By Jason Vest May 11, 1995

An article in Thursday's Style section incorrectly characterized Art Bell's radio program as a shortwave broadcast. His "Coast to Coast AM" is heard on 173 AM and FM stations nationwide. (Published 5/13/95)

Linda Thompson sounds triumphant. She has discovered yet another conspirator in the vast plot against her.

"I've seen what you've been writing!" her voice screeches from the pay phone receiver.

The reporter had wondered if she'd be willing to talk about her hugely popular videos, the series called "Waco: The Big Lie," which Timothy McVeigh apparently watched repeatedly before traveling to Oklahoma City with a truck full of explosives last month. (Terry Nichols, who was charged yesterday, along with McVeigh, in the April 19 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, has also watched the tapes.) She had agreed to an interview, but now refuses to open her door.

"I know what you're trying to do! You're trying to get the militias! You're out to get us! I have no interest in talking to you, you're going to write what you want anyway!"

A few feet away, behind the brick walls of her office, Thompson slams down her phone. A minute later, a man in an olive green T-shirt bursts through the door, takes a camera from his pickup truck and begins snapping pictures of a reporter's car.

Suspicion is Linda Thompson's business. And she has much to be suspicious about. She is one of the most controversial members of the sprawling, conflicted anti-government fringe that calls itself the "patriot movement." She is a topic on which people who come from such divergent groups as the weekend warriors of state militias, the global mercenaries of Soldier of Fortune magazine and the right-wing extremists of the Liberty Lobby can agree.

"She's caused more divisiveness and disruption in the patriot movement than anyone else," said Gary Hunt of the American Patriotic Fax Network, a man who himself called the Oklahoma bombing "far less tragic" than the deaths of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Tex.

Indeed, two days after the Oklahoma City bombing, Thompson told The Washington Post in a telephone interview she believed that her competitor Mark Koernke -- also known as "Mark from Michigan," whose videos preach the same message of the United States being taken over by a one-world government -- was part of a federal plot to blow up the Murrah Building, "so Janet Reno will have an excuse to raid the houses of militiamen and women across the country." (Koernke, who could not be contacted, has previously denied any involvement in the bombing.)

Most members of the militias take a gun-waving but nonviolent approach to realizing their goal of minimizing government in their lives. They would take up arms against the government, they say, only if martial law was declared or someone they knew was, for instance, under attack by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Not so Thompson. To date, Thompson -- who has christened herself the "Acting Adjutant General of the Unorganized Militia of the U.S.A." -- is the only militia member who has tried to rally an armed force to march on Washington and hold trials of public officials.

The charge? "These people want to put us under a one-world dictatorship," Thompson says.

It's talk like this, in conjunction with bizarre actions, that has made Thompson the Colonel Kurtz of the militia movement -- a broadcaster of rambling shortwave radio messages whose methods, even by unconventional standards, are considered unsound.

For example, just last summer she was arrested by Indianapolis police for using her car to block a federal motorcade. President Clinton's motorcade. He was on the bus tour in support of his health care plan, which, along with everything else about Clinton, Thompson hates. When police took her into custody they also confiscated a .45-caliber pistol, a .22-caliber derringer and an assault rifle with 295 rounds of ammo. A charge of obstructing traffic is pending. Selling Her Message

In the 1970s, Thompson, now 42, was an enlisted clerk in the Army. Now, after taking time to raise children and earn a law degree, she's a licensed attorney. But these days she doesn't practice much law.

Thompson operates out of her American Justice Federation office, an ornate suite wedged between a chiropractor's office and a Domino's pizza shop in a suburban Indianapolis strip mall. Here she markets her main product, antigovernment videotapes, including two Waco collections. According to Thompson's videos, the assault on the Waco compound was not a massive federal blunder; it was a murderous conspiratorial undertaking on multiple levels, orchestrated by the forces of the New World Order. In her most recent video, "America Under Siege," she claims that "black helicopters" follow her and her family virtually everywhere they go, that concentration camps are quietly being built all over the country to round up protesting citizens, that the strips of tape on the backs of road signs are markers for United Nations troops who will be brought in to enforce martial law, and that the Clintons are behind scores of assassinations.

She contends, for example, that the raid on Mount Carmel was not just directed against the Branch Davidians, but was also a cover to kill ATF agents who had been "Bill Clinton's bodyguards."

Were she spouting such rhetoric on a street corner, it would be easy to dismiss Thompson as just another errant stitch in the patchwork quilt of the American psyche. But Thompson has a following. Her Waco videotapes are almost coin of the realm to the militia masses. Bob Brown, publisher of Soldier of Fortune, which used to advertise the tapes, estimates she's made upward of $300,000 off them in the past two years.

Part of her success comes from deft manipulation of the movement's favored media: specialty magazines, shortwave radio, computer bulletin boards, local access cable stations and videotapes. Thompson has a presence on each, with one promoting the message of the other.

Yet some in the upper echelons of the patriot community denounce Thompson as a "nut" or a "profiteer." A variety of people have independently come to the conclusion that many of her assertions in the Waco tapes are not rooted in fact, but in wild conjecture and clever film editing.

