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More than 100 letters purporting to contain anthrax arrived at Planned Parenthood offices and abortion clinics across the United States last week. Donald Spitz, a Pentecostal minister in Chesapeake, Va., took notice. “I feel very good about it,” says Spitz, who identifies himself as a member of the Army of God, a loose network committed to radical actions to stop abortions. “It closed down 110 abortion mills, and a lot of babies were saved.” None of the letters — some bearing the name the Army of God — contained the virus. But Spitz, who says he did not send any letters, adds that “it would be OK” if real anthrax had been sent. “To me, it’s no different than if they sent anthrax to the Nazi guards who were putting people in the ovens in the Holocaust. People have warned them that this is a war and they are murdering babies.” Spitz is one of thousands of U.S. citizens who belong to domestic groups that resort to extreme measures to achieve their political or religious goals — from murdering doctors who perform abortions to bombing federal buildings in protest of government policies to burning down private homes or ski lodges as a way of scuttling development. As of Oct. 19, federal law enforcement had yet to identify those responsible for the anthrax that infected victims in Washington, D.C., New York, New Jersey, and Florida. But some officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft, are raising the possibility that U.S. citizens may be responsible for at least some of the bioterrorism. “We have ruled out neither international terrorism nor domestic terrorism,” Ashcroft said at a Thursday press conference. “And we think it may be ill-advised to think about the situation in terms of an either/or matrix; that it might well be that we have opportunists in the United States or terrorists in the United States who are acting in ways that are unrelated.” But do domestic groups have the wherewithal to carry out such threats? Experts are divided. “Oftentimes these types of events cause people to come out of the woodwork,” says Harvey Kushner, a professor and expert on terrorism at Long Island University. “Anthrax is nothing new, and anthrax scares are nothing new in this country … . It could be a crime of opportunity, some wacko who wants to take advantage of the situation. It could be even that some of the domestic groups may be working in tandem with foreign terrorists.” Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist groups, doesn’t believe that domestic extremists are behind the recent anthrax attacks and doubts that they would be mounting any kind of attacks at this time. “The main threat is not from domestic groups,” says Potok, who edits the Law Center’s Intelligence Report. “What we have seen from them is a lot of hot talk and very little more.” HOMEGROWN BIOTERROR In the 1990s, there were several waves of anthrax hoax letters across the country. Abortion clinics started receiving such letters — a total of 80 between October 1998 and January 2000, according to the National Abortion Federation. And in the late 1990s, there was also the case of Larry Wayne Harris. Harris, a Pennsylvania man once associated with white supremacist groups, first came to the attention of law enforcement in 1995 for using fake letterhead to order from a U.S. laboratory the bacterium that causes bubonic plague. He was arrested and put on probation for wire fraud. He was arrested again in 1998 after authorities were tipped off that he was claiming to have weapons-grade anthrax. The anthrax he possessed turned out to be vaccine grade, which cannot trigger the disease. In the years since the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, the federal government and local law enforcement agencies have beefed up domestic terrorism monitoring. The Federal Bureau of Investigation alone added 500 agents to its domestic terrorism unit. In recent years, local and federal law enforcement have caught numerous extremists with white supremacy, militia, or other anti-government groups, thwarting plans to bomb or attack government buildings, banks, or critical infrastructure facilities like refineries. Despite law enforcement efforts, there are still suspected extremists at large. Eric Rudolph, an anti-abortion activist with ties to racist Christian movements, has been the subject of a manhunt for years. Law enforcement is seeking Rudolph in connection with the bombing of the Olympics in Atlanta, along with bombings of two abortion facilities and a lesbian bar. Groups that monitor extremists have seen a certain decline in support for extremist organizations. “The right-wing, anti-government extremist world is a shadow of its former self,” says Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the California State University at San Bernardino. “It lacks the numbers. They lack charismatic leadership. They lack the coordination.” The Oklahoma City bombing, with the horrific images of murdered civilians and children, seems to have turned the stomachs of even some who were ideologically sympathetic. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of so-called patriot groups peaked at 858 in 1996, and has since decreased to 194. What extremist group monitors have seen since the Sept. 11 attack is some increase in various groups’ rhetoric, with Web sites or flyers attacking Muslim or Jewish people. But they have seen little evidence that extremist groups are getting significant traction or support. “No evidence has come forward that any extremist groups have experienced a rise in membership,” says Mark Pitcavage, director of fact-finding for the Anti-Defamation League. “I think they are as violent as they have always been. I don’t think they are any more so after Sept. 11th.” DEFINING TERROR According to experts, there are many patterns indicating that international terrorists, not domestic, have been behind the events after Sept. 11 — the targets, the timing, the use of anthrax, which Iraq is known to have, and the general mood of the country. “We don’t know of any domestic group that has the capability of doing this kind of anthrax right now,” says Neil Livingstone, chairman of Global Options, an international risk management firm, and a terrorism expert. “The militia tend to be super patriotic and see the government as the enemy and not other American citizens.” “Right-wing extremist groups, they haven’t typically attacked cities, they haven’t gone after major media groups,” says Pitcavage. “It’s much more typical of them to go after something in the hinterlands. They don’t necessarily focus on Washington, D.C., or New York.” But Levin of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism cautions that while the movement may have waned in recent years, any extremist bent on violence and destruction can still inflict harm. “The anti-government movement still represents the same level of threat that it did years ago,” he says. “With the availability of mass-destruction weapons, a small number of people can still do a devastating amount of damage.” Terrorism expert Carl Raschke, for one, thinks it may be significant that some extremist groups in America have similar targets and enemies as al Qaeda and other violent Islamic fundamentalists — Jews and the U.S. government. “Remember that the neo-Nazi organization and the white supremacists underground have the same political objectives as the anti-Zionists in the Middle East,” says Raschke, an expert on hate groups and cults, who works at the University of Denver. “I find it interesting that symbols that have been attacked by the terrorists are the same symbols that are the targets of rants by the neo-Nazis.” For anti-abortion activist Donald Spitz, the suggestion that people with the anti-abortion groups could be sending out anthrax or would attack anyone besides clinics and doctors who perform abortions is not believable. “I wouldn’t do it to anybody else,” says Spitz. “I wouldn’t do it to the congressmen or the news people. We are not terrorists. We want to save innocent babies from being put to death. We are very focused only on the abortionists.” That, of course, provides little comfort to those who work in the abortion rights field. They are the ones who received letters containing white powder and a note claiming the substance was anthrax. The return address on many of the letters was the U.S. Marshals Service or the Secret Service. “These groups need to be brought to justice,” says Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation. “They need to be seen for what they are — domestic terrorists.”

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