganda for decades. So after the smoke cleared, the police arrested people on both sides. Several of the white supremacist activists were charged and put on trial. And during that trial, jurors and the DA were pretty open about their views of the people who'd been shot.

BELEW: Something along the lines of, well, I shot communists in Vietnam, so why wouldn't I shoot communists in North Carolina? People on all sides of this case acted as if communism was sort of worthy of being killed. People said things like, I think it's less of a crime to kill a communist than another kind of person. Even people within the justice system said things like, oh, well, I fought in Vietnam and you know who my enemy was over there, as if communist demonstrators in the United States are the same thing as a guerrilla soldier in Vietnam. It collapses home front and battlefront. It collapses wartime in peacetime. It puts all kinds of different enemies into one big kind of amorphous group. And it's an incredibly powerful way to mobilize the story of the Vietnam War.

ARABLOUEI: This rhetoric was used very effectively by the KKK and neo-Nazi-affiliated defendants in their trials, so effectively that they were all acquitted by juries in their criminal cases.

BELEW: So then it goes to federal trial, and now we're talking about civil rights law, right? So the question is, did the united racist front deny these leftist protesters their civil rights, like right to assembly, by killing them? But the jury instructions muddled things and results in a problem, which is - the jury instructions say they have to have denied them their civil rights for reasons of race. And so what we see are the activists saying things like, well, I'm not racist. I'm just anti-communist.

And what's not explained to the jury very well is that in the South, and particularly in the white power groups we're talking about here, anti-communism and racism are deeply, deeply intertwined and had been for - you know, since the Jim Crow period. A lot of Southerners understood the problem with communism to be that it would eventually lead to interracial marriage and sexual relationships and would be a threat to whiteness.

There is a really deeply unfunny but kind of on-the-nose "Saturday Night Live" sketch about this.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) For crying out loud. My friends in the Ku Klux Klan, they was over there. They already shot five commies months ago.

BELEW: The premise of the sketch is like the opening day of commie hunting season.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) And they already been tried, and they been acquitted, and they loaded up their guns again. I ain't even shot up one single one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Now, boys, boys...

BELEW: But effectively, that's kind of what had happened. The justice system had said there was nothing wrongful about this for the people that were killed who were communists. And then the city of Greensboro ended up paying the legal settlements for the Klansmen and Nazis standing trial in the civil suit.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: In two trials, all-white jury acquitted the Klan and Nazi members. But testimony later showed that local and federal police knew of the planned attack and did nothing to stop it.

ARABLOUEI: What happened in Greensboro caused a deep wound for the local community. And the fact that there was virtually no accountability only made that wound fester. Ahead of the incident's 20th anniversary in 1999, local community organizers pushed the city to start a truth and reconciliation commission to objectively assess what happened in 1979. Despite the trial finding that the police and local officials knew about the attack and did nothing to prevent it, the city of Greensboro didn't apologize for the way the police handled the event until 2020 - this year.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Greensboro City Council adopted a resolution apologizing for the shooting deaths of five demonstrators at a rally against the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Party 41 years ago.

BELEW: So Greensboro, N.C., is important for a couple of reasons. First of all, it gives us a really clear example about how our legal system is not well-set-up to handle white power movement activism in the mode that they are preparing to carry out. And it's also the first time we see neo-Nazi and Klan activists really coming together as what they call the united racist front in order to do violent activism.

ARABLOUEI: What happened in Greensboro also showed that the organizing efforts of leaders like Louis Beam was working. The militarization of white power groups had begun, and it was becoming more effective.


ARABLOUEI: And in 1983, they took things to a new level. It happened at the annual Aryan Nations World Congress in Idaho.

BELEW: There was a secret meeting of people. Some of the people in that room testified afterward that what they were talking about was declaring war on the federal government and moving to a strategy of revolutionary warfare with the intent of overthrowing the nation. Others in that room have disputed this. But I think we can see just from looking at what happened afterward that there is a notable change in how these groups behave after this event. The kind of violence they carry out changes, and their inter-coordination, the relationships and communications between groups, are just exponentially higher after this meeting in 1983.

ARABLOUEI: They come up with two new strategies that help them both coordinate and not get caught doing it.

BELEW: Both of which are promoted by Louis Beam, who's there.

ARABLOUEI: The first is that they adopted an idea called leaderless resistance.

BELEW: The idea is that one or a few white power activists can work towards a common set of goals without communication with another cell and without direct communication with movement leadership.

