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Mark Koernke
Mark Koernke
Year of birth: 1957
Home: Dexter, Michigan, but currently in state prison
Other Media: Public-access cable TV
Organizations: Michigan Militia-at-Large/Colonial Marines, Patriot Broadcasting Network
Outreach: Intelligence Report shortwave radio show, videotape presentations like "America in Peril," personal appearances at preparedness expos and other events
Media: Shortwave radio, videotapes, public appearances, Internet
Ideology: Anti-government, "New World Order" conspiracies, some anti-Semitism
Following : At one point Koernke was one of the most popular figures in the "patriot" movement; his star has dimmed, but he still has a devoted following scattered around the country.

Since the early 1990s, Mark Koernke - often referred to by his nickname, "Mark from Michigan" - has been one of the most effective propagandists for the "patriot" movement. Through a combination of shortwave radio broadcasts, widely distributed videotapes and personal appearances, the university maintenance worker has used his speaking skills to spread his message of "New World Order" conspiracy theories and resistance to governmental authority. Koernke was one of the leaders in the birth and growth of the militia movement and achieved widespread notoriety after being mistakenly linked to the Oklahoma City bombing. Since then he has suffered numerous setbacks - including prison - but still maintains a loyal cadre of supporters who hang on his words.

A Fax From Michigan

During the morning of April 19, 1995 - the day a fertilizer bomb ripped through the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma - the airwaves buzzed with reports of America's deadliest act of domestic terrorism. For Kimberly Pyle, an office aide to Texas congressman Steve Stockman, the news rang an alarm bell. Just half an hour earlier, she had thrown away a mysterious fax received by the office that had referred to some sort of explosion in Oklahoma.

Pyle retrieved the fax to show it to Stockman's chief of staff. The fax was handwritten and unsigned, though typed at the top was the word "Wolverine." It read: "First update Bldg 7 to 10 floors only Military people on scene - BATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms], F.B.I. Bomb threat received last week. Perpetrator unknown at this time. Oklahoma." Strangest of all was the time stamp on the fax: 8:59 a.m. EDT, slightly more than an hour before the bombing occurred (just after 9:00 a.m. CDT). Was this some sort of strange warning about the bombing? Stockman was, after all, an ultraconservative politician considered to be friendly to far-right movements. His staff passed the strange fax to the F.B.I..

By the weekend, the media had learned about the fax - moreover, they learned who had sent it. The fax had been sent to Stockman by someone working for a Michigan militia figure named Mark Koernke. Koernke's name had already been linked to the bombing after a trio of anti-government activists with Michigan connections had been arrested in connection with the crime - Timothy McVeigh and brothers Terry and James Nichols (the latter was released and never charged with a crime). McVeigh and the Nichols brothers, according to some accounts, had ties with the Michigan Militia. Several people additionally claimed that the suspected bombers had been seen in the company of Koernke, who led a more radical splinter group of militiamen. One Detroit news source even alleged that Koernke had perhaps "masterminded" the bombing.

News of the fax brought the media en masse to Dexter, Michigan, the tiny town where Koernke lived when not working as a maintenance worker at the University of Michigan. Koernke himself, fearing a search warrant or arrest attempt, abandoned his house, leaving reporters to stake out his property and its collection of unusual military and survivalist items, ranging from camouflaged vehicles to helmets.

Eventually, the furor died down. Reports that McVeigh and Nichols were followers of Koernke were never confirmed, while telephone records revealed that the fax had been sent after the bombing, not before - the time/date stamp had not reflected the recent change to Daylight Savings Time. Federal agents did not swoop in to arrest Koernke nor did it appear that his connection to the bombing amounted to anything more than his post hoc conspiracy theories claiming the blast was a setup to discredit right-wing groups.

Yet now the entire country, it seemed, wanted to know about the secretive janitor turned militiaman. In the months after the bombing, newspapers from the Chicago Tribune, to the Washington Times wrote about him; the magazine Time published an extended biographical article, even discussing his childhood science fair projects.

