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Last Modified November 8, 1999


The Shadows of Waco: 

The Tactics and Dynamics of Militia Confrontations

A Militia Watchdog Special Report by Mark Pitcavage, Ph.D.  This report may not be copied or duplicated without the permission of the author.


 Introduction:  A Standoff in Arizona

When she saw the deputies, Mary Elizabeth Schipke knew trouble was coming.  She grabbed her 17-month old daughter, Amara Venus, and ran into her house trailer.  The Pima County deputies and the Child Protective Services agent they were escorting found that Schipke refused to open her locked door.  Eventually, a deputy entered the trailer through a window to discover that Schipke had locked herself in a back bedroom.  Forcing the door open, the officers at last confronted Schipke—only to discover that she was pointing a pistol at them.[i]

They slowly backed out of the trailer.

What was going through Schipke’s mind is hard to tell, because the woman had a pattern of erratic behavior.  Schipke lived in a world of conspiracies and plots, many of them directed at her.  Her sense of paranoia was heightened by an extended custody battle surrounding her son Kitt, a battle that Schipke lost.  In 1994, a local newspaper reported that she had become convinced that a local election had been tampered with because her candidate was stuck with thirteenth place on the general election ballot.  Schipke, a triskaidekaphobe (someone afraid of the number thirteen), believed it was a plot.

By 1998, Schipke described herself as a “severely physically disabled single mother,” ostensibly as a result of silicone breast implants and “forced medical experimentation” at Tucson Medical Center Hospital.  Her family, she said, were “victims of severe government abuse…brutally physically tortured, mentally terrorized, kidnapped, falsely arrested, viciously beaten, retaliated against, denied justice…thanks to corrupt employees of the state of Arizona.”  She claimed Kitt’s father was a drug dealer who had raped her, that Kitt had perhaps been sold on the “baby meat market.”  She herself had lost her “million dollar inheritance” because she was too sick to protect herself.  Schipke founded the “Parents Council for Family Rights” and became active in a growing movement directed against child protective services agencies, a movement consisting largely of anti-government extremists upset at intrusions by the government into the family household.

Nevertheless, despite her hatred of CPS, Schipke wrote them a letter claiming that she and Amara were living in filth because CPS had not assisted them.  This prompted CPS to investigate.  On November 2, 1998, they tried to visit Schipke, but she refused to let them enter.  They returned the following Friday with sheriff’s deputies to assist them.

After Schipke met them with a gun, the deputies radioed the department, which sent officers out to the neighborhood, a largely rural area on the county line.  The department set up a command center about a half-mile away. In the meantime, Schipke was busy as well.  She was busy making phone calls to various militia and extremist groups.

As SWAT negotiators established phone communications with Schipke that night, law enforcement officers found themselves besieged with phone calls.  Militia members and anti-government extremists demanded that authorities leave Schipke alone and threatened them with violence.   Many calls came from out-of-state.  The department became so concerned that it drastically upgraded the security of its command post.  Militia members did more than simply telephone, however; they also showed up at the standoff.  Some circled the area in vehicles sporting militia flags; others hung around the command center.  At least one militia member videotaped police activity.   When a police helicopter flew by, flares were shot into the air (although it is not known who shot the flares).  According to a Sheriff’s Department spokesperson, many of the militia members were verbally threatening.  “This is going to be Ruby Ridge all over again,” one of them was reported as saying.  Others stated, “We’re with the militia, are you scared yet?”  

Luckily, on Saturday morning, before tensions could escalate further, SWAT officers outside the trailer eventually persuaded Schipke to let two officers into the trailer.  After several minutes of conversation, in which Schipke appeared agitated and uncooperative, the officers, noting that her gun was holstered, successfully seized and restrained her, ending the standoff.   Amara, unharmed, was turned over to Child Protective Services, while Schipke was charged with two counts of aggravated assault on a peace officer and one count of endangerment.  She was also ordered to have a mental health evaluation.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department was lucky; the extremists who had intervened in the standoff situation didn’t do anything more than to make vague threats and efforts at intimidation.   But had tensions been higher, individuals on either side less cautious, or had a mistake been made, the results could have been tragic.  When an armed party inserts itself suddenly and unexpectedly into an already charged and precarious situation, the chances of intentional or unintentional violence escalate dramatically.

What is most important to understand, though, is that this Arizona standoff involving militia groups is not an isolated event.  On the contrary, it is a phenomenon associated with the militia movement that has occurred numerous times across the country.  The militia movement, which arose after deadly standoffs at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992, and Waco, Texas, in 1993, was created in part to confront federal and local governments.  Its ideology, too, reinforces the notion of confrontations with law enforcement.

Largely unheralded by either the media or law enforcement, militia-led confrontations with law enforcement pose a threat to public safety, especially for unsuspecting public officials or law enforcement officers suddenly facing such situations.  “We were all ready and we were all armed,” stated a Tennessee militiawoman in 1995 who had hurried down to Alabama when she heard that a militia leader there might in trouble with the law.  “If they had drawn their guns on me or my friends, or drawn their guns on my friends’ property, there would have been a shootout.”  It is exactly these situations that militia confrontations run the risk of generating.[ii]

This report examines the phenomenon of what are herein termed “militia confrontations.”  Militia confrontations may be defined as events in which militia groups learn about and insert themselves into confrontational situations between citizens and the government in order to force the government to back down.    Militia confrontations should be distinguished from other standoff situations involving right-wing extremists.  For instance, in 1996 a standoff took place in eastern Montana between federal authorities and an extremist group known as the Montana Freemen.  Similarly, in 1997 a standoff took place in west Texas between state authorities and a group calling itself the Republic of Texas.  In both these circumstances, militia members attempted to come to the rescue of the besieged groups.   Such militia rescue attempts are related to militia confrontations, but are generally not discussed here, because the dynamics are different.  In both of the above extremist standoffs, for instance, the besieged individuals were the subjects of extensive investigations and of civil and criminal warrants.   The existence and nature of the groups were well-publicized by the media.  Authorities were well aware of the nature of the groups and the level of outside sympathy for the groups.  When the standoffs began, authorities understood that attempts would be made from outsiders to come to the aid of the besieged extremists, and planned accordingly.  

In a typical militia confrontation, however, the individual or individuals are not leaders of any notable groups, nor have they usually engaged in what might be described as a pattern of serious or organized criminal activity.   Instead, they are more likely to be an angry parent or a desperate landowner.  Sometimes, in fact, they will not themselves be members of any extremist group, but will simply be targeted by such groups as a VOG, or “victim of government.”  This fact makes it more difficult for effective criminal intelligence in identifying potential confrontation situations.  It also makes it more likely that authorities could suddenly find themselves engaged in such a confrontation.

This report is designed to increase understanding of the militia confrontation phenomenon.  It contains a detailed description of the dynamics of militia confrontations.  This description is illustrated by numerous examples.  The report further includes, as appendices, four case studies of militia confrontations in order to provide extended examples and analyses of this phenomenon.  Lastly, it lists several considerations to help authorities better identify the potential for militia confrontations and to deal with them if they do occur.  As a whole, this report provides a detailed examination of militia confrontations that will enable authorities to better deal with these potentially dangerous situations.


The Dynamics of Militia Confrontations

Although there are many variations, militia confrontations tend to follow certain patterns, which allow a better understanding of how and why they occur.  There are two general types of militia confrontations, the sudden and the long-term, but both types generally follow a five-step dynamic:

1.      Identifying the “victim” of government

2.      Mobilizing support/Getting the word out

3.      Appearance at the scene

4.      Confrontation Period

5.      Aftermath

Identifying the “Victim”

The first step towards a militia confrontation involves the identification of a perceived victim.  The militia movement, though it often engages in aggressive rhetoric, as well as illegal activities, conceives itself to be essentially a defensive force.  It is much easier for militia leaders to mobilize followers to support what is alleged to be an effort to aid a person in distress than to mobilize them for an overtly aggressive act.

Typically, the alleged “victim” (herein simply called victim) is not an actual member of a militia group, but may well have similar views and opinions.  The victim may be a friend or associate of militia members or of members of other “patriot” groups.  This seems to be true most often when the issue is a drawn-out issue such as a foreclosure, in which long periods of time are available for the victim to communicate his or her problems and frustrations to friends and associates.  The result is that a general awareness of the victim’s predicament is generated among extremist groups in the area, and they may eventually be persuaded to mobilize to help.  These are also the circumstances in which law enforcement has the best chance of learning about such situations and anticipating possible confrontations.

