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Context of '1983: Posse Comitatus Leader Imprisoned for Impersonating a Public Official'

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One of a number of semi-official ‘Christian Identity’ logos.One of a number of semi-official ‘Christian Identity’ logos. [Source: KingIdentity (.com)]The “Christian Identity” theology, formerly a fairly benign expression of what is known as “British-Israelism” or “Anglo-Israelism,” begins to spread throughout the US and Canada, particularly on the west coasts of these nations. This belief holds that white Americans and Canadians are the real descendants of the Biblical tribes of Israel. In 2003, author Nicole Nichols, an expert on far-right racist and religious groups in America, will define the concept of “Christian Identity” as practiced by many white supremacist and separatist groups. Christian Identity is not an organization, she will write, but an ideology that many organizations have adopted in some form or fashion. Christian Identity “elevates white supremacy and separatism to a Godly ideal,” she will write, calling it “the ideological fuel that fires much of the activity of the racist far right.” According to Christian Identity theology, Jews are neither the “true Israelites” nor the true “chosen people” of God; instead, Christian Identity proponents claim, Jews are descended from an Asiatic people known as the Khazars, who settled near the Black Sea during the Middle Ages. [Nicole Nichols, 2003; Anti-Defamation League, 2005; Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 5/30/2006] In 2005, the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance will write, “Followers tend to be involved in political movements opposing gun control, equal rights to gays and lesbians, and militia movements,” and quote Michael Barkun, an expert on radical-right groups, as saying, “This virulent racist and anti-Semitic theology… is prevalent among many right-wing extremist groups and has been called the ‘glue’ of the racist right.” [Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 5/30/2006]
Beginnings; 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' - In the 1920s, William J. Cameron, editor of the Dearborn Independent weekly newspaper, popularized the anti-Semitic hoax manuscript called “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which purported to detail the “secret teachings” of Judaism, including the planned takeover of the world’s governments, the subjugation of non-Semitic races, and the bizarre, cannibalistic rituals supposedly practiced by Jews. [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Wesley Swift and 'Mud People' - In the 1940s, a former Methodist minister, Wesley Swift, started his own church, later known as the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. Swift had deep ties to a number of radical right-wing groups including the Ku Klux Klan; Swift and his associates set the stage for the mutation of the Christian Identity into a loosely organized set of virulently anti-Semitic, racist belief systems that will come to be grouped together under the “Christian Identity” rubric. Swift himself taught that only the white race was created in the form of God, while Asian and African races were created from the “beasts of the fields,” and thusly are subhuman creations. In Swift’s version of Genesis, Eve, the wife of the first “true” man Adam, was seduced by The Serpent, who masqeueraded as a white man. Eve bore a son, Cain, who is the actual father of the Jewish people. This reinterpretation, sometimes called the “two-seed” or “seedliner” theory, supports the Christian Identity propensity to demonize Jews, whom Swift and others labeled the “spawn of Satan.” Today’s white Europeans and their American and Canadian descendants, Swift taught, are descended from the “true son” of Adam and Eve, Abel, and are the actual “chosen people” of God. Some Christian Identity adherents go even farther, claiming that subhuman “pre-Adamic” races existed and “spawned” the non-white races of the world, which they label “mud people.” [Nicole Nichols, 2003; Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Permeates Racist, Far-Right Groups - By the 1960s, a new group of Christian Identity leaders emerges to spread the Identity theology through the radical, racist right in America and Canada, popularizing the once-obscure ideology. Most prominent among them are three disciples of Swift: James K. Warner, William Potter Gale, and Richard Butler. Warner, who will move to Louisiana and play a leading role in the fight against civil rights, founds the Christian Defense League and the New Christian Crusade Church. Gale, an early leader of the Christian Defense League and its paramilitary arm, the California Rangers, goes on to found the Posse Comitatus (see 1969), the group that will help bring about the sovereign citizen movement. Gale will later found the Committee of the States and serve as the “chief of staff” of its “unorganized militia.” Butler moves Swift’s Church of Jesus Christ Christian to Idaho and recasts it as the neo-Nazi group Aryan Nations (see Early 1970s). Under the leadership of Butler, Gale, Warner, and others, Christian Identity soon permeates most of the major far-right movements, including the Klan and a racist “skinhead” organization known as the Hammerskins. It also penetrates many extreme anti-government activist groups. The Anti-Defamation League will write, “The resurgence of right-wing extremism in the 1990s following the Ruby Ridge (see August 31, 1992) and Waco standoffs (see April 19, 1993) further spread Identity beliefs.