FBI warns of Y2K violence by apocalyptic groups

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Ultra-right, anti-Semitic groups are preparing for mayhem in the year 2000, and those on the radical fringe of such groups may be planning murder, according to a new FBI report.

The federal agency has wrapped up its "Project Megiddo" investigation of groups likely to try to ignite a prophesied final battle between the forces of good and evil. Jews, according to some apocalyptic believers, are on the side of evil.

The nine-month intelligence gathering project was named for the ancient hilltop battleground in northern Israel associated with Armageddon.

"The volatile mix of apocalyptic religious and [New World Order] conspiracies may produce violent acts aimed at precipitating the end of the world as prophesied in the Bible," the report claims. "Without question, this initiative has revealed indicators of potential violent activity on the part of extremists in this country."

Group leaders officially disavow violence, but they incite followers to strike out on their own, the report said. Gunmen who were reportedly involved in such sects opened fire this summer at a Los Angeles-area Jewish community center and on Jews and other minorities in the Midwest.

Matt Hale, the Illinois resident who presides over the World Church of the Creator, has stated his group does not advocate violence but cautions citizens to be armed and prepared if the U.S. government "rolls tanks down the streets."

According to militia literature, Jews will take over the world via a United Nations secret plan called the New World Order. It will be triggered by the Y2K computer crisis.

FBI officials presented their findings on Nov. 2 to the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Charlotte, N.C.

The agency has released an abridged version of the report to the public, accessible through the FBI Web site (www.fbi.gov). That version does not include the guidelines for police on such matters as negotiating with homegrown terrorists in the event of a kidnapping. Such risks will increase as Jan. 1 approaches, federal investigators warn.

Yet the report "is an encouraging sign," said Jonathan Bernstein, Central Pacific regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. "We've all learned a lesson from Oklahoma City. At that time, the government seemed very ill-prepared for what happened. Reporters and other people were asking [officials] questions about the militia and they didn't seem to know a whole lot about them."

But some critics fear the government may reprise the excesses of the 1960s, when law enforcement aggressively monitored civil rights groups and others outside the mainstream. Some have compared the Project Megiddo warnings to the attitude of the Chinese government toward members of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that has been supressed.

"That's an issue that's been debated a lot right now," said Bernstein during a phone interview from Sacramento. "I'm hearing it everywhere."

The ADL director has been in the state capital, where three area synagogues were firebombed in June in what is believed to be a hate crime. He has been seeking support for a tolerance center based on the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance as well as for ADL's "World of Difference" school curriculum.

Defenders of the FBI report say it bears out the need for programs like the ADL's.

"What the Wiesenthal Center did in Southern California is great, and is a model for the nation, but we must proceed with a center for tolerance in this part of the state as well," said Rabbi Brad Bloom of Congregation B'nai Israel, one of the three firebombed synagogues.

"This is a continuum of the fight for civil rights we waged in the 1960s," Bloom added. "We call it by a different name now — tolerance, diversity, inclusion. But it's the same issue: creating an America where everyone can sit outside under their tree and none shall make them afraid. If it doesn't apply to everyone, it doesn't apply to anyone."

Other Project Megiddo findings:

*The greatest threat is the Christian Identity movement, which encompasses numerous offshoots, including Aryan Nations, the now defunct Posse Comitatus and America's Promise Ministries. Adherents believe Jews were descended from a union between Eve and the serpent and that white Aryans are the true "chosen people."

*The World Church of the Creator also bears watching, the investigators claim. Its name is a misnomer since followers repudiate Christianity. Adherents include Benjamin Smith, who opened fire in the Midwest on Orthodox Jews and on Asian- and African-Americans in a bloody rampage over the July 4th weekend. Smith killed himself when cornered by police.

*Extremists are also expected to target Jerusalem, particularly the Temple Mount, which the report's authors claim "will be the stage for violent encounters between religious zealots." They further note that "several religious cults have already made inroads into Israel, apparently in preparation for what they believe to be the endtimes."

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.