One example involves a soybean farmer in East Arkansas named David Hooker, who ran into problems in the 1990s repaying a $400,000 loan from a Minnesota-based bank.  Hooker then adopted “common law” tactics, claiming that the loan never occurred and that the bank wasn’t even allowed to do business in Arkansas.  He used similar tactics with a company from whom he purchased farm equipment.  The bank was not impressed and took actions to repossess the land.  Hooker’s next tactic, in August 1997, was to hold what was billed as a “militia rally” on his farm, inviting people to learn about his situation in an attempt to drum up support.  “They are trying to steal my rights by stealing people’s property,” he told his audience, “It’s time for people to stand up and make these people stop what they’re doing.”[iii]

One of the attendees at the meeting was Drew Rayner, head of the North Mississippi Militia, and, significantly, an advocate of militia confrontations.  It wasn’t that far from Ocean City, Mississippi, to Palestine, Arkansas, so Rayner could easily make the journey.  “I could have been at home playing with my grandbabies,” he told a reporter from Little Rock, “But I heard about this on the Internet and got phone calls about it and I thought I’d come up here and show my support.”  Another attendee was Bill Cockrell, who had previously been the beneficiary of a militia confrontation led by Rayner.[iv]

In the end, though there was much talk about banking fraud, no actual confrontation developed.  Hooker’s farm was eventually seized and sold.  Many potential confrontations never develop beyond the first or second stages, as not enough support is mobilized.[v]

The Hooker situation, well known to local authorities, developed over a period of years, punctuated by Hooker’s various lawsuits and appeals.  However, a more common event is when victim status is suddenly precipitated.   In such cases, local authorities are often unaware that the person or persons they are about to be involved with could possibly precipitate some sort of confrontation.  Sudden confrontations are most likely to develop due to a raid by law enforcement officers or some other unexpected appearance by such officers.  The subject of the raid or visit may panic—especially if the subject has actually broken the law—and begin calling for help.  Often, such actions will be unknown to law enforcement officers attempting to enter the residence.

One example of a precipitous confrontation occurred in Parma, Ohio, in 1995.  Although some particulars of the incident are unclear, it appears that a militia member named Andrew Starr admitted to ATF agents that he and another militia member or sympathizer named Mathew Stedman had conspired to manufacture illegal firearms.  Consequently ATF agents and Parma Police Department officers went to Stedman’s residence (his parent’s house) on June 23, 1995, and asked if they could search the house.  Stedman replied that he had to restrain his dogs first, then slammed the door on the officers.[vi]

The officers called for backup, while some went to get a search warrant.  Suspecting that the man might be violent, authorities set up a perimeter around the house and evacuated residents from nearby houses.  They also shut off electricity to the neighborhood.  Agents, as well as Stedman’s parents, tried telephoning Stedman, but there was no answer.  The standoff lasted all night long (neighbors had to sleep at hotels or elsewhere). 

Unknown to officers, the residence was empty.  Stedman had fled almost immediately, seeking out members of the militia. By the next morning, Ohio militia members had positioned themselves around the perimeter, some walking through the neighborhood, while others drove around in vehicles, communicating by citizens band radio.  Militia members told ATF agents they were there to “monitor the situation.”  Militia members, including some from other states, also began phoning the local ATF offices and the Parma Police Department.  ATF agents saw no weapons, though there were reports that some militia members were armed.  However, the fact that the house was empty meant that there could be no full-fledged confrontation; when shortly after dawn officers entered the house, they discovered it was empty, and the “standoff” situation quickly evaporated.

The phone calls to police agencies are one of the few clues (if officers do not know beforehand) of militia or extremist proclivities that a potential standoff or confrontation may provide.  This is because a common extremist tactic is that of the “phone wave.”  Militia leaders urge their followers to bombard local law enforcement and judicial offices with waves of phone calls, to intimidate people and to tie up the system.  There are even videotapes that promote the sometimes frustrating tactic.  Because phone waves are often conducted on behalf of people who are in situations conducive to militia confrontations (the exception consisting basically of phone waves occurring after an arrest), phone calls by extremists supporting people in standoff-like circumstances should be taken by authorities as evidence pointing to the possibility of a militia confrontation. 

For example, on April 19, 1999, a regular listener called into Michigan militia leader Mark Koernke’s “Intelligence Report” shortwave radio program.   The listener, a Louisiana woman named Shannon Champagne, claimed that officers had tried to serve her with a bench warrant for not appearing in court over a traffic violation, but apparently she attempted to prevent the service, refusing to open the door for them.  She told Koernke that she was willing to “draw a line in the sand” over the issue.  She asked listeners to call the sheriff’s office on her behalf.  Koernke told her that there were people in neighboring states who could help her and that she should call them.  The next day, discussing the incident, Koernke reported that even Canadians had called down to Louisiana.  But one month later, a distraught Shannon called the program again—at that very moment the local sheriff was evicting her and her boyfriend from their residence.  In this case, perhaps because authorities were in the same room as Shannon, Koernke merely suggested that local militia members provide “physical assistance” in helping them move and tried to calm Shannon down.[vii]

Precipitous confrontations are, understandably, hard to predict, but there are some possible confrontations that are even more difficult to anticipate.  These are “opportunity” confrontations, in which the victim has no connection whatsoever to militia members or extremists, but is nevertheless identified as a suitable victim by local or other militia groups.  Sometimes, as in the case of Shirley Allen (see appendix), the confrontation occurs because of media publicity given to an initial incident.  However, confrontations may be even more sudden and unanticipated, because many militia groups have members who routinely use scanners to monitor police and emergency communications.  Thus, based on the incomplete and partial information available through those sources alone, a militia group could potentially decide to intervene.

An example of a near-intervention incident illustrates the potential dangers of such a confrontation.  In late March 1995, the patriot community was beset, as it so often is, by rumors of an imminent “roundup” of patriot and militia leaders by federal law enforcement.  In Licking County, Ohio, a county somewhat to the east of Columbus, a militia member spotted two vehicles full of men in black uniforms and alerted other militia members in that county.  These members panicked, because the alleged sighting took place only two miles from the house of one of the leaders of the militia.  The militia assumed that some sort of government team was out to get him, so they “mobilized.”  They also contacted J. J. Johnson, a telephone lineman in Columbus and at that time spokesperson for the Ohio Unorganized Militia.  Johnson and his wife Helen also assumed some sort of “takedown” was involved, so they notified militia members near Licking County.

According to J. J. Johnson (who spoke about the incident several days later to a militia group in Michigan), one militia member monitoring transmissions via scanner found civilian transmissions on a military channel which seemed to be law enforcement officers reporting about a surveillance target they were following.  The militia assumed that this was in fact a reference to the “situation” in Licking County and began preparing “for what might possibly be a hostile action.”  Eventually, however, they “stood down,” when it became clear that the police transmissions had to do with a law enforcement action in Columbus itself.  In fact, following a year-long undercover investigation, ATF agents, U.S. Marshals and Columbus police officers launched major raids against members of a gang in Columbus called the Short North Posse that had been suspected of drug trafficking,  firearms violations and money laundering.  Well over forty members were arrested.  The Ohio militia members had been listening to transmissions coming from the police command post established at the Ohio State Fairgrounds.[viii]

One can imagine what might have happened had either the Ohio militia actually descended on Licking County—perhaps encountering a law enforcement officer they thought might be involved in the "situation”—or alternatively, decided that the events in Columbus merited their attention.  A major police raid against a gang of heavily-armed drug dealers that suddenly encountered armed and somewhat hostile militia members appearing out of nowhere could easily go awry.  The odds for some sort of encounter were increased by the fact that J. J. Johnson, who coordinated militia activities during the scare, was a proponent of militia confrontations.  In fact, shortly after the scare, he addressed a group of militiamen and gave them advice on how to handle such situations.  Upon hearing of an event, the militia should first send someone in a vehicle with a pager or other radio to the scene, to act as the eyes and ears of the militia.  Then efforts should be made to make sure that law enforcement does not have “control of the situation.”  Johnson called this activity “FACT,” for “First Amendment Chaos & Tactics.”  Examples of suggested tactics for militia members included calling the Fire Department and reporting a fire in the neighborhood of the victim, calling the media and having them show up, ordering pizza deliveries for the house, calling airport shuttle services, and ordering taxicabs from various companies.  Members in the area were urged to take actions such as setting off strings of firecrackers and unplugging fire hydrants.  The idea, he suggested, was to make police lose control of the situation and to “close them down until help gets on the way.”  Johnson did not elaborate on the nature of that help.  The potential tragic effects of gunfire-imitating firecrackers being set off during a tense standoff situation should be obvious to all.[ix]


Mobilizing Support

After militia groups have identified a victim, the next step towards a militia confrontation is mobilizing support for such an event.  Far more attempts at mobilization are made than actually succeed, and failure usually indicates that a confrontation will not occur.  Human nature being what it is, many militia members are often more willing to engage the enemy rhetorically rather than to do it in the flesh.  At that point, considerations such as family, job, and jail begin to come into play.

