WASHINGTON -- Federal authorities arrested yesterday 12 people they said were members of an Arizona paramilitary group, and charged them with conspiracy to blow up a number of federal buildings and the Phoenix Police Department.
The authorities called it the largest roundup of members of a paramilitary group on serious charges. They said that those arrested were members of the "Viper Militia," a small, little-known paramilitary organization whose activities have, so far, been confined to Arizona.
According to indictments handed up yesterday in U.S. District ,, Court in Phoenix, the group plotted for two years to destroy several federal buildings there, including one that houses the office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI. The group also planned to destroy buildings that contained offices of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Internal Revenue Service and the Arizona National Guard, along with the police headquarters.
Besides being charged with conspiracy, members of the group were charged with illegally possessing four automatic rifles and chemicals that can be used to make bombs, including ammonium nitrate.
Officials said the group would be arraigned before a U.S. magistrate in Phoenix today.
Officials also said evidence against the 12 includes videotapes of meetings at which members of the paramilitary group describe the plans in detail. They also said the group had constructed bombs and exploded some test devices in the desert.
The bomb that destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killing 169 people, was made of ammonium nitrate. And one of the two suspects in the blast, Timothy J. McVeigh, lived in Arizona before the blast and was sympathetic to the paramilitary movement. But officials said they believed there was no connection between the two cases.
A senior law enforcement official in the Treasury Department said the 12 members of the group -- 10 men and two women -- were picked up yesterday starting shortly before 8 a.m., in and around the Phoenix area. None was said to have offered any resistance, and no law enforcement officer was injured.
The arrests were carried out by agents of the ATF, which had conducted a six-month undercover investigation. Also involved in the arrests were agents of the U.S. Marshals Service, the Customs Service, the Federal Bureau of Land Management, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, and Phoenix police officers.
"These arrests culminate a six-month investigation and avert a potentially dangerous situation," Attorney General Janet Reno said in a statement here.
Raymond Kelly, under secretary of the Treasury for enforcement, said: "Today the ATF took decisive steps to bring down an armed and dangerous militia group that was charged with conspiring to cause civil unrest."
Little is known about the Viper Militia. In an affidavit filed with the indictment, the leader of the group was identified as Randy Nelson, 32, of Peoria, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix.
Officials provided few clues last night to the group's background. The term Viper, however, is a common one in paramilitary literature, generally in references to "Operation American Viper," a strategy paper that purports to be a war plan for paramilitary groups around the country.
The 68-page document outlines a scenario in which United Nations troops occupy the United States. It calls on the various paramilitary groups to wage guerrilla war against a vague conglomeration of "globalists," international bankers, U.N. officials and "rogue" elements of the federal government -- the CIA, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
It is not clear, however, if the Arizona group took its name from this manifesto.
The affidavit states that the group conducted its own rituals, including an "oath" in which members pledged to enter, if need be, "into mortal combat against enemies of the U.S. Constitution and U.S. militia."
According to the affidavit, the group was arming itself and
conducting training in order to resist the "New World Order" and efforts by the federal authorities to seize their weapons or arrest their members.
An Arizona law enforcement officer who was deputized by the federal authorities and who infiltrated the group said in the affidavit that one of the militia's leaders, Finis Howard Walker, 41, of Glendale, Ariz., who went by the name of Rick, boasted to him last December that the Viper Militia "was the best-equipped group and that they could take any SWAT team."
The group also conducted two types of training exercises, the affidavit said. In so-called "A-shoots," members used legal firearms and brought along friends and acquaintances who were not members of the paramilitary group. The group also conducted what they termed "B-shoots," attended only by sworn militia members, which involved the firing of illegal automatic weapons and the making and detonating of explosive devices.
The B-shoots took place in remote rural places outside Phoenix, and members of the group were told that if any law enforcement xTC officers approached during this type of training exercise they were to be killed, the affidavit said.
Some of the activities, including several of these B-shoots, were videotaped by the undercover agent. Among the pieces of evidence listed in the indictment was a videotape showing an office building that houses the Phoenix headquarters of the ATF and the FBI.
The narrator on the tape identifies the location of the building's supports and describes how the building would collapse if the supports were destroyed -- as happened when the truck bomb exploded outside the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Pub Date: 7/02/96