The Neo-Militia News
Last Updated March 5, 1997
The purpose of this page is to publish news stories and information about the neo-militia groups, common law groups, and other right-wing extremist groups and individuals in this country. Many of these stories are only covered locally, not nationally; as a result, many people only know about extremist activities if they occur in their own area.
Thus the purpose of this Web Page. Though the Militia Watchdog has only limited resources at its disposal, one thing it can do is disseminate information effectively when it comes across items of interest. And with a wide variety of sources that include the major (and minor) news media, various militia publications themselves, on-line sources, and law enforcement officers, among others, the Watchdog does come across militia information frequently. So look here for the latest information on the neo-militia movement, and if you have any verifiable information yourself--please! no rumors--send it to the Militia Watchdog.
Aryan Nations Member Arrested After Chase in Ohio
Abstracted from wire services
Ohio seems to be plagued by Aryan Nations these days. What did a non-assuming state like Ohio do to deserve these Neo-Nazis? First it was Larry Harris, cooking up his bubonic plague. Then a shootout involving heavily armed Aryan Nations members from Washington state, near Wilmington, Ohio. Right on the heels of that shocking incident was an Aryan Nations rally at the state house in Columbus, Ohio.
Adding to the unwelcome list of incidents is Morris L. Gulett, a 41-year old member of the Aryan Nations chapter in Ohio, sitting in the Montgomery County jail pending $500,000 bond on charges of felonious assault and failure to comply with a lawful order.
Police tried to stop Gulett in Dayton on Sunday, March 2, 1997, when they spotted him driving the wrong way on a one-way street. Gulett crashed into a police cruiser with his van and sped away, leading police on a chase until he crashed his van nearby.
He was then arrested.
New Hampshire Militia Leader Pleads Guilty to Theft
Abstracted from The Boston Globe, wire services
Fitzhugh MacCrae, leader of the Hillsborough Dragoons, a right-wing militia group based in New Hampshire, pleaded guilty on March 3, 1997 to three charges relating to the theft of more than $100,000 in equipment, primarily night-vision goggles, from the United States Army base at Fort Devens in September 1995. MacCrae admitted that he and two other men stole the equipment on Labor Day 1995. The militia leader also pleaded guilty to lying to an FBI agent about the theft. MacCrae had originally claimed that the equipment had been stolen by an organized crime group (and wanted a reward for returning them).
MacCraes accomplice Eldon Brooks pleaded guilty to conspiracy last December. MacCraes other accomplice, Brian Chabot, faces trial in mid-March. MacCrae can expect a sentence of between twelve and twenty-seven months in jail by virtue of his plea agreement.
Militiaman Arrested After Hiring Hit-Man
Abstracted from the La Crosse Tribune
Divorces always seem to bring out the worst in people. In the case of James Schuman, 46, the worst can be pretty bad. Schuman, active in the Wisconsin Militia, was charged in late February with hiring an assassin to murder his wife, Susan, and her father.
Schuman, who owns a seed and irrigation company, offered to pay $10,000 to a hit man to kill his wife, and $10,000 more if had to kill her father or her boyfriend. However, the hit-man was an undercover agent and Schuman was arrested.
Judge Dennis Montabon has set a record $2 million cash bond for Schuman.
Embassy of Heaven Leader Evicted
Abstracted from wire services, 20/20, Delta County Independent, Boulder Weekly, the Columbian, the Des Moines Register, the News Tribune, the Seattle Times, Salem Statesman Journal, the Columbus Dispatch, the Rocky Mountain News, San Francisco Examiner, and Internet reports
Paul Revere took a ride on January 31, 1997, but it wasnt at midnight, and the British werent coming. Instead, Revere spent the night in jail pending arraignment on obstruction charges after he resisted foreclosure on his 34-acre property near Sublimity, Oregon, for nonpayment of local property taxes. Two followers were arrested as well.
"Paul Revere" is the nom de guerre of former computer analyst Craig Douglas Fleshman, a peripheral but nonetheless interesting figure in the common law court movement. Marion County officials had been trying to get Fleshman to pay his taxes, now amounting to over sixteen thousand dollars, since 1987. Fleshman claims that his property is the "Embassy of Heaven" Church, but it does not have nonprofit status.
Ironically, Fleshman at one time worked for the very government he later came to oppose. Fleshman was a systems analyst for the Oregon Department of Transportation until he quit in 1984 as he became increasingly involved in his religious/political obsessions. Fleshman began preaching against worldly governments, eventually in 1987 founding what he called the "Embassy of Heaven" Church, which developed a meager following of some 200 or so by the early 1990s.
Because he was opposed to earthly government, Fleshman transferred his political as well as theological allegiance to Heaven. This allowed him to abandon Oregon drivers licenses, as well as Marion County property taxes. "For me to go down and be lorded over by the Department of Motor Vehicles would be the greatest sin I could commit," he said in 1993. "Its idolatry, and I will go to hell if I participate." In terms similar to those used by the "sovereign citizen" movement, Revere urged his followers to rescind drivers licenses and withdraw bank accounts.
Naturally, after setting himself against the rest of the world, which more or less depends on those earthly governments, "Revere" began to get in trouble. As early as 1985 he was in trouble with local officials in Oregon for not having insurance, for not registering his vehicle, for not having license plates or a drivers license, and for providing "false information" to a police officer. Since then, he has been arrested many times and spent well over 65 days behind bars as a result of these minor arrests. Some of his jail time came after he deliberately skipped court appearances for traffic charges.
As Fleshman formalized his "Embassy of Heaven," he seems to have decided that he could make a living better if he had something to sell. After all, he had his wife, two daughters, and a devotee known only as "Abraham" to support. Accordingly, in the late 1980s he created license plates that read HEAVEN, which he would sell people for $20, along with registration and a license. Not surprisingly, these peculiar license plates, sold in the hundreds, began popping up all over the country, usually belonging either to followers of Fleshman or to followers of the Posse Comitatus/sovereign citizen movement or members of the militia movement.
In 1993, for instance, an Embassy follower named James Kelly was stopped in Florida for driving a vehicle with an unsigned tag. A police officer pulled him over when he noticed that Kellys license plate had the word "HEAVEN" above the numbers, and the sticker on the plates said "Depart from inequity." Kelly had a vehicle registration card and drivers license--but from the Embassy of Heaven. When arrested, Kelly claimed that his constitutional rights were violated and threatened to sue the city of Largo for $150,000. "Ive been in law enforcement 23 years and Ive never been involved with an agency that has been sued by the Kingdom of Heaven," said the local police chief. Kelly was on the phone to Fleshman following his arrest, for "Paul Revere" sent letters to Largo demanding that Kellys car be returned to him. Revere said that as a citizen of Heaven, Kelly was only on earth temporarily and thus not a citizen.