Nevertheless, there are times when militia leaders successfully convince a critical mass of followers to take action, and confrontations often ensue as a result.  Consequently, the procedures involved in mobilizing support are worth looking at in detail.  The examples already given provide some indication of how support is mobilized—primarily through electronic means, whether the pagers of the Ohio Militia or Mark Koernke’s shortwave radio show.  What they share is the ability to reach large numbers of followers over great distances in a remarkably short period of time.  Leaving aside print media such as newsletters and magazines, the most common mobilization instruments include:

1)      Fax machines

2)      Telephones and pagers

3)      Shortwave radio

4)      Other radio:  CBs, ham radio, satellite radio and FM microtransmitters

5)      The Internet

These bear discussion in more detail.

One of the most prominent methods of mobilization over the past decade has been the fax machine.  To a certain extent, it has declined in popularity over time, though not as much as some other methods, such as computer bulletin boards, which have been eclipsed by the Internet.  The heydey of the fax machine was the period 1992-1996, when several fax networks such as the American Patriot Fax Network were able to reach large numbers of people in the patriot movement.  Faxes have the advantage over telephones and pagers in that they can transmit photographs and other visual graphics; however, the Internet has largely usurped this function.  Faxes, sent long distance over the phone line, are also somewhat expensive to send.  As a result, most of the large fax networks became moribund, though faxes are still sometimes used.

The power of fax networks can be seen in an example provided by one confrontation from 1995.  In January 1995, local authorities in Whatcom County, Washington, planned to evict a 70-year-old veterinarian, Donald Ellwanger, from his property.  Ellwanger was a tax protester owing more than $130,000 in back taxes who argued that he was a sovereign of the “Kingdom of God.”  He and his supporters contacted the American Patriot Fax Network, which sent out flyers to patriot and militia groups throughout the western United States.  The effort resulted in forty people showing up at Ellwanger’s clinic, blockading the property with their vehicles and causing police to back down and postpone the eviction.  The Washington State Patrol and the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Department gave contradictory answers as to whether or not the people who showed up were militia members, but Ellwanger himself said that at least some of them were.  The power of the fax machine, however, was incontrovertibly demonstrated.  Eventually, authorities successfully evicted Ellwanger.[x]

Telephones and pagers are also frequently used, although the paranoia of many members causes them to think that such devices are monitored with far greater frequency than they actually are.  As a result, members are frequently asked to use coded messages rather than speak openly.  A number of militia units go so far as to require that all their members wear pagers, so that they can be mobilized easily by militia leaders.

Shortwave radio has emerged as one of the most important tools in the propagation of militia news and alerts.  Technology allows militia and patriot figures to conduct radio talk shows from their own homes, using telephone lines to connect to a radio transmitter hundreds or even thousands of miles away.  In addition, they reach people who may not be able to access the Internet with ease.  Often such shows are sponsored by precious metals dealers or survival goods merchants who rely on the fear and paranoia inspired in listening audiences by the program hosts to generate sales.  Some shortwave radio hosts routinely broadcast messages about extremists in distress, and either explicitly or implicitly urge that listeners rally to help them.  During the Montana Freemen standoff, militia members in New England were urged to contact shortwave hosts if they faced “hostile encounters.”  Suggested a militia newsletter, “This will get you a nationally broadcast forum 24 hours per day; our underground networks will be activated and we will do everything in our power to assist you.”[xi]

One recent example comes from Mark Koernke’s “Intelligence Report.”  In July 1999, an extremist named Robert Bournes was indicted on weapons charges, but was for a time unwilling to give himself in.  He seemed to have been encouraged in this by Koernke, who held out the example of a Michigan militia member who had recently been given a forty-year sentence.   Koernke used his radio program to mobilize support for Bournes, suggesting that militia groups in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio were on alert and were ready to fight the feds.  His broadcasts were highly confrontational, even suggesting that although the militia would not go against “rank and file” federal agents, it would go after the people who sent them.  Predicting actual fighting, he said the conflict "probably won't start the way you think, but will probably involve a secondary event on the road."[xii]

Although shortwave radio is the most powerful radio format, in terms of mobilizing support, it is not the only one.  Various other formats, including satellite radio, ham radio, and FM microtransmitters are often used.  These signals can generally only be picked up by a small number of people, but the Internet is increasing the reach of such programs, because it is possible to send audio programs out through the Internet, even more or less “live.”  Thus many of these programs are also “broadcast” over the Internet.

The Internet, in fact, is quickly becoming the most important tool of militia and “patriot” mobilization, surpassing shortwave radio.  Extremists recognized the power of computer communications long before the Internet became widely used.  They easily made the leap to the Internet in the 1990s, using features such as e-mail lists and Usenet newsgroups.  The advent of the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s opened up a new avenue of approach, one which extremists quickly adopted.  The first extremist website, Stormfront, a Neo-Nazi site, began operation in early 1995.  Today there are thousands.

The Internet offers inexpensive, extremely fast communication.  Militia members and other extremists can post daily or even more frequent updates to developing situations on their own webpages.  By 1997 one confrontation episode in Massachusetts even had its own Web site. Aside from online chat, the quickest form of Internet communication remains Usenet.  Usenet is a collection of thousands of discussion groups, to which people post messages on related subjects.  One such newsgroup, for instance, is misc.activism.militia, started in January 1995 to talk about the then still-new militia movement.  Because Usenet does not involve designing webpages, but merely typing messages, it often approaches “real time” in the speed of its interactions.  Rumors, repeated often in a short span of time, quickly become accepted as fact.  As a result, Usenet often plays an important role in mobilizing militia support.  During the 1997 “siege” of Shirley Allen in Roby, Illinois, for instance, militia and “patriot” sympathizers daily discussed the situation and what should be done. 

One example of a Usenet alert may provide an illustration of their inflammatory nature.  The following example comes from late 1997, when an Oregon family had a brief confrontation over land.  It is only an edited portion of the entire message, which describes the situation in more detail; typography is as in original:

Forum:  Alt.conspiracy

Subject:  Militia Alert – No More Burning of Men, Women & Children

Date:  1997/11/07









Date:  97-11-06


Why do I get the feeling that for every one of these we hear about, there are a hundred others that we never do. –DaveK-

If everything reported in this article is 100% accurate, then this is the BIG ONE.  The Militia should go to Oregon and just say NO to the Fed’s.  All of you who were saying that the Shirley Allen case in Illinois was worth fighting for should definitely be fired up and ready to go to Oregon.  This case is unquestionably the one we’ve been waiting for.  We need a case that is unquestionably a clear cut example of indefensible actions by the government and this could be it.  NO MORE WACO’s and No More Ruby Ridge’s.

The entire message included much quoted material from previous posts, along with new comments, with the result is that the post is confusing in terms of which person actually posted which portion of the message.  But in this it is merely representative of the status quo on Usenet.  With each new iteration, however, the additions to the message became more strident and alarmist.  That is how alarm builds up on Usenet, as each person responds to posts, without waiting for new information to surface.[xiii]


Appearance at the Scene

If mobilization efforts by militia and “patriot” leaders are successful, then individuals or groups will start showing up at the scene.  Depending upon circumstances, this can occur in various different ways, some of which are more dangerous than others.

Probably the most dangerous form of appearance at the scene is a sudden appearance after police have shown up.  Typically this is because the perceived victim has telephoned supporters after noticing police.   Sometimes this sort of confrontation occurs as a result of traffic violations.   For instance, the daughter of a militia member or other extremist may be caught speeding.  Instead of pulling over, the daughter keeps driving, causing the officer to begin a low speed chase.  The daughter drives home and pulls into the driveway.  Meanwhile, witnessing the situation, the father begins calling up militia friends to come over.  Before the officer has fully comprehended the situation, there are a dozen angry militiamen entering the front yard.  Sudden appearances represent the greatest danger, because the levels of adrenalin and tension are high, as are the chances that individuals on one side or another might make a foolish mistake and precipitate some sort of shootout or other undesirable action.[xiv] 

Sometimes the arrival of militia members may predate the appearance of law enforcement.  This is the second type of appearance.  Many scenarios involve long-standing disputes over land or property, in which the “victim” has known for some time that officers will eventually be coming onto the property.  Thus sometimes militia members will already be present when law enforcement officers arrive.  In some cases, militia members have even temporarily moved into the residence and operated patrols around the property.  Some of these land disputes can essentially last for months or even years, although periods of actual or potential confrontation are much shorter.  Because the victim is often afraid to leave the property—for fear it will be seized—supporters often play a role in providing food and other comforts. 