ARABLOUEI: This would allow people in the movement or people inspired by the movement to act individually without a direct chain of command, a strategy designed to avoid wide-scale prosecution.

BELEW: In other words, if one person gets arrested, they don't want the whole movement to go down.

ARABLOUEI: And the second idea that came from this meeting is the use of early Internet technology.

BELEW: So they create this thing called Liberty Net.


BELEW: And we know that this was deliberate because there was a group called The Order, a white terrorist group that was going around in the 1980s hitting a whole bunch of different targets, including armored cars and department stores and hardware stores. And they took the money that they got from those robberies and distribute it to groups all around the country. One guy drove around with all of this cash and handed it out to all kinds of different white power groups. And with the money, these groups bought Apple minicomputers. And then Louis Beam, who is now pretty familiar to us, went around the country teaching people how to go on these message boards, teaching people how to go effectively online.

We're in 1983, '84. This is way before most people think about, you know, far-right online activism. And what we know about Liberty Net is that it included not just, you know, assassination lists and ideology and kind of, like, the writings of who you should hate and why, although it did include all that stuff, but it also included things like personal ads. So what we see actually is that this movement was pioneering social network activism, you know, decades before Facebook.


ARABLOUEI: White power groups became networked and connected in ways that they'd never been in the past. And they were increasing their capabilities to carry out violent, militaristic attacks. But it would be literature that would articulate their vision for a guerrilla war against the government, a book that would inspire a new wave of violence. When we come back, the white power movement finds its blueprint for the future.


CARRIE: Hi, THROUGHLINE. My name is Carrie (ph). I live in Saratoga, Wyo. My headphones froze this morning - it's so cold here - on the Becoming America episode. I warmed them up in my coat, finished the episode and my run. You're listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Part 3 - The Prism of Clarity.


BELEW: So in the 1980s, Beam and a number of other groups active in the '80s are building towards this vision of guerrilla war on the United States. And to get there, they use this book, "The Turner Diaries."

ARABLOUEI: "The Turner Diaries" is a novel published in the 1970s that imagines an anti-government revolt that eventually brings down the government and starts a worldwide genocide of non-white people.

BELEW: This is a huge, imaginative leap. So "The Turner Diaries" gives them this kind of roadmap for guerrilla warfare and, you know, an eventual genocide. And it's an incredibly violent distillation of movement ideology and ends with, like, you know, the use of atomic and chemical and biological weapons to literally kill all non-white people in the rest of the world. They want an all-white world.


BELEW: So if you think about leaderless resistance cells, you have to have a way to coordinate them. And "The Turner Diaries" does a lot of that work, too, about what kind of strategies, what kinds of targets, how are we going to do this? So with "Turner Diaries" in hand, white power activists are doing a whole bunch of violent activity in the '80s, ranging from obtaining a bunch of stolen military weapons and explosives and other material from army posts and bases, training in paramilitary camps, assassination plans - some of which are successful, some of which are not successful - smaller-scale bombings and burnings and attacks on infrastructure.

ARABLOUEI: And this alarmed the authorities enough that they began trying to take them down. Throughout the 1980s, federal authorities monitored and tried to infiltrate the white power movement. And in 1988...

BELEW: The federal government tries to do a big trial of these activists. This is a federal trial in Fort Smith, Ark.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: Ten of the 14 people named in the grand jury indictments are accused of trying to overthrow the U.S. government.

BELEW: And the charges include seditious conspiracy, which is to say, the government says, at least some of you have been trying to violently overthrow the government in a conspiracy with one another. You've been communicating, and you're trying to violently overthrow the government.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: Those names include Richard Butler, the leader of the Aryan Nation based in Idaho, Robert Miles, the former grand dragon of the Michigan chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, and Louis Beam, the former grand dragon of the Texas Ku Klux Klan.

BELEW: And to be clear, that is what they were doing. That is what they said they were doing. They were outfitted with the weapons and tactics to go about that goal in a way that they believed would be successful. But this trial has a whole bunch of problems. One of them is that they had to apprehend Louis Beam when he was on the lam in Mexico. And as a result, there was a chain-of-custody problem where none of the evidence he was arrested with was admissible. The stuff he had was quite notably important, things like a medallion showing that he had been part of The Order, a bunch of stuff around - that he was planning to falsify his ID and go underground, a bunch of stuff that showed he was not sort of an innocent bystander but was central to this activity and connected with these other activists.