Closer to home, in September 1994 an Embassy of Heaven "ambassador" led Washington state troopers on a 90-mile chase from Tumwater to Portland on I-5. Glen Stoll, the driver, ignored police signals to stop (he had Embassy license plates), leading them on a 65-mph chase down the interstate until he was forced to stop because of construction traffic. The officers had to lift him out of his vehicle.
A few months later, officials in Anderson County, South Carolina, discovered they had a hunger strike on their hands after arresting a man named Frank Lewis on charges of interfering with a police officer who wanted to check on his children (they had received a complaint that he had no electricity or running water; they arrested him after he refused to let them inside or to show identification). Like Kelly, Lewis was in contact with Fleshman. "Frank knows hes a prisoner of war," Fleshman told curious reporters. "He belongs to us, not to the state." Lewis hunger strike lasted for eight days.
Another hunger strike occurred in Iowa in late 1995. A traveling hubcap salesman named Don Burdison came to Cedar Rapids with 25,000 used hubcaps in order to open "Hubcap Agency of Heaven." In November he was stopped by local police because of his "HEAVEN" license plate; he was driving drunk and, naturally, had no license or registration. He also had a loaded .45 automatic in the car, a state offense. After his arrest, Don Burdison, who referred to himself as Donon VonBillings, announced a hunger strike which lasted almost a month. From Oregon, "Pastor and Chief Emissary Paul Revere" issued an order to the governor of Iowa and other officials to release Burdison. The issuing authority was the "Justice Court of Mercy Township in the Kingdom of Heaven." Because Iowa had no jurisdiction over Burdison, argued Fleshman, officials encroached on his "political status as a sovereign viceregent of the Eternal Creator; a resident/citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, and bondservant of King Jesus the Christ." Finally, in mid-December 1995 a local judge ordered the sheriff to obtain his fingerprints (with or without his cooperation) and release him. Naturally, Burdison missed his January 1996 court date, and was arrested again. He was convicted in January of carrying a loaded weapon, but the jury deadlocked on a drunk driving charge. Burdison missed his February 1996 sentencing date, and was arrested a third time. He began a third fast, which lasted from February 22 until early April, when after a conviction for interference with official acts he was given credit for time already served and released.
Burdisons hunger strikes had the record for longevity, but still other "ambassadors" launched strikes of shorter durations. In Colorado in early 1996, when a man known variously as Toby James, Michael Peter Stevens and (his real name) Kent Douglas Williams, was arrested for his license plates, he refused to eat and when brought to court would answer questions put to him by the judge only by quoting scripture; the judge ordered a mental evaluation of Williams. The fast lasted 28 days. "Toby James" was a sovereign-citizen who "voided" all his contracts with the government. He later became an Embassy of Heaven follower. Comparing himself with the Montana Freemen, "Toby James" said, "Thats the major difference between us and the Freemen. They will die for their sovereignty, whereas we surrender peacefully ans suffer for our sovereignty."
Many of the "ambassadors" of the Embassy of Heaven were harmless kooks, or anti-government cranks. A few took on more ominous tones, none more so that Frank Carrico, an Embassy of Heaven member who was charged in July 1993 with raping a child multiple times (she was seven years old during the last such incident) in Snohomish County. Fleshman, according to his own admission, told Carrico six months earlier not to participate in the court system. Carrico skipped out on the trial and was convicted in absentia (he was even featured on "Americas Most Wanted"). One of the first places authorities looked for Carrico was the Embassy of Heaven church. They didnt find Carrico, but they did find Michael Stevens, wanted for a minor charge. Carrico eventually turned himself in in late 1995.
Less serious than child rape but still serious was the case of Patrick Rudd, an activist in Ohios common law court movement. When arrested (later convicted) on five counts of mail and bank fraud, Rudd claimed that he was a freeman sovereign" and an "ambassador of the Embassy of Heaven," and therefore not a citizen of the United States. Rudd used this to claim that the federal court had no jurisdiction over him. Rudd and another sovereign citizen had been defrauding gullible Ohioans in 1993 and 1994 by promising to pay off debts with bogus money orders. Other Ohio common law court activists also possessed Embassy of Heaven drivers licenses and plates.
Other Embassy of Heaven Ambassadors have been arrested on various charges, including David Justice, convicted of carrying an AK-47 in a guitar case. In a booklet published by Fleshman called "The Ins and Outs of Going to Jail," Fleshman said that at least one member of his group was usually in jail at any given time.
It was not guns in guitar cases which proved the most troubling to Craig Fleshman, though, but the tax man. Fleshman just wasnt about to render unto Caesar what was his. He had applied for tax-exempt status for his "church" in 1990, but the state turned him down because the land was not only in the churchs name, because the building was not used only for church purposes, because it had failed to gain federal tax-exempt status, and because it was not incorporated as a church. This failure did not deter the former computer analyst. "Jesus did not pay taxes," Fleshman asserted in 1994. "I dont need ten books of Oregon statutes to tell me how to live." At that point he owed $10,000 to Marion County officials, who threatened to put his property up on the market if he did not pay. By 1996 the toll was up to $16,000, but Fleshman was still adamant, claiming that he had never been presented with a convincing reason to pay.
However, the foreclosure proceedings the county had initiated in 1994 were about to come to an end. Marion County officials began planning his eviction, even contacting the FBI for advice, fearing the worst. In late October 1996, the county commissioners gave him until November 6 to pay his bill or face a 30-day eviction notice. "Paul Revere" ignored the deadline, but county officials were slow to act. Thirty days after the eviction notice, the Embassy of Heaven was still there.
Finally, on January 31, 1997, local officials arrived at the Embassy of Heaven to take possession. According to a picturesque description (if of doubtful accuracy) of the foreclosure posted by Embassy supporters on the Internet, it began with "the sound of armored vehicles, including at least one tank, large trucks, dozens of police cars, vans, motor homes and many other support vehicles [shaking] the earth as they rumbled through winding rural hills toward the Embassy of Heaven Church." A neighbor warned Fleshman by telephone, and Fleshman tried to get the word out to his supporters to come and help him, but he was too late to prevent the arrival of the authorities.
When Fleshman obstructed entry into the building, he was arrested. Two other followers, including "Abraham," were also arrested (the latter had to be physically carried out). Other church supporters were forced to leave the property. "Paul Reveres" ride was to the local jail, where he had to wait until arraignment on February 4, upon which he was released.
After his release, Fleshman and family were put up by neighbors. The following week, supporters (about 25-30) held a rally along the side of the road, with assertions that regular protest rallies would be held every Sunday thereafter. However, until and unless Fleshman coughs up the decades worth of taxes he had been pocketing, it seems unlikely the protests will have much effect.
