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Context of '1984: Posse Comitatus Begins to Disband'

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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

Early 1970s: Idaho Racist Founds Aryan Nations

The Aryan Nations logo.The Aryan Nations logo. [Source: Southern Poverty Law Center]Aerospace engineer and white racist Richard Butler, who departed California in the early 1970s and moved into a rural farmhouse in Hayden Lake, Idaho, founds and develops one of the nation’s most notorious and violent white separatist groups, the Aryan Nations. Butler’s 20-acre farmhouse becomes the compound for the group and its affiliated church, the Church of Jesus Christ Christian; Butler and his nascent organization envision a “whites-only” “homeland” in the Pacific Northwest. At age 11, Butler read a serialized novel in Liberty Magazine, depicting the takeover of the US by “race-mixing Bolsheviks” that deeply impressed him. As a young man, he worked as an aeronautical engineer in India, where he was fascinated by the Indian caste structure and the concept of racial purity. In 1941 he left a Los Angeles church after concluding that the preacher was spreading Communist doctrine. During World War II, as an Army engineer, he became fascinated by the German military, and later recalls that he “was thrilled to see the movies of the marching Germans.… In those days, all we knew was that Hitler hated communists, and so did my folks—as we did as teenagers.” In the 1950s, Butler was enthralled by radio broadcasts of then-Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) and his “Red scare” accusations, and sent money to support McCarthy’s political campaigns. During that time, Butler met William Potter Gale, another white supremacist who went on to found the Posse Comitatus (see 1969). Butler held a high position in the Christian Defense League, an organization founded by the Reverend Wesley Swift and described by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as “virulently anti-Semitic,” until 1965, and shortly thereafter became a mail-order “ordained minister” of Christian Identity, a white supremacist offshoot of the Christian church (see 1960s and After). Butler buys the farmhouse in Hayden Lake and founds his own “Christian Posse Comitatus,” and thereafter founds the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. The two groups merge into what later becomes known as Aryan Nations. [Washington Post, 6/2/2003; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010]

Entity Tags: William Potter Gale, Wesley Swift, Joseph McCarthy, Richard Girnt Butler, Church of Jesus Christ Christian, Posse Comitatus, Christian Defense League, Aryan Nations, Southern Poverty Law Center

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

Gordon Kahl.Gordon Kahl. [Source: Anti-Defamation League]Posse Comitatus (see 1969 and 1983) member and anti-tax protester Gordon Kahl (see 1967 - 1973) and three Posse members gun down two US marshals who are attempting to arrest Kahl in a confrontation near Medina, North Dakota. The two marshals are among a group of six attempting to apprehend Kahl in a 