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"Patriot" Profile #4:
A Fledgling Militia: The Blue Ridge Hunt Club Versus the BATF

Copyright 1996 by Mark Pitcavage

Last Modified June 17, 1996

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Introduction:Close to the heart of the militia movement is a strongly-rooted fear that the federal government intends to confiscate the weapons belonging to American citizens. That fear and loathing is most often directed at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. But when militia and BATF clash, it's not always clear exactly who is causing what...

The Blue Ridge Hunt Club Versus the BATF

They were coming to take away his guns. This James Roy Mullins believed with all his heart. The signs were all there, to anyone clear-headed enough to look for them. Despite the Second Amendment with its apparently clear mandate, gun ownership had already been entangled in a confusing and confining welter of federal regulations that surrounded the buying and selling of firearms. Laws on the books for years already prohibited the possession of certain types of guns. Now new laws sought to limit the asserted right to bear arms, laws that would prohibit "assault weapons"--though what defined a weapon as an "assault weapon" was an incoherent mass of attributes--and would impose a waiting period on weapons purchases, as if a mugger or burglar would be so kind as to come back next week, after you had armed yourself. The federal agency that lurked behind all these liberty-stealing laws was the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which waited like a spider at the center of the web of gun laws, waiting for some unsuspecting gun owner or gun dealer to touch a tripwire by breaking a regulation. Then it would pounce.

But recently the ATF had not even been waiting for victims to enter the web. In 1992 it had tried to coerce a small, privacy-loving man named Randy Weaver into becoming an informer on some suspected gun runners, using as a club the threat of prosecution for a sawed-off shotgun that they had convinced Weaver to make for them. When Weaver refused, they set into action a chain of events that combined with incompetence to result in the death of a federal marshal and of Weaver's wife and son. Then, in 1993, cowboy-like ATF agents in Texas launched a disastrous raid on a compound belonging to a religious cult called the Branch Davidians which turned into a deadly firefight. A long siege followed, which ended in mass suicide as authorities used tanks and gas to force the cultists out, and the desperate Davidians set fire to the building. The Davidians had not been bothering anybody; they had just been gun owners. Who would be next? How long before the tendrils of the ATF might reach out for a small-town Virginia gun dealer like James Mullins?

Mullins worried about such things in the fall of 1993, and gave voice to his fears, trying to shake the complacency of those around him. Certainly Pulaski, Virginia, a town deep in the woods whose inhabitants worked for a nearby automobile manufacturing plant, was a place where people tended to be sympathetic to the rights of firearms owners. They hunted, they shot targets, and they tended to be suspicious of too much government. But Mullins took it a step further. At the Star Barber Shop, at Christian Coalition meetings, while distributing fliers and brochures, or in letters to the editor of the local newspaper, the 40 year old factory worker was determined to wake up the people to the dangers that faced them. Some people listened approvingly; others ignored him. His efforts might have backfired, though; even in conservative Pulaski, many residents came to view him as an extremist. "I don't think Mullins [speaks] for any majority of citizens in this town," said Pulaski resident and NRA member Nick Glenn. "I don't think any of us would agree with him." Few people were willing to go so far as to say the ATF was unconstitutional; few people seemed eager to go as far as Mullins did.

Elsewhere across the country, similarly disaffected patriots were forming paramilitary groups they called militias. In Montana, Michigan, Texas, Florida and elsewhere, people were organizing to protest events such as Ruby Ridge and Waco, and to protect their clearly endangered right to bear arms. Mullins, unaware of these efforts, began to work on his own. He put his considerable knowledge of firearms to use, and began to make a silencer and to convert weapons to fully automatic machine guns. Later, he would recall that "I felt it was time to use these skills. You can't fight a war without the weapons of war."

Nor could you fight a war without an army, or at least comrades in arms. If the general public would not listen to him, perhaps a few friends would. Not even having a term for what it was, Mullins set about creating a militia. Isolated from the main currents of the patriot movement, he was nevertheless a kindred spirit, and he knew what was needed: a small group of dedicated people willing to fight for their rights.

One of the first people Mullins approached was an old friend of more than fifteen years, Raeford Nelson Thompson. "This [Waco] is not an isolated incident. This is happening all over, right now as I speak," Mullins told Thompson. "And you got a grass-roots-level movement right underground." Thompson, a 57-year old retired diesel mechanic on disability, listened sympathetically to Mullins' description of the dangers posed by the federal government and to his plans for forming a group to oppose it. Thompson was an NRA member who described himself as "very conservative." In fact, he not only belonged to the NRA but also to the more militant Gun Owners of America, headed by Larry Pratt, a man with ties to the militia movement. Mullins had the notion of forming some sort of club, more than a gun club, a political group. A mutual interest in firearms would be the glue to hold the club together, while Mullins and Thompson could test members for admission into a core group of activists.