Washington Militia/Freemen Case Ends with Mixed Verdicts
Abstracted from wire reports, the Seattle Times, the Columbian
A case against seven militiamen and sovereign citizens on various weapon and conspiracy charges began promisingly with their arrest in July 1996 but ended on a mixed note in February 1997. While some of the defendants were convicted on weapons charges, others received a mistrial, and an uncertain future.
Early in the case, an eighth defendant pleaded guilty, lifting prosecution spirits. The first bad sign came from the FBI, in the midst of a scandal of large proportions involving its vaunted crime labs. A Justice Department report revealed that lab technician Robert Heckman had mishandled evidence on lab reports issued the previous December, including mistakenly listing a detonator as a pipe bomb. This revelation caused the U.S. Attorneys office to drop a charge against one of the defendants, John Lloyd Kirk.
Another warning sign came during jury deliberations, as jury members indicated to the judge that they could not get along with each other and requested one of the jurors be removed. U.S. District Judge John Coughenour refused to grant the request.
When the verdicts were finally announced on February 28, 1997, after six days of deliberation, four of the defendants were convicted on weapons charges. John Irvin Pitner, founder of the Washington State Militia, was convicted of possession and transfer of machine guns. John Lloyd Kirk (one count) and Marlin Lane Mack (seven counts) were convicted of possession of an unregistered destructive device . Gary Marvin Kuehnoel was convicted of possession of a machine guns (three counts). Verdicts could not be reached on other charges against Kirk or his wife, Judy Carol Kirk, or Kuehnoel. Kuehnoel was found innocent on three other counts. Sentencing is set for May.
The three defendants not convicted on any charges (Frederick Fisher, Judy Kirk, and Tracy Brown) were ordered released on their own recognizance after Coughenour declared a mistrial. These counts included the most serious conspiracy charges. Prosecutors must now decide whether to attempt to try the case again.
Connecticut Common Law Advocates Evicted After Standoffs
Abstracted from the Hartford Courant
When one thinks of wild-eyed standoffs involving fanatics who spout "common law" doctrine, the image that comes to mind is Big Sky County. Well, the Montana Freemens citified cousins appear to be alive and well--if no longer in possession of their house--in Connecticut.
Simsbury, Connecticut, police arrested two common law advocates on February 10 on charges of interfering with police and criminal trespass. The two, Nena Frankle and John Barney, resisted authorities who arrived to take possession of their foreclosed house by barricading themselves in it, promting a brief standoff. It was the second time Barney had tried such a tactic, the first occurring three years ago in New Britain.
Foreclosure proceedings had dragged on for three years.
In another, apparently unrelated action, deputy sheriffs (backed up by a SWAT team) foreclosed upon the property of tax protester Juanita Martin on February 26, in Hartford, Connecticut. Martin was not home at the time; in 1992, she was involved in a standoff with police over eviction when she and another tax protester, Andrew Melechinsky, barricaded themselves in Melechinskys home. Martins bank had been involved in foreclosure proceedings for nearly five years for nonpayment of mortgage installments.
Aryan Nations Leader Enters Surprise Guilty Plea
Abstracted from the Columbus Dispatch, wire services, the Allentown Morning Call, and the Philadelphia Inquirer
In a move surprising but pleasing to authorities, Pennsylvania Aryan Nations leader Mark Thomas pleaded guilty on February 18, 1997 to conspiracy charges involving the plotting of seven bank robberies and using the cash to further the cause of a white supremacist group.
Thomas had been arrested for complicity with the Aryan Republican Army, also known as the Midwestern Bank Bandits, a small group of bank robbers who allegedly robbed in order to fund the cause of white supremacy. Of the four main participants, who robbed over 20 banks, one committed suicide after a plea bargain agreement, while the other three have been convicted of various robbery charges. The conspiracy charges, not yet tried, also involved Mark Thomas and a young man named Michael Brescia.
Thomas initially pleaded not guilty, but soon changed his plea. His lawyer said that prosecutors had not agreed to reduce Thomas sentence, which could reach as high as twenty-five years, but expected Thomas to receive a term of eight to twelve years. FBI agent Paul Hendrickson, Jr. suggested that the evidence against Thomas was overwhelming and that he decided "it wasnt a very good defense strategy" to plead innocent.
Hendrickson said that Thomas has promised to cooperate with authorities. This has led some who monitor right-wing extremism in this country to wonder if Thomas, who was widely connected in the white supremacist movement, may provide information that would allow authorities to prosecute other neo-Nazis. Said Floyd Cochran, a former Aryan Nations member now active in anti-racist activism, "Mark wasnt just a local supremacist; he was connected. Marks a literal Rolodex. He could give them all kinds of things if he knows of criminal activity."
When asked about Thomas action, Aryan Nations fuhrer Richard Butler claimed to be shocked. " I dont know what they had on him. I sure dont understand it," he said. White Aryan Resistance member Dennis Mahon, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, asked rhetorically: "How could he throw 25 years of this movement away? It breaks my heart that he would break that fast. Hes only been in jail for a week."
Freemen Follower Convicted in North Carolina
Abstracted from wire services
The first of what is likely to be many convictions for the twenty-odd oddballs called the Montana Freemen was secured on February 21, 1997, in North Carolina. Russell Dean Landers was the first of the radicals who surrendered to federal authorities near Jordan, Montana, following an 81-day standoff to see his day in court. The jury demonstrated that it did not agree with his arguments.
Like almost all trials involving so-called "sovereign citizens," this trial was a wild one. Landers himself spent much of the trial in his jail cell because he would not stop his courtroom antics as he acted as his own attorney. Landers, along with codefendant Vincent Wells, not a Freeman but also convicted, was found guilty on charges of bank fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy, attempting to intimidate IRS agents and interfering with IRS laws. The two defendants had used Montana Freemen leader Leroy Schweitzers bogus checks to defraud various people of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Wells faces a maximum sentence of 104 years in prison and $4.25 million in fines, while Landers faces 31 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines. Both men still face other charges.
Freemen Check Users Convicted in Minnesota
Abstracted from the Star Tribune
Marilyn Kerkvliet, Ronald Kerkvliet and Roger Leffler were not the first people to be convicted for trying to pass some of Montana Freemen leader Leroy Schweitzers bogus checks, nor will they be the last. The Minneapolis area residents are simply part of a growing crowd of people facing the consequences of their attempts to get something for nothing at the expense of other people.
The trio tried to pay off Roger Lefflers debts, including county property taxes and spousal support debts, with counterfeit checks obtained when Marilyn Kerkvliet attended a Schweitzer seminar in Montana. Like most attempts to pass these checks, these were made out for twice the amount of money owed and accompanied by requests for refunds of the "overpayment." Marilyn and Leffler were each convicted of eight counts of mail fraud and passing counterfeit checks, while Ronald was convicted of a single count of mail fraud.