After a closer examination of her tapes, Soldier of Fortune and the Liberty Lobby's Spotlight newspaper found that several of Thompson's key claims were at best inaccurate, including her assertion that the government unleashed "flame-throwing tanks" on Rancho Apocalypse.

"There's a piece of footage in which it appears to the untrained layman that a tank is spraying flame, which we were suspicious of," says Jim Pate, a writer at Soldier of Fortune. "But when you look at the unedited video, it's obvious that the vehicle backs out, it was debris being reflected in the sunlight. The question then became, does Linda Thompson believe this, or did she know better, but edited it to pander to paranoia?

"There are enough facts to be upset about without engaging in emotionally charged fantasy," says Pate, who covered the siege of Mount Carmel and the trial of the Branch Davidians.

Similar rebuttals came from various mainstays of the antigovernment movement, including survivalist guru James "Bo" Gritz, pamphleteer Jack McLamb (who authored the conspiracy-rich tract "Operation Vampire Killer 2000") and radio show host Ken Engleman. Gritz, for instance, says, "Linda Thompson is an irresponsible person who has divided people with her videos, the written word and on her radio talk show." To which Thompson has the perfect response: She calls them "traitors" or "government agents."

And therein lies another key to Thompson's success. Even within a movement of outsiders, she's the outsider. Which makes her, to some people, the most trustworthy. The Legal Career

According to one of her videotapes, Thompson has three children from her first marriage. She met her current husband, Al, on the Internet, discussing Frank Zappa. A computer technician who's done military service himself, Al Thompson runs all of the American Justice Federation's technical systems, including the Associated Electronic Network bulletin board.

Her resume says Thompson served in the U.S. Army from 1974 to 1978, at one point as the "Assistant to U.S. Army Commanding General NATO" -- an Indianapolis TV station said the position was essentially that of an enlisted secretary with a high security clearance. After her Army stint, she entered the reserves and went to college, taking her undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland and a law degree from Indiana University in 1988.

Her temperament was "very litigious," recalls one law school classmate. Like many people who know Thompson, he requested anonymity, fearing possible reprisal. "She was talking about filing suits against people even then for various things. But she didn't seem that far out there."

One lawyer who knew her when she worked in Atlanta said, "She always came across as a very feminist, pro-woman civil rights lawyer." Her most high-profile case was her successful lawsuit against the Indiana State Police in 1992 on behalf of Bruce A. Quillin, who was arrested for growing marijuana. The police, it turned out, had committed procedural errors.

One attorney familiar with the case said Thompson viewed it as a victory against the "dictatorial forces of the New World Order or something."

It was an alleged conspiracy -- but one by antiabortionists against women -- that gained her headlines in 1991. Thompson claimed that a group of at least 10 unnamed doctors were part of a nationwide conspiracy, directed by Joseph Scheidler, head of the militant Pro-Life Action League. According to a July 1991 story in NUVO, the alternative news weekly of Indianapolis, she said she would prove they were withholding pregnancy test results so women would not abort fetuses with genetic abnormalities.

According to state and federal court records, there is no evidence Thompson ever filed the case. Scheidler, who denies her accusations, says he remembers getting a "weird" call from Thompson accusing him of running the scheme.

"Like a big spider at the center of the web," he chuckles. "She's got spiders on the brain."

In her interview with NUVO, Thompson came across as a consummate abortion rights supporter, referring to antiabortionists as "fanatics" and "no-choicers," comparing Scheidler's group to the Ku Klux Klan and saying she was "deeply committed to the fight to preserve women's right to choice."

Now, however, Thompson regularly makes strident antiabortion comments on her shortwave radio show. Last year, when someone asked her on her bulletin board to explain the apparent discrepancy, she said simply, "I've always been against abortion, but nobody ever asked my opinion."

Scheidler says he doesn't know what to make of it. "She certainly wasn't pro-life when I talked to her," he says. Still, he offers up a thought.

"Maybe she's a plant to make us look bad," he says. A Waco Call to Arms

Like many in the militia movement, Thompson says the radicalizing events in her life were the government's treatment of Randy Weaver (the Idaho survivalist whose wife and son were killed in a confrontation with federal agents) and the Branch Davidians.

"I vowed then I would make it my personal responsibility to expose the truth to America . . . {about} the New World Order," she says.

But according to Gary Hunt, the first time he heard from Thompson, "she didn't even know who Randy Weaver was."

Hunt is a Florida-based land surveyor, part-time journalist and militia activist who holds his own extreme views ("At the rate that the Congress is selling us down the river, the eventuality of war is real," he wrote to his Internet audience). Two years ago he was in Waco, trying to find a way to help the Branch Davidians end their standoff with the federal government. He recalls getting a call from Thompson, who volunteered to come down and provide legal support.

Hunt, who had been given power of attorney by Davidian leader David Koresh, was happy for the offer of assistance. Thompson had been in Waco less than a week, he recalls, "when we decided, since we had the power of attorney, to just walk into the compounds and see what the cops would do."