Mark Koernke had definitely arrived.

The Making of a Militiaman

The militia movement, emerging in the mid-1990s in the shadow of deadly standoffs at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, was remarkable in mobilizing hitherto apathetic forces on the far right. The voices of the new movement - John Trochmann, Norm Olsen, Linda Thompson and others - were almost completely unknown, never having led groups before. Koernke, like them, was an essentially anonymous figure just a few years before the Oklahoma City bombing.

Born in 1957, he grew up in southeast Michigan and attended Eastern Michigan University before dropping out in the 1970s. A series of low-paying jobs followed; in 1982, he eventually found a position as a maintenance worker at the University of Michigan, a job that he would hold for the next decade and a half. Other activities, from the Jaycees to the Army Reserve, kept Koernke busy. His stint in the Reserve - where he rose to the enlisted rank of E-5 specialist - would later be inflated into service as an "intelligence officer."

In fact, Koernke already exhibited qualities that would characterize his public career: a fascination with the military and covert operations and a fixation on conspiracy theories that demonized organizations like the Federal Reserve and the Council on Foreign Relations. He also began collecting uniforms and military surplus and planning military exercises. He was arrested twice, in 1984 for carrying a concealed weapon (he fulfilled terms of a deferred sentencing agreement) and in 1986 for felonious assault (the charges were dismissed).

But if Koernke's extreme anti-government ideology had formed by the late 1980s, he nurtured it out of the limelight. Slowly, though, he grew more eager to expound on his ideas and more confident in his ability to communicate them. At first he called various radio talk shows; in 1991, he was pressed into service as an impromptu replacement speaker at a rally for fringe presidential candidate James "Bo" Gritz. Not long after, he began to speak at meetings of local Michigan extremist groups. By late 1993, he had released "America in Peril," a videotape of a speech outlining his conspiracy theories for a wider audience. The tape - soon to be followed by a succession of sequels - became a staple at gun shows and extremist rallies and passed hand to hand as it was duplicated and reduplicated.

At first, Koernke's speaking style was clumsy and hesitant, but even in early speeches he displayed an impressive recall of facts and details, a finely honed sense of sarcasm and a gift for inflaming the suspicions and anger of his audience. Koernke eventually received more speaking requests than he could accommodate and became a regular on the preparedness circuit, a traveling trade fair for survivalists. In 1994, he reached a pinnacle of sorts when a precious metals dealer sponsored a nightly shortwave radio show for Koernke on WWCR (World Wide Christian Radio), called the Intelligence Report.

On shortwave, Koernke could promote his ideas to every part of the country. His celebrity did not extend beyond the cognoscenti, however, because most Americans are oblivious to shortwave, which requires a special receiver. To the general public he was still unknown, but to "patriots" - who had used shortwave radio since the 1980s as an alternative to the "controlled" mainstream media - he had become a rising star. The circumstances were reminiscent of an old B-movie, with the burly Koernke plucked from central casting: toiling as a janitor by day, holding forth on the state of the world to listeners across the country by night. Before long his nickname, "Mark from Michigan," was known throughout the antigovernment movement.

The Ideology of Conspiracy

On his videotapes, in his public appearances and on his radio show Koernke hammers away at the same messages. America is at war. The nation - not the government, but the people - is besieged by a shadowy, virtually all-powerful conspiracy: the "New World Order." The New World Order consists of the United Nations, the United States government, internationalist organizations and a changing cast of other characters behind the scenes, elites and manipulators who stage-manage even the smallest events to further their own totalitarian aims. Seeking to create a global police state, these shadowy forces have appropriated federal agencies such as the F.B.I. and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the military; and "multi-jurisdictional task forces."

