Twenty years ago, a truck bomb exploded outside the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and wounding hundreds of others. The deadliest act of domestic terrorism to ever occur on American soil, it exposed a broad-based network whose followers feared the government was bent on taking away their weapons and other constitutional rights.
Among them were these groups and individuals who made headlines after the April 19, 1995, blast.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
Michigan Militia Corps
Norm Olson sounds like a proud parent when he talks about the seeds he sowed two decades ago.
“They call me the father of the modern militia,” he said. “We were the premier militia.”
Indeed, the Michigan Militia Corps, which Olson co-founded in 1994, grew into one of the most visible militias in the country, boasting thousands of members in its heyday.
And the organization found itself in the spotlight after the Oklahoma City bombing, when Olson said that suspects Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols had attended some meetings.
Olson was one of several militia leaders who testified at a U.S. Senate committee hearing on terrorism two months after the bombing. Dressed in camouflage, he complained about “the increasing amount of federal encroachment into our lives” and told senators that “the federal government needs a good spanking to make it behave.”
Olson resigned his post under pressure after other militia members criticized him for blaming the bombing on the Japanese government. He moved to Alaska with several other families and co-founded the Alaska Citizens Militia.
The original Michigan Militia Corps remains active in that state, as does the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia, which broke away from the original group. Both militias conduct monthly field training activities and hold regular meetings.
The split dates back to after the Oklahoma City bombing, when members of the Michigan Militia decided they needed to raise some money to keep the struggling group going.
Their solution: a “Militia Babes” calendar that featured scantily-clad women, some wearing camouflage, others wrapped in flags and many toting assault rifles.
And although some militia members said it was the only fundraiser that actually was a success, the calendar wasn’t appreciated by all. A rift ensued that eventually led to the formation of the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia.
That militia continued the photo shoots for years, posting some of them on YouTube and posing the question: “Do you have what it takes to be a Militia Babe?”
Olson said he had seen “an incredible resurgence” in the militia movement in recent years.
“We had a lull during the time of (President) Bush,” he said. “But when the federal government starts kicking up its heels to take away our rights and attack us, then of course there’s going to be a response.”
He said the militias went through a “kinder, gentler” phase several years ago — “the squeezably soft, politically correct, socially acceptable militias.
“That’s a lot of malarkey,” he said. “I don’t believe they ought to be adopting highways, giving stuffed toys to children in hospitals. The whole idea of the militia from the very beginning was to present a force on the plains, a credible threat to tyrants.”
Olson said he structured the Alaska militia system differently than the Michigan group.
“There’s no central authority here, no state commander,” he said. “I set up a form that allowed for independent, autonomous groups based upon their geographical location.”
He said roughly half the state’s militia members are ex-military personnel.
“They’re already dug in,” Olson said. “They’re equipped, trained and informed. We’re just waiting for a mistake by the federal government to kick everything off.”
Militia of Montana
Based in Noxon, Mont., the Militia of Montana was one of the biggest and best-known militias in the 1990s.
Co-founder John Trochmann traveled the country on speaking engagements, warning that a global conspiracy was trying to use the United Nations to shred the Constitution and implement martial law as it ushered the U.S. into a one-world, totalitarian government.
One of several militia leaders who testified at a Senate hearing on terrorism after the Oklahoma City bombing, Trochmann told senators that the militia movement was “a giant neighborhood watch.”
“The movement is made up of a cross section of Americans from all walks of life with a singular mandate, which is public and overt — the return to the Constitution of the United States and to your oath to defend that Constitution,” he said.
By 1999, the Militia of Montana was at its peak. It published an extensive mail order catalog and a newsletter called “Taking Aim,” and Trochmann spoke at “preparedness expos” around the country, saying that the new world order would take advantage of the chaos spawned by Y2K, the turn of the millennium, to tighten its stronghold on Americans through mind and weather control. But the militia lost credibility after the Y2K chaos failed to materialize.
