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By Steve Macko
In 1984, Robert Jay Matthews died in a shootout with police on Whidby Island, which is located just off the coast of Washington state. Matthews was the leader of a far-Right wing group calling itself The Order. This group was responsible for a number of bank and armored car robberies in the Pacific Northwest. The group ended with the death of Matthews and the imprisonment of other members.
The Order was able to acquire almost $4 million in its wave of robberies. The group also ran a large counterfeiting operation. This group was not made up of petty criminals. They had an ideology and they were funding a revolution that would hopefully lead to the creation of a white supremacist nation somewhere in the Northwest.
The Order wasn't only funding their own group or revolution. They were also funding other groups that shared the same dream. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were distributed to other white supremacist and anti-Semitic groups in the United States.
Armed robbery to fund revolutionary activity is nothing new. Groups from both the far-Right and the far-Left have done it in the past. Between 1976 and 1985, more than 20 bank and armored car robberies were pulled off on the East Coast by a group calling itself Democratic Society.
Brent Smith is sociologist and the author of a book, entitled, "Terrorism In America: Pipe Bombs and Pipe Dreams." Smith said, "There aren't very many ways you can fund a revolution. You can either find external support, such as a foreign government, which is not an easy thing to do. Or some kind of criminality, like bank robberies, armored-truck robberies. Some have even explored drug trafficking."
Tom Richardson, the Assistant-Special-Agent-In-Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Omaha, Nebraska, field office, an office that has been involved in investigating bank robberies committed by white supremacist groups, said, "With those kinds of resources out there, other people may try do the same thing, whether as part of a group or individually."
Serial bank robberies committed by would-be revolutionary groups have been identified by the FBI, though not officially, as "waves." The first wave is normally identified with Robert Jay Matthews and his Order. The second wave was the robberies committed by Richard Lee Guthrie and Peter Kevin Langan, whose case we will explore in a few moments. But it appears that there may be a third wave on the horizon.
A few weeks ago, a bank in Spokane, Washington, was robbed of somewhere between $50,000 and $70,000. This robbery had all of the earmarks of a bank robbery committed by a group with an ideology, specifically the white supremacist far-Right.
Before Langan and Guthrie were apprehended in January of this year, they were know to law enforcement officials as The Midwest Bank Robbers. This was because for a number of years, this pair had robbed a large number of banks throughout the Midwest portion of the United States. They were well known for taunting the FBI. What wasn't known until they were caught was that they said they were members of the Aryan Republican Army.
Guthrie, specifically, has been speaking to journalists about what he thought about the Spokane robbery. In Spokane, two subjects dressed partially in military fatigues, left a note saying they were members of a previous unknown group calling itself the Phineas Priesthood. That name was supposedly awarded to the Aryan enforcers of racial purity.
So, with good reason, the FBI is investigating the robbery as being committed by a far-Right group. They also realize that this just may be an attempt to throw them off the track of just ordinary criminals.
FBI spokesman, Larry Holmquist of the Omaha field office, who was made famous because Guthrie and Langan poked fun at him through their written taunts to various newspapers, said, "There are a lot of bank robberies every day in this country and robbers can say whatever they want to about political ideologies."
When Guthrie and Langan were on their bank robbing spree, it is estimated that they stole more than $250,000. None of the money has been recovered and the FBI is investigating whether or not the two helped fund white supremacist groups.
37-year-old Langan was arrested in January after a shootout with police in Columbus, Ohio. Guthrie, 38, was apprehended after a high-speed chase outside of Cincinnati. The two are said to have robbed 18 banks during a two year period. Banks in the states of Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio. A third man, identified as Bill Thompson, is also being sought for being involved in the robberies.
The robberies committed in the Midwest were known to be quick and executed efficiently. Guthrie and Langan even had a sense humor, even though the FBI was not amused. Around Christmas time in 1994, one of the robbers wore a Santa Claus suit during a hold-up in Ohio. In an April 1995 robbery in Iowa, they left an Easter basket with a gold painted pipe bomb in it. They even wore windbreaker jackets during robberies with the initials: FBI and ATF on the back.
Guthrie and Langan never detonated any of the pipe bombs, or in some cases grenades, that they left behind them. However, the Spokane bank robbers did set off a diversionary bomb at a newspaper office. The newspaper, the Spokane Spokesman-Review has been well known to write critically about white supremacist movements and the far-right.
After detonating the bomb at the newspaper office, they robbed a bank located 30 blocks away. There, they detonated another bomb in the lobby of the bank.
Guthrie has said that he does not recognize the term "Phineas Priesthood." He said that this new group had nothing to do with the Aryan Republican Army, which is also unkown to experts who monitor these types of movements. Guthrie said that he believes that the Spokane bandits are probably part of a "cell." He said, "That was one of the cell groups. I recognized it. All the patterns were correct. If you have ever studied the IRA you will understand more about ... guerrilla organization. You will understand what is eventually coming to this country."
Before the Midwest Bank Robbers were captured, Guthrie or Langan never indicated that they were part of an Aryan Republican Army. When authorities did search Langan's apartment they did find white supremacist and far-Right literature. Literature was also found in two storage lockers located in Kansas and Missouri. Also found were a number of pipe bombs and video that shows a masked Langan trying to promote the Aryan Republican Army.
How many people belong to the Aryan Republican Army is not known. But it does appear that the Spokane bandits have used the methods that was used by the group once known as The Order, which in itself, drew upon things that were found in the book, "The Turner Diaries," which were made famous by Timothy McVeigh, one of the men accused in the Oklahoma City bombing. They have also used methods of the Midwest bank bandits.
There seems to be a connection. All authorities have to do is piece it together. But even then, it'll be very difficult to apprehend those involved. After they're caught, we can reasonably be assured -- there'll be someone else.
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