PATCON Explored: Records Provide Glimpse of FBI Right-Wing Infiltration Ops

PATCON Explored: Records Provide Glimpse of FBI Right-Wing Infiltration Ops
Law enforcement officers exit the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington on Jan. 28, 2019. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The FBI code-named it Patriot Conspiracy (PATCON): a 1990s-era right-wing infiltration operation so secret its details remain largely unknown.

First revealed in heavily redacted records in 2007, PATCON entailed three undercover FBI agents operating a front group called the Veterans Aryan Movement (VAM). Posing as racist militiamen who robbed banks to fund domestic terrorism, the undercover agents spied on various right-wing organizations throughout the early ‘90s—but never contributed to any major convictions.

The existing public records on PATCON are relatively sparse. They include a few sworn declarations in a long-running Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, as well as the initial set of redacted documents obtained by extremism researcher J.M. Berger.
Newsweek also published a story describing PATCON in 2011 based on extensive information from a former FBI informant who participated in the operation. Much to the informant’s dismay, that Newsweek story was heavily edited to remove information about PATCON, according to court records.

Together, these documents portray an FBI program that prioritized intelligence-gathering on U.S. citizens over enforcing the law. Possibly worse, they reveal connections between PATCON and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh—raising troubling questions about how a massive FBI right-wing counterterrorism initiative failed to prevent the deadliest domestic attack in U.S. history.

And given the recent revelations about Three Percenters, Proud Boys, and other right-wing groups having FBI informants in leadership positions, PATCON should serve as a valuable history lesson for the public, according to Utah attorney Jesse Trentadue, the plaintiff in the ongoing FOIA case.

“Harry Truman is my favorite president, and he had a quote I always loved: There’s nothing new in the world except the history you don’t know,” Trentadue told The Epoch Times.

Salt Lake City attorney Jesse Trentadue poses stands in front of the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City, on Nov. 13, 2014. (Rick Bowmer/AP/Shutterstock)
Salt Lake City attorney Jesse Trentadue poses stands in front of the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City, on Nov. 13, 2014. (Rick Bowmer/AP/Shutterstock)
The FBI declined to comment. Newsweek hasn’t responded to requests by The Epoch Times for comment.

PATCON’s Genesis

The FBI launched PATCON in 1991 to investigate a right-wing extremist movement that had been bubbling under the surface of U.S. society throughout the 1980s. Members included disaffected military veterans, displaced farmers, as well as a fringe group of racist extremists.
While hundreds of militias and armed conservative organizations operated peacefully during this time, one particular group, Committee of the States, dominated the spotlight with its violent actions and anti-Semitic screeds.

“I, like the members of the White American Bastion, have declared war on the Zionist Occupied Government [ZOG],” wrote Committee of the States co-founder David Moran in his last will and testament in 1986, before dying in a shootout with law enforcement. “My only regret in this regard is that I was not able to join with my brothers in arms earlier.”

It was out of this atmosphere that the FBI officially launched PATCON in 1991. While racist groups had largely operated separately from militias and other Patriot organizations throughout the ‘80s, they were starting to network due to one common enemy: the federal government.

When initially launched, PATCON aimed to investigate a right-wing militia called the Texas Light Infantry (TLI). Records from the time show that the FBI was worried about threats made by the TLI against two of its Austin-based agents.

To investigate the threats, the FBI created a front group called the Veterans Aryan Movement, outfitted with three undercover agents. VAM quickly infiltrated the militia scene by posing as anti-government extremists who robbed banks and armored cars to fund their operations.

The undercover FBI agents soon discovered that the TLI militia lacked concrete plans to kill any federal law enforcers, records show. While the TLI militia members had gone as far as surveilling two FBI agents—including one who was overseeing PATCON at the time—they told undercover agents that nothing would be done until they first overthrew the U.S. government.

But instead of closing their investigation, the FBI kept its VAM front group operating as a “vehicle to collect evidence of the criminal activity of suspected domestic terrorism organizations,” according to an FBI memo from the time. PATCON operatives were to obtain “information concerning a nationwide ‘Alliance’ of white supremacist groups being formed to fight the U.S. government,” FBI records said.

One of PATCON’s main targets was Tom Posey, a Vietnam veteran who helped train anti-communist fighters in Nicaragua during the Reagan administration. Posey became radicalized after he felt the Reagan administration threw him under the bus amid the Iran–Contra scandal, according to his former friend and PATCON informant John Matthews.