Because of their long-term nature, such confrontations offer the best opportunities for intelligence-gathering by law enforcement officers and so authorities should be able to be forewarned, knowing that the property is being guarded by militia members.

The third type of appearance occurs neither before the confrontation or during its beginning stages, but well after the confrontation has developed.  In such cases, people appear later, as the publicity of a standoff reaches them.  Such appearances are more often designed to protest the situation rather than expressly to cause law enforcement officers to back down.  They also more frequently involve leaders of the “patriot” movement who flock to the event in order to gain publicity.  The standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992, was essentially an example of this sort of appearance, as various people came to the standoff to protest the actions of the authorities.  The primary danger represented by such appearances is the possibility of an individual deciding to take action on his own.

Militia confrontations are a subject that some militia members have thought and talked about.  In 1996, J. J. Johnson even went so far as to write a newsletter article titled “Op Strategy,” about the tactics of arranging a militia confrontation, or, as Johnson put it, “an organized response to an unconstitutional assault on a citizen or group of citizens by the federal government.”  Suggests Johnson, “all personnel should wear their gear…to the scene, since the arrival of armed citizens at the scene will most likely be met with at least a hostile attitude.  If government agents decide to arrest one or more of the Patriots for weapons violations, the situation could come to a boil almost immediately upon arrival.  Patriots must be cognizant of weapons handling.  DO NOT point a weapon in the direction of a government agent unless you are prepared to fire.”[xv]


Confrontation Period

The essential goal of extremists during a militia confrontation is to cause law enforcement to back down.  However, with the exception perhaps of isolated individuals, the people who show up (as opposed to those rallying behind them safely on the Internet) do not usually wish to use violence.  They hope that the fact of their appearance, along with perhaps the implicit threat of violence, will be enough to do the trick. 

As a result, several generalizations may be made about the period of confrontation in such standoffs.  Typically, people at the scene will not threaten violence.  In some cases, militia leaders urge followers who wish to participate to leave their weapons behind, although such wishes are not always honored.  Even in cases when militia groups come armed, they will often leave such weapons in their vehicles.  This has the beneficial effect for law enforcement of reducing the possibility of unwelcome accidents. 

Quite often, militia members will bring video cameras, hoping to catch law enforcement officers in some indiscretion, or simply to try to modify law enforcement behavior by reminding them that their actions will be caught on tape.  Commonly, militia members will also bring a variety of communications equipment, with which to communicate with each other and to listen in on law enforcement communications.  In some standoffs, they have even brought computers, to make sure that their messages get out on the Internet.

Once on the scene, militia members may engage in a variety of actions, depending on the circumstances and on their mood.  They may demand to speak to those in charge, they may demand the release of the victim or that law enforcement officers leave, they may demand to speak to the victim, or they may offer to negotiate with them.  They may desire to bring supplies such as food.  In sudden appearances in urban or suburban areas, militia members may circle the area in vehicles, establishing a perimeter outside the law enforcement perimeter.  Sometimes, militia members may approach individual law enforcement officers in an attempt at intimidation.  Though not likely, it is possible—it happened during the Montana Freeman standoff—that some individuals may try to break through a police perimeter or roadblock to get to the victim.

Once the tensions of the initial appearance have subsided, so, generally speaking, do the dangers of militia confrontations.  One reason for this is that militia members often cannot stay very long, especially if they have traveled a long distance.  They have jobs to work at and families to support, and generally do not have a lot of money to spend on travel or hotels.  As a result, militia support tends to fade over time, sometimes completely.   Typically, too, a second crisis situation does not create as much fervor as a first, so law enforcement officers who can wait out the standoff or who can leave and come back at a later date may be able to accomplish their task more successfully.



Often the end of a confrontational situation will not mean the end of the whole episode, particularly if extremist opinion has successfully been mobilized.  There may be additional protests, courtroom shenanigans, and perhaps even attempts at retaliation.  Authorities should be aware that just because the immediate confrontation is over, the situation has not necessarily completely defused. 


Considerations for Successful Confrontation Resolution

Militia confrontations are unpleasant—and often unexpected—occurrences.  While so far there have been few serious adverse consequences stemming from them, the possibility of violence and tragedy is nevertheless always present.  Moreover, an ill-conducted response to a militia confrontation could both have serious repercussions to an agency or department and could significantly fuel extremist activity.  Another Waco or Ruby Ridge could spur additional acts of major terrorism such as the Oklahoma City bombing.  As a result, militia confrontations should be taken seriously.

There are, luckily, considerations that can be taken into account to help minimize the chances of confrontations and, should they occur, the dangers of them.  The following items are offered, based on these assumed priorities:  1) the desire to avoid any sort of violence, and 2) the need to accomplish the job at hand successfully.

1)      Be aware of potential confrontational situations.  The role of intelligence is crucial in this regard, although it is admittedly more difficult to accomplish in urban rather than rural settings.  Still, local law enforcement authorities should attempt to inform themselves about future potential conflicts.  In rural areas, for instance, authorities should know the circumstances behind farm or farm machinery repossessions.  Talking to farm lenders can help identify people who have made incendiary statements and might pose a danger.  Similarly, authorities should also be aware of the nature of extremist groups and individuals in their area.  Knowing that a militia leader who believes in militia confrontations lives in the next county would be extremely valuable information in terms of determining the necessity of taking precautions.  Authorities at higher levels, such as at the state level, can play a broader role in alerting local law enforcement about the possibility of confrontations by such means as paying attention to discussions on the Internet.  The goal should be as few surprises as possible.

2)      Take phone calls seriously.  One of the best signs of a potential confrontation is a wave of phone calls to law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, judges, and public officials.  This may be a sign of phone harassment or it may simply represent the fact that militia and “patriot” leaders are urging people to call in support of perceived victims, but in either case it is a clear sign that they are actively engaged in trying to mobilize support for a cause.  Because police officers may not routinely monitor shortwave radio or the Internet, waves of phone calls may be one of the first real signs of extremist mobilization that they encounter.  As a result, such phone waves should not be ignored.

3)      Think of ways to defuse confrontational situations before they occur or as they occur.  Perhaps talking to a lending agency might convince someone to renegotiate the loan terms of a financially desperate potential victim.  Although such actions might seem out of the ordinary routine for law enforcement, or even for public officials, sometimes a small amount of this sort of effort can help prevent a much worse situation down the road.  Unfortunately, quite often people will be unwilling to make this extra effort because the potential victims are sometimes very antisocial and unlikable individuals.  Still, it may be better to grit one’s teeth and do a good deed rather than chance a volatile confrontation later.

4)      Think of ways to use extremist individuals for positive ends.  Authorities in Illinois, by taking Jack McLamb into their confidence, convinced him that their actions were reasonable and caused him to act as a defusing agent.  Often such efforts only have a temporary effect, but that may be just long enough to get past the point of high risk.  Similarly, one might well consider approaching an extremist not directly involved in the standoff or confrontation as a negotiator.  Because this appeals to their own pride and ego, they may often prove receptive.  Of course, care should be taken as to which individuals are selected.  Still, sometimes even the most unlikely individuals can actually be used successfully.  An example of an early militia confrontation illustrates this principle.  Early in 1995, a militia leader in southern Indiana received a court order to turn his two children over to his ex-wife.  The leader, Mark Adams, refused.  Phone calls from supporters of Adams to the local sheriff threatened “armed resistance.”  As a result, the sheriff, when he decided to come for the children, set up roadblocks to make it difficult for Adams’ supporters to show up, and also called for help from the Indiana State Police.  However, when Adams called for help, his supporters walked through woods to elude roadblocks and a militia confrontation ensued anyway.  But relatives of Adams, also militia members, contacted Indiana militia leader Linda Thompson for assistance, and Thompson helped negotiate an agreement to end the confrontation.[xvi]

5)      Lastly, authorities should keep in mind the possibility of what one might call a “tactical retreat.”  Although some situations will by their very nature preclude the option of beating a temporary retreat, in other situations the tactic might be just what is needed.  The dynamics of militia confrontations—particularly that militia members tend to be unable to stay long at the scene of a confrontation and that they also tend to lose interest in repeatedly showing up for possible confrontations at a particular place (the “cry wolf” situation)—sometimes make it attractive to wait until a situation has calmed down somewhat before going in. 