Koernke effortlessly weaves all current events into his conspiracy tapestry. "No longer will we be free to meet in any home," he said of an impending crime bill in one of his 1994 videotapes. "No longer will we be free to meet in public - the videotapes, anything we have on the videotapes, anything you have on written material, will probably be a crime….This is a long-term plan but they are now desperate to accelerate it." The Kosovo crisis of 1999 had equally sinister connotations: atrocity stories about the Serbs were fabrications intended to gather public support; the "New World Order crowd" wanted mines in Kosovo and refineries near Serbia. Moreover, if United States soldiers were kept busy in the Balkans, the government would have free reign at home. "Who will profit from all this?" Koernke asked his radio listeners. On the eve of Y2K, Koernke warned visitors to his Web site that the "Police State" was on its way. "Everything you say (and do)," he wrote, "is being entered into a file and will be used and twisted…when the time comes….To those who think they can make a deal with the other side I have only one thing to say, 'They eat their young.' Anyway, keep your powder dry and your pistols close at hand."

Along with cultivating the full flower of the New World Order conspiracy for his audience, Koernke spends much of his time inflating the size of the patriot movement. The goal behind his maneuvers is clear: people who perceive they are in a tiny minority may be reluctant to take action. Consequently, Koernke tells followers that they are part of a broad uprising, that the government and the media and the "jack booted thugs" are the distinct minority. Koernke has estimated the size of the movement to be as great as 37 million people.

In a similar vein, he routinely exaggerates the extent of his own following. Through the years, he has retained a small number of dedicated followers who, as a group, have used a variety of names, ranging from the "Michigan Militia-at-Large" to the "Colonial Marines." Koernke also has supporters scattered around the country. But he has nonetheless created many fictitious militia groups and agents who, he assures his listeners, are actively working to topple the New World Order. Regulars to the Intelligence Report have learned of dozens of fictitious units of the "Colonial Militia," ranging from the "Fourth Regimental Combat Team" to the "40-19th Mobile Forward Medical Support Attachment" to the "86th Armored Company." Farms where paramilitary exercises take place become "camps," e.g., "Camp Stasa," "Camp Larson," and "Camp Gingrich"; paramilitary exercises become "Ring Finger 99"; a friend with a boat becomes the "Colonial Marines Naval Division." Koernke's interest in FM radio microtransmitters became a launching pad for his claim that microtransmitters operated in every part of the country broadcasting patriot materials. Listeners were also routinely treated to mysterious code phrases. "Northington of the North, I have your letter," Koernke intoned in one 1999 broadcast. "Frank is definitely a tall man. Frank is definitely a tall man." By such colorful insertions he sought to create the illusion of a vast network of covert patriot operatives all working together to overthrow the New World Order.

Growing Radicalism

Over time, several other themes crept into Koernke's broadcasts. Beginning in the late 1990s, Koernke displayed an increasing interest in sovereign citizen theories. Since his early associations with Justice Pro Se, a Michigan sovereign citizen group, he had been exposed to this conspiratorial, anti-government philosophy. Eventually, Koernke began to pepper his broadcasts with references to "common law courts" and other sovereign citizen tactics. Sovereign citizen activists appeared as guests on his show. In September 2000, he even urged a caller from Tennessee to place harassing liens on the property of local school officials who had punished students for wearing Confederate flag shirts to school. Koernke also supported "redemption," an elaborate sovereign citizen scheme for removing oneself from the control of the government and for creating bogus "sight drafts." By then Koernke was signing his own name in the sovereign citizen style, as "Mark Gregory,,,Koernke," using punctuation to separate his "Christian name" from his government name.

Anti-Semitic themes also occupied increasing space in Koernke's broadcasts. In 1995, Koernke denied being a "racist, sexist, anti- Semitic or any type of hate monger." Yet in his broadcasts, references to Jews - usually using the phrase "Kosher mafia," less often the "Oy boys" - became common. In July 1999, during a crisis involving a supporter in Michigan about to be arrested by the ATF (Koernke successfully urged the man to become a fugitive rather than turn himself in), Koernke warned that the ATF could not be trusted on the "kosher mafia holiday" that gave Jews a dispensation to lie, presumably a reference to anti-Semitic interpretations of the Kol Nidre prayer. A month later, Koernke claimed that the kosher mafia believed that anyone who was not Jewish was not human. Television news personalities like Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Ted Koppel, were all "criminals involved with the kosher mafia." Don Boettcher, one of Koernke's co-hosts, has also expressed anti-Semitic sentiments on the air. Guests on the show like Michigan teacher Jack Otto have introduced anti-Semitic theories.