Posey turned his Civilian Material Assistance (CMA) organization—which had been helping the Contras—into a “survivalist-type group” opposed to the U.S. government and “aimed to make friends with a constellation of white supremacist and survivalist organizations across the country,” according to Berger.

By February 1992, Posey was purportedly trying to sell Stinger anti-aircraft missiles on the black market. Matthews, also a Vietnam veteran who worked with Posey and CMA in Nicaragua before becoming an informant, tried to help broker a deal as part of an attempted FBI sting operation.

FBI records show that the investigation dragged on for months with little progress, as Posey was reportedly waffling about the Stinger missiles.

“The FBI’s documents and several interviews with people with direct knowledge of the events paint a murky picture but offer no clear evidence the Stingers had been real,” notes a 2012 paper by extremism researcher Berger.

While the FBI’s Stinger sting never bore fruit, the FBI had connected Posey to 61 pairs of night-vision goggles that had been stolen from Fort Hood. However, the U.S. Army was running its own investigation into the matter, and arrested the thief in January 1993—ironically, after receiving a tip from Posey.

Months later, the infamous Waco, Texas, siege occurred between federal law enforcement and a religious sect called the Branch Davidians—ending on April 19, 1993, when a fire broke out and killed 76 of the group’s members.

Viewing Waco as a government massacre, Posey’s plans became more extreme. According to FBI records, he began plotting a raid to steal arms from the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant in Alabama.

Posey was arrested in September 1993, but the Department of Justice charged him only in connection with the stolen night-vision goggles.

“It was the only case investigated by PATCON that ever led to a trial, but the prosecution was based almost exclusively on evidence gathered by the Army’s investigation and a handful of FBI informants,” Berger wrote in his 2012 paper. “Posey maintained at trial that he didn’t know the goggles had been stolen and received a minimal sentence for trafficking in stolen goods. He was released from prison after two years, in early 1996, but CMA as an organization was basically finished.

“And so was PATCON.”

PATCON lacked major arrests, but it did allow the FBI to deeply infiltrate what by then had become known as the “Patriot movement”—the scattered network of anti-government, right-wing, and other armed groups throughout the country.

The result of that is a mixed bag, Berger says.

“While there is obvious value in collecting information about extremist activity, it must be weighed against fiscal and social costs incurred, as well as the constitutional implications of targeting groups with strong political or religious components,” he wrote in his 2012 paper.

Historian Wendy Painting, who covered PATCON in her 2016 doctoral thesis-turned-book “Aberration in the Heartland of the Real,” takes a more dismal view of the program.

“In attempts to prove they were not ‘Feds,’ PATCON agents and informants set about successfully arranging the theft (often from military bases), sale, and purchase of related contraband, mostly weapons but sometimes explosives,” she wrote.

“The program did manage to forge a more symbiotic relationship between the targets and those who targeted them, and in doing so, arguably only exacerbated the problem it intended to neutralize.”

Oklahoma City Bombing

The FBI may have officially wound up PATCON in September 1993, but the nation’s encounter with right-wing extremism had only begun. Less than two years later, the deadliest domestic terrorism attack in U.S. history occurred when a truck bomb exploded in Oklahoma City outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995—killing 168 people, including 19 children.
FBI officials were quick to blame a lack of intelligence resources as to why they didn’t prevent the attack. Bob Ricks, the FBI special agent in charge at the time of the bombing, said his bureau had its intelligence-gathering capabilities defanged after the Watergate scandal and the ensuing congressional investigations throughout the 1970s.
“[Congress] thought the FBI was overreaching in what they were doing,” Ricks told the Daily Oklahoman in September 1995. “So what we did was we buried our head in the sand. We ended up going from actually in the thousands of investigations of individuals to a few years later, we were down to about 20.”
But after PATCON was made public in 2007, critics began questioning that claim. Oklahoma City bombing researcher Richard Booth noted in an October 2020 article that PATCON was a tightly held secret at the time of Ricks’s comments.

“It would be over a decade before the operation was exposed, and its full scope is still hidden behind redactions and FOIA compliance avoidance,” he said.

The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in the first seconds of its five-second-implosion in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. (POOL PHOTO/AFP via Getty Images)
The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in the first seconds of its five-second-implosion in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. (POOL PHOTO/AFP via Getty Images)

Booth argued that the sweeping scope of PATCON—it was a “Group 1 Major Case Undercover Operation”—shows that Ricks’s assertions about the FBI’s lack of intelligence resources were false.