At all times, of course it is necessary to maintain control of the situation, but also to keep a sense of perspective.  Militia confrontations are rarely about groups of barricaded felons who represent a clear and immediate danger to the community.  More often they are about individuals about to lose a farm, a home, a son or daughter, or perhaps who have committed some minor infraction.  Apparently abandoned by everyone else, they turn to the militia for help.  The militia do help, for reasons spurred by their own ideology and sense of purpose.  The greatest danger of militia confrontations is that someone will make a sudden, wrong decision.  While authorities generally cannot do anything about wrong decisions emanating from militia members, they can work to minimize the chances that they themselves will make one.



The previous sections of this report explored the origins of the militia movement, how their ideology leads them to consider militia confrontations, and the general dynamics of militia confrontations.  The following section includes four case studies of particular militia confrontations, all of which occurred (primarily) during the period 1996-97.  They include a week-long standoff in a remote town in Louisiana, a conflict over a eminent domain proceeding outside Memphis, Tennessee, a long-standing dispute over repossession of a mansion in a posh Massachusetts neighborhood, and a highly-publicized standoff in rural Illinois. 


Appendix One:  Coushatta, Louisiana, 1996

One of the first significant confrontations to receive considerable publicity involved out-of-state militia groups and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The perceived “victim” of the confrontation was a “sovereign citizen” named Lynn Truman Crawford, a 42-year-old physician from Mesquite, Texas, who claimed that he a citizen of the Republic of Texas who had no obligation to obey federal laws.

However, Crawford owed more than $70,000 in child support to his ex-wife, who lived in St. Louis, Missouri.  Failure to pay child support across state lines is a federal misdemeanor under the Child Support Recovery Act of 1992.  Federal agents eventually tracked him to his mother’s house in remote Coushatta, Louisiana.   On February 21, a group of FBI agents and local Red River Parish sheriff’s deputies descended upon the house in order to serve the arrest warrant. 

Crawford refused to acknowledge the authority of the federal government and would not come out.  He brandished a shotgun and threatened to kill anybody who entered the house.  Efforts to get him out using a police dog were unsuccessful.

Authorities now realized that they had a standoff situation on their hands.  They backed off and set up an armed perimeter.  Simultaneously, inside the house, Crawford was calling for help.  Crawford contacted an extremist shortwave radio program in Colorado, which put him in touch with a Texas militiaman, Johnny Johnson.  Johnson taped a conversation with Crawford, which was then broadcast.  “I have had my life threatened; I am in fear for my life,” Crawford said.  “I am asking for any able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45 who will uphold the law and defend those who are being abused by those who violate the law to come and assist me in any way they can...”[xvii]

One of the first indications that authorities had that extremist support was being mobilized was a wave of phone calls.  Within hours of the initial incident, the Red River Parish’s sheriff’s office began getting calls—at least a hundred—from all around the country.  The militia was spreading the word using fax networks, telephone trees and the Internet.

By evening, militia members had begun arriving on scene.  Local law enforcement officers reported that they were arriving with videocameras but apparently not guns, although some officers present did later say they had seen some weapons.  However, at the same time, FBI authorities—keeping in mind Ruby Ridge and Waco—wisely decided that the potential for violence with Crawford, and the misdemeanor warrant, did not justify the large law enforcement presence, which at that time numbered around fifty officers, including a SWAT team.  James V. DeSarno, Jr., the FBI agent in charge, had Ruby Ridge on his mind and wanted no repeat of that debacle.  “I didn’t feel that this guy warranted a lot of attention,” DeSarno told reporters.  “He’s a deadbeat dad, not a murderer.  I was not there to give him a stage that he could use to foster whatever views of government he had.  So we backed out.”  Authorities settled on a minimum force of four agents in cars to make sure that Crawford did not run away.[xviii]

However, by then a variety of militia members were already on their way to Coushatta from Alabama, Texas, Missisippi and Missouri.  These included some prominent militia leaders, such as Drew Rayner of Mississippi and Jim McKinzey of Missouri.  Some drove more than six hundred miles to the scene of the standoff.  By Sunday, February 25, there were a considerable, though disputed, number of militia members at the standoff.  Law enforcement authorities tried to be as accommodating as possible, even allowing militia members to open up negotiations with Crawford.  FBI agents assured dubious militia members that there was no intention to harm Crawford or his mother.[xix]

Once there, though, militia members were already feeling the need to go home.  The fact that the person they were “protecting” was a deadbeat dad also weighed on their minds; the militia movement had gotten enough negative publicity already.  The three-member Missouri contingent contacted Crawford and informed him that they would stay as “observers for his surrender” until Sunday evening.  Crawford refused to come out, so many militia members began leaving.[xx]

The following day, Crawford began having second thoughts and eventually surrendered.  By that time there were only two militia members remaining.  However, the militia was quick to claim a victory from the incident.  Said Johnny Johnson, “It’s sending a message to our federal government and law enforcement that they’re going to be watched.  We’re not there to provoke any incident.  We’re not there to break any laws…If this continues to go in this direction, at what point do we see SWAT people coming into your home…killing your dog…and presenting you with a traffic ticket you thought you paid two years ago?”  Militia members claimed that had they not been present, the FBI would have assassinated Crawford.  Some, however, were more pessimistic.  “Yes, I’m afraid that in the very near future, the irresistible force will meet the immovable object,” said one Alabama militiaman.  “The ‘battle in Coushatta’ tallied up, militia 1, feds 0.  We can only hope that continued, peaceful intervention will produce the same results, but if you will look at the level of escalation…you will realize that peaceful intervention may not stop the next government atrocity.”[xxi]


Appendix Two:  Southhaven, Mississippi, 1997-1999

Even more well-publicized than the Coushatta confrontation was one that occurred in a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee, in 1997.  The root of the conflict involved an eminent domain seizure.  In 1987 the Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority instituted a noise abatement program because of complaints by local residents.  A significant portion of the program was a buyout plan designed to purchase certain properties near the airport.

Most families in the neighborhood soon accepted the offer, consisting of a purchase price higher than market value as well as a generous moving allowance.  However, one family, that of Bill and Carolyn Cockrell, did not.  The neighbors of the Cockrells generally received up to $85,000 or $90,000 for their homes, and a relocation allowance that ranged from $10,000 to $15,000.  However, Carolyn Cockrell told reporters they wanted at least $100,000 to replace the home and $20,000 for the family to relocate.[xxii]

By 1994, the Cockrells were the last family in the neighborhood.  Consequently the city of Southaven instituted eminent domain proceedings against them.  The eminent domain jury set an amount of $66,000 as the value of the Cockrell’s home, and an escrow account was set up with that amount.  Cockrell fought all these proceedings, representing himself.  He also took other unusual methods, including deeding the property to his son, in order to keep it out of the hands of the authorities.

By the end of 1996, most legal avenues had been exhausted.  The county court issued a removal warrant for the family on January 17, 1997.  However, Cockrell had an ace of sorts up his sleeve; he contacted Drew Rayner, who headed the Mississippi Militia.  Rayner, who supported militia confrontations, was only too glad to help.  That day he issued an “alert.”  “Billy has requested militia support regarding the illegal and unconstitutional seizure of his house and property,” the alert stated.  The Mississippi group also “mobilized a small observation group” to the Cockrell’s residence.[xxiii]

For some reason, perhaps because of the presence of militia members on the property, the county sheriff decided not to serve the warrant.  However, Southaven city attorneys informed the Cockrells that they had posted a notice for the demolition of the Cockrell home on the date of January 30.  Once more the word went out over the Internet.  “You are cordially invited to a campout…on the grounds of the Cockrell home,” read one such alert, issued on January 28.  “The purpose of this little get together will be to witness that the Cockrell’s home will not be unlawfully demolished.”[xxiv]

On January 30, militia members from seven different states were camped out at the Cockrell residence.  Cockrell denied knowing how the militia groups knew about the demolition date, although he clearly had been in contact with Rayner for weeks.  Militia members took the opportunity to distribute literature on militias and jury nullification.  Reporters witnessed militia members carrying weapons.  The media had all four television affiliates and several newspapers on the scene.[xxv]

