When a deadly explosion ripped through a federal building in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, among those to condemn the "savage act of terrorism" was the commander of the Michigan Militia Corps. Yesterday, Brig. Gen. Norman E. Olson and his organization were under attack.
The suspects arrested in the Oklahoma City bombing have been linked in media reports to a citizen militia in Michigan. And Mr. Olson's Michigan Militia Corps, among the most vocal and public of the citizen militia groups in the country, has been besieged with telephone calls ever since. Mr. Olson, through a spokesman, has disavowed any knowledge of the suspects. He claims to have told a branch office of the FBI in Michigan the same.
"First and foremost, the Michigan Militia is no way involved with anything that took place in Oklahoma City," Ken Adams, the group's spokesman, said in a telephone interview from the organization's northern Michigan base. "We do not know who these people are. We have never heard of them. If the Michigan Militia had been in Oklahoma, we would have been on that scene helping any way we could. . . . That's what the Michigan Militia is all about."
Mr. Adams suggested that the men in federal custody -- Timothy McVeigh, 26, and Terry Nichols, 40 -- may be members of one of the "underground" citizen militias that operate in Michigan, "very small, very localized" groups that are not associated with his. Mr. Adams said Mr. Olson told the FBI yesterday morning that Michigan Militia Corps would assist the FBI if it could.
Federal authorities in Washington would not connect the men arrested in the Oklahoma City bombing with any group. But the Associated Press reported that federal agents raided a farm owned by a brother of one of the suspects in Decker, in Eastern Michigan. The news agency said "the Michigan Militia" has a chapter in Decker, which the group denies.
The alleged militia link between the two men arrested in the bombing has triggered swift responses from representatives of militias in other states, a grass-roots movement of citizen soldiers springing up across the country. They are consistent in their contention that the alleged connection is a plot to discredit the movement. Their reaction reflects the often-conspiratorial tone taken by these pro-gun groups, which believe the federal government has overstepped its authority in violation of Americans' constitutional rights.
Andrew Brown, a spokesman for the Delaware Minutemen, said the militia movement decried the attack at the federal building in Oklahoma City.
"We do not stand for that. We are not baby killers," said Mr. Brown. "The bottom line here is we stand for the Constitution of the United States and now we are faced with the prospect of taking the blame for a horrible crime in order to justify nationwide raids by the federal government. If we are attacked unjustly -- point out I said unjustly -- we will defend ourselves."
Clay Douglas, a chief supporter of the militia movement in New Mexico, said the movement was founded in part because citizens were upset about the federal assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. "We're outraged because the people who murdered children in Waco weren't punished. We certainly wouldn't, no one I know of, would ever dream or suggest or hint [to do what] happened in Oklahoma City."
Citizen militia groups portray themselves as law-abiding, taxpaying citizens who want to reclaim the republic from an overzealous government. They claim membership in 50 states; although observers of the movement see activity in only 13 to 29 states. Critics charged that several of the groups have ties to white supremacist organizations and other hate groups.
Yesterday, some of those same critics said they weren't surprised by the militia members' response to their newfound notoriety.
"Here's a bunch of guys who go out and convince people that the government is about to come down on them and their only reasonable alternative is to take up arms and 'defend themselves,' " said Ken Toole of Montana Human Rights, an activist group that monitors militia organizations in the state. "They feed people these paranoid conspiracy theories and then when someone goes out and takes an action and confronts law enforcement guys . . . [they] all throw their hands up and say we didn't have anything to do with this."
Mr. Olson of the Michigan Militia criticized the media for trying to connect the explosion to the anniversary of the Waco standoff.
A Baptist minister and gun shop owner, he said members of the "Patriot Movement have repeatedly warned that attacks such as this will continue because we have not stood for our own defense but have rather given away our essential liberty for empty promises of security."