Aryan Republican Army
You don't get much, well, Rottener, than a gang of skinhead, white supremacist, rock-star-wannabes, led by a cross-dressing pre-operative transsexual who calls himself Commander Pedro, on a cross-country bank robbery spree wearing rubber masks of Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton.
About the only way the bank robbers of the Aryan Republican Army could possibly be more appropriate fodder for a Rotten Library entry is if they were also central figures in a massive government conspiracy... Wait a second-- Woo-hoo! Jackpot!
Everything you are about to read is, unfortunately, true.
The early 1980s were a time of soft decadence; most of us were flocking to seagulls and crispifying our heads in mousse, and bubble gum pop was the driving musical paradigm. What better time to foment revolution? One major source of such fomentation was the skinhead movement. This was back in the days when it was unusual to have a shaved head and tattoos and wear a lot of leather and metal studs. Today, you can't draw meaningful conclusions about someone's personality or beliefs based on such a look. But in the 1980s, you could pretty much assume anyone meeting this profile was a neo-Nazi, and chances were, you'd be right.
Traditional racist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the National Alliance, were quick to embrace the new kids on the block. Amid this mish-mash of influences, you could find some really strange bedfellows. No, I mean REALLY strange.
Take Pete Langan. Langan had done a few stints in prison for armed robbery and assaulting a police officer. In interviews later, Langan would only imply that terrible things had happened to him in prison, which appeared to have set the stage for his racism. The not-so-subtle implication, of course, is that he was ass-raped by a black man. But he never came out and said it. Regardless of the details, when he emerged from confinement, he was by all accounts a changed man.
The son of a CIA officer (whose sister would later join the Company as well), Langan lived a largely unremarkable life as a small-time criminal and loser until he met up with Richard Guthrie, aka "Wild Bill", a former Navy SEAL with a violent disposition, through their mutual interest in crazy hate groups like Christian Identity and Aryan Nations.
Guthrie had spent his time on hobbies like beating and murdering interracial couples, with a side interest in assassinating the president (George HW Bush at the time). After a prison snitch ratted out Guthrie's big plans (which never reached fruition, obviously), the Secret Service enlisted Langan as an informant on Guthrie, in an effort to set up a sting. Langan assured the feds he would give them Guthrie on a silver platter, but when the day came, the Feds were left holding the bag while Langan and Guthrie rode off into the sunset.
They made an odd duo. Langan had spent time in therapy to prepare for a sex change operation (which he didn't see through), while Guthrie was a gay-baiting homophobe who liked a spot of the old ultraviolence. Match.com would not have endorsed their pairing.
Through their contacts with other white supremacists, they met up with a couple of young skinheads and second-rate musicians named Scott Stedeford and Kevin McCarthy, who thought their racist rock-n-roll band Cyanide was a sure bet to change the world. A fifth member of the ARA, Michael Brescia, took part in some of the robberies and was more prominently featured Cyanide.
After the two duos were introduced, an idea was born. They would rob banks and use the proceeds to fund a white-power revolution against the nasty government that wanted to take their guns away -- presumably so that those guns couldn't be used by these lunatic ex-convicts to exercise their God-given right to rob banks and fund revolutions. (In retrospect, it wouldn't have been such a bad thing if someone had taken the guns away from these particular guys.)
Despite the wide gap between reality and the foursome's perceptions thereof, they proved amazingly successful at attaining their goals... up to a point.
Langan and Guthrie had been fairly successful as armed robbers. Starting in 1993 as a twosome, and hooking up with Stedeford and McCarthy in 1994, the ARA orchestrated a total of 22 robberies which involved one or more of the principals until virtually all of them were captured in 1996. Estimates place their total haul at more than $250,000.
The robberies were notable for their entertainment value. The gang's standard M.O. involved storming a bank dressed in rubber Halloween masks featuring the likenesses of such notable criminals as Nixon and Clinton. Langan, the ringleader, referred to himself under the code name "Commander Pedro Gomez" and frequently called the retreat by shouting "Andele, Andele!" The Midwest Bank Robbers (as they were known in the media at the time) used highly visible bombs (often fakes) as an extra deterrent to misbehavior from the bank's customers and staff.