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2005] Nichols will write: “Christian Identity enclaves provide a trail of safe havens for movement activists, stretching from Hayden Lake in northern Idaho (the Aryan Nations stronghold) to Elohim City on the Oklahoma/Arkansas border (see 1973 and After). Many white supremacists on the run from federal authorities have found shelter and support from Christian Identity followers.” Some organizations such as the Montana Militia are headed by Identity adherents, but do not as a group promote the theology. [Nicole Nichols, 2003; Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Bringing Forth the Apocalypse - Many Christian Identity adherents believe that the Biblical Apocalypse—the end of the world as it is currently known and the final ascendancy of select Christians over all others—is coming soon. Unlike some Christians, Identity adherents do not generally believe in the “rapture,” or the ascendancy of “saved” Christians to Heaven before the Apocalypse ensues; instead, Identity followers believe Jesus Christ will return to Earth only after the time of the “Tribulation,” a great battle between good and evil, which will set the stage for the return of Christ and the final transformation of the world. Identity followers believe it is their duty to prepare for the Apocalypse, and some believe it is their duty to help bring it about. They tend to cast the Apocalypse in racial terms—whites vs. nonwhites. Identity adherents believe that worldly institutions will collapse during the “end times,” and therefore tend to distrust such institutions, making Identity theology appealing to anti-government ideologies of groups such as militia, “Patriot,” and sovereign citizens groups. [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
21st Century Identity - In the 21st century, Christian Identity groups are strongest in the Pacific Northwest of America and Canada, and the US Midwest, though Identity churches can be found throughout the US and in other parts of Canada. Identity churches also exist in, among other nations, Ireland, Great Britain, Australia, and South Africa (see June 25, 2003). The Anti-Defamation League will write: “Yet while spread far it is also spread thin. Estimates of the total number of believers in North America vary from a low of 25,000 to a high of 50,000; the true number is probably closer to the low end of the scale. Given this relatively small following, its extensive penetration of the far right is all the more remarkable.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Identity Violence - Identity adherents commit a number of violent acts, often against government and/or financial institutions, in an outsized proportion to their small numbers. In 1983, Identity adherent Gordon Kahl kills two US Marshals who attempt to arrest him on a parole violation, and kills an Arkansas sheriff before finally being gunned down by authorities (see February 13, 1983 and After). The white supremacist terrorist group The Order (see Late September 1983) contains a number of Identity members, including David Tate, who kills a Missouri Highway Patrol officer while attempting to flee to an Identity survivalist compound (see April 15, 1985). During the 1980s, small Identity groups such as The New Order (or The Order II) and the Arizona Patriots commit bombings and armored car robberies. After the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), Identity minister Willie Ray Lampley attempts a number of bombings (see November 9, 1995). In 1996, the Montana Freeman, led by Identity members, “stands off” federal authorities for 81 days (see March 25, 1996). Between 1996 and 1998, Eric Robert Rudolph, who has connections to Identity ministers such as Nord Davis and Dan Gayman, bombs an Atlanta gay bar (see February 21, 1997), several abortion clinics (see October 14, 1998), and the Atlanta Summer Olympics (see July 27, 1996 and After). In 1999, Identity member and former Aryan Nations security guard Buford Furrow goes on a shooting spree at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles (see August 10, 1999). [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]