Fraud Suspects Arrested in Washington
Abstracted from the Columbian
Four persons were arrested in Washington in mid-February on charges of conspiracy to defraud banks, mail fraud, and interstate transportation of stolen property. Most prominent among them was Charles C. Miller. Miller, a former resident of Vancouver, Washington, and Kathleen Cottam, from the Tacoma area, travelled around Washington writing bogus checks that amounted to over $30 million. Miller was prominent among militia and sovereign citizen sympathizers in the Vancouver-Portland area.
Miller, currently incarcerated in the Pierce County Jail in Tacoma, was arrested in Portland as he deplaned a flight from Hawaii. His checks, though, came from Montana. Miller and Cottam had traveled to Montana in the spring of 1995 to Roundup to learn the art of bogus money orders and checks from the leader of the Montana Freemen, Leroy Schweitzer (currently incarcerated in Billings, Montana, on every charge imaginable).
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Blackstone, Miller plans to represent himself in court, because "he did not recognize our law and that it was foreign to him and he was in court under duress." Self-styled "sovereign citizens" frequently represent themselves when arrested, leading to a high conviction rate against them. Also arrested were Charles Dean Christenson and Kurt Rolfe Gilson of Bellevue, and Veryl E. Knowles of Spokane. Cottam had already been arrested and has pleaded guilty.
Apologetic Militia Leader Calls it Quits
Abstracted from wire services, Internet reports
The Internet was abuzz in mid-February with recriminations and accusations when Jeff Randall, co-founder of the infamous "Gadsden Minutemen," announced that he had forsaken all affiliation with his former militia comrades and offered an apology to law enforcement officers.
Randall, who has had an on-again, off-again relationship with the militia movement in the past year, achieved notoriety in the summer of 1995 when he helped to publicize the existence of the "Good Ol Boys Roundup," a yearly gathering of federal, state and local law enforcement officials in Polk County, Tennessee. The Minutemen claimed to have videotaped racist acts and statements by FBI and ATF officials. The charges were embarrassing to the federal law enforcement agencies, and militia members delighted in having "struck back" at them, after all the unwelcome attention they had been given following the bombing at Oklahoma City. Subsequent investigations revealed that almost all of the racist activity had been committed by local law enforcement officers, not federal agents, but the Roundup was still a black eye for the agencies.
But now, Randall said in a public message on the Internet, "If I had it to do over again, I would have never assisted in the [Roundup], due to many good agents being dragged down with the few bad ones." Nor was Randall generous about his comrades in arms. "As far as Im concerned," he claimed, "the whole militia movement is either conspiracy kooks or criminals...which the government has been saying for some time."
Abstracted from wire reports, the Macon Telegraph
Three members of the Georgia Republic Militia, convicted for conspiring to use and possess pipe bombs, received stiff sentences on February 20, 1997. Bob Starr III received an eight-year, one-month sentence, while James McCranie, Jr., and Troy Spain each received a sentence of 6 ½ years in prison.
Starr still claimed that he was running a "sting" operation on two ATF informants. "Im not anti-government," he said. Nobody in our group was anti-government...I do dearly love my country. I had no intention of hurting anybody." Troy Spain admitting to having said and done "a lot of stupid things."
After the sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Wilson told reporters that "Congress has sent a message out that if you have pipe bombs, youre going to jail for a long time."
Its the Pen for Posse Passel
Abstracted from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin State Journal
Four members of Family Farm Preservation, a right-wing extremist group descended directly from the Posse Comitatus, were found guilty on December 6, 1996 for their involvement in a multistate scheme involving bogus money orders.
Family Farm Preservation, headquartered in Tigerton Dells, Wisconsin, was run by Leonard Peth and Thomas Stockheimer, former members of the Posse Comitatus. Indeed, Thomas Stockheimer was one of the leading Posse members who along with Donald Minniecheskie and James Wickstrom frustrated many local residents and authorities in the 1980s by declaring the Independent Township of Tigerton Dells. This "township," which claimed complete autonomy and independence from federal, state and local government, was not unlike the more recent "Justus Township" established by the infamous Montana Freemen in the 1990s.
The groups had other similarities as well, including the propensity to print and sell bogus money orders. Family Farm Preservation hoped not only to make some money from the scheme, but also aimed to cripple the nations financial system. Posse members do not believe that the Federal Reserve is a legal institution, nor do they believe that the banking system is valid or that paper money is legal tender. They argue that their own monetary systems--such as the illegal money orders--are just as valid as paper money. Family Farm Preservation passed at least $80 million in such money orders from 1992 to 1995. At one point, suggested one of the prosecutors in the case, they were taking in $10,000 a day in requests. Buyers paid up to five hundred dollars for packets of the money orders, which they would then use to pay off creditors or simply to scam other people. One common tactic was to fill in an amount double the money owed, then to ask for a refund of the "overpayment." The group made over $200,000 from the scam.
Stockheimer and Peth were found guilty on all 24 counts of mail fraud and conspiracy, while Mark Van Dyke and Harry Days, who were involved to a lesser extent, were found guilty on conspiracy and mail fraud charges. A fifth defendant, Thomas Ponchik, was acquitted on a charge of conspiring to pass the money orders. That does not mean he goes free--he is currently serving a 26 year sentence on drug-dealing and stolen property charges.
Missouri Common Law Court Defendants Found Guilty
Abstracted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Missouri became one of the first states to swat back at the irritating common law court movement early in December 1996 when it found fifteen defendants guilty of tampering with a judicial official. The defendants, common law court advocates active in Missouri and Illinois, had tried to thwart the judicial system, which they do not consider legitimate. Common law court advocates have set up a parallel and illegitimate judicial system of their own.
The case began, as many cases involving common law court adherents do, over a traffic stop. Common law court advocates, descendants of the old extremist group Posse Comitatus, do not register their cars, or get insurance or drivers licenses, believing that to do so is to enter into a contract with the government and lose your status as a "sovereign citizen" liable only to common law. Many also believe in a biblically based right to travel without any restriction or regulation whatsoever. As a result, adherents are very frequently pulled over for citations.
One person pulled over was 17 year old Amanda Lenk, whose father is a believer in common law courts. He wanted another common law believer, Clifford Keith Hobbs, to represent Amanda in court. However, because Hobbs is not a lawyer, the judge, Associate Circuit Judge Patrick Flynn, refused to let Hobbs do so. In retaliation, the common law court, which like many such groups refers to itself as "Our One Supreme Court," placed a bogus $1.5 million lien against Flynn. They also placed other bogus liens against other people.
During the trial, an undercover officer who spoke with Hobbs and Dennis Logan, another defendant, testified that the defendants admitted to him that the reason they placed the frivolous lien against Flynn was so that they could declare him impartial. Such bogus liens, although not valid, can often be expensive and time-consuming to remove, which makes them a favorite tactic of common law court advocates. Hobbs, Logan, and the others reasoned that with such a lien placed against him, Flynn would not be able to preside over the case.