As for funding the revolution, it now appears to be highly likely that the gang helped pull off the largest domestic terrorist attack committed by Americans in history: the Oklahoma City bombing.
The story of that involvement, while surprisingly well documented, has remained off the radar of the general public for a number of reasons. The story of the ARA seemed on track to be a central element of the upcoming Oklahoma state trial of Terry Nichols for his role in the 1995 terrorist attack which killed 168 people, but all testimony about the gang was disallowed and the moment passed.
The members of the ARA had various levels of commitment to the cause of white supremacy. Stedeford and McCarthy had spent some time living at Elohim City, a heavily armed separatist compound in an extremely remote area along the border of Arkansas and Oklahoma.
After the four ARA members had worked together for a while, they shot a videotaped recruitment pitch in which Commander Pedro and his colleagues encouraged militancy and racial intolerance. But they might not have stopped at producing hate cinema.
In the years since the OKC bombing, rumors have persisted that the ARA was tied to Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted and executed as a lone bomber in the crime. As a credible investigation, the story has kept alive in the news by a massive crop of armchair conspiracy theorists and a handful of credible investigative reporters, including J.D. Cash, a reporter with a tiny Oklahoma paper called the McCurtain Gazette, and John Solomon of the Associated Press. (The book In Bad Company by criminologist Mark S. Hamm took the most detailed look at the ARA, including some memorable pictures of its wannabe-rockstar grunts and wannabe-female ringleader.)
At the heart of the conspiracy theory is the premise that the ARA knew and conspired with McVeigh (and to a lesser extent, Nichols) in executing the bombing on April 19, 1995, and that one or more members of this cabal are responsible for the infamous sightings of a never-apprehended suspect in the case, known as "John Doe 2" (after the FBI sketch with that designation).
In itself, the idea that the ARA had a hand in the bombing is not remarkable. It's even likely, and the facts of the case tend to back it up. But things get weird when you start to look at the investigation and the prosecution of McVeigh and Nichols.
McVeigh was well-documented as having traveled to and around the Elohim City compound. He made phone calls to the compound right before the bombing, and a handful of witnesses have said he visited there as well. (Very recently, Terry Nichols was said to have confirmed McVeigh's links to the compound.)
According to this version of the bombing (which has taken on a Rashomon-like quality in recent years), McVeigh worked with members of the ARA and possibly others associated with Elohim City to pull off the bombing attack as a team.
The most widely circulated of these theories outlines an elaborate stratagem that included decoy vehicles, excessive bomb materials and a small army of "John Doe 2s." Some of the details of the plot are so elaborate as to stretch one's tolerance for scheming (like the multiple decoy Ryder trucks allegedly used to confuse investigators), but even these seem to be generally consistent with the ARA's M.O.
The only real problem with all this theorizing comes up AFTER the fact. Because if you accept the ARA's involvement, then there's a substantial amount of evidence and logic which leads one to the conclusion that a) the FBI had a pretty good idea that there were more conspirators than McVeigh and Nichols, and b) the federal government appears to gone to a particularly pointless and inordinate amount of trouble to cover it up.
The outline of the conspiracy is pretty basic: McVeigh and Nichols met with people at Elohim City in September or October of 1993, when the OKC plot was supposedly first being hatched. McVeigh worked closely with Langan, Guthrie and others (including the camp's security director, a German national named Andreas Strassmeir) to plan and execute the bombing. It's not clear how much Nichols was involved in the plot under this particular view. According to the theory, the sightings of John Doe 2 were alternatively sightings of Strassmeir, ARA member Brescia, or Langan.
Other details in the ARA version of the OKC bombing differ notably from the Official Story, including the composition and explosive power of the bomb, the time and location of the bomb's assembly, and the exact degree of culpability incurred by Terry Nichols (a not-insignificant point for Nichols, who is facing a possible death penalty in his Oklahoma state trial, scheduled to be held in 2004).