Through early 1994, Mullins and Thompson set about attracting people who might be interested in joining such a group. Obvious potential members would be other area gun dealers, who presumably would have a similar interest in protecting gun rights. Paul David Peterson, of Blacksburg, Virginia, was one such person. A gun dealer and small engine repairman, Peterson could help them acquire or manufacture firearms. Dennis Frith, 42, who had access to a useful copy machine, was another person Mullins approached. A far more colorful sympathizer was William Stump II, a machinist and ex-Marine who also lived in Pulaski. The 34-year old man, thin and balding, considered himself a "constitutionalist," who believed in a literal and very strict reading of that document. According to Stump, his interest in politics began when he was in the Marine Corps and an avid reader of the magazine "Guns and Ammo," which alerted him to gun control issues as well as the ideas of the founding fathers. Stump began reading the Federalist Papers and other early political writings and came away convinced that the federal government had greatly usurped its authority. Federal courts had no right to exist in the states. The ATF, the FBI, and other federal agencies were all illegal entities, possessing no legal power in the states. Needless to say, gun control was patently illegal in Stump's view; he was fond of repeating the old joke that the only type of gun control he believed in was good marksmanship. Stump regularly attended town meetings to urge his views; he even criticized Senate candidate Oliver North for not taking a firm enough stand against gun control. Thompson met Stump at a Christian Coalition meeting and introduced him to Mullins.

By the spring of 1994, there were enough interested people--12 to 15--to form a club. At the first meeting, Thompson urged people to choose a name for the club and to elect officers. The group selected the name Blue Ridge Hunt Club, and elected Mullins as president, Thompson as vice-president and "primary firearms instructor" (the club wanted him to teach sniper tactics), and Stump as political instructor. At the meeting, members got a chance to share their views about gun control and the federal government and to discover that they had common fears and common concerns. Paul Peterson was one to speak up. "In the history of, say, revolutionary ideas...," explained Peterson to the others at the meeting, "the ones that get caught are the idiots who have one big national committee and everybody's tied in. But the ones who survive are the ones who have small groups, people like us scattered all over the place...And I think, later on, once we get the organization set up, we're going to have to be doing some training, some studying, maybe study some videos and become familiar with equipment that the average man doesn't own and isn't allowed to, but if things get bad we may lay our hands on it." In a newsletter Mullins circulated to Club members, the president suggested that the club's purpose was "to do things that will incite the public into an uprising against the local, state and federal authorities...Human targets will be engaged when it is beneficial to the cause to eliminate particular individuals who oppose us."

As Thompson later explained, members were thinking there had already been attacks on citizens and violations of constitutional rights. Breaking unconstitutional laws did not seem to be immoral or unethical; the Hunt Club members saw themselves as working to restore rights. But they were aware, even at this first meeting, that they were talking about illegal activities, and were appropriately cautious, to the point of discussing purchasing a "bugsweeper" to find government listening devices. They decided to let the club appear as an ordinary gun club.

The second meeting, in May 1994, took place at a remote area so members could practice firing their weapons. Mullins brought some of his illegal handiwork: two .22-caliber rifles he had fitted with home-made silencers made out of galvanized pipe. They were illegal because silencers must be registered with the federal government and a fee paid. The club members inspected the rifles. Although .22's were light weapons, Mullins liked them because ammunition was so readily available. "It's one of the most versatile weapons ever made," he said. Even many professional assassins used them, he added. He had already shown them to Thompson the previous fall. The retiree had fired them; they really did work. Stump and Dennis Frith both tried them out.

Hunt Club members did more than fire weapons; they went about acquiring them. Here gun dealer Paul Peterson was critically important, because Peterson was a federally licensed firearms dealer who could potentially provide untraceable weapons to Hunt Club members. And Peterson was more than willing to cut corners and bend or even break rules. He backdated federal paperwork for one gun buyer, and agreed to sell guns to other members without filling out the required paperwork. Nelson Thompson took him up on the offer; so did Mullins. Peterson, in his opposition to gun laws, even went so far as to knowingly sell a weapon to a felon introduced to him by Thompson. Peterson also decided that he would at some point "lose" all the federal paperwork that contained information about the people to whom he had sold guns at Peterson Sporting Goods. "When I give my license up, if I do," he said, "I've already talked it over with some other friends of mine. I'm going to go out of town for the weekend, and I'm going to come back and my house will be broke into."