The trial itself was a circus, as many trials involving Posse believers are. The fifteen defendants all represented themselves and repeatedly interrupted the proceedings with objections and other demonstrations, almost all of which were overruled by Circuit Court Judge Fred Rush. In the end, the jury returned a verdict of guilty for all the defendants, recommending two years in prison for thirteen of them, and for Hobbs and Logan a sentence of seven years.
In late January, Logan was sentenced to seven years and a $5,000 fine, while five others received two years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The sentencing of the other defendants was delayed until February because they decided to get lawyers to represent them.
Militia Supporter Stockman Defeated in Runoff
Abstracted from the Austin-American Statesman, wire services
U.S. Representative Steve Stockman, perhaps the most infamous supporter of the so-called "patriot" movement in the halls of Congress, was defeated for re-election in December in a runoff election. Stockman, R-Friendswood (9th District), failed to get a majority of vote in the November election, thus precipitating a run-off with Nick Lampson, a former county tax assessor. Lampson won 53% of the 112,070 votes cast.
Stockman, elected in 1994 in the so called "Republican Revolution," has been known for his close ties to leaders in the right-wing extremist movement. In the past, Stockman has called President Bill Clinton an abortionist and argued that Attorney General Janet Reno should face murder charges for her role in the 1993 Branch Davidian standoff.
Viper Militiamen Plead Guilty
Abstracted from Wire Services
The Viper Militia saga lost some drama in late December 1996 as most of the twelve arrested members pleaded guilty to conspiring to make and possess illegal explosives. After a brief flap caused by press overreaction to hyperbolic descriptions of the Vipers by government officials, in which some journalists went so far as to suggest that the Vipers had not done anything at all worth prosecuting, the wave of guilty pleas seemed to vindicate the different law enforcement agencies that had cooperated to investigate the Viper Militia.
The first guilty pleas came on December 19, when two members pleaded guilty. Gary Bauer admitted guilt in eleven conspiracy and weapons charges, while Randy Nelson pleaded guilty to four charges. Bauers attorney said the decision was simply common sense: "The sentencing guidelines reward people who accept responsibility for their actions." Bauer was charged with unlawful possession of unregistered machine guns, unlawful possession of other unregistered destructive devices, furnishing instruction in the use of explosive devices and conspiracy to unlawfully make and possess unregistered destructive devices. He could face a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
On December 27, two more Viper militiamen, Scott Shero and Henry Overturf, pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiring to illegally make and possess unregistered destructive devices. A third, Walter Sanville, pleaded guilty to both that charge and an additional charge of unlawful possession of machine gun parts. The plea bargain agreement reached between the defendants and the U.S. Attorneys office provided for sentences of 24 to 30 months for Shero, 12 to 18 months for Overturf, and 37 to 46 months for Sanville.
Most other Viper members also entered into plea agreements, generally on a single conspiracy charge. Two have so far refused to do so; their trial will begin shortly.
Anti-Abortion Extremist Uses Common Law Tactics, Is Punished
Abstracted from (Madison) Capital Times, Wisconsin State Journal
An anti-abortion protester, David Kanz, a former Christian radio broadcaster, was sentenced to two years in prison (and ten years probation) and $6,000 in fines on December 20, 1996, for his conviction in October on six counts of forgery and criminal slander. He had targeted Milwaukee attorney Catherine Doyle, a pro-choice attorney, forging her name on filed documents in which he made it seem as if she had admitted to committing genocide. The document was a bogus lien, to the amount of $100 million, designed to tie up her property and to harass her.
"This is paper violence, which can be every bit as damaging as physical violence," said Judge Daniel Moeser. He also banned Kanz from further contact with Doyle, her family or co-workerrs.
Indiana Militia Leader Gives Up
Abstracted from Wire Services
Militia leader Joe Holland turned himself in to Indiana authorities on December 19 after a Montana judge issued a warrant for his arrest. The judge, District Judge Douglas Harkin, issued the warrant because Holland never contacted his probation/parole officer in preparation for his sentencing in Ravalli County, Montana, on charges of criminal syndicalism and felony jury tampering. Holland, head of the North American Volunteer Militia, will be extradited to Montana.
Republic of Texas Feud Threatens Showdown, Standoff
Abstracted from the San Antonio Express, Wire Reports, the Houston Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, National Public Radio, the New York Times
Fort Davis is, as one unsympathetic passer-through once put it, the "butt-end" of Texas. But this unlikely West Texas hamlet has become the scene of a potential standoff between Texas authorities and a bizarre group of common law court advocates and would-be secessionists who style themselves the "Republic of Texas."
The showdown has been building for months, as the (real) government of Texas has been moving steadily to stop the shenanigans of the (would-be) government of Texas. The latter government has established its own courts, assiduously courted right-wing paramilitary groups in Texas, and committed a number of generally white collar crimes, many of those resembling ones committed by the Montana Freemen. For instance, they used laser printers to print "trust treasury warrants," bogus financial documents that look exactly like checks, except that they dont work. They are designed to be drawn from the assets of the state of Texas, which the (would-be) Republic of Texas has "appropriated." However, the (real) state hasnt been willing to let go of all that money. Its just a way to counterfeit checks, as a Fort Worth printer found out. The Republic of Texas hired him to print passports for them, then paid him with a treasury warrant. Similarly, Republic leaders had a jeweler in Austin make silver badges for their "Texas Rangers." They paid for the badges with a "warrant" for $3,946. Of course, he couldnt cash it. Thats not how Richard McLaren sees things. The flamboyant self-styled "ambassador" claims that they have acquired "access" to state funds. "And weve been spending state funds to run the provisional government, cause we are in coalition government, whether they like it or not."
Inevitably these crimes attracted the attention not only of the (real) Texas authorities, but the (real) federal government as well. That government has even issued a federal warrant for the arrest of Richard McLaren. McLaren failed to appear at a court hearing over a dispute with a title clearing, and the judge issued the warrant for his arrest on civil contempt charges.
McLaren, however, shows no more inclination to surrender than he did to appear at the original hearing. Ensconced in a fire-station-turned-headquarters about sixteen miles west of Fort Davis (itself in the middle of nowhere in West Texas, north of the Big Bend country; the nearest cities are the oil towns of Odessa and Midland and the border metropolis of El Paso), McLaren and a number of his followers (estimates tend to suggest around twenty people; some are from as far away as Idaho) are defying federal marshals. They occupy part of a vacation resort that is also home to about seventy full-time residents, who are irritated that the government has shut off their mail delivery because of the danger posed by McLaren. They now have to travel twenty miles to pick it up.
Could Fort Davis be added to the list of infamous standoffs including Ruby Ridge and Jordan, Montana? McLaren at times seems to want it that way. "I dont want to end up a martyr over this," he told one journalist, "but we started this and I figure wed take it all the way." Perhaps McLaren is tired of jail; he had already spent time before bars on similar charges until he agreed to stop filing frivolous documents in the title suit. McLaren is a 43-year old former operator of a vineyard in West Texas; he currently has employment only as "ambassador."