Numerous internal documents pertaining to the ARA, Elohim City and their possible connections to the Oklahoma City bombing were withheld by the FBI during the federal trials of Nichols and McVeigh. Some surfaced in a belated production of documents just a couple weeks before McVeigh was executed by Lethal Injection. Others were never formally produced by the FBI, but have been obtained and reviewed through the Freedom of Information Act by various credible investigators.
From the documents, and scattered pieces of related testimony, one thing seems to be clear: The FBI really, really, really, REALLY didn't want to present a case to the public that tied the ARA and Elohim City to the Oklahoma City bombing.
After the bombing, the ARA had started to disintegrate, in large part because Guthrie had discovered that Commander Pedro (Langan) was living a second life in Kansas City as a woman named Donna, who was dating a pre-op transsexual woman using the name Bob.
Not surprisingly, this led to tensions within the group, which nevertheless continued to attempt heists. Now, however, the money was earmarked for personal use: retirement from a life of crime in Guthrie's case, and retirement from a life of maleness in Langan's.
Guthrie's sparkling personality led the wife of a buddy to turn him in to the FBI in early January 1996. Once in custody, Guthrie handed up Langan in short order.
When Langan was arrested a couple weeks later, he was in possession of thousands of rounds of ammunition, weapons of every stripe and a stockpile of chemicals used to make bombs. (He was also in possession of pink fingernail polish, red hair dye, half-formed breasts and a stockpile of estrogen pills.)
Strangely, it was AFTER the arrests that things started to get truly paranoid. Langan was offered a plea bargain in exchange for his testimony in the Oklahoma City bombing case, but the bargain was not only withdrawn, it was stricken from the public record (but later uncovered by the Associated Press). Langan was eventually sentenced to life in prison.
Guthrie's prison story was a bit more grim. He apparently committed suicide in prison just three days before he was supposed to testify against Langan. You may, if you wish, make little quote marks in the air with your fingers when saying the words "suicide" and "apparently." Go ahead. Doesn't it feel good?
A defense witness in Langan's trial was allegedly prepared to testify that rock-n-roll racist McCarthy was involved in Oklahoma City, but the witness was himself indicted by the FBI before he could say his piece. McCarthy turned states' evidence and has already finished his term and entered the witness protection program. His bandmate Stedeford didn't fare so well, receiving a 20-year sentence.
Brescia, the third member of Cyanide, was arrested and indicted for his role in the ARA robberies exactly one day after the FBI officially declared that there had been no John Doe No. 2 in the Oklahoma City bombing. He told the court he had abandoned his racist ways, with such apparent sincerity that he served fewer than four years in prison. Elohim City security director Andreas Strassmeir, another suspected John Doe 2, fled the country in 1995 and is still at large.
Even after its dissolution and the rehabilitation of its members (again, make little quote marks around "rehabilitation" as you see fit), Cyanide is still the top-selling skinhead hate rock band in the country, its music distributed by William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries.
But that's not quite the end of the story.
In August of 1995, a man named Kenneth Michael Trentadue "committed suicide" in a federal holding cell in Oklahoma. The quotation marks are due to the fact that in the process of hanging himself, Trentadue also managed to severely beat himself -- including fingernail gouges in his arms and on his back. His brother, an attorney, suspected foul play and sued the government.
It turned out that Michael Trentadue was a dead ringer for Richard Guthrie (who had not yet been apprehended at this point). The theory is that Trentadue was killed in a case of mistaken identity, with the intention of suppressing information about the Oklahoma City bombing. Trentadue's brother has sued the government for wrongful death and is seeking thousands of pages of FBI records about the bombing.
The FBI has been fighting tooth and nail to keep its secrets secret, in the wake of many, many news reports and internal investigations that seem to suggest investigative incompetence (at the least) or conspiratorial scheming (at the most).
In the end, what is absolutely certain is that the FBI knew about the ARA, knew about Elohim City, knew McVeigh was at least casually connected to both, and knew that there were people who were willing and able to testify to all of the above.
What remains unclear is whether these facts were missed due to laziness or stupidity (as in the 9/11 attacks), or whether something more sinister was going on. Stay tuned.