And sometimes, Hunt Club members talked about using their weapons against human targets. Should the federal government ever decide to begin confiscating weapons, they decided, they would break into the Pulaski National Guard Armory to seize the military weapons there. They'd create a diversion across town, while others would break in and steal M-16s, rockets, and other weapons. They'd also break into the police department. As for police, Mullins figured that many police officers would want to join the Hunt Club, once it was organized; as for the others, Mullins speculated that "perhaps a bullet from a high-powered rifle through their windshield while they are on patrol might make them change their mind."

The Hunt Club never got a chance to change anybody's mind. Instead, it was the authorities who took action. In late July 1994, in a scene taken from the nightmares of the members of the Hunt Club, the ATF struck suddenly, in conjunction with the Virginia State Police and the Pulaski Police Department, arresting James Mullins and Paul Peterson, charging the pair with various weapons violations. Pulaski, ordinarily a quiet town, was stunned. Some people denounced Mullins as an extremist; a few tentatively raised their voices in support for him. "I never did see no guns," said one neighbor. "He seemed like a real nice person." But when authorities revealed the contents of a computer disk found in Mullins' home, in which he outlined plans to raid National Guard armories, many were shocked.

Members of the Hunt Club, all fearing they might be the next to be picked up, kept their heads low. The one exception, to no one's particular surprise, was the firebrand William Stump, who spoke out against the arrest of Mullins and Peterson to anyone who cared to listen. "This is just an effort by the ATF to discredit a movement that has become a little too effective," he cried. In early August he held a rally to demonstrate support for the two Hunt Club members; about 30 people attended. Stump had nothing but contempt for the weakhearted members of the club. "Nobody else, none of his other friends, would do it," Stump said of the rally. "Everybody wants to run away when something like this happens." But just a few days later, the ATF arrested Stump as well. Later still, they arrested Hunt Club member Dennis Frith, and a gun dealer who didn't belong to the club, Paul L. Greene. Altogether five people were charged with 36 violations of federal firearms law.

Once arrested, Stump was defiant and Peterson despondent. But Mullins was furious. Arrested not for his political views, but on strict firearms charges of possessing and selling unregistered silencers and a short-barreled rifle, and of helping in the unlawful purchase of a firearm, he sat and stewed in the Roanoke City Jail. His fury was directed not at the ATF, but at the person he became increasingly convinced had acted as an informant to the feds. The betrayal was all the worse because it seemed to have come from someone Mullins trusted implicitly: Raeford Nelson Thompson.

Mullins' suspicions were correct. All along, Thompson had been working as a government informant. Disturbed by Mullins' increasingly radical diatribes, as well as by the knowledge that Mullins' was working on illegal silencers and weapons, Thompson approached a friend in law enforcement, who connected him with the ATF. "Any time a man looks you dead in the eye and not even batting an eye says he plans to kill people, I take him dead serious," Thompson explained. "I'm glad we got this stopped before it got off the ground. Some of these guys were trained by the U.S. Military and did know how to do things what I consider terrorist tactics."

Thompson became an informant for the ATF; a rare thing to begin with, since most ATF informants are people with the threat of charges held against them. Thompson wore a wire to Hunt Club meetings, got money from the ATF to buy weapons illegally from Mullins and Peterson, took a convicted felon to Peterson to purchase weapons from the gun-dealer, and in other ways gathered information on the group and its activities. The ATF accumulated many hours of recorded conversations thanks to Thompson.

In a rage, Mullins wrote to a friend in North Carolina to whom he had sent an illegal machine gun, suggesting that he would have to borrow that "Christmas gift" in order to take care of "unfinished business." Alarmed, the North Carolinian, who had in any case destroyed the machine gun, turned the note over to the authorities, and it served only to cause Mullins to be held without bond.

After the Christmas gift episode, though, Mullins seemed to deflate a little; perhaps his attorney finally convinced him of the seriousness of the charges against him, perhaps it was simply spending months in jail that calmed him down. But by February 1995, Mullins was willing to plead guilty to seven of the sixteen counts against him. "I knew the consequences. I went ahead and took my chances," he admitted. "So I'll take the punishment, even though I disagree with the law." By the end of February, Mullins and his lawyer had arranged a plea bargain which recommended a five year sentence in return for pleading guilty to seven counts, dealing with the unregistered silencers, a pistol Mullins bought from Peterson for a third party as a "straw purchase,"conspiracy to commit firearm violations, and making and possessing a machine gun.