“It is now clear, in retrospect, that Bob Ricks was completely wrong and the FBI not only had an active operation gathering intelligence on targets, but they had one tailor-made for tracking people exactly like Timothy McVeigh and other domestic terrorists.”

Berger also noted in an April 2012 article for Foreign Policy that “when McVeigh walked through the middle of the investigation in 1993, he went unnoticed.”

Ricks told The Epoch Times he'd never heard of PATCON.

“I’m not even familiar with that terminology,” he said. “I had cases against neo-Nazis and Klan and Kluckers back in the ‘60s. We always had programs.

“But I’m not familiar with that name or any special significance to that name.”

PATCON: Enforcement or Incitement?

Those who have researched PATCON differ on the significance of the program.

Fueling the debate is the fact that PATCON had brushes with Oklahoma City bomber McVeigh, including when McVeigh attended the same Soldier of Fortune convention as Posey and several other CMA members.

Berger, who discovered PATCON in 2007 via his FOIA request, takes the view that the conspiracies surrounding PATCON are overblown—despite acknowledging in his research that “McVeigh literally drove through the middle of PATCON’s investigative landscape.”

Berger has lamented the fact that PATCON resulted in internet conspiracies.

“Claims about PATCON’s provocative nature have mushroomed online since the existence of the program was first disclosed by the author in 2007,” Berger wrote in his 2012 paper, citing a conspiracy theory that former Attorney General Eric Holder was personally responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing.

“No evidence exists to suggest Holder was linked to PATCON or that he played any sort of role in managing informants or undercover agents anywhere in the vicinity of the bombing,” he wrote.

But Trentadue, the plaintiff in the ongoing PATCON-related FOIA case, would beg to differ about the program’s significance. According to Trentadue, PATCON is far more sweeping than the limited operations reflected in the FBI records from 1991 to 1993.

In sworn declarations to a federal judge, Trentadue says former FBI informant Matthews told him PATCON was an incitement operation.

“[Matthews] told me that he had been told by the FBI that the purpose of PATCON was to infiltrate and to monitor the activities of [the] extreme political right consisting of organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and various Neo-Nazi groups, but that he no longer believed what he had been told by the FBI about the purpose of PATCON,” Trentadue said.

“Mr. Matthews told me that, based upon his experience, he now believed that the FBI’s real objective in PATCON had been to infiltrate and to incite these fringe groups to violence.”

Trentadue also says PATCON’s connections to the Oklahoma City bombing run deeper than gun shows and right-wing conventions, for reasons explained in this article. The basis for Trentadue’s claim is, in part, Matthews, who purportedly saw McVeigh in the run-up to the 1995 deadly attack.

“Mr. Matthews even told me that prior to the Oklahoma City Bombing he had seen Timothy McVeigh and a German National by the name of Andreas Strassmeir at a militia training facility near San Saba, Texas,” Trentadue said in a sworn court declaration.

“According to Mr. Matthews, he had reported the McVeigh–Strassmeir [sighting] to the FBI, and was told by the FBI that the Bureau was already aware of that fact, which indicated to Mr. Matthews that others within the FBI were monitoring McVeigh on the [lead-up] to the attack on the Murrah Building.”

The Epoch Times was unable to reach Matthews at his last known email address and phone number. The reason for the former informant’s silence has been the subject of a federal court-ordered investigation for some seven years.

According to Trentadue, Matthews agreed to testify about PATCON in one of his lawsuits against the FBI in 2014, only to change his mind after receiving threats from the bureau.

While the FBI and Matthews both denied the witness tampering allegations, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups said in 2015 he found Trentadue’s accusation plausible. Waddoups ordered an investigation into the matter, which has been sealed and taking place behind closed doors for about the past seven years.

Berger didn’t respond to an interview request about whether his thoughts on PATCON have changed since his 2012 paper, which was published before Trentadue’s allegations and the court-ordered investigation into FBI threats against a former PATCON informant.

Trentadue, who stumbled into PATCON while investigating his brother’s murder—another case tangled in government wrongdoing and connections to the OKC bombing—reiterated his stance on the matter in a comment to The Epoch Times.

“The only difference between the FBI and the KGB is that the KGB has never claimed to be a legitimate law enforcement agency,” he said.