One reason that McLaren and company are so intransigent is their stated belief that Texas is an independent country because they believe it was illegally annexed by the United States. Historians dispute such claims. However, McLaren and other Republic of Texas leaders such as "president" Archie Lowe have gone so far as to establish their own government. They have asked Texas Governor George W. Bush, Jr., and the state legislature to leave their respective residence and buildings, although to no effect. They have appealed to the United Nations, the World Court, and other international bodies--with signal lack of success. Nevertheless, claims McLaren, "if they enter the embassy, theyll be in violation of international law. We have the right to remove them with bodily force, if necessary." McLaren has warned that authorities can expect a "massive" insurrection by militia groups should the warrant be carried out.
The Republic of Texas has taken steps both to form its own "defense force" and to establish ties with other common law and militia groups in the Lone Star State. The former chaplain of the northern region of the Texas Constitutional Militia, Ralph Turner, is now the "secretary of defense" of the Republic of Texas, and he uses combative words. "At the moment [the warrants are enforced], there will be an armed response." The attorney generals office estimates that about twelve militia groups had joined the Republic of Texas.
To date their tactics have been those of paper warfare, including a bogus $93 trillion lien against the state and federal governments, the United Nations and the Catholic Church. This lien and others (thousands, according to the New York Times) prompted the state to take actions against the group. Indeed, on January 17, Governor Bush went so far as to declare an emergency in order to allow the legislature to give quick consideration to a bill to make bogus court filings punishable by fines and up to a year in jail. Attorney General Dan Morales obtained contempt citations against the Republic of Texas and 28 of its members for misrepresenting themselves as public officials. Fines against the group were ordered by a state district judge back in October that double each day--the amount now, unpaid, has long since passed the trillions. Property owned by members can be seized to settle such fines.
Such actions against the Republic of Texas have not exactly pleased its members. A particular target of the would-be secessionists is Dan Morales. "Its amazing, too, how history repeats itself," said Republic member and president Archie Lowe. "One of the first problems that Republic of Texas people had in 1836 was a--a little Mexican general called Santa Anna. And it seems like now with Mr. Morales being of Mexican descent, perhaps were having the same problem now with a Mexican general--excuse me, a Mexican attorney general." There have already been telephoned bomb threats against the attorney generals office.
In one way, at least, the (would-be) Republic of Texas resembles its historical predecessor--it has gotten a little imperialistic. The (historical) Republic of Texas, in its brief existence, went so far as to launch a disastrous invasion of New Mexico, then belonging to Old Mexico. The (would-be) Republic has decided that it still possesses a claim on those parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming that briefly belonged to the (historical) Republic. "Weve got Aspen now," said McLaren. "Weve got Vail. This is great." To date, residents of Aspen and Vail have noticed few effects of the not-well-publicized change of administration.
The Great Vail Annexation, however, is not the wildest maneuver of the Republic of Texas. The award for that would have to go to its attempts at foreign recognition, which with one exception have met with no response. But what an exception the exception is! As Secretary of Defense of the (would-be) Republic wrote in a letter to Interpol, a successful recognition treaty with a foreign nation "granted us that vital international recognition needed to lay at rest the FACT of our nation status." Which foreign nation dared to risk the wrath of the United States--or worse, the government of Texas? None other than the Washitaw Nation. Most people may not have heard of the Washitaw Nation, which somehow resides within the United States and is ruled by the Empress of the Washitaw de Dutgdahmoundyah, a person named Verdiacee Tiari Washitaw Turner Goston El-Bey. The Empress granted complete recognition to the Republic of Texas, but the jury is still out as to who actually recognizes the Empress, impressive though her title might be.
Authorities say they plan to arrest McLaren and his associates, but they are in no hurry to do so. And with good reason--an ill-considered attempt might well result in a bloody confrontation and standoff.
Militiamen Charged with Slaying Comrade
Abstracted from the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press
Followers of noted militia leader Mark "Mark from Michigan" Koernke were charged in early December 1996 with murder. The two men, Paul David Darland, 25, and John Maurice Stephenson, 49, are believed to have killed their associate, William Gleason, sometime in 1994. Stephenson was arrested on December 6, while Darland remains at large.
The gruesome murder, only recently discovered, was the fallout of a well-known militia incident that occurred near Fowlerville, Michigan, in 1994. In September 1994 Darland and Gleason were stopped by local police on a normal traffic stop, during which a police officer discovered a stash of weapons, ammunition, military uniforms and other materials. The two men, followers of Mark Koernkes "Michigan Militia at Large" group, had been conducting surveillance on police officers and had cryptic notes indicating removing targets "with extreme prejudice." They were arrested on charges of state weapons violations, but instead of appearing at their court hearing, they became fugitives.
This minor flap was supposed to have ended there, more or less. Darland was arrested in April 1995 on the weapons charge. A judge threw out the charge, but it was reinstated later on appeal. Gleason remained at large, exactly where no one knew.
Only it turns out that Gleason was not exactly at large during those two years, but instead was buried in the woods near Camden Township in Hillsdale County, Michigan. The body was only discovered, however, on December 5, 1996.
The story seems to be out of Joel and Ethan Coens movie "Fargo." John Stephenson, another Koernke supporter, apparently agreed to hide Darland and Gleason on his farm in Hillsdale County. There Stephenson and Darland grew frustrated with Koernke, who promised them help in their legal troubles but never delivered it. The three militiamen squabbled with each other over a number of subjects. Apparently Gleason remained loyal to Koernke, and even provided Koernke with information. Finally, Darland and Stephenson murdered Gleason in October 1994 and buried the body. Police have not said how Gleason died.
Paul Darland is suspected to be hiding in the Grand Rapids area.
Husband and Wife Tax Protesters Get Mild Sentence
Abstracted from the Richmond Times-Dispatch
Nonpayment of over $40,000 worth of taxes ended up netting convicted tax protesters Jerry L. Martin, 57, and Sadie I. Martin, 63, of Mechanicsville, Virginia, only eighteen months in prison each, plus three years of supervised release.
The Martins, believers in the sect Christian Identity, adopted a "common law" style defense, firing their court-appointed lawyers and doing their own talking. Mr. Martin labeled himself a "sovereign free white male" and labeled the judge "comrade commissioner." As in most "common law" defenses, Martin claimed that the court had no authority over him. He also said that federal prosecutors (and their own defense lawyers) were "unregistered foreign agents" of the International Monetary Fund. The United States, he said, did not exist.
U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer was patient throughout the proceedings.