Also pleading guilty was Paul Peterson, who realized that he had somehow inserted himself into a very serious mess indeed, and began cooperating with authorities almost as soon as he was arrested. Peterson pleaded guilty to conspiracy, to selling guns in violation of state law, to aiding and abetting in making a false statement by falsifying gun purchase records, and to knowingly selling a shotgun to a convicted felon. Because he so fully cooperated, even testifying at the other's trials, when he was sentenced, considerably later, he received only three years' probation (four months under house arrest) and community service as a punishment.

But from the very beginning, it was apparent that William Stump was not someone who would give in so easily. Stump, who did not believe that either the ATF or federal courts in the states were constitutional, planned to argue that the whole federal legal system was bogus. "When we win, all U.S. courts will have to go out of the states, all Federal Bureau of Investigation agents will have to go out of the states, all Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents will have to go out of the states." Stump sought not a federal grand jury but a state grand jury to hear his arguments; moreover, he decided he would represent himself.

At the same time, Club members debated as to what exactly the Blue Ridge Hunt Club had been. Between August 1994, when they were arrested, and the spring of 1995, when the legal proceedings began in earnest, the militia movement had come to the public's attention. Reports by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League described the movement as violent, extremist, and racist. William Stump was adamant that the group was a militia. "If I'd have chosen it, I would have called it the Blue Ridge Militia," he explained. "The purpose was to raise a militia. A militia is the only delegated law enforcement officers to the Congress." Mullins seemed to agree, suggesting that "it was more or less a fellowship thing, with military overtones, militia overtones." But on April 19, 1995, right-wing extremists blew up the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, killing and wounding hundreds of people and shocking every American who thought that terrorism was the province of Middle Eastern fanatics. Hunt Club members were as shocked as everybody else, although they quickly put the standard spin on the event--that the federal government had bombed its own building. "I believe that anybody who blows up a building where they know there are women and children ought to be prosecuted, whether they are United States officers or not," William Stump said.

But when media attention focused on the supposed militia ties of suspects Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, thus thrusting the whole movement into a spotlight of intense media scrutiny, Stump soon realized that it was a bad thing to be associated with a militia. As jury selection for his trial began in late April, Stump took his six-week old son (two of his four children were born during his extended legal battles) Jeb Stuart Stump and displayed him to the courtroom, shouting that ATF agents were saying that Stump wanted babies killed. Stump also demanded that President Bill Clinton appear in court, prompting government lawyers to question his competence to represent himself. Stump was getting advice, of a sort, from "constitutionalist" Mike Tecton, who seemed to think that he could sell the movie rights to Stump's predicament. However, Judge Jackson Kiser ruled that Stump was competent to represent himself. He also decided to delay the trial because he feared that an impartial jury would be difficult to assemble so soon after the Oklahoma City bombing, which was clearly true. Kiser also delayed the trials of Dennis Frith and Paul Greene.

With the trial delayed, Stump took to the offensive, continuing his campaign to be heard before a grand jury not part of the federal system. In late May, he showed up at the Pulaski County Circuit Court to try to face a county grand jury; he stood outside the court building holding a poster asking the grand jury to call him to testify. Stump argued that Thompson had been planning terrorist activity and that ATF agent Scott Fairburn should be investigated for treason. County officials were not impressed with his arguments. ATF agent Jim Silvey noted that ironically Kiser had delayed Stump's trial because of the possibility of adverse publicity, but Stump continued to call attention to himself. The other people arrested just wanted to get the ordeal over with. In August, Dennis Frith pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate firearm laws, possessing an unregistered silencer, and making false statements on firearm records. Frith, said his lawyer, "was anything but a militia member--just a good old country boy." Frith was sentenced to four months of house arrest, 200 hours of community service, and was fined $5,000.

Paul Greene, however, would not plead guilty; in his opinion, he had not done anything wrong. The 23-year old Virginia Tech student and gun dealer was not a member of the Blue Ridge Hunt Club, and all he had done was to sell part of a damaged rifle to Peterson, who gave it to Mullins. Mullins had later changed the weapon into a machine gun (the one he sent to North Carolina). Judge Kiser dismissed two of the charges against Greene; the dealer was found innocent of the remaining four. It was the first setback for the ATF effort that had begun so promisingly. The prosecuting attorneys tried to take it in stride, assistant U.S. attorney Don Wolthuis asserting that he wasn't "all that disappointed with the verdict. I think we had a fair trial...From an evidence standpoint, it was a close case."

