Reluctant at first to pronounce outright support for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, extreme right-wing, militia and neo-Nazi groups within the United States entered the post-Sept. 11 period blaming Jews and Israel for the attacks on New York and Washington.
In recent weeks, however, some neo-Nazi front organizations appear to have crossed a line into wartime sedition by openly urging Americans to support Al Qaeda in its campaign of terror against their own country.
Within some Jewish defense agencies, concern is mounting lest domestic efforts to detain other members of Al Qaeda who are still at large could reduce scrutiny upon those who in 1995 helped topple the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City or who -- some believe -- introduced anthrax into the mail long before most Americans had ever heard of bin Laden.
Perhaps the most brazen call to back bin Laden came from an organization based in Tampa, Fla., calling itself Aryan Action. Before its Web site, www.aryanaction.com, mysteriously disappeared into the ether in mid-November, this self-described conglomeration of "militant white racial activists" urged extreme-right-thinking Americans to support bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. "It's your choice, Comrades. Either you're fighting with the jews [sic] against Al Qaeda, or you support Al Qaeda fighting against the jews [sic]. "
Elsewhere on the site, in an editorial called "In Defense of Al Qaeda," a writer calling himself Glorian urged Americans to seek a united front with radical Islam in its war against Jews.
"It would be wise for those of us that want to save our race and wrestle [sic] control of our nations from ZOG [the Zionist Occupational Government] to work with the Arab Muslims. We have a common enemy, and the enemy of an enemy can be a temporary ally of necessity and convenience."
For race-monger monitors like the Simon Wiesenthal Center, such pro-Al Qaeda clarion calls represent a clear and present danger to the American homefront, however peripheral radical right groups may be to the mainstream.
"Our biggest concern," says Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center's associate dean, "is the possibility that some of these groups may generate copycat attacks. All we need is an Aryan Web site providing instructions on how to wage biological warfare. With 280 million people in this country being called upon to be vigilant, we have to consider this otherwise minuscule part of society that is pleased by the attacks and which hopes the Taliban wins. In World War II, this kind of statement would have been considered seditious."
There are, in fact, two statutes that address the question of sedition in this country -- the Sedition Act of 1798, which fell into disrepute at the start of the 19th century for being too broad, and the U.S. Sedition Act of 1918.
The latter, which was appended as an amendment to Section 3 of the Espionage Act of June 15, 1917, contains words that appear to support Cooper's contentions: "Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully make or convey false reports or false statements with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval forces of the United States, or to promote the success of its enemies, or shall willfully make or convey false reports or false statements, or incite insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny or refusal of duty, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or both."
Nevertheless, according to Mark Pitcavage, national director of fact-finding for the Anti-Defamation League, attempts to enforce this statute during World War II did not meet with success. While aliens within the United States who were still citizens of the Axis powers were indeed detained and interned in camps, only Japanese Americans were interned en masse, and no one was successfully convicted on charges of sedition.
"During the Second World War," Pitcavage says, "44 people were arrested on the specific charge of sedition, but the verdict of a mistrial led to their release. There were other arrests, but the charge of sedition left a bad taste in people's mouths, that much ado had been made about nothing, since the prosecutors could not prove that they had clearly aided Nazi Germany in a quantifiable way. The fact is that our judicial system is predisposed against sedition and seditious conspiracy cases."
Although renewed use of the sedition statutes therefore remains unlikely, no such impediments exist to monitoring extremist groups for criminal activity.
The FBI declined comment on whether its agents were maintaining their vigilance with regard to extreme racist organizations. However, a recent shoot-out between police and a member of the group Christian Identity in Kentucky suggests that state and local authorities have not shifted all scrutiny toward possible Islamic extremists. Still, says Cooper, although prompt response by law enforcement is welcome, the trick now is for law enforcement to head off potential terrorists at the pass.
"In the immediate aftermath of Buford Furrow," he told The Journal, the police were (at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills) 30 seconds after the shootings. Law enforcement did its job. If Americans want law enforcement to be there three minutes before, though, we need a whole new set of rules. At that time there was no talk of additional powers. But now it's a whole new ballgame, with the new Homeland Security Cabinet post. One part of that department's responsibility will be to monitor those elements that have dabbled with terrorism domestically."