In addition to increased anti-Semitism, Koernke's broadcasts also became increasingly radical. Never a shrinking violet, Koernke began using language that was more confrontational, particularly from 1998 onwards, as his legal problems mounted. In July 1999, in reference to groups planning lawsuits against gun manufacturers, Koernke's solution was "…shoot 'em, why are we fooling around with this? Our only weapon is to use the weapons we have, the first, third, fourth amendment will be next." More often, Koernke's target was the government. "We are preparing to go to war," he stated a few months later. As Y2K approached, Koernke became convinced that a "shooting war" was imminent. Even after January 2000, Koernke spoke of imminent war. In July of that year, he predicted that the "new Revolution" would probably last eight years and perhaps even longer, to "secure the internal part of the country." The following March, he told listeners that "there is a solution, it is revolution." The rhetoric of imminent violence lasted up to his imprisonment in the spring of 2001.

Ups and Downs of a Militia Leader

From the start, the militia movement attracted Koernke. In the spring of 1994, Norman Olsen and Ray Southwell created the Michigan Militia, which would spread across the state and become the largest militia group in the country. Koernke, however, would not formally subordinate himself to Michigan Militia leaders, instead he choose to maintain a loose association. He appeared, for example, at a January 1995 truck-stop meeting of the group's members at which plans to assault a National Guard base were discussed (the plot, if it could be characterized as such, fell apart when one attendee informed the F.B.I. about the discussions). Throughout, he maintained ties with more radical Michigan Militia factions.

Koernke preferred leading his own, smaller group, one that did not seek publicity and could be kept under his control; the small cadre was sometimes referred to as the Michigan Militiaat- Large. Koernke found an ally in Intelligence Report co-host John Stadtmiller, who ran Wolverine Productions (the first of a variety of names for the organization). In September 1994, when police in Fowlerville, Michigan, stopped a vehicle with three camouflage-clad men inside who claimed to be Koernke's bodyguards, it became evident that Koernke's followers could not be ignored. The men had three semiautomatic pistols, an AK-47 assault rifle, two other rifles, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, night vision binoculars and handwritten notes that discussed treating people with "extreme prejudice."

Arrested on weapons charges, Koernke's followers became fugitives rather than appear in court. One was caught soon after, but two, Paul Darland and William Gleason, became involved in an even darker episode. Darland and Gleason fled to a farm owned by another Koernke supporter, John Stephenson. According to witnesses, Koernke had urged them to flee and promised them help, but failed to deliver. Darland and Stephenson grew increasingly disenchanted with their leader, but Gleason remained loyal. A tape recorded message that Gleason sent to a friend revealed the depth of his loyalty: "I will not fail Mark. In Mark, I found a person and a soul who is worth 20 of my lives at least."

The disagreement turned into murder: Darland and Stephenson, suspecting that Gleason was reporting their dissatisfaction to Koernke, killed Gleason in late 1994. Police found Gleason's body buried in the woods two years later. They arrested Stephenson soon after (he pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact of murder and felony firearm possession), but Darland remained at large until he was finally caught in Indiana in June 2000 (he was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder).

The Fowlerville arrests generated mostly local publicity, nothing like the spotlight thrown on Koernke by the Oklahoma City bombing. Just a few days after the fax incident made the news, the general manager of Koernke's shortwave radio station, WWCR, suspended the militia leader's broadcasts, claiming that the negative publicity was simply too great. "We've got to get the gasoline off the fires," he explained (the station continued to broadcast other shows that were racist, anti-Semitic or anti-government).