Conspicuously absent, despite the demolition ultimatum, were local authorities.  Southaven and De Soto County officials claimed that there were no immediate plans for the house’s seizure or demolition.  In the meantime, militia members continued to guard the Cockrells’ property.  Supporters of the Cockrells continued to issue pleas for help over the Internet.  In fact, however, Southaven Mayor Joe Cates announced in early February that the city would delay demolition plans until an appeal court had ruled on the removal warrant.  The militia movement attributed the delay to the presence of the militias and the subsequent media attention.  This in fact may have been a factor in the sudden cautiousness adopted by local authorities.  Their caution was soon cemented by a stay issued by a county judge.[xxvi]

The Cockrells continued the battle in their own fashion, launching a blizzard of harassing lawsuits against city and county authorities.  In this fashion, the Cockrells held off seizure for more than two years as the various suits and appeals made their way through the court system.  Some in the community supported the Cockrells, especially after local officials announced plans for a golf course on the buyout program properties.  The militia movement, in the meantime, counted the Cockrell situation as one of their victories.[xxvii]

Eventually, however, the state supreme court denied a petition to rehear the case.  Local officials were once more faced with seizing a home held by a defiant family with ties to the militia movement.  This time, however, law enforcement put considerable thought into the matter.  In fact, they even practiced their plan at a private training facility in Arkansas.  In early March 1999, when Carolyn Cockrell and son Jeffrey were visiting relatives in Memphis, authorities decided to move.  In the early evening, the sheriff sent a SWAT team numbering over a dozen men to the Cockrell residence.[xxviii]

Members of the SWAT team knocked on the front door, then blew it open when there was no response.  SWAT officers entered the house and searched the residence—empty, as it turned out—for bombs.  No bombs or booby traps were turned up, but law enforcement officers did find five pistols, two assault rifles, fifteen other rifles, several shotguns, and thousands of rounds of ammunition.  Cockrell had been out, and only came back to his house after it was effectively out of his possession.  Authorities removed his possessions, then bulldozed the house down.  Eventually a few supporters showed up, but they did nothing.  Out-of-state militia figures announced their willingness to help, but only if local militia took the initiative.[xxix]

With this well-planned operation, local authorities clearly caught the militia off-guard.  Militia leaders tried to make the best of an embarrassing situation.  One militiaman claimed that “in the best interests of the safety of innocent neighbors and friends, the North Mississippi militia stood aside.”  Drew Rayner claimed that Carolyn Cockrell asked the militia to sand aside.  Said Rayner: “May God have mercy on the souls of each and every man and woman who participated in this massacre of liberty and on those who stand idly by and do nothing.”[xxx]

The Cockrell confrontation reveals both the dangers for local authorities and officials in not being able to predict the possibility of a confrontation as well as the benefits of planning for such circumstances.  The final seizure of the house was well-planned and without incident or injury. 


Appendix Three:  Hamilton, Massachusetts, 1997-1998

The standoff in Hamilton, Massachusetts, like that in Southaven, involved an eviction situation.  John and Rhetta Sweeney faced the loss of a fourteen-acre estate in the posh seaside town of Hamilton, complete with mansion, to the FDIC for failure to repay a $1.6 million loan.  The Sweeneys alleged that the bank that had originally loaned the money to them had swindled them.  State courts largely agreed with the Sweeneys, but because the bank went out of business and the FDIC took it over, the case moved to federal court.  That court ruled that the Sweeneys owed the money, on which they had made no payments, as well as the taxes that they had failed to pay, and ordered their eviction.

The Sweeneys, however, refused to leave.   In June 1997 they barricaded the roads leading to their estate.  This posed a problem for the U.S. Marshals Service, which now had the responsibility of evicting them.  The USMS first attempted to arrange mediation between the Sweeneys and the FDIC, in hopes of arranging a peaceful end to the situation.  In the meantime, the Sweeneys had decided to seek other allies.  The call for help went out, and it was largely the militia that responded.  Linda Thompson, a militia figure and lawyer from Indiana, offered her services to the Sweeneys and barraged their opponents with demands and accusations.  The intervention of Thompson also assured that there would be more publicity of the event in the patriot movement.[xxxi]

Unfortunately, the mediation attempts went nowhere.  Neither side could come to an accommodation; the FDIC concentrated on coming up with payment plans while the Sweeneys were concerned with identifying wrongdoing.  This meant that the government once again had the responsibility of seizing the Sweeney’s mansion.  A court-ordered stay on eviction lifted on January 5, 1998, some six months after the beginning of the standoff.  However, by then the Sweeneys had become well-known to the militia movement.  Militia members from around New England had volunteered to come down and were staying on the property.  “We’re not leaving the property,” Rhetta Sweeney defiantly asserted, “We regard the orders as being invalid because the federal court lacks any jurisdiction.  We would regard any attempt to access the property as trespassing.”  The Sweeneys even went so far as to set up a site on the World Wide Web advertising their plight.  By 1998, the Sweeneys were being talked about and supported on shortwave radio, across the Internet and in numerous extremist publications.[xxxii]

For the marshals, the chief concern was the “volunteers” who were on the Sweeneys’ property.  Although the Sweeneys claimed that no one on the property was armed, the marshals could not know that for sure.  “Our No. 1 concern is for the safety of everyone, particularly law enforcement, and we will defend ourselves if necessary,” said Timothy G. Bane, the chief deputy of the Boston office, which was overseeing the case.  However, Bane had no desire to move precipitously.[xxxiii]

The deadline for the Sweeneys to leave came and went without incident.  The marshals did not show up, leaving the Sweeneys and their militia assistants still in control of the property.  Militia members patrolled the property, inspected incoming vehicles, and communicated with the outside via radios and the Internet, while battery-powered spotlights were set up to cover the approaches.  The first floor windows were covered by wire mesh and wood. One supporter, Eugene Johnson, a logger from Maine, drove down to support the Sweeneys because, he said, “I’m a patriot.  Period.” [xxxiv]

Meanwhile, others attempted to intervene in the standoff.  However, the Sweeneys refused all outside efforts, relying instead on their militia supporters, who, John Sweeney said, “have opened their hearts and their bibles to us.”  As many as 30 supporters at times patrolled the Sweeneys’ estate, or, as one billboard erected on the property called it, the “Federal FDIC Fraudulent Eviction Zone.”[xxxv]

In the patriot movement, rumors and allegations abounded.  Anonymous posters on the Internet claimed that the marshals would raid the Sweeneys in February.  Others claimed the marshals would wait.  “The Beast's patience is timeless,” said one supporter.  “During it's [sic] last attempt to seize the Sweeney home, members of a local militia arrived to patrol the grounds. But it will out-wait them. At some point, it will lie and say it is backing off. Everyone will go home, and it will attack in the hours before dawn.  We are at war, and we're too stupid to know it.”  Linda Thompson claimed that the government’s goal was “to shut up the Sweeneys, permanently, and get away with it.”[xxxvi]

Marshals increased the pressure on the Sweeneys, including threatening to arrest people who came on their property.  They moved onto the property itself on February 27, then finally ended the standoff the next day, nine months after it began.  The raid took place during a weekend because of the proximity of a school.  After an unsuccessful attempt to convince Sweeney to leave voluntarily, half a dozen marshals broke a window to allow entry and arrested Sweeney hiding in a second-floor laundry room.  Rhetta Sweeney was not on the property, having left to go to Washington, D.C., to lobby for assistance, where authorities served her with a court order barring her from returning.  Sweeney’s militia supporters had been caught off guard, and apparently off the property.  Other supporters on the property left willingly.  Sweeney was charged with criminal contempt for defying the court order to evacuate the property.[xxxvii]

The Sweeney standoff was another example of authorities picking the circumstances in which to end the siege, circumstances in which the supporters could be neutralized and the chances of a hostile encounter minimized.  It represented, however, a new plateau reached in the ability of the patriot movement to mobilize support over the Internet.


Appendix Four:  Roby, Illinois, 1997

In the three above case studies, the confrontations were all brought about by individuals in distress who contacted members of the militia.  The final case study, involving the standoff at Roby, Illinois, in the fall of 1997, is quite different.  In this instance, a standoff situation developed completely on its own, but was “adopted” by the militia movement.  In this regard it stands as a warning that, given sufficient publicity, any sort of standoff could conceivably become fodder for the militia movement.

The situation in Roby, Illinois, began on September 22, 1997, at the home of a 51-year-old woman named Shirley Ann Allen.  Allen, a former nurse who lived alone in the hamlet of Roby, some fifteen miles east of Springfield, had been exhibiting signs of mental illness that had disturbed members of her family.  Her relatives obtained a court order for Allen to undergo a psychological examination.  However, when Christian County sheriff’s deputies arrived at her house to execute the court order and escort her to the evaluation, Shirley Allen threatened them with a shotgun.  Deputies then unsuccessfully tried to use tear gas canisters to force her out. Eventually, they retreated and called in the Illinois State Police, who came in, set up a command post, and established a perimeter around the residence.  A standoff had begun.

