SPOKANE, Wash. (November 9, 2001 4:12 p.m. EST) - Hate groups in the United States have talked for years about using anthrax to strike at the U.S. government.
But experts who monitor extremists doubt that neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan or domestic militia organizations have the scientific know-how or the financial means to carry out the anthrax-by-mail attacks.
"Obviously we don't know, but we have leaned toward a foreign explanation or a madman with a microbiology degree," said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., which tracks hate groups.
Some white supremacist, anti-Semitic organizations cheered the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, finding common cause with the Israel-hating terrorists. They are among the many suspects in the mailing of anthrax-contaminated letters.
Four people have died of anthrax over the past few weeks. On Wednesday, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said the investigation has not been able to determine if the attacks were the work of domestic criminals or overseas terrorists.
Hate groups are under scrutiny because of past activities. In 1995, Larry Wayne Harris, a microbiologist and alleged white supremacist, was arrested in Ohio with three vials of bubonic plague toxin he had ordered fraudulently by mail from a supplier in Maryland. He was given 18 months on probation. He wrote "Bacteriological Warfare: A Major Threat to North America," which some regard as a how-to book.
Alexander James Curtis, arrested this year in San Diego on charges of harassing civil rights leaders and vandalizing two synagogues, published an Internet guide in 2000 called "Biology for Aryans" that described the use of botulism, anthrax and typhoid for terror.
In 1995, members of the Patriot's Council were arrested in Minnesota and charged with manufacturing ricin, a deadly biochemical substance, to kill law enforcement officers. In 1998, members of a Texas anti-government group were charged with plotting to infect people with cactus needles dipped in anthrax or the AIDS virus.
While some extreme right-wing groups have talked about using anthrax to disrupt society since the 1980s, most such organizations have little money and their members are often misfits with little education, Potok said.
"You wonder if they could manage a pipe bomb," Potok said. "There is no evidence of American hate groups with the money or expertise needed to produce weaponized anthrax."
Brent Smith, a University of Alabama professor who studies domestic terrorists, said he, too, doubts domestic right-wing extremists had anything to do with the anthrax attacks.
"The average Joe Blow redneck off the street is going to kill himself before he can make it," he said.
Scientists agree it would take specialized knowledge in several fields to obtain and process anthrax into a terrorist weapon.
But hate groups have brought suspicion upon themselves by cheering the Sept. 11 attacks as a first blow against what they consider the Jewish-dominated U.S. government. Some have suggested the attacks were the work of Israeli agents trying to spur the United States into destroying Islamic militants.
"The people who flew those planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon did it because they had been pushed into a corner by the U.S. government acting on behalf of the Jews," wrote William Pierce, head of the neo-Nazi National Alliance in Hillsboro, W.Va.
"We may not want them marrying our daughters, just as they would not want us marrying theirs," said Billy Roper, a leader of the National Alliance right-wing group. "But anyone who is willing to drive a plane into a building to kill Jews is all right by me."
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