All of these activists walk free after the sedition trial. And it's a tremendous embarrassment for everybody involved in the prosecution. Just as one representative headline - one newspaper ran a picture of Louis Beam, where his wife - his young wife - has fainted into his arms. And the headline said, jubilant racists win trial. Beam was so happy about the outcome that he immediately started a publication called The Seditionist.

ARABLOUEI: On his way out of the courtroom, Beam saluted a statue of a Confederate war hero. And then he went underground and kept a low profile. But it wouldn't last long. A few years later, in Idaho, something would happen that would galvanize the white power movement again.


ABDELFATAH: In 1992, a man named Randy Weaver, a former Army Special Forces soldier, was living with his wife and children on a remote mountaintop in Ruby Ridge, Idaho.


RANDY WEAVER: We wanted to kind of get out of the regular system, and we want to find a place where we can teach the kids at home. And, you know, kids in the city grow up with basketballs and bicycles, and kids in the mountains or out in the country grow up with dogs and guns. It isn't about hunting or target shooting. It's for protection against a government that can become tyrannical.

ABDELFATAH: Randy Weaver, whose voice you just heard, had a warrant out for his arrest.

ARABLOUEI: He'd sold two illegal weapons to an ATF informant, who he'd allegedly met at an Aryan Nations meeting near his home. When Weaver refused to become an informant himself, the feds pursued the weapons charge against him.

ABDELFATAH: Federal marshals assumed Randy Weaver would resist arrest and surveilled his home for months. Then, one day, the family dog spotted the marshals. They shot the dog, and a firefight ensued. After it ended, both Randy Weaver's 14-year-old son and a federal marshal were dead.

ARABLOUEI: That's when things escalated. More federal agents converged on Ruby Ridge, and so did supporters of Randy Weaver.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: You call yourself an American? These are Americans. These are God-fearing people. You don't even know your Constitution. Go back and read what your founding fathers...

BELEW: And then the FBI lays siege to this mountaintop but can't make an arrest because everybody in this family, including the children, are heavily armed at all times. The siege goes very, very wrong.

ABDELFATAH: On the second day of the siege, an FBI sniper shot at the house.

BELEW: Vicki Weaver, the mother, is killed while holding her infant daughter.

ABDELFATAH: With each passing day, more white power activists and others showed up to protest the treatment of the Weaver family.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: How much will you take? How much will you compromise? How many dead patriots will you bury?

ABDELFATAH: The standoff ended after 11 days, when Weaver finally agreed to give up. But it was clear the people protesting there at Ruby Ridge would not.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #10: Never will you take another woman down. Never.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: And may we die fighting.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #10: We're going to war.

ABDELFATAH: Randy Weaver survived the siege and went to prison. Years later, the federal government issued a report admitting that federal law enforcement had acted too aggressively in the siege.

BELEW: To the white power movement, this one is a very clear example of the federal superstate is deeply corrupt and will come for you and your family. And they use this as a recruitment bonanza for the militia movement. Militias are kind of the new and more publicly acceptable version of white power activity in the early '90s.

ARABLOUEI: We should stop and note that there are scholars who disagree with Kathleen's assertion here about militias, since many of them are not overtly white supremacist. One thing is clear, though. The events at Ruby Ridge became a rallying point. Louis Beam warned, quote, "the blood of these innocents, like a prism, makes everything clear. It will happen nationwide. Ten thousand Randy Weavers are spread out from one coast to another."


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #5: How many gunshots did you hear?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #12: It was quite a few. You know, couldn't really say how many it was, but he knew it was something that wasn't normal.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #13: We were pinned down - 45 minutes of gunfire, automatic gunfire.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #6: It has been over 36 hours now since federal agents first confronted a heavily armed, religious cult near Waco. They were met by a hail of gunfire, killing four of the agents and wounding over a dozen others.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #14: I must tell you, this is a horrible sight from two miles away.

BELEW: Waco, first of all, notably, is not a white power community. It's a multiracial kind of religious, apocalyptic, separatist community. Some people might use the word cult, if you're inclined to use that word.

ARABLOUEI: The group was also known as the Branch Davidians.

BELEW: The reason the government is laying siege is that the people in the Waco compound were manufacturing their own grenades.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #6: That standoff near Waco began as a federal raid 51 days ago.

BELEW: Unlike Ruby Ridge, which is on a mountaintop and you can't really see what's happening up there, Waco is right out on the prairie, and the siege goes on for months. It's on the evening news over and over and over again, and a lot of people are watching.

ARABLOUEI: Including Lewis Beam. Less than a year after Ruby Ridge, the standoff at Waco would fire up anti-government sentiment again.


