By nightfall last Tuesday, the Ambassador Room of the Regal Row Ramada Inn held more empty chairs than crowd. The rumor of television cameras had scared a fair number of regulars away.
On ordinary Tuesdays, the unadorned ballroom is packed with as many as 300 true believers. But in the week since the bomb attack on Oklahoma City's federal building, the people who usually gather at the Ramada had found the crosshairs of public scrutiny trained upon them. It was a tough week to be a Patriot.
A torrent of news reports had analyzed and lambasted the loose confederation of tax protesters, gun rights advocates, conspiracy theorists, and survivalists who make up the Patriot Movement. Their virulent antigovernment views and often violent rhetoric were blamed for breeding the Oklahoma City bombers.
So many members of the Dallas Patriot Movement chose not to show up for the regular get-together, meetings they've been holding for more than four years. Those that did cast fretful glances at two television crews nosing around for a local sidebar to the nation's biggest story.
To a man--which they mostly are--the Patriots who did show for the meeting decried the bombing, saying the slaughter of innocent victims, particularly women and children, is not their way.
But they would not budge from the fundamental belief that brings them together every week--that the federal government has become an enemy of its own citizens, and that they must band together to fight the tyranny that has descended on their country.
"These people are not burdened by hate," explained Al Adask, one of the organizers of the Tuesday meetings. "If anything, they are burdened with too much love for their country. Their eyes tear up when they see the flag."
The Patriots of North Texas, like their brethren across the country, insist they are not nuts, killers, or latent bombers. They may share political ideologies with the Oklahoma City bombers, but they reject the terrorist tactics.
The bombing, however, has forced light into the darkest reaches of America's political landscape. Revealed are the growing number of people so distrustful of government, so profoundly disaffected with their lives, that they have embraced bizarre conspiracy theories and apocalyptic beliefs that baffle--and now terrify--mainstream America.
Until now, they could be ignored, or laughed off as kooks. Who, after all, can take too seriously people who believe that Amtrak is part of a Jewish-controlled, worldwide conspiracy to round up civilians, enslave them in concentration camps, and impose one-world government?
But suddenly, the kooks are being studied closely.
Adask is one of the leaders of the movement in Dallas, a compact 50-year-old white man with short-cropped gray hair and eyes of cold slate. Twelve years ago, Adask went through a bad divorce. He lost custody of his two children and, as he describes it, "got the pooh kicked out of me."
Adask, admittedly still bitter about the battering he took in divorce court, began reading up on the law after his legal fight. Five years ago, he became a full-time barnstormer for the movement and began publishing the Anti-Shyster, a periodic guidebook for citizens looking to protect themselves from the legal system.
A bad divorce experience may seem like a shallow well from which to draw 12 years of anger, but Adask insists it was enough to permanently rupture his faith in the legal system. And he explains that he is not alone.
"Virtually everybody who goes to these meetings has been beat up by the legal system somewhere down the line," Adask says. "Divorce, probate, custody. They had the pooh kicked out of them, and they were hurt deeply. The winners forget, but the losers, their memories go on for a long time."
Adask and those like him insist that the government and the legal system coddle the rich and stomp all over people like them. In self-defense, they have studied history and religion and constructed elaborate, often fantastic, conspiracy theories to explain why the world is picking on them.
Larry McDaniel, a 53-year-old car salesman, believes the federal government has a secret plan to turn over the United States and control of its citizenry to the United Nations. Troops from foreign countries are already being sneaked into the country in preparation for an eventual occupation, he says.
"I've seen many pictures of troops and a lot of equipment--major tanks--traveling across America, and across Texas," McDaniel says. "I've seen pictures of prisons being built to intern citizens of America."
Tom ("Let's just leave it at Tom"), a 47-year-old computer consultant, says he has seen a picture of a Rus-sian fighter jet parked at a U.S. Air Force Base, and knows from "sources" that Russian trucks were unloaded last year at a Mississippi port.
Not only that, but Czech soldiers are training on U.S. soil in preparation for, well, something. "There are weird things going on and you can't get explanations," Tom says.
The signs all point to a secret plan for the imposition of one-world government, the stealing away of Americans' constitutionally granted liberties. And that is one of the more benign theories regularly bandied about at these meetings.
Others hold that the FBI, BATF, and DEA are controlled by bankers and Jews intent on amassing wealth and enslaving the helpless. "More than half of the high-level members of the Clinton administration are non-Gentile," says a pamphlet circulated at last week's meeting. "The Jewish organizations now speak as if their own breed were the very core of America, and [the] Christians were aliens whose goal was to undermine the system."
None of the themes are new. They repeat strands of paranoia, anti-Semitism, and racism that have crossed throughout the country's history, spawning the Ku Klux Klan, Posse Comitatus, tax protesters, and white supremacists.
Paul Bailey, a pleasant 42-year-old writer who looks much younger, is one of the keepers of the flame.
Bailey, who grew up "in East Texas as an all-American boy," is a follower of the Christian Identity movement, a quasi-religion that uses scripture to establish the supremacy of the white race. The Identity teachings are commonly embraced by white supremacists to provide a theological justification for their racism.
Bailey himself says he does not buy the racial angle of Identity, and believes that all races and creeds will be treated equally before the Lord. But he accepts the rest--that white Anglo-Saxons are the lost tribe of Israel and will be favored at Christ's coming.
He puts that event somewhere in the next 18 months. The bombing in Oklahoma City, the fall of the dollar, the growing excesses of the federal government--all point to a time, soon, ripe for the apocalypse, Bailey believes.
"The Beast is one-world government. The three Babylons are financial, political, and religious," Bailey says, lighting another Marlboro. "I don't believe we can battle the Beast, but I believe we will see the fall of Babylon in about the next 18 months."
A few years ago Bailey and Mo Spain, who used to run a catfish restaurant in Oklahoma called Tinker's, helped write a book called War and Emergency Powers, explaining how the United States government has been violating the Constitution since 1933. Virtually every existing federal agency, Spain explains, was established under emergency powers first seized by Franklin Roosevelt. Pretty much the whole federal government, therefore, violates the intent of the Founding Fathers.
"This country is no better than any other Communist country," Spain says. "We want to go back to the original Constitution, which is God's law."
Where the rest of the country sees horror in the Oklahoma City bombing, the Patriots also see more proof of their fears. Every rent in the social fabric hastens the day when they'll be forced to defend themselves--with guns if need be--from the forces conspiring to enslave them.
The hardest of the hardcore Patriots, the armed Militias that have sprung up across the country in recent years, will only grow if the government attempts to crack down on the Patriot movement in the wake of the bombing, Adask warns.
"Waco generated something like one-half million Militia members in the U.S.," Adask says. "If the government wants to get tough and kick in a few more doors, they will simply generate more Militias."
Adask offers a simple story to explain the anger of his group. Once, he says, he had a friend who worked for a Congressman. The friend's job was to open mail, and he would often laugh at the letters that came in "written with stubby pencils on lined paper."
"We are the people who write with stubby pencils," he says. "Even the people who write with stubby pencils deserve to be heard. Would you rather deal with people who write letters, or people who go clean their rifles?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.