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UNITED STATES: Who are the ‘Sons of Gestapo’?

Yvette Collymore

WASHINGTON, Oct 10 1995 (IPS) - Who are the ‘Sons of Gestapo’? This is the question U.S. federal agents are trying to answer as they investigate Monday’s derailment of a passenger train in the Arizona desert.

Researchers of ultra-right-wing U.S. groups would like to know whether the ‘Sons of Gestapo’ who claimed responsibility for the wreck are indeed one of many armed militia groups who are known for their hatred of the U.S. federal government, or whether they could be pretenders posing as a para-military outfit.

“It is odd that someone would identify themselves with Nazi Germany,” Dan Junas, a researcher of militia groups told IPS from the west coast city of Seattle. “This could be someone with another motive.”

Interestingly though, ‘Sons of Gestapo’ has a faintly familiar ring. Their acronym — ‘SOG’ — bears a close resemblance to ‘ZOG’, a term used by hard-core white supremacists to refer to the U.S. government as the ‘Zionist-Occupied Government’.

Junas acknowledged Tuesday that such a link might be made. “These people don’t care about public relations. If it’s not a hoax and some weird element, that makes some sense,” he said Tuesday.

But many researchers like Junas are initially sceptical that ‘Sons of Gestapo’ represents a paramilitary or politically- motivated group.

For one thing, no-one has heard of them, even though groups like Klanwatch say it is not unusual for groups to form spontaneously or as offshoots of other groups.

But Rick Eaton of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Nazi-huting organisation, insists that “Sons of Gestapo is not the type of name that established extremist groups use”.

He spoke a day after one crew member died and 78 people were injured as a speeding Amtrak train, carrying 248 passengers and 20 crew from New Orleans to Los Angeles, plunged from a railroad trestle into the Arizona desert.

Investigators found two notes claiming responsibility for wreck. They were purportedly written by ‘Sons of Gestapo’.

The drafters of the note — it is not known how many — said they were retaliating against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), local police, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF).

President Bill Clinton, who has been trying to push anti- terrorism legislation in Congress, said Tuesday, “We will do everything we can within the federal government to catch whoever is responsible”.

The notes reportedly referred to the federal authorities’ deadly siege against the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas in 1993, and the 1992 confrontation between the FBI and white separatist Randall Weaver at Ruby Ridge, in the Idaho mountains.

Brian Levin of Klanwatch, a group based in Montgomery, Alabama, poses three scenarios as investigators search for answers.

Levin says the first is that “some random socio-path without any political ideology” is responsible for the wreck. It could also be someone with either a grudge against Amtrak or against a passenger on the train, he says.

But he acknowledges that the notes found around the wreckage act as a red flag for a third scenario: that the wreckage is the work of a militia group.

“As a former law enforcement officer, I can say your evidence takes you places; you don’t take it places,” Levin told IPS. “But I’d be looking everywhere.”

He said that Klanwatch’s research has uncovered recent ‘counter- intelligence campaigns’ undertaken by militia groups.

‘SALUTE forms’ have been issued by these groups. These forms refer to surveillance they are conducting, with ‘SALUTE’ being the acronym for ‘size, activity, location, unit, time, and equipment’.

“This is perfectly legal activity” on its own, Levin said, stressing that Klanwatch has seen nothing that would link the SALUTE forms to any violent act — except, he said, that one of these forms has mentioned railroads.

Levin also points to a gathering in the mid-western state of South Dakota in July of a nation-wide coalition of para-military groups. The meeting produced an anti-government manifesto, in which a threat of war against the federal government was later deleted.

Two incidents — one in 1993 in Waco, Texas, and the other in 1992 in Ruby Ridge, Idaho — have been major sources of anger among right-wing groups found mainly in western and mid-western parts of the United States.

The Apr. 19 bombing in Oklahoma City of the Alfred Murrah building, which housed agents of the BATF and other federal workers, came exactly one year after the federal attack and subsequent fire at the Branch Davidians’ compound in Waco.

On Apr. 19, 1993, FBI and BATF agents stormed the compound, initiating a tear-gas attack that ended in a fire. more than 80 people died, 25 of them children.

In the Ruby Ridge case, government agents fatally shot the wife of white supremacist Randy, as she stood in the doorway of a cabin in the Idaho mountains with her child in her arms. A marshal and Weaver’s 14-year-old son were also killed. Some FBI agents involved in the siege have since been disciplined for violating rules on the use of deadly force.

Members of ultra-right-wing militia groups have referred extensively to the two incidents, which have since been the subjects of right-wing Republican-led inquiries in Congress.

Researchers of right-wing groups report increased activity among these groups. They say activities in Washington such as the recent Republican-led hearings on Capitol Hill on the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents have been taken as warnings that the government may take away their guns.

But Eaton of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre sees certain contradictions in the Amtrak train derailment and ‘Sons of Gestapo’.

He says while the name does not suggest the group is an established militia, the re-wiring of the train’s warning system required some sophistication.

He does not rule out that the culprits could be “some kind of youth connection to a skinhead group. There have been the ‘Youths of Hitler’.”

“In any event, no matter who did it, the extremist groups will make hay on it,” he told IPS.

Bill Wassmuth, head of the North-West Coalition Against Malicious Harassment in Seattle says it is too early to tell if the act of sabotage was conducted by a militia group, but he agrees hate rhetoric on the far right has recently increased.

“What we hear is that groups in the militia in the North-West have drawn less people at their open meetings since the Oklahoma bombing. But we’re seeing evidence of (organising) by some people with extreme and sometimes nutty points of view. That’s increasingly dangerous,” said Wassmuth.

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