Trochmann says now that the militia movement “has moved into mainstream America.”
“And I think a great wake-up call is happening, and the sleeping giant is waking up in spite of all the bondage, all the ropes put around it.”
He still pushes the theory held by some in the militia movement that the government was behind the Oklahoma City bombing in order to get Congress to pass an anti-terrorism bill. He also doesn’t believe convicted bomber McVeigh was really executed.
Trochmann said the militia remains active — although these days, some critics refer to it as the Mail Order Militia.
“We have at least 12 tables at gun shows, most with books and medical supplies,” he said.
Although he used to travel coast to coast, Trochmann now prefers speaking engagements closer to home.
“I did my tour of duty,” he said. “I drove a million miles at least. The last Suburban that I parked had 620,000 miles on it.”
Missouri 51st Militia
Named after the 51-day standoff between federal authorities and the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas, the Missouri 51st Militia was organized in late 1994. Leaders said it grew to between 400 and 700 members.
Followers often could be seen dressed in camouflage at area gun shows, handing out literature from their booths or assisting with first aid and safety patrols at outdoor events. Members also conducted field training exercises and held regular “battalion meetings,” discussing plans for worst-case scenarios.
Two months after the Oklahoma City bombing, commander Jim McKinzey told The Star that he had been interviewed by FBI agents who said authorities had found one of the militia’s business cards during a search of bombing suspect Nichols’ home in Herington, Kan.
“I explained to them that we’re at numerous gun shows in the Kansas City metropolitan area and we’re at numerous functions and we pass the cards out like candy,” he said, adding that agents also showed him mug shots of Nichols and McVeigh and asked whether he recognized them. He said he didn’t.
Harold Sheil, a retired Northland fire chief who served as the militia’s public information officer, said at the time that the 51st “is probably one of the most respected militias in the United States.”
“I gave them credibility here and kept them out of the lunatic fringe thing that was put on the militia,” said Sheil, who died in 1996.
Mike McKinzey, who took over as the militia’s public information officer, recently told The Star that the group served its purpose but isn’t currently active.
“It’s just like on standby,” he said. “We’re retired; we’re all old now. But we have a plan.”
Historically, he said, the militia has been ready to serve when needed.
“And when it wasn’t, you went home and farmed,” he said.
“We’re all farming.”
1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment Constitutional Militia
Mike Vanderboegh surfaced in the 1990s as an outspoken militia leader who criticized white supremacists and used fiery rhetoric to lambast what he saw as an out-of-control government.
The Pinson, Ala., man is still active today, now as a leader in the anti-government Patriot movement. And his disdain for the government hasn’t subsided.
After the Oklahoma City bombing, Vanderboegh — then head of the 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment Constitutional Militia — began publishing a newsletter called The John Doe Times, which discussed various conspiracy theories and challenged the government’s assertion that the act was carried out solely by McVeigh and Nichols. Vanderboegh also poked fun at the race-based Christian Identity ideology, calling it “Mistaken Identity,” and joined some militia leaders in signing a document that tried to distance the movement from racists and neo-Nazis.
In 2008, Vanderboegh founded the Three Percenters, which takes its name from the percentage of colonists that he believes took up arms against the Crown in the American Revolution. Supporters vow to use force if necessary to resist gun control laws.
Vanderboegh attracted the attention of authorities when he wrote an online novel that year. He posted the book, called “Absolved,” on his blog, Sipsey Street Irregulars.
A fictional story about gun owners and militias who resist federal government attempts to confiscate their firearms, the book contains detailed accounts of battles with law enforcement, airplane attacks on government buildings and assassinations of federal agents.
The book set off alarms at the Kansas City regional fusion center, which issued a bulletin saying it may incite anti-government violence. The alert was not intended for public release, but Vanderboegh obtained a copy and posted it on his blog.
