Friday, April 14, 2000

What began with Midwest farmers fighting foreclosures ended with deadly shootouts, armed militias and anti-Semitic hatred, explains a three-hour documentary airing Friday night on the Discovery Channel.

The drift of the farm protest movement of the 1980s into the illegal activities of Posse Comitatus groups and the white supremacist beliefs of “Christian identity” sects is just one of several sagas told in “Evil Among Us: Hatred in America.”

The documentary part of a yearlong Discovery project examining hate and violence explores such diverse events as the 1983 Arkansas gun battle that killed tax protester Gordon Kahl and the current manhunt for suspected bomber Eric Rudolph.

It features interviews with some of America’s most notorious white supremacist figures, including National Alliance leader William Pierce, author of “The Turner Diaries,” a novel depicting a white terrorist movement thought to have inspired the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

This portrait of American hate groups narrated by television news veteran Forrest Sawyer was actually produced by a British company, Brook Lapping Productions.

“I think it was quite an interesting take,” said Gillian Barnes, one of three producers who worked on the project, which airs from 8 to 11 p.m. Friday . “We were coming at it differently, we were coming at it fresh because we’re British.”

The British “have our own right-wing groups, but they’re not like the American ones,” Miss Barnes said.

Among the events and personalities chronicled in “Evil Among Us” are:

• The Order, an ultraviolent neo-Nazi splinter group that went on a spree of robberies and murders ending in 1984 when the group’s leader, Robert Mathews, was killed in a shootout with federal agents.

• The 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in which federal agents shot and killed the wife and son of Randall Weaver. Mr. Weaver had refused to cooperate with federal authorities who wanted him to become an undercover informant against the white supremacist group Aryan Nations in exchange for dropping weapons charges against him.

• The July 1999 shooting spree by University of Illinois student Ben Smith. An acolyte of the “World Church of the Creator,” a racist group, Smith killed two persons and wounded eight others before committing suicide.

• The April 1999 killings at Colorado’s Columbine High School.

The Columbine massacre, Miss Gillian notes, was not connected to any apparent political or racial motive.

“One of the things that our research revealed about Columbine is that there has been an enormous effort to fit [teen-age gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold] into some larger group and I don’t think that fits,” she said, characterizing the murders in Littleton, Colo., as “an explosion of adolescent rage.”

And, despite claims that Oklahoma City bombers Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols were part of a militia or white supremacist group, the evidence showed that the primary motive for the bombing was revenge for the federal attack on the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas, which killed 81 men, women and children. Miss Gillian said what she learned during the making of the documentary “seemed to bear that out.”

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