The logo of the Posse Comitatus.The logo of the Posse Comitatus. [Source: Underground News Network]The Posse Comitatus, an anti-Semitic, right-wing “Christian Identity” organization (see 1960s and After), is founded by retired dry-cleaning executive Henry L. Beach in Portland, Oregon, who calls his organization the Sherriff’s Posse Comitatus (SPC) or Citizen’s Law Enforcement Research Committee (CLERC). Beach has supported Nazism since the 1930s, and formerly led a neo-Nazi organization called the Silver Shirts (see January 31, 1933). The Posse Comitatus is quickly taken over by William Potter Gale, a retired Army colonel who founded a similar organization called the US Christian Posse Association in Glendale, California, and manages to roll the two groups, and a few other loosely organized entities, into one. The Posse Comitatus dedicates itself to survivalism, vigilantism, and anti-government activities; its bylaws state that no federal or state governmental entity has any legal standing, and only county and town governments are legitimate. Furthermore, the organization believes that the entire federal government is controlled by Jews, and as such has no authority over whites. Beach’s original Posse manual states, “[O]fficials of government who commit criminal acts or who violate their oath of office… shall be removed by the posse to the most populated intersection of streets in the township and, at high noon, be hung by the neck, the body remaining until sundown as an example to those who would subvert the law.” According to a 1986 advisory published by the IRS, “members associated with some of the Posse groups wear tiny gold hangmen’s nooses on their lapels.” Posse members refuse to pay taxes whenever they can get away with it, and ignore laws that they feel cannot be enforced by “the enemy.” Instead, they claim to abide by a “common law,” defined as a set of principles that they themselves create and change at will. The organization begins making inroads into the farm communities of the Northwest and Upper Midwest after federal mismanagement of agricultural policies threatens the livelihood of many area farmers; the Posse tells them, “Farmers are victims of a Jewish-controlled government and banking system, federal taxes are illegal and loans need not be repaid.” Some area farmers embrace the message, and the Posse begins heavily recruiting in Michigan. [Ian Geldard, 2/19/1995; Nicole Nichols, 2003]
Anti-Government, Anti-Tax Ideology - The Posse Comitatus believes that the federal and state governments are inherently illegal and have no authority whatsoever; the highest elected official of the land, it says, is the county sheriff, who can form juries and call out “posses” of citizens to enforce the law as necessary. The movement strongly opposes paying taxes, particularly to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and considers money issued by the Federal Reserve System as illegal. It says that the Constitution’s 16th Amendment, which gave Congress the right to tax citizens’ incomes, was illegally ratified and therefore unconstitutional; moreover, it says, careful examination of federal law tells it that income taxes are entirely voluntary. The Federal Reserve System is, as one Posse publication puts it, “a private monopoly which neither the people nor the states authorized in the Constitution.” The Federal Reserve’s printed money violates the Constitution. Some, but not all, Posse Comitatus members also express racist and separatist views similar to those of Christian Identity believers (see 1960s and After); these members say that the Federal Reserve is controlled by a small cabal of international Jewish bankers who intend to destroy the American economy. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; US Constitution: Sixteenth Amendment, 2011; Anti-Defamation League, 2011] Posse Comitatus members use the threat of violence, and sometimes actual violence, to express their anti-tax and anti-government ideologies (see 1972 and 1974).
Township Movement - The Posse spawns a directly related ideology, the “township movement,” led in part by Utah resident Walt P. Mann. Township advocates advocate setting up small sovereign communities that are answerable only to themselves. The Posse will set up a “constitutional township” on a 1,400-acre plot in Wisconsin and name it “Tigerton Dells,” posting signs that say, “Federal Agents Keep out; Survivors will be Prosecuted.” Tigerton Dells will appoint its own judges and foreign ambassadors before federal authorities seize the property (see 1984).
Movement Spreads throughout Northwest, Plains States - By 1976, an FBI report says that the Posse Comitatus movement will consist of up to 50,000 adherents throughout the Northwest and Great Plains states. The center of the movement is at Tigerton Dells; Posse members there will disrupt local government meetings and assault public officials. The farm crisis of the early 1980s will allow the Posse to begin converting angry, frightened farmers throughout the region. In 1996, the Anti-Defamation League’s Mark Pitcavage will write, “The Posse offered up targets for people to blame: the courts, the money system, the federal government, the Jews.”
Waging Legal Battles - While some Posse members offer violence to law enforcement and public officials (see February 13, 1983 and After), most of their battles with the government take place in court. Posse members most frequently use two common legal strategems: filing frivolous liens on the properties of public officials who oppose or anger them, particularly IRS agents, and flooding the courts with a barrage of legal documents, filings, motions, and appeals. The liens carry no legal weight but sometimes damage the recipients’ credit scores and interfere with the recipients’ ability to buy or sell property. The court documents, often written in arcane, archaic, and contradictory legal language, clog the court system and frustate judges and prosecutors. A related tactic is the establishment of “common law courts,” vigilante courts that often threaten public officials. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]
Inspiration to Other Groups - The Posse Comitatus’s ideology will inspire other anti-government groups, such as the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994).