BEAM: Today we're going to be discussing what happened at Waco, where I also was for many days.

ARABLOUEI: Beam joined many other people to protest law enforcement's actions. The siege went on and on. Every day, things got more ominous.

BELEW: And eventually, because there are children in the compound, there is a decision that they have to bring the siege to an end.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #7: With specially modified tanks and grenade-like canisters, federal agents launched a tear gas attack.

BELEW: And in the course of this, there is a deeply contested string of events, but it results in a fiery end to the siege and armored vehicles rolling into the compound to make arrests. And a lot of people are killed.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #7: Seventy-six Branch Davidians dead, 24 of them children.

ABDELFATAH: For many people in the U.S., the events at Waco showed that the government was tyrannical, that it was waging war on its own citizens. This was especially true for people who long believed that the government was basically evil. And one of these believers was a man named Timothy McVeigh.

BELEW: Timothy McVeigh traveled to Waco, we know, to sort of protest the government's siege of the compound. But it's really important to know that it's not exactly that he was radicalized by Waco because McVeigh, who at this point had already served in Big Red One infantry division in the Gulf War, had been discharged after not making it into special forces, which is what he really wanted to do, and was already sort of floating around the country in these far-right circuits. McVeigh had contact with a number of white power groups and ideologies, some of them before Waco.

ABDELFATAH: He was also a huge fan of "The Turner Diaries."

BELEW: McVeigh sold "The Turner Diaries." McVeigh followed "The Turner Diaries" almost to the letter and also followed earlier movement strategies.

ARABLOUEI: In a way, McVeigh was the manifestation of Louis Beam's vision - a disaffected white veteran who was becoming part of a leaderless resistance. McVeigh had been very open about his hate for the government. And in 1994, he started to connect with people who wanted to take direct violent action. But this wasn't just robbing banks or assassination plots or firing on protesters. McVeigh and his friends wanted to do something big. They set their sights on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

BELEW: This movement had targeted the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City since 1983. McVeigh once stayed with a militia member who knew that building so well as a target that he could draw it just from memory. This building was deeply located in the consciousness of the white power movement as a potential target in a leaderless resistance mode of activism.


ABDELFATAH: On April 19, 1995, McVeigh parked a truck packed with explosives in front of the building. He walked away from the vehicle and set off two timed fuses.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #8: A massive car bomb exploded outside of a large federal building in downtown Oklahoma City, shattering that building, killing children, killing federal employees, military men and civilians.

ABDELFATAH: It was a massive explosion. It completely gutted the federal building and damaged 324 buildings in a 16-block radius.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #9: More than 500 people were already in their offices. Children were in a day care center on the second floor.

BELEW: The Oklahoma City bombing is the largest deliberate mass casualty on American mainland soil between Pearl Harbor and 9/11.


BILL CLINTON: It was an act of cowardice, and it was evil. The United States will not tolerate it. And I will not allow the people of this country to be intimidated.

BELEW: We're talking about 168 people killed, including 19 children, and then hundreds more people injured.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #10: Two suspects now have been identified, known only as John Doe. They're both about 5'10" to 5'11", about 180 pounds, both with brown hair - one with a crew cut, the other with a tattoo.

BELEW: And it's really startling to think that, you know, we go around with a pretty good narrative of Pearl Harbor and 9/11. People generally know what that is, what that meant, but they don't know that always about the Oklahoma City bombing.


ARABLOUEI: Weeks after the attack, McVeigh was captured and charged with capital murder.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #11: The indictment charges that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, former Army buddies with a grudge against the government, planned the bombing, selected the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City as their target, bought and stole materials for the bomb and built it.

ARABLOUEI: The Oklahoma City bombing was, in many ways, the fulfillment of Louis Beam's vision. A small group of men, inspired by "The Turner Diaries," committing a direct attack on the government without needing any orders. Here's what Dan Levitas, a researcher who followed white power groups, told The New York Times in 1995 - the Oklahoma City bombing paralleled exactly the leaderless resistance model developed by Louis Beam, who has been talking about this to militias all over the country.

ABDELFATAH: But this kind of coverage was rare. Most news sources weren't connecting McVeigh's actions to a broader movement. And according to Kathleen Belew, this contributed to the idea that attacks like the Oklahoma City bombing were done by men acting alone, or what we now know as the lone wolf narrative.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #15: This lone wolf scenario creates huge problems for law enforcement.