Various attempts to convince Allen to leave the house failed.  At one point, she stepped out of the house and began yelling at negotiators.  State police fired beanbag bullets at her, hoping to knock her down so that they could rush in and seize the weapon.  However, the beanbags had little effect.  Allen retaliated, firing her shotgun, but not hitting anybody.  Law enforcement officers were in a quandary; while Allen had threatened them with a weapon and could not be let alone, it was obvious that she was quite possibly mentally impaired and therefore could not be dealt with in the same manner as if she were a barricaded felon.  “We are trying to be compassionate in this case,” said a state police spokesman.  “Our goal is to get this woman the treatment she needs and not to turn this into a tragedy.”[xxxviii]

By the end of the week, local coverage of the event, especially over the radio, had raised considerable sympathy for Allen and anger at police.  As early as Friday, September 26, local talk show hosts had dubbed the standoff “Roby Ridge,” a reference to the standoff at Ruby Ridge in 1992.  Illinois State Police Director Terrance Gainer expressed irritation at broadcasts that talked about “militiamen rising up with arms and coming to the area to defend the woman against police.  That kind of talk inflames things and makes it harder to do our job.”  In fact, the situation was no longer local—as far away as Las Vegas, Nevada, radio talk show hosts discussed Shirley Allen.  The local sheriff’s office began receiving waves of telephone calls from around the country.[xxxix]

Members of the patriot movement were furious.  Said one poster on the Internet, “If these extreme measures were being implemented in the former Soviet Union rather than in the American rural town of Roby, we may have condemned the actions of ‘The Evil Empire’…But in the United States of America, our citizenry seems to treading water not unlike the perverbial [sic] frog in the saucepan. A rogue minority within government keeps slowly turning up the heat until we boil and burst without knowing what hit us.”[xl]

It did not take long for Illinois to become a pilgrimage site for out-of-state militia figures seeking publicity.  Although Shirley Allen had never called in the militia, they had decided to intervene, partially out of a sincere desire to help her against what they considered tyrannical law enforcement and partially out of a more calculating desire to get publicity.  What many militia leaders were looking for was another Ruby Ridge or Waco to galvanize public opinion and somehow recharge the movement.  Shirley Allen’s standoff seemed to be just that sort of opportunity.  Some even speculated on the effects that her death might cause.  Allen, they thought, along with other incidents such as Ruby Ridge and Waco, would demonstrate the culpability of the government, “and as the truth of that sinks into the soul of the American people, it will be the most effective militia recruitment tool possible.”  Other figures in the militia movement simply demanded action.  Don Rudolph, a California militia figure, put it in very stark terms:  “No one should be NEGOTIATING for Shirley Allen’s freedom.  If the MILITIAMEN had the balls, they would take up arms, and go set Shirley Allen free.  That is the function of the militia, to stand against tyranny, not to try to talk them out of it.”[xli]

However, it would have been very difficult for the militia to have “rescued” Shirley Allen, as there was not only a considerable police presence, but even neighbors had been evacuated from the area and the media moved a considerable distance away.  The militia would have experienced problems even getting near Allen.  But as a vehicle for protests and publicity seeking, the venue was perfect.  One of the first militia figures to arrive was Thomas Wayne, a “national spokesman” for the Michigan Militia, who said he would come to “save a woman’s life and save face for the State Police, the Gestapo.”[xlii]

Militia members from Illinois, such as the Southern Illinois Patriots League, were already on the scene, camping out in Roby and talking to reporters.  As the siege wore on, other figures announced they would go to Illinois.  Most prominent among them was Jack McLamb, leader of a “patriot” group called “Police Against the New World Order,” whose stated goal is to recruit police officers into the anti-government movement.  McLamb, who had shown up uninvited at standoffs before, suggested that he could act as a negotiator.  McLamb’s office dutifully distributed a biography to media that described him as “committed to protecting the people from the ‘system’ and putting an end to Weaver Mountain and Waco-style government planned holocausts.”  Also arriving was J. J. Johnson, the former Ohio militia figure, now hailing from Nevada.[xliii]

Militia people on the scene denied any intention of physically rescuing Shirley Allen.  Instead, they claimed “our main concern has been that some wackos may try something like that.  We’ve tried to put a stop to that.”  However, there were threats to do just that coming from talk radio shows.  In mid-October, as the siege wore on, J. J. Johnson staged a protest on the steps of the Illinois Capitol building, claiming that Allen was the victim of an illegal in-house arrest.  Yet he himself came “with an olive branch” in his hand.[xliv]

When Johnson and McLamb showed up in Illinois, the State Police intelligently attempted to use them to help defuse the situation by bringing them into a meeting with state police officials.  They even showed McLamb part of a 23-page letter Allen had written to relatives some months ago, a letter that sparked much of the concern relatives had.  Law enforcement officers made every effort to demonstrate that they were taking every possible measure to make sure that Allen was not harmed.  Their efforts had little effect on Johnson, except perhaps to temporarily silence him, but they had considerable success in persuading former police officer McLamb that they were doing the right thing.  Consequently at the rally, McLamb supported the state police.  The audience, which had expected very different words from McLamb, was hostile, and some police officers at the rally realized that they might have to protect McLamb from the crowd.  However, his words did have a calming effect on some in the militia movement, and after his speech some were prepared to concede that Shirley Allen probably did have “problems.”[xlv]

Still, state police were getting no closer to convincing Allen to come out.  Nothing seemed to work, not reducing the visible police presence, not playing “soothing” Barry Manilow music, not shutting off electricity and water.  In late October, as the siege reached its 35th day, the police threw pepper spray canisters and sent a police dog into Allen’s home.  However, Allen shot the dog and at one point shot at police with a handgun.  Meanwhile, John Trochmann, head of the Militia of Montana, showed up at the scene, addressing crowds of Allen supporters.  “This is a priority,” he said, “Your neighbor’s life is at stake.  And if not hers, yours—sooner or later.”[xlvi]

Finally, on October 30, 1997, Illinois State Police officers ended the standoff when Allen went far enough out on her back porch that nearby law enforcement officers felt safe in trying to restrain her.  Neither Allen nor any officers were injured, and the standoff was finally brought to a peaceful conclusion.  Allen was taken in for mental evaluations and eventually released back to her house.  The standoff had been resolved successfully and without generating the martyr that some in the movement had clearly desired.

The Roby, Illinois, incident clearly revealed that virtually any sort of standoff between government officials and citizens can become fodder for intervention by the militia movement.  Because of the circumstances of the standoff, it was difficult, if not impossible, for militia members to directly intervene; thus they were reduced largely to protests.  Nevertheless, because future events may not be so advantageous, it is important for authorities to consider the potential implications of any long-term standoff situation.



[i] The sources used to write this account of Schipke and the standoff include L. Anne Newell, “Cops subdue mom and take toddler to end standoff,” The Arizona Daily Star, November 8, 1998; Jennifer Katleman, “Unsuperstitious candidate says 13 is lucky number,” Tucson Citizen, October 31, 1994; Parents Council for Family Rights website,; and a brief interview with Pima County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Sgt. Brad Foust.

 [ii] Sheila Wissner, “Fear, suspicion of government cause surge in Tennessee,” The Tennessean, September 3, 1995.

 [iii] Judd Slivka, “Militia rallies behind farmer facing foreclosure,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 3, 1997.

 [iv] Ibid.

 [v] Communication from Judd Slivka to the author, August 4, 1997.

 [vi] The description of this confrontation is based on several partial sources.  Two articles from the Cleveland Plain Dealer describe the standoff and the discovery that the house was empty, but neither article mentions the militia; see Michael K. McIntyre, “Agents, Parma police surround home,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 24, 1995; “ATF finds home is empty after siege in Parma,” Ibid, June 25, 1995.  Ted Almay, Superintendent of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, describes the incident briefly in testimony on November 2, 1995, before a Congressional committee, focusing on the militia involvement; see Ted Almay testimony, November 2, 1995, Federal Document Clearing House Congressional Testimony.   A similar description, differing in some details, can be found in a March 1996 ATF report, “Violent Anti-Government Groups:  Confrontations & Tactics.”  The only copy of this report I have seen was reprinted by an Ohio militia group, E Pluribus Unum, but it appears to have been accurately reproduced; see E Pluribus Unum Newsletter, June 1996.  It was also placed on their website at

 [vii] “Intelligence Report” Program Summaries, April 19, 20, 1999, May 18, 1999, SLATT Program Archives.  Another example of an extremist advocating the phone wave tactic can be found in a recruitment videotape made by Adrian, Michigan, Pastor Rick Strawcutter, for his First Amendment Church of Truth and Sanity program, a pyramid-scheme like setup.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Strawcutter is an associate of Mark Koernke and produced Koernke’s first video.