Entity Tags: US Federal Reserve, William Potter Gale, Walt P. Mann, Internal Revenue Service, Posse Comitatus, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Henry L. Beach, Mark Pitcavage, Sherriff’s Posse Comitatus, US Christian Posse Association

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

James Wickstrom.James Wickstrom. [Source: Southern Poverty Law Center]James Wickstrom, a tool salesman and former mill worker angered by what he saw as less-qualified African-American workers bypassing him in receiving raises and promotions, meets Thomas Stockheimer (see 1974), a member of the violent anti-tax, racist, and anti-Semitic organization Posse Comitatus (see 1969). Wickstrom walks by Stockheimer’s “Little People’s Tax Party” office in Racine, Wisconsin, each week, and is accosted by Stockheimer, who asks him: “Do you know who you are? Do you really know who you are? Do you know that you’re an Israelite?” Initially Wickstrom is offended at being called, he believes, a Jew, but after a discussion, leaves with two audiotapes of sermons by Posse founder William Potter Gale that tell him he is a member of God’s chosen people, a member of the “true” Israelite tribe; Jews are the offspring of Satan and are unworthy of being called Israelites. Blacks, Gale preaches, are subhuman, no better than beasts of the field, and merely tools of the Jewish conspiracy to destroy white Western society. Wickstrom finds Gale’s message appealing, and he joins Stockheimer in setting up a Bible study group. Wickstrom follows in Gale’s footsteps and becomes an adherent of the Christian Identity ideology (see 1960s and After). Stockheimer flees Racine ahead of the police, who intend to have him complete his jail sentence for assaulting an IRS agent, and Wickstrom quits his job and moves to Schell City, Missouri; he will later explain the move, saying, “I wanted to be with like-minded people.” He buys property near Identity minister Dan Gayman, becomes a teacher at a small private school operated by Gayman and another Identity minister, Loren Kallstrom, and in 1977 founds his own church, Mission of Jesus the Christ Church, living off tithes and donations. After a falling out with Gayman, in 1978 Wickstrom moves back to Wisconsin, at the invitation of Posse member Donald Minniecheske, who wants him to take part in the establishment of a Posse compound on the shores of the Embarrass River (see 1978 - 1983). [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2004]

Entity Tags: William Potter Gale, Dan Gayman, Donald Minniecheske, Loren Kallstrom, Posse Comitatus, Thomas Stockheimer, James Wickstrom

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

James Wickstrom (see 1975 - 1978), a self-styled “minister” of the racist, anti-Semitic Christian Identity ideology (see 1960s and After) and a member of the anti-government Posse Comitatus (see 1969), moves back to his childhood state of Wisconsin from his home in Missouri, at the invitation of Donald Minniecheske, who owns 570 acres of land on the shores of the Embarrass River and wants to create a “township” for the Posse that would be run without recognition of federal, state, or local law. Minniecheske wants Wickstrom to be part of the new “township” and what Minniecheske calls the “rejuvenation” of the Posse. He begins by naming himself “national director of counter insurgency” of the organization. After building a bar and moving a few trailers onto the land, Wickstrom and Minniecheske name the property the Constitutional Township of Tigerton Dells. Wickstrom names himself the township’s judge and municipal clerk, and grants Minniecheske a new liquor license (he had lost his previous license two years before). Wickstrom also begins traveling through the Midwestern farm belt, appearing at meeting halls, in basements, and at farm shows. “I knew that something had to be done. I knew that the ranchers and the farmers were being meticulously destroyed by the Jew banking system in America,” Wickstrom will later say. Wickstrom preaches the gospel of anti-tax protest and refusal to pay income taxes (see 1951-1967). He tells his listeners that since taxation and the federal government are both illegitimate, and since they are “sovereign citizens” of the US, they can pay their tax debts with fictitious money orders. Driver’s licenses and ZIP codes are equally illegitimate, Wickstrom says, and tells his listeners they are the victims of a widespread Jewish conspiracy that works through tax collectors, law enforcement officials, judges, and the like to oppress them. Jews and tax collectors should be lynched, Wickstrom advises. Dairy farmer Floyd Cochran will later recall listening to Wickstrom, saying: “In the ‘70s and ‘80s farming went through a drastic change. A lot of people I’d known a good part of my life went out of business. Wickstrom was organizing farmers out West, appearing at farm shows and things of that nature, telling farmers you are losing your place not because of something you did but because the Jews want to take away your farms.” By 1980, Tigerton Dells becomes the center of Posse-led paramilitary training; Wickstrom will later claim that Posse seminars draw thousands of participants who are taught survival skills and covert military operations by high-ranking Vietnam veterans. That same year, Wickstrom runs for the US Senate on the far-right Constitution Party ticket. In 1982, a local radio station begins broadcasting his speeches, and he runs for governor of Wisconsin. He continues preaching, and tells his listeners, falsely, that “his” Posse has over two million members. When North Dakota Posse member Gordon Kahl kills two US Marshals and flees (see February 13, 1983 and After), Wickstrom uses the incident to vault to national prominence and establish himself as a Posse leader (see February 14-21, 1983), moderating his usual virulently racist rhetoric, emphasizing his patriotism and strong Christian beliefs, and presenting himself as a champion of ordinary farmers and working people. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2004]