But the cases of Frith and Greene were peripheral; all attention focused on the flamboyant William Stump, the only Hunt Club member with serious charges and evidence against him who had not pleaded guilty. When jury selection began in September 1995, Stump did not disappoint those court watchers who had come to expect brash action from the constitutionalist who represented himself. Stump declared his trial illegal, telling Judge Kiser, "Let the record show I'm not here voluntarily." (Kiser's response: "That's abundantly clear.") The judge, fearful that the jury pool might be "poisoned," made the somewhat unusual decision of bringing in potential jurors a few at a time, instead of all at once, to which Stump loudly objected (because he could not hear what all jurors had to say before having to select among them). Kiser responded that an appeals court could correct his decision if he erred. "After I'm already in prison, being beaten, infected, sodomized?" Stump responded. Stump himself tried to ask jurors about O. J. Simpson case celebrity Mark Fuhrman and Randy Weaver, despite the judge's objections. Marshals had to pin Stump down while Kiser evacuated jurors from the courtroom. But incompetence had already caused a few minor pollutants to reach the jury pool. When Kiser asked two jurors if they had seen or read anything about the case, they responded that they had seen it on a television newscast just half an hour earlier, in the jury assembly room. Later, jurors were allowed to overhear reporters question Stump. Despite these stumbles, a jury was finally assembled. Stump would have his day in court, although whether it would be a hearing or a circus was anybody's guess.

When the trial began, the third week of September 1995, Stump continued his courtroom theatrics, charging that "the very existence of this court in the Commonwealth of Virginia is in violation of the Constitution." He filed lawsuits against Judge Kiser, as well as Don Wolthuis and Scott Fairburn. Kiser exhibited considerable patience in dealing with the self-righteous constitutionalist. As his own lawyer, Stump was at best amateurish (he did have a court-appointed attorney to advise him, but he did his own questioning), but Stump focused like a laser beam on the weak point in the prosecution's case: Raeford Nelson Thompson.

As news first leaked out that Thompson had informed on the Blue Ridge Hunt Club, many people congratulated him for taking a stand against words and actions that would have disturbed most people. And afterwards, with threats made against his life (he eventually got permission to carry a concealed weapon for his own protection), he almost seemed a martyr. But the more one looked at Thompson, the more one had to question exactly how much the informant had informed on, and how much the informant had instigated. After all, Thompson was not merely a member of the Blue Ridge Hunt Club, he was its vice-president. He had helped find members; he had even introduced Stump to James Mullins. Under cross-examination, Thompson acknowledged that he had only met Stump a month before he became an informant--not, as he had earlier testified, six months before. Stump was able to claim that Thompson lured him into the Hunt Club after the vice-president was aware of its illegal activities.

ATF agents testified that they had carefully schooled Thompson on avoiding entrapping the members of the Hunt Club, but Thompson had encouraged club members at their second meeting to fire silenced weapons, the mere handling of which would be breaking the law. And the ATF itself seemed far too energetic in their undercover operations. Would Hunt Club members have ever sold a weapon to a convicted felon had not an informant brought the felon in and arranged the deal? Should Hunt Club members who had merely taken a few target shots with a gun equipped with a homemade silencer have been considered as culpable as the person who manufactured the silencer?

Stump introduced other doubts as well. One Hunt Club member suggested that Thompson told the club how to make fertilizer bombs. Stump himself argued that "it was only when Thompson began taking an active role," that any talk of raiding National Guard Armories surfaced. The constitutionalist freely admitted handling the silencers, and acknowledged that he knew Mullins was making them illegally. "But it never occurred to me," he explained, "[that] by holding it, I could be charged."

Stump turned the closing arguments over to his court-appointed lawyer, but in his own rough way, he had more than made his point. How much of the criminality of the Blue Ridge Hunt Club was due to the free-willed actions of its members, and how much of it was the result of an over-eager informer and an over-aggressive ATF? Had the ATF wanted to prosecute these home-grown militia members so much that it clouded their judgment? When the jury returned its verdict, on September 22, 1995, it agreed that he had possessed the illegal silencers--after all, Stump himself admitted it--but found that he had not conspired with others to break gun laws. One juror told reporters that he believed Stump had been entrapped, saying of Thompson, "Their main witness, I just didn't believe him."