“They read a fictional chapter posted on the Internet, and they saw in the mirror their worst bogeyman,” Vanderboegh said. “What part of fiction don’t they understand?”
But authorities said the book later inspired a group of militia members in Georgia to plot a domestic terrorism rampage. The group was arrested in 2011 for plotting to attack four cities with ricin, blow up federal buildings and kill government employees and local police.
Vanderboegh also is credited with inciting followers to commit vandalism.
After Congress passed the health care reform measure in 2010, he called for modern-day Sons of Liberty to throw rocks through the windows of local Democratic Party offices around the country in protest. After that, vandals struck several Democratic Party offices, including that of U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who was later shot in an attack, and the Sedgwick County Democratic Party headquarters in Wichita.
Last year, Vanderboegh went to Nevada to rally protesters following a standoff between federal authorities and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who they said owed $1 million for grazing his cattle on federal land.
“They blinked and retreated here, for now,” Vanderboegh said of the Nevada ranch, adding that “rest assured, they will try again.”
“All over the country, at this moment, we are still staring civil war in its bloody face,” he said. “... And it can never be over until one side or the other wins.”
For decades, Dennis Mahon hasn’t been able to stay out of the headlines.
In the 1980s, his Ku Klux Klan group was entrenched in a lengthy legal battle with Kansas City officials over a program it wanted to run on a public access cable channel. In 1989, he claimed that he urinated inside Air Force One at a Boeing plant in Wichita. He ran unsuccessfully for multiple public offices, including for the Northmoor, Mo., Board of Aldermen and for mayor of Tulsa, Okla., and in 1995 his name emerged as a possible suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing.
Mahon now sits in federal prison, serving a 40-year sentence for sending a mail bomb in 2004 to the Office of Diversity and Dialogue in Scottsdale, Ariz. The package exploded, severely injuring the director, a black man.
In phone calls from prison, Mahon repeatedly denied sending the bomb. But federal prosecutors and witnesses at his criminal trial — including a stripper turned informant who became close to Mahon — convinced a jury otherwise.
Mahon’s extremist history began when he joined the Klan in 1980, the same year he started working as a mechanic in the airline industry, and eventually became an organizer for the Missouri Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
He ended up in Kansas City in 1987 when he got a job as a mechanic at the Trans World Airlines overhaul base. That year, his Klan became tangled in a battle with Kansas City officials when it tried to produce a program on American Cablevision’s public access channel.
In 1989, Mahon and other Klan members broke away from the Missouri Knights and formed the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Mahon moved to Tulsa in January 1990 and in 1991 made headlines again when he went to Germany to recruit.
“I did a cross lighting ceremony, I was recruiting and giving pro-German speeches against immigration,” he said. “I told them I didn’t believe the Holocaust happened; I told them the whole world was a holocaust.”
When he got home, Mahon said, he resigned from the White Knights and joined White Aryan Resistance.
Mahon again made headlines after the Oklahoma City bombing. His name surfaced as a possible suspect after it was revealed that he had spent time at Elohim City, a Christian Identity compound in eastern Oklahoma that McVeigh called two weeks before the attack.
Mahon was never charged in the bombing. He told The Star that he met McVeigh at a gun show in Tulsa.
“He was selling military stuff,” Mahon said. “I talked to him for a few minutes. He was madder than hell about Waco and Ruby Ridge, but he didn’t talk about blowing up any buildings.”
After the Oklahoma City bombing, Mahon said, his former Klan colleagues in the Kansas City area wanted nothing to do with him.
“Most of those guys were too scared to even get hold of me,” he said. “They all went down their hidey-hole.”
Mahon said he is working on an appeal of his conviction and has a May 12 hearing before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
He said that in both the Oklahoma City bombing and the Scottsdale mail bomb cases he became involved in relationships with — and then was betrayed by — women who were “drop-dead gorgeous.”
“Blond, blue-eyed women,” he said. “If I ever get out, I’m going to stay away from them.”