 [viii] Videotape, “J. J. Johnson at Lowell, Michigan, April 1, 1995.”

 [ix] Ibid.

 [x] James Ridgeway, “Rebirth of a nation:  fighting back at government, Posse style,” The Village Voice, March 21, 1995; Rob Carson, “Concern high, facts scare about militias,” Tacoma News Tribune, May 2, 1995; Jim Simon, “Many groups on far right are more interested in legal battles,” The Seattle Times, May 8, 1995; Lou Dolinar, “Radical right fights by fax,” Long Island Newsday, April 28, 1995.

 [xi] “Chaos Rising,” White Mountain News, March 1996.

 [xii] “Intelligence Report” Program Summaries, July 21-29, 1999, SLATT Program Archives.

 [xiii] Internet Usenet newsgroup posting, alt.conspiracy, November 11, 1997.

 [xiv] Situations similar to the example have occurred in Montana, Colorado, and elsewhere.  Many involve “sovereign citizens,” as such individuals do not believe in the legitimacy of most motor vehicle laws.

 [xv] J. J. Johnson, “Op Strategy,” E Pluribus Unum, March 1996.  Johnson claimed that he found a two-year-old article and modified it.

 [xvi] “Attorney’s computer is a weapon for militias,” The Indianapolis News, April 26, 1995; Josh Meye, Paul Feldman, Erich Lichtblau, “Militia members’ threats, attacks on officials escalate,” Los Angeles Times, April 27, 1995.

 [xvii] Kim Cobb, “Armed or not, militia response raises new fears,” The Houston Chronicle, March 3, 1996.

 [xviii] Richard Leiby, “Potential flash point defused in Louisiana; standoff reflects lessons of Ruby Ridge, Waco,” The Washington Post, March 2, 1996.

 [xix] “Press Release:  Militia Alert,” posted on the Internet, March 1, 1996.

 [xx] Ibid.

 [xxi] The Houston Chronicle, March 3, 1996; Jeff Randall, “The Smell of Victory,” essay posted on the Internet at

 [xxii] William C. Bayne, “’We have never been quoted price’ for buyout, says defiant resident,” The Commercial Appeal, February 6, 1997.

 [xxiii] “Possible Problem – Miss.”, E-mail alert sent January 17, 1997.

 [xxiv] “Mississippi Campout Notice,” E-mail alert sent January 28, 1997.

 [xxv] William C. Bayne, “Militia members gather to oppose airport’s eviction of homeowner,” The Commercial Appeal, January 31, 1997; “Mississippi Camp Out was Media Event!!!” Patriot Information Mailing List message, January 31, 1997.

 [xxvi] “’CAMPOUT’ YOUR [sic] NEEDED!” Patriot Information Mailing List Message, February 1, 1997; “Siege in North Mississippi (Update No. 1),” Stop All Federal Abuses Now Internet Newsletter, No. 280, February 6, 1997.

 [xxvii] William C. Bayne, “Southaven will pay legal expenses from Cockrell lawsuit,” The Commercial Appeal, May 15, 1997; “Cockrell family brief says county, state don’t exist,” Ibid, May 22, 1997; “Man tells court Southaven and airport have no right to his home,” Ibid, August 30, 1997.

 [xxviii] William C. Bayne, “12-year fight over home ends with seizure; militia helpers nowhere around,” The Commercial Appeal, March 5, 1999.

 [xxix] Ibid; William C. Bayne, “Cockrell cache included assault weapons,” Ibid, March 9, 1999; “Razed home yields large stash of cash; lone holdout in airport dispute vows to sue,” Ibid, March 6, 1999; “High Alert,” Eagleflight Mailing List message, March 4, 1999.

 [xxx] Ibid; “Assault on Cockrell Hill,” North Mississippi Militia website,; “Cockrell Hill, Southaven, MS,” Eagleflight Mailing List Message, March 6, 1999.

 [xxxi] David Armstrong, “Rightist assisting barricaded couple; advises Hamilton pair at mediation,” The Boston Globe, August 25, 1997.

 [xxxii] Ed Hayward, “Hamilton dispute coming to a head,” The Boston Herald, January 5, 1998.

 [xxxiii] David Armstrong, “Marshals to evict, but won’t say when,” The Boston Globe, January 6, 1998.

 [xxxiv] J. M. Lawrence, “Deadline for eviction passes without incident,” The Boston Herald, January 6, 1998; Mike McIntire, “The Sweeneys’ standoff,” The Hartford Courant, January 7, 1998; David Armstrong, “Sideshow springs up in Hamilton standoff,” The Boston Globe, January 8, 1998.

 [xxxv] Eric Noonan, “Militia takes up blue-blood’s cause,” AP news story, January 8, 1998; Doris Sue Wong, “Tension simmers in estate standoff; lawmakers press appeal to Hamilton pair,” The Boston Globe, January 9, 1998; Pamela Ferdinand, “Of bluebloods and militias; wealthy Massachusetts couple using barricades to fight federal eviction,” The Washington Post, February 19, 1998.

 [xxxvi] “FEDS TO RAID SWEENEYS FEB 13 - FEB 23?” Internet Usenet newsgroup posting,, February 11, 1998; “The Mark of the Beast,” Internet Usenet newsgroup posting, alt.politics.Clinton.whitewater, February 11, 1998; “Sweeney Siege Peaks,” e-mail message from Linda Thompson, February 18, 1998, posted in “03-08-98 PT 2:  The Konformist,” Internet Usenet newsgroup posting, misc.activism.militia, March 8, 1998.

 [xxxvii] Bill Porter, “Marshals end 9-month Massachusetts standoff,” AP news story, February 28, 1998; Joyce Howard Price, “Marshals hold off couple’s allies; threaten prosecution for helping pair refusing eviction,” The Washington Times, February 28, 1998; Ellen O’Brien and David Armstrong, “Sweeney arrest ends standoff; marshals seize Hamilton estate,” The Boston Globe, March 1, 1998; David Weber and Jules Crittenden, “Long standoff ends with Hamilton man’s arrest,” The Boston Herald, March 1, 1998.

 [xxxviii] Wes Smith, “Downstate standoff enters tense 2nd week,”  Chicago Tribune, September 30, 1997.

 [xxxix] Gregory Tejeda, “Police concerned with broadcasts,” United Press International news story, September 26, 1997; Wes Smith, “Downstate standoff enters tense 2nd week,”  Chicago Tribune, September 30, 1997.

 [xl] “Alert:  New Ruby Ridge in Progress,”  Internet Usenet newsgroup posting, alt.conspiracy, September 30, 1997.

 [xli] Mike Johnson [North Central Florida Regional Militia], “Had the Militia Rescued Shirley Allen,”

 [xlii] Dave McKinney, “Troopers try to soothe woman in rural standoff,” Chicago Sun-Times, October 1, 1997.

 [xliii] Dave McKinney, “Police say Roby standoff costing at least $270,000,” Chicago Sun-Times, October 10, 1997.

 [xliv] Jefferson Robbins, “Costs of Roby standoff mounting,” The State Journal Register, October 10, 1997; Bill Bush, “Activist calls for protest against police over Roby standoff,” Copley News Service news tory, October 13, 1997; Jefferson Robbins, “Activist to lead rally for ‘safety,’” The State Journal Register, October 13, 1997.

 [xlv] J. J. Johnson, “Report of meeting with Illinois gestapo on siege,” Internet Usenet newsgroup posting, talk.politics.guns, October 17, 1997; Joe Mahr, “McLamb:  Police OK; anti-government activists defends police at ralley,” The State Journal-Register, October 15, 1997; Larry Vanderwalle, “Roby Sitrep,” Internet Usenet newsgroup posting, misc.activism.militia, October 16, 1997; Kevin McDermott, “Militia negotiator defends police actions in standoff,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 15, 1997; Julie Grace, “Standoff at ‘Roby Ridge,’” Time Magazine, October 27, 1997.

 [xlvi] Joe Mahr, “Police assault Allen home,” The State Journal-Register, October 27, 1997.



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