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Behind the Headlines: Congress, Jewish Groups Assess Avenues to Contain Militias

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When members of the Aryan Nations gathered for its annual conference last month, they hate-filled speeches blasting Jews and the federal government and advocating the establishment of a whites-only nation.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, leadership struggles within the organization may cloud the group’s future, but the danger is still there.

“The roots of the militia movement” comes from such groups as the Aryan Nations, said Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL. “They ideologically feed and fuel those who are armed and dangerous.”

Concerned about the growing militia movement in the United States, some lawmakers and Jewish group have begun a quest to contain the country’s paramilitary organizations.

Although monitored by Jewish groups for years, the militia movement gained national attention in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing in April, when it became known that suspects in the worst terrorist attack in American history had ties to the militias.

Since the bombing, the law enforcement community, legislators and the Clinton administration have been struggling to find a way to deal with the fiercely anti-government organization.

Many of these militias borrow from anti-Semitic conspiracy theories to form their anti-government ideologies and some of their leaders view Jews as the evil force behind the government ideologies and some their leaders view Jews as the evil force behind the government they oppose, according to those who study the movement.

One such theory detailed in some of the militias’ literature involves’ international bankers” who are masterminding an international plot to take over America. International bankers is a code phrase often used in anti-Semitic circles to describe Jews.

At last week’s Aryan Nations conference, Louis Beam, a relative newcomer to the organization who reportedly is positioning himself to rise to a leadership position of the group, called the federal government the main enemy of the people.

Describing the system as an “apparatus of oppression” that is a “well-oiled machine,” Beam said that monkey wrenches need to be thrown into it to thwart the system, according to the ADL.

In addition, he advocated what he called “political guerrilla warfare,” involving voters in “white racial enclaves.”

In Congress, efforts to deal with the militias have been embroiled in partisan politics.

Despite demands from Democrats, Republican leaders had, until recently, balked at holding hearings on the militia movement.

In early July Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) took matters into his own hands and convened an unofficial forum, hearing testimony from Jewish groups and federal agents victimized by militia members.

House Republicans were invited to the hearing, but none attended.

Now Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, has indicated he will hold hearings on militia groups in the fall.

Most in the Jewish community agree that official congressional hearings are a good place to start, and they are offering input over what the eventual outcome of such probes should be.

Some advocate a federal law banning militias, while others say a better approach would be to bolster law enforcement power.

Still others would approve measure that would extend federal jurisdiction to paramilitary training statues already on the books.

The American Jewish Committee began calling for a federal law banning such organization in 1986, when it drafted model legislation prohibiting private-run militias, said AJCommittee’s legislative director Richard Foltin.

The organization is currently in the process of re-examining its original draft to “see if it still works,” Foltin said.

“The notion is that if you’re going to have regular, organized forces, it should be the states maintaining these forces, not private individuals,” he said.

AJCommittee’s legislation specifically bans paramilitary organization, and suggests a punishment of fines up to $10,000, five years in prison, or both for forming militias or conducting weapons training sessions outside government- sanctioned activities such as military science courses.

The Anti-Defamation League, while not opposed to banning militias, has chosen a different, broader route that would outlaw militia activity, ADL officials say.

About 24 states have laws modeled after legislation drafted by the ADL in the 1980s, when hate groups became involved in survivalist training and teaching techniques of violence, according to Michael Lieberman, ADL’s Washington counsel.

The legislation outlaws both teaching firearm and explosives use with the intent to harm others as well as participating in such sessions.

Now that the militia situation has moved to the forefront, the ADL is advocating extending federal jurisdiction in that area, said Michael Lieberman, ADL’s Washington counsel.

“It seems to us it would be valuable to increase federal jurisdiction,” he said, adding, “It’s clearly something the federal law does not cover now.”

ADL would also like to see increased funding for law enforcement investigations, and more exposure of the threats militias pose, Lieberman said.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which also monitors militia activity, supports the idea of bolstering law enforcement.

The Los Angeles-based said it would “welcome the idea” of a federal law dealing with militias if it “can both help law enforcement and stand the test of time and the judiciary,” said Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean.

Such legislation may soon be a reality.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has taken the lead on Capitol Hill by introducing legislation on the subject in June.

Based on the ADL-inspired legislation already on the books in many states, the bill would amend the existing federal criminal code, which bans teaching techniques of violence, to include participation in such training.

“The law needs to be more tightly drawn against militias,” said David Lachmann, Nadler’s legislative director, of the reason behind the bill.

After its June 20 introduction, the measure was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. No vote has been scheduled on the legislation.

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