Entity Tags: Floyd Cochran, Donald Minniecheske, Gordon Kahl, James Wickstrom, Posse Comitatus

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Christian Identity (see 1960s and After) preacher and Posse Comitatus (see 1969) leader James Wickstrom (see 1975 - 1978) is charged with two counts of impersonating a public official. Wickstrom had named himself chief judge and municipal clerk of the “Tigerton Dells Township,” a Posse compound on the banks of the Embarrass River (see 1978 - 1983). Though Wickstrom defends himself as a “sovereign citizen” who is not obligated to obey the laws of the federal, state, and local government, prosecutor Douglas Haag counters: “[T]he question is whether or not a man with even marginal intelligence who can read and write the English language believes that he can put a fence around his back yard, set up a separate government, and call himself a public official.… [I]f [Wickstrom] has a sincere belief that he is a public officer within the laws of the state of Wisconsin, I’m the Easter Bunny.” Wickstrom is convicted and sentenced to the maximum of 13 and one-half months in jail. He will be released in 1985 and forbidden from any contact with Posse Comitatus activities for two years afterwards. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2004] Wickstrom is also charged with running an illegal guerrilla training camp (see 1984). The Tigerton Dells debacle has a negative effect on the Posse Comitatus (see 1984).

Entity Tags: Douglas Haag, James Wickstrom, Posse Comitatus

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

James Wickstrom, the counterinsurgency director of the anti-Semitic, anti-government group Posse Comitatus (see 1969), escapes from federal custody after being convicted of running an illegal guerrilla training camp in the Posse’s “planned community” of Tigerton Dells, Wisconsin. Wickstrom, a former tool salesman who protested the Vietnam War on the grounds that it was being fought for “Jew bankers,” and who has successfully recruited Michigan farmers for his group, promises the Posse’s enemies—primarily federal agents and Jews—“the biggest bloodbath you can imagine” before his capture. [Nicole Nichols, 2003; Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2004; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010] Wickstrom is captured and will spend a year in prison; Tigerton Dells is seized and many Posse members arrested (see 1984). In 1990, Wickstrom will be sentenced to over three years in prison for counterfeiting currency and illegally possessing firearms. After his second and final release, he will become a popular speaker at neo-Nazi gatherings, where he will tell listeners that he lives “for the day I can walk down the road and see heads on fence posts.” Wickstrom will become chaplain of the Christian Identity separatist group Aryan Nations, and will go on to broadcast a weekly Internet radio program called “Yahweh’s Truth.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010]

Entity Tags: Posse Comitatus, James Wickstrom, Aryan Nations

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

James Wickstrom (see 1975 - 1978), the Posse Comitatus (see 1969) leader who recently spent over a year in prison for impersonating a public official (see 1983), is again sentenced to 38 months in prison for his role in a plot to print and distribute $100,000 in counterfeit bills for the 1988 Aryan Nations World Congress. The counterfeit bills were to help fund paramilitary activities. By the time Wickstrom is released in 1994, the Posse Comitatus has all but dissolved (see 1984). In 2001, author Daniel Levitas will say: “Wickstrom’s light has been fading ever since the compound at Tigerton Dells shut down (see 1983). Wickstrom’s heyday was in the period from 1978 to 1985. That was his period of peak influence. Since then he’s hopscotched around and been able to gather small groups of people around him, but he’ll never return to his former stature in the movement.” Wickstrom will continue speaking to small groups, selling his speeches through the mail and the Internet, and running an obscure weekly Internet-based radio show, which he will abandon in 2003. He will attempt to take leadership of a splinter faction of the disintegrating Aryan Nations organization (see 2003, 2004, and September 2004 and After). [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2004]

Entity Tags: Aryan Nations, James Wickstrom, Posse Comitatus, Daniel Levitas

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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