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THE THREAT OF DOMESTIC TERRORISM IS BIGGER THAN TIMOTHY MCVEIGH

The start of jury selection in the Terry Nichols trial Monday attracted little of the fanfare that accompanied every step of the trial and conviction of Timothy McVeigh.

That's understandable. McVeigh was the man who actually delivered the bomb to the Murrah Federal Building. He was the one most responsible for blowing 168 men, women and children to bits and forever changing the face of terrorism in America.

McVeigh's conviction was a catharsis for a nation stunned by the prospect of a homegrown bomber. For many, it meant that justice had been served, a horribly aberrant incident was over and things could get back to normal.

But if McVeigh was the face of evil personified in a one-time act, then Nichols is the face of the rest of the militia movement -- not quite as bold as the seething madman McVeigh but potentially just as dangerous.

If it was easy to dismiss McVeigh precisely because he was so far on the extreme, the studious-looking Nichols is a reminder that the roots of the militia movement run much deeper and wider and have yet to be dug up.

That movement includes the terrorists who sabotaged a train track in Arizona two years ago, killing one man and injuring 78. That incident prompted a huge federal probe of the crime scene -- second in size only to the Oklahoma City probe -- after the saboteurs left letters citing the Waco and Ruby Ridge standoffs as reasons for their murderous treachery.

The movement also includes the "Republic of Texas" nuts who took hostages and orchestrated a week-long standoff earlier this year. It left one member dead and ended the separatist group's crazy scheme to set up its own state.

And there's a lot more: anti-government Western extremists who try to take over communities and courts, militants who circulate counterfeit money and false documents backed up by real guns, paramilitary groups still practicing in the woods for armed confrontation.

Whether they are part of the Posse Comitatus or the Patriot movement or just mom-and-pop terrorists making bombs in the basement, people with the Nichols mindset are a frightening thread in the American mosaic.

His trial should be a reminder of how real the threat remains.

The legal issues may not seem quite as clear-cut as in the McVeigh case, but the evidence -- including Nichols' own testimony and history -- remains compelling. His contention that he tried to get out of the bombing plot is simultaneously a confession that he was once in it. Why didn't he notify authorities of the plan?

Toss in his presence in Oklahoma City with McVeigh three days before the blast, add evidence found in his home from burglaries used to help finance and build the bomb, and Nichols or his lawyers will have a lot of explaining to do.

Those explanations and the prosecution's evidence will be instructive for the public because they will open a window into the shadowy anti-government world from which the domestic terrorist threat emanates.

Simply executing Timothy McVeigh won't extinguish that threat.

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