From the Past, a Chilling Warning About the Extremists of the Present

Historians in the News
tags: far right, extremism, White Supremacy, militia movement

They robbed an armored car outside a sprawling Seattle shopping mall.

They bombed a synagogue in Boise, Idaho, and within weeks assassinated a Jewish talk radio host in Denver.

Then a month later, they plundered another armored car on a California highway in a spectacular daylight heist that netted more than $3.6 million.

What initially seemed to F.B.I. agents like distant, disparate crimes turned out to be the opening salvos in a war against the federal government by members of a violent extremist group called the Order, who sought to establish a whites-only homeland out West.

Their crime spree played out in 1984. Fast forward to 2021. Federal agents and prosecutors who dismantled the Order see troubling echoes of its threat to democracy in the Capitol riot and the growing extremist activity across the country.

“When you see the country as politically and philosophically divided as it is today, that makes it more likely that somebody could take advantage of these times to bring about another revolutionary concept like the Order,” said Wayne F. Manis, the main F.B.I. agent on the case. “We stopped the Order. We did not stop the ideology.”

Those who tracked the group say the legacy of the Order can be seen in the prominent role that far-right organizations like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers played in storming the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“Many of the participants of these groups today come from the same sources as the Order,” said Gene Wilson, the lead prosecutor, who went on to become a U.S. magistrate judge in Seattle before switching to private practice. “I think they might be just as committed to totally changing democracy as we know it.”

The men who played central roles in disbanding the Order still consider it the most important case of their lives. Given the Order’s “potential for violence and destruction,” said Mr. Manis, no other domestic group posed a similar threat to the United States.

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Far-right groups have evolved since the days of the Order. In some ways they are broader and more loosely affiliated, given the use of the internet, and mainstream politics has opened the door to some of their ideas. A key question today is whether adherents of extremist groups might seek elected office or whether the heavily disputed presidential vote soured them on politics.

“Do they want armed revolution and race war or are they seeking to enter politics?” said Kathleen Belew, whose book, “Bring the War Home,” covered the history of the Order. “Do they want to burn it down or do they want to take over?”

Read entire article at New York Times