Violent extremist groups surged in the 1990s, a decade of spectacular domestic mayhem — at a cabin in Ruby Ridge, Id.; on a compound outside Waco, Tx.; in downtown Oklahoma City. The Los Angeles Times says the groups today are shadows of themselves, with many of their leaders dead, imprisoned, disillusioned, or just inept. Many attribute that to Sept. 11, for diverting the rage of disaffected Americans away from the U.S. government and toward foreigners, and for fueling the Patriot Act-driven crackdown. Others say the movement began to crumble earlier, when the Y2K disaster, a favorite prediction of conspiracy theorists, failed to materialize.
“Many of the people had such huge egos that they didn’t know how to work together and keep the movement going,” said Chip Berlet of the liberal Political Research Associates. “So it basically unraveled.” In contrast to the 1990s, this decade has seen only a smattering of arrests of isolated plotters, caught before they could act. Syracuse University tracked domestic terrorism prosecutions over the last five years and found them down by 47 percent. California and Oregon were the leading states for prosecutions in 2006, with eight each. In some cases those fomenting hate have directed their vitriol at immigration across the Mexican border. There also are environmental and animal-rights extremists, and in the first months after Sept. 11 there was a spike in racial attacks against Muslims. The Department of Justice issued a summary on foreign and domestic terrorism for 2002-2005. It said 23 of the 24 domestic attacks were perpetrated by “special-interest extremists active in the animal-rights and environmental movements”; the other was a white supremacist’s firebombing of a synagogue in Oklahoma City. None was carried out by the traditional anti-government elements popular in the 1990s.