But Thompson started handing out press releases, some of which ended up with law enforcement officials. Hunt called off the trip and fired Thompson.

Thompson stayed on, however, and declared herself in charge of the "Unorganized Militia." She sent out, via fax, her first "call to arms."

"JOIN US!" it proclaimed. "The Unorganized Militia of the United States of America will assemble, with long arms, vehicles (including tracked and armored), aircraft, and any available gear for inspection for fitness and use in a well-regulated militia, at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 3, 1993, on Northcrest Drive, off I-35."

"I was shocked," says Hunt, who had put out a "Call for Peace" and organized an unarmed, silent protest of 200 people. Hunt immediately sent out a communique to "My Fellow Patriots," advising anyone coming to Waco to come unarmed and to "use some good Common Sense."

At one point, he even approached Thompson and the thirty-odd people she had assembled at a nearby Dairy Queen.

"I asked her if she'd join our peaceful demonstration, and she said, very loudly, Gary, you're a government agent!' " Ready to March

It is two days after the Oklahoma City bombing, and Thompson is explaining why, last year, she took to the airwaves and the Internet calling for the armed march on Washington.

It started simply enough. "We sent a letter to every congressman {by} certified mail saying, You have until this date to do something that demonstrates you will uphold your oath to the Constitution, and if you don't, you're going to be put on trial for treason.' " Thompson says the letter, titled "Ultimatum," also provided a list of unconstitutional measures she wants struck down. "Things like getting rid of the Brady Bill, the IRS, the Federal Reserve," she explains.

The armed march was supposed to be for show, she says.

"Just because you're armed and assembled doesn't mean you're crazy," she says. She wasn't going to cause violence, she "just wanted to make people realize that {an armed uprising} was a viable option."

But according to some who dealt with her at the time, it seemed pretty clear she wasn't talking about her putsch as a symbolic gesture. When, for example, she outlined her plan to members of the Michigan Militia, she said the "trials" of officials might not be enough.

"She said, Let's take guns to Washington, D.C., take U.S. senators and congressmen into custody, hold them for trial, and, if necessary, execute them,' " Joseph Ditzhazy recently recalled to ABC's "PrimeTime Live." Ditzhazy said he was at a militia meeting where Thompson was speaking, and recalls the crowd reacting favorably to Thompson's call for "trials" of Attorney General Janet Reno, then-Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and the Clintons, among others, shouting, "Let's hang them!"

The message was the same on the radio. Some listeners were shocked when they tuned in to Nevada-based shortwave radio host Art Bell's show one night and heard her agitating for revolution. "She was saying we needed an armed uprising, saying stuff like, We've got to hang these bastards in Washington,' " recalled one listener.

To illustrate just how weird things got, it was the John Birch Society -- long a home for haters of government and lovers of conspiracy -- that became the medium of restraint, instructing its members not to follow Thompson. The Birchers termed her plan "insane" and called Thompson an "insurrectionist messenger."

In the end, the Acting Adjutant General stood down -- and not just because she had made her point. According to Thompson, "We got word that if we did the march, the CIA was going to use bombs {around Washington} and blame it on the militia."

"Her ultimatum was incredibly incendiary, and her rhetoric was definitely hang the bastards' before she called the march off," says Adam Parfry, a journalist who's writing a book on right-wing extremism. "Since then, a lot of people in the militias have wondered if she's a government agent provocateur, because her saber-rattling was so disconcerting."

Two days after the Oklahoma blast, Thompson pointed out to The Post that the bombing was completely contrary to the nature of the militias, which, she says, are only "for self-defense." But anyone who logs on to her bulletin board might wonder.

"We are a network of doers, not whiners and fakers," it admonishes. "If you belong, then a hearty welcome to you."

To access the bulletin board, one must correctly answer such questions as "Are you ready, willing and able to provide at least one of the following for Patriots defending the Constitution: a safe house; a training area; equipment or supplies such as food, medicine, ammunition, clothing, or money." Another question asks the user to list "special skills" such as "medical, special forces, police, military training."

And then there's the "hold" music on her phone system, which could compete with any cop killa rap lyric. "Watch Out for Martial Law," about a uniformed police officer, says, "Now I've got nothing against him if he's out there defending my freedom and the Bill of Rights. But if he's out there abusin' the power he's usin', maybe we should turn out his lights. He's a badge-wearing gangster, a tool of the bankers . . . Watch Out for Martial Law."

"She really is contributing fuel to the flames of those who seem to feel that the government's their enemy," says Irwin Suall, a researcher with the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith who has followed Thompson's activities. "I would say she's a right-wing fanatic who is promoting hysteria about the role of government. Waco and Randy Weaver are legitimate subjects, but the notion that these cases represent a federal government conspiracy to deprive Americans of their liberties is utter nonsense." And that, Thompson says, is exactly what they'd like you to believe. CAPTION: Linda Thompson, top, and the title scene from her video "Waco II, The Big Lie Continues." CAPTION: Linda Thompson, militant militia member and maker of the Waco tapes.