This represented a significant victory for Stump, but the constitutionalist was not happy at having been found guilty of the two silencer-related charges, and planned to appeal, even before he had been sentenced. During the interval between the end of the trial and the sentencing, Stump decided to sue Bill Clinton for $50 million in the Pulaski County Circuit Court. Out of jail, he took time to show up at an urban affairs class at Virginia Tech to lecture them on the Constitution. In November, Stump asked Judge Kiser to set aside the guilty verdicts because of alleged constitutional violations. They were his standard allegations--that the federal government could not buy land for a courthouse in Virginia without the state's consent, that the Second Amendment protected his right to handle a silencer, that federal courts had no jurisdiction in Virginia. Stump's efforts were understandable--he still faced a possible 20 years in prison, although sentencing guidelines made that unlikely--but his arguments were, to put it lightly, rather weak, and Kiser was not inclined to be swayed by them. Another judge refused a fee waiver for Stump's $5 million civil suit against Kiser, but on his own Stump pursued suits against Kiser, and sixteen other public officials, ranging from both of Virginia's senators down to the Pulaski County sheriff.

Finally, in late February, 1996, the time for sentencing arrived, more than two years after James Mullins conceived of forming the Blue Ridge Hunt Club that Stump joined. And to the surprise of many, Judge Kiser announced that he planned to go easy on the constitutionalist and would give him a sentence even lighter than the two to three year sentence that sentencing guidelines suggested. The judge stated that he was "uncomfortable" with Raeford Nelson Thompson's aggressive investigation, observing that "Thompson became a major player in organizing meetings and contacts among the alleged conspirators."

Prosecutors were given a chance to respond, before Kiser issued a sentence. And while all through the arrests and trial they had maintained that the Blue Ridge Hunt Club members were being prosecuted not for their political extremism but for explicit weapons violations, the response of attorney Don Wolthuis seemed to suggest otherwise. Although Stump shouldn't be punished because of his beliefs, he said, he should receive a prison sentence so that people in the militia movement would not feel justified in thinking that the federal courts had no power over them. "The failure to impose the sentence required by law," Wolthuis said, "is to publicly pronounce that Stump is immune from punishment because the court lacks not the power, but the will." Wolthuis seemed to want to serve a lesson to the entire militia movement by a harsh sentence on Stump.

Kiser didn't buy it. He sentenced the militiaman to only two months in jail and two more months under house arrest, repudiating the arguments of the government attorneys. "I do not believe beliefs should be an element for aggravating punishment," Kiser said. "Nothing I can say will deter him from what he believes." Not surprisingly, William Stump himself repudiated even that sentence, announcing that he planned to appeal, and attempting to serve more lawsuits on people. "I'm paying for the crushing and burning of those children at Waco," Stump explained to reporters. "That is why I brought the charges against the president for the murders there."

Stump was freed pending his appeal, but the outcome, successful or unsuccessful, will be an anti-climax. Kiser and the jury brought the proceedings to a real close when they all gave notice that they rejected the contentions of the government.

Was the government wrong? Was the militia right? Clearly, the answer lies with the person in whose mind the Blue Ridge Hunt Club was born, James Roy Mullins. Mullins had openly and provably violated federal firearms laws in 1993. Raeford Thompson, with presumably all the conscientiousness in the world, turned this information over to the ATF. Certainly at that point the authorities could have arrested Mullins, charged him with federal firearms violations, and the matter would have been over. The Blue Ridge Hunt Club would never have been formed, no other members would ever have handled silencers. Quite possibly people like Paul Peterson would not have committed further firearms violations; indeed, the arrest of Mullins might have been a lesson to them all.

Instead, the ATF and Thompson launched an "undercover" investigation, during which the Blue Ridge Hunt Club was formed, recordings and even airplanes were used, and Thompson himself proved to be rather too enthusiastic in encouraging members of the club to commit crimes. The result was several years of legal activity that resulted in light sentences or acquittals for every person except Mullins, who presumably would have been imprisoned even without all the undercover activity, simply for making the silencers and machine gun. No "lessons" were taught the militia; indeed, the activities of the Blue Ridge Hunt Club hardly caused a blip in any national news, overshadowed by far greater activities such as Oklahoma City. Mullins in prison said that he would do it all over again, while certainly Stump was unrepentant.

The federal authorities did more than make a mountain out of a molehill; they made a militia out of Mullins. If they had stuck to arresting and prosecuting James Mullins, they would have been on safer ground all around. Instead, hamhanded efforts simply gave extremists some ammunition of their own.

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