The Jitters coffeehouse in lower downtown bills itself as Denver's first "on-line cafe," offering customers hourly rental of a bank of computers linked to the Internet. Now the cafe's owner is feeling jittery about an encounter last month with a man he believes may be linked to the terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the recent derailment of an Amtrak train in Arizona.
A right-wing radical group calling itself the Sons of the Gestapo took credit for sabotaging the Sunset Limited on October 9, killing one man and injuring dozens of passengers. A note at the site gave the group's name and contained critical references to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The news accounts caught the ear of Matt Haggstrom, the 26-year-old owner of Jitters. He says a middle-aged white man dressed in military fatigues strolled into the cafe in mid-September, asking for help in finding information on a little-known group called the Sons of the Gestapo.
"I figured he was a military-type guy," says Haggstrom. "He looked like somebody who would read Soldier of Fortune magazine."
According to Haggstrom, the visitor, who never gave his name, had an address for a Sons of the Gestapo site on the World Wide Web, a vast computer network used by millions of people that contains information on thousands of different groups. Haggstrom says he helped the man find the site and download the information, including news reports about the shootout in Waco, Texas, involving federal agents and the Branch Davidian sect. A graphic that accompanied the reports, Haggstrom adds, showed men dressed guerrilla-style, with bandannas across their faces.
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"I didn't know what the Sons of the Gestapo was," Haggstrom says. "We get people in here all the time looking for stuff. It wasn't anything unusual. I thought maybe he was doing research on them."
After the Amtrak derailment, the coffeeshop owner says, he decided not to contact authorities about the visitor because he had no evidence the man had done anything wrong. "There was nothing tangible to go on," he says.
Haggstrom says the man was about forty years old, unshaven and of medium height, with dark, closely-cropped hair. He was friendly and stayed for about an hour, even giving Haggstrom a $5 tip for his help. After the train derailment in Arizona, Haggstrom says that he searched for the Sons of the Gestapo page on the Internet but that it seemed to have vanished. Without the specific address, Haggstrom says, it would be next to impossible to try to track down the Web site.
Authorities investigating the accident have said they're unfamiliar with the Sons of the Gestapo. Searches on the Internet for references to the group before the derailment have been fruitless, according to published reports.