Conviction Secured for Ponca City Patriot
Abstracted from the Tulsa World
A prominent member of the common law court movement was convicted on January 10, 1997 in federal court in Oklahoma on charges of obstructing justice and illegally communicating with a grand jury. Dan Meador, of Ponca City, will be sentenced April 3.
Meadors convictions came as a result of his own political convictions, a set of beliefs that have caused him to believe in a vast conspiracy that has replaced a legal system based on "common law" with one based on admiralty or maritime law. These beliefs have also made him a tax protester. When a federal grand jury began investigating the common law movement in northern Oklahoma in late 1995, Meador began sending communications to the jury foreman, apparently trying to enlist the foreman into investigating Meadors theories. In the communications, Meador threatened jury members that they would be seen as "accomplices" if they failed to investigate the accusations of treason that he placed on the IRS--Meador used an analogy between the grand jury and the accomplices to German atrocities during the Second World War.
The other charge stems from an attempt by Meador to aid indicted tax protesters Kenney F. Moore, Colleen Moore and Wayne Gunwall by illegally filing a pleading on their behalf. The pleading was illegal because Meador is not a lawyer. The three tax protesters pleaded guilty on January 6, the day their trial was supposed to begin, to conspiracy charges. According to the indictment, they conspired to avoid paying income taxes and to intimidate and harass IRS and Treasury Department employees, as well as their spouses. Among their actions was the filing of a bogus $7 million lien on two IRS agents and the wife of one of the agents. Kenney Moore and Gunwall also filed a "Citizens Warrant for Citizens Arrest" against several federal officials.
Meador, unlike many other common law advocates, did not defend himself. His defense attorney suggested that Meador meant no harm and was just trying to assist the grand jury.
In a related story, another Tulsa-area tax protester found himself in court. Ralph E. Bailey received a five-year suspended sentence in November 1994 for filing $350,000 in bogus liens against IRS employees investigating his nonpayment of taxes. However, the U.S. Probation Office reported in December that Bailey did not file income tax returns for 1994 or 1995. Bailey claimed that he was not a U.S. citizen as defined by the tax code and did not earn any "income" as defined by the code. U.S. Senior District Judge Thomas R. Brett found that this action violated Baileys probation conditions, and he will re-sentence the tax protester soon.
Common Law Court "Tries" IRS Agents
Abstracted from wire services, Internet postings
Anti-government activists in Portland, Oregon, convened a "common law court" for Multnomah County on January 16, 1997, in order to hear a "case" against seven IRS agents and a federal judge. The "plaintiff" in the case, Louis Joseph Whispell, claimed that the seizure of his home--to satisfy unpaid tax debts--was illegal.
Not surprising, none of the "defendants" showed up at the court, which found in favor of the plaintiff by default and sentenced the agents to fines of $100,000 each. According to an "Email and Fax Media Announcement" from the common law court, the federal agents were charged with "Hatefully, Maliciously, Wrongfully, Intentionally, Willfully and Negligently and Constructively" engaged in "Grand Larceny, Theft, Extortion, Racketeering, Obstruction of Justice, Rendering False Judgments, Legal Malice, Perjury of Oath of Office, Malpractice, Fraud, Mail Fraud, Slander, Liable Corruption of Office, Breach of Fiduciary Responsibility, Breach of Public Trust, Neglect to Protect and Correct, Violations of Tort & Title 18 & 28 of the U.S. Code, and any other such crimes as the Jury finds Conscionable and in the interests of Justice."
The court met at JJ Norths Grand Buffet Restaurant. An ice storm made attendance low, but enough to form a jury. However, the proceedings had to be continued over on January 30, 1997, again at the hospitable JJ Norths Grand Buffet Restaurant. Attendees were encouraged to arrive early and purchase meals to help cover the cost of the room.
According to the common law groups leader, Charles Stewart, it is up to the plaintiff to collect the money.
The IRS has no comment.
Guilty Plea from Assault Gun Check Writer
Abstracted from Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Times
Timothy Paul Kootenay if Newbury Park, California, pleaded guilty in late January to four counts related to his attempts to pass a bogus "freemen" check to purchase assault rifles. He faces up to four years in prison. His guilty plea capped a long ordeal that sometimes seemed as if it would never end.
Kootenay, a 36 year-old tree trimmer who ran a substantial business in assault rifles on the side, was a long time "sovereign citizen," someone who declared himself subject only to the "common law," and not state or federal authorities. This behavior had previously gotten him in trouble over traffic violations and nonpayment of state taxes, but not anything too serious. However, in the mid-1990s Kootenay began to have contacts with Family Farm Preservation, a Wisconsin extremist group descended from the earlier group Posse Comitatus. The main activity of Family Farm Preservation was to create and distribute bogus money orders, both for profit and to help bring down the banking system of the United States, which Family Farm Preservation believed was unlawful (the leaders of FFP were recently convicted on charges related to the money orders).
In April 1994 Kootenay tried to use two of these false financial instruments, totaling a little over $5,000, to purchase six "military-type assault rifles" from a firearms dealer in Oklahoma City. Eventually, Kootenay had a grand jury investigating him for this attempt, which indicted him in March 1996, but he didnt stick around. Instead, Kootenay fled to--where else?--Montana. Authorities finally tracked him down in the "Big Sky" country in April 1996 and brought him back to California, where Kootenay, like most "sovereign citizens," denied that the courts had any jurisdiction over him. He was, he said, a citizen of the "Second Judicial District, Rancho Santa Rosa Township." Neither the state or federal government had any say over him.
But in May, Kootenay tried to kill himself while in jail, prompting the judge in the case to order a psychiatric evaluation of the freeman. The incident seemed to sober Kootenay up for a while, and allowed his family to talk some sense into him. His mother posted $25,000 bail for him, and his family also hired an attorney for him. During the summer of 1996, it seemed possible that a plea bargain could be worked out. Kootenay and his relatives paid off the $5,000 owed the Oklahoma gun dealer, which cleared the way for dropping some of the charges. But the charges related to firearms could not be dropped, and because of Californias "three strikes" law, Kootenay was reportedly reluctant to make a deal.
The case was accordingly set to go to trial. A date was established for mid-November 1996. However, once more Kootenays flight instincts kicked in. He disappeared, causing his family to file a missing persons report on him in November. His mother also had to forfeit the $25,000 she posted for his bail. This time Kootenay flew farther than Montana: he left the country, ending up in Belize. However, he was still tracked down and brought back in December.
At this point, Kootenay finally gave in and pleaded guilty on January 24, 1997, to one count of grand theft of a firearm, two counts of passing a bad check, and one count of forgery. He faces up to three years and eight months in prison. His sentencing is set for late February.
Midwest Bank Bandits Conspiracy Indictments Arrive
Abstracted from Wire Reports, the Allentown Morning Call, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Columbus Dispatch
Five white supremacists were indicted in late January 1997 on conspiracy charges relating to a campaign of bank robberies by the self-designated "Aryan Republican Army" designed to fund white supremacist groups. The indictments, followed by arrests, promise to unveil a complicated and sordid plot.