TED DANIELS: The problem with the lone wolf is that you never know who or when he's going to hit. And you can't infiltrate an individual the way you can a group.

BELEW: There are two places we see the lone wolf narrative impacting the coverage and understanding of Oklahoma City. One has to do with reporting. And you can look at the way that the media from the beginning is interested in sort of John Doe 1 and John Doe 2. But the other has to do with actual investigation and prosecution of the event. And there, what we see is that the FBI had a policy change after the sedition trial and after the events at Ruby Ridge and Waco, where they decided that because of these big failures, there was a shift to pursue only individual crimes and not try to prosecute the white power activism as part of a movement. So this shift to individual instead of a movement is the policy in place when Oklahoma City blows up. And because of that, we never get a full investigation of the ties McVeigh had to other leaders. We never get the full weight of the investigative apparatus, the jury instruction, prosecutorial strategy. It's all focused on McVeigh and a few co-conspirators.

ABDELFATAH: McVeigh was eventually executed for his crime. His accomplice, Terry Nichols, is still serving a life sentence. But the failure to see their act as part of a larger movement would have consequences that would last.

BELEW: So even though there is a successful prosecution of those actors and then the execution of McVeigh, what lingers for the public is this idea that it was just a few people. And this is not a large movement, but, you know, it's a fringe movement with enormous violent capacity. And it's a movement that doesn't need a lot of people because at heart, it's not interested in marching 2,000 people down Main Street. It's interested in finding two or six or 12 people who are willing and able to detonate a bomb.


ARABLOUEI: Even if Ruby Ridge, Waco and Oklahoma City weren't explicitly about race, there was overlap, and white power activists seized on these events and used them for their own propaganda. According to Kathleen, Oklahoma City was the culmination of a process that began after the Vietnam War. It showed how far people were willing to go to bring down the central government. And even though it still stands as the largest act of homegrown terrorism ever, in recent years we've seen smaller attacks in Charleston, El Paso and Charlottesville. And the leaderless resistance model that Louis Beam - who is still alive and not in prison, by the way - promoted, continues to pose a major threat.

BELEW: The DHS just released a threat assessment report that says that not only does the white power movement pose the largest terrorist threat to the United States - right? - the largest one; that means much more than, quote, unquote, "antifa" and the left, but even more than radical Islamist terror, which I think people are quite willing to worry about. They not only think that white supremacist extremism represents the largest terrorist threat, but they also noted that 2019 is the most fatal year for this since 1995.

ABDELFATAH: This makes for an incredibly challenging law enforcement issue, one that continues to worry experts like Kathleen Belew.

BELEW: Almost every expert in the field feel more worried about this now than at any point before. You know, I've been studying these groups since 2005. At that time, I mean, it was not at all clear we were going to have this mass public resurgence of this problem. And I certainly never imagined a moment when they would have a claim on even a accidental green light from a sitting president. These kinds of historical push factors are just completely overwhelming. And I think we should all be very worried about this.


BELEW: What we're seeing is a string of events, a rising tide of activity, and one carried out by activists who are very deeply interconnected through social media and who are pushed by a number of historical factors towards radicalization. So I think we have to listen to the people in surveillance agencies who are sending up the red flag because these groups, again, are not fundamentally interested in the preservation of the United States and its democratic institutions. These groups are interested in the overthrow of the United States and its democratic institutions.


ARABLOUEI: Kathleen Belew is the author of "Bring The War Home: The White Power Movement And Paramilitary America."


ABDELFATAH: That's it for this week's show. I'm Rund Abdelfatah.

ARABLOUEI: I'm Ramtin Arablouei. And you've been listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.

ABDELFATAH: This episode was produced by me.

ARABLOUEI: And me. And...







ARABLOUEI: Fact-checking for this episode was done by Kevin Volkl.

ABDELFATAH: Our music was composed by Ramtin and his band, Drop Electric, which includes...

NAVID MARVI: Navid Marvi.

SHO FUJIWARA: Sho Fujiwara.

ANYA MIZANI: Anya Mizani.

ABDELFATAH: Thanks also to Hannah Allam, Andrew Sussman, Beth Donovan and Anya Grundmann. And a warm welcome to Yolanda Sangweni. And we love hearing from you. So we have a question. For listeners in the U.S., is there a THROUGHLINE episode that's taught you something new about another part of the world? And for our international listeners, is there a THROUGHLINE episode that's taught you something new about the U.S.? If so, please write us at throughline@npr.org, or hit us up on Twitter @throughlinenpr. Thanks for listening.


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