Once the publicity abated, Koernke and Stadtmiller managed to get reinstated on WWCR, where their program remained for several years. Eventually, however, they began a downward spiral, primarily caused by lack of sponsors and funding. In 1999, the Intelligence Report was forced to move to another station, WTGT; that station, too, eventually dumped it. Koernke turned to the restrictive medium of satellite radio to get his message out (eventually, broadcasts could also be heard using the Internet and, in 2001, a pirate shortwave broadcaster in Kentucky also began airing the show). In addition, John Stadtmiller left Koernke's operation to start his own show. Koernke enlisted Don "Yankee D" Boettcher as co-host, and he also brought his family into the act. Wife Nancy Koernke began hosting her own show, the "Kitchen Militia," while teenage son Eric took over many of the Internet duties. Even with their help, however, Koernke's messages reached a far smaller audience in 2001 than it had in 1995.

More seriously, Koernke was beset by legal problems stemming from his paranoia and tendency to overreact. At the fall 1997 trial of John Stephenson for the murder of William Gleason, Stephenson's defense subpoenaed Koernke; a Stephenson friend with whom Koernke had an acrimonious history served the subpoena. He claimed that, when he and a partner tried serving Koernke, Koernke hit him with a rifle. As a result, Koernke was arrested in November 1997 on a felony assault charge. When the trial convened in May 1988, Koernke chose to flee rather than defend himself.

Although a fugitive, Koernke hardly remained silent: he continued to broadcast on shortwave radio from a hidden location "in the boondocks." He and Stadtmiller were particularly strident, urging followers to ambush lone policemen in order to strip, then tar and feather them. In another show, Stadtmiller stated that he and Koernke "are going to stand and fight with whatever tools we have. Mark and I don't think that we are going to get out of this without firing a shot." According to a federal affidavit, Koernke also urged supporters to shoot an assistant United States attorney involved in prosecuting other Michigan militiamen.

In July, Koernke was captured. A state police helicopter searching for marijuana fields spotted a man and a woman near an abandoned home. When the helicopter descended for a closer look, the man - Koernke - ran away and dove into a nearby lake. Police on the ground, alerted by the helicopter, flushed him out. Having shaved his mustache and bleached his hair, he told police - in an Irish accent - that his name was Michael Kern; his fingerprints proved otherwise. Absconding (fleeing the law) was added to the charges, which led to an unusual circumstance; that fall, it was revealed that the process server may have vowed to lie on the stand, if necessary, to get Koernke convicted. Because the process server was the chief witness against Koernke in the assault case, prosecutors had to drop the charge and Koernke was only tried for absconding. In August 1999, Koernke was tried and convicted, but was only sentenced to time already served.

Six months later, Koernke got himself into trouble again. He was sitting in his car outside a bank that was being robbed in Dexter, Michigan, his hometown; when he drove away shortly after the robbery, a sheriff 's deputy, who thought Koernke might have robbed the bank, tried to stop his car. Rather than pull over, Koernke led police on a 40-mile chase during which he tried to ram a police car before wrecking his own. He also fought with officers trying to arrest him. The following year, Koernke was convicted of fleeing and eluding police, resisting arrest and assault with a dangerous weapon. In April 2001, he went to jail on a sentence of three to seven and a half years.

Prison has impeded Koernke's ability to communicate, though scanned copies of his letters to followers are distributed on the Internet, and his telephone calls are recorded and broadcast on shortwave radio. Replacing him on the Intelligence Report (only until his release, one presumes) is the leader of a radical faction of the Michigan Militia, Tony Liuzzo, who along with Don Boettcher continues to rally support for Koernke. The content of Koernke's prison letters suggests he will continue his activities after release.


Posted 7/2/02

Mark Koernke remains in prison in Michigan but continues to exhort his followers through letter-writing campaigns. Moreover, his family has stepped up its activity: Nancy, his wife, regularly broadcasts to militia audiences on shortwave radio and has made herself available for public appearances; his son Eric spreads the "patriot"/militia message on the Internet.

Mark Koernke
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