Three of the indictees are already well-known: Peter Langan, Kevin McCarthy and Scott Stedeford, three of the four "Midwestern Bank Bandits" (as newspapers called them) who, along with member Richard Guthrie (who committed suicide in jail after acceding to an unpromising plea agreement), committed a string of more than twenty bank robberies across the Midwest over the past several years, which netted over $250,000. McCarthy pleaded guilty to three robberies and agreed to testify against the others, while Stedeford was convicted of bank robbery in Iowa in November (and faces thirty years in prison). Langan was convicted in Columbus, Ohio, on February 10, 1997.
These convictions, however, were all for specific robberies. The new indictments are far more wide-ranging, encompassing not the robberies but the conspiracy behind them, which was designed to use the money gained from the robberies to finance the white supremacist movement. This explains the two additional figures named in the indictments: Aryan Nations minister Mark Thomas and white supremacist Michael Brescia.
Followers of the trial of Peter Langan had for some time been expecting indictments of some sort against Thomas, whose role in planning and supporting the robberies had gradually been revealed during the hearings and trial. Similarly, links with Brescia had also been made clear. The indictment focuses on seven of the bank robberies that occurred in Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin and Iowa in 1994 and 1995, and alleges that the five indictees conspired to rob them.
Thomas, a long-time white supremacist, has been involved in the Klan, Posse Comitatus and Aryan Nations. He is a fervent believer in Christian Identity, a creed that believes that Jews are the descendants of Satan and that blacks and other minorities are "mud people." It is a virulently racist religion; most of the leaders of Americans white supremacy movement adhere to it. Thomas helped to recruit members into the group, introducing them to each other and taking them to Elohim City, a Christian Identity separatist compound in remote eastern Oklahoma. He supplied them with false identification papers, bought a van used in a robbery, and used a false name to lease a garage for the group. He also reportedly helped to plan some of the robberies and received a share of the money. Thomas faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.
Brescias role was apparently smaller, but more direct. The 24-year old extremist participated in at least one of the robberies. Brescias name has been linked by conspiratologists with the Oklahoma City Bombing--some people have claimed that he was "John Doe Number Two"--but little evidence has surfaced to support such assertions.
Somehow news of the impending arrest was leaked to Thomas, who was well aware that the event was about to occur. Authorities were frustrated that he had advance warning which would allow him to destroy potentially incriminating evidence, and are investigating the source of the leak.
Militiamen Muster to Oppose Airport Ouster
Abstracted from the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Internet Reports
Militia members from several states showed in northern Mississippi in late January 1997 to support fellow members of the "patriot" movement who faced eviction from their home at the hands of local authorities. The home is to be destroyed, apparently to make way for a golf course.
Bill Cockrell, 52, and his wife Carolyn, 46, own a home in Southaven, Mississippi, a small community in the far northern reaches of the state, just south of Memphis, Tennessee. In fact, they live right next to the Memphis and Shelby County Airport, which is the source of all their frustrations. The Airport Authority in the late 1980s began buying the surrounding property as part of a noise abatement program related to the expansion of the Memphis International Airport. The Cockrells have been staunch opponents of the buyout plan. Over the years, they saw their neighbors dwindle from around sixteen down to none. The departing homeowners received around $85,000 to $90,000 for their homes, as well as relocation allowances of from $10,000 to $15,000. The Cockrell house now sits alone.
While the buyouts continued, Southaven and airport authorities continued with their plans for the property. In 1993 the Airport Authority told Southaven it would deed 80 acres to the city from the buyout area, as soon as the Cockrell property was purchased. Southaven planners decided that the land would be used for a golf course, complete with pro shop and clubhouse. Southaven Alderman Ricky Jobes applauded the buyout because it would raise property values in the surrounding area. The Cockrell residence currently would obstruct two tees.
In February 1994, Southaven leaders announced their intention to evict the Cockrells and two other resisting families. The other families settled with the Airport Authority and moved. Authorities began eminent domain proceedings to acquire the land from the defiant Cockrells. An eminent domain jury set the value of the house at $66,000 and paid this amount into an escrow account; interest has since increased it to $68,000. Cockrell has claimed that the buyout program was voluntary and he didnt volunteer. Moreover, he said, he and his wife had never been quoted a price for a buyout. In October 1996, a county judge issued a removal warrant for the Cockrell family and said all belongings should be out of the house by January 17, 1997. On January 20, Cockrell was offered $20,000 for a relocation allowance, and the right to move the house itself to another site at his expense. The house itself was appraised in 1995 at $50,100.
The Cockrells did not comply, causing local authorities finally to lose all patience. On January 28, they taped a notice to Cockrells door announcing that the city of Southaven planned to bulldoze the house down on January 30.
In desperation, Cockrell decided to contact militia groups (although he says it was not he but a friend who contacted them, the accounts by the militias themselves suggest otherwise) to help stop the eviction proceedings. During the past year a number of militia groups have been eager to support people engaged in "standoffs" with local or higher authorities; they have showed up at confrontations or standoffs from Ohio to Louisiana to remote Montana. Cockrell contacted "Colonel" Drew Rayner of the Mississippi Militia, who showed up with several supporters and "put the word out" on the Internet. Additional militia members then showed up, numbering around fifteen, from six different states.
Some of the militiamen were armed; some were belligerent. "If they take the mans house," said Alabama militiaman John Hassey, "theyre gonna start a war in these United States." Other militia members were more jovial, bringing guitars and holding a cookout. Most left after a day, but a few stayed in a rotating shift.
Local authorities were nonplused at the arrival of the militia members. Both Southaven and county police officers denied that there were any plans to raze the house. "Whatever we do, well do on our schedule and not on the schedule of Mr. Cockrell," said Southavens police chief. However, the board of aldermen announced it would not demolish the property but would allow the courts to handle the dispute first.
The pause, however, gave Cockrell time to appeal the removal warrant to the local circuit court. Cockrell represents himself in his legal proceedings. He filed a petition asking that Circuit Court Judge Andrew Baker recuse himself, because Baker had "previously exhibited malice, threat, duress, coercion and manifest abuse of discretion." Baker recused himself. Judge George Carlson agreed to handle the case and on February 7 ordered a stay on the eviction and seizure until he had a chance to review the court proceedings from the previous October.
The confrontation makes local authorities seem abusive of power, as well as greedy, but some suggest that the Cockrells and their supporters have been equally grasping. Rather than desiring only to stay on their property, the Cockrells actually simply want more money for their home. Militia leader Drew Rayner has said that the militia will stay there until the Cockrells get a "fair price." What does the couple consider a fair price? Carolyn Cockrell has suggested at least $100,000 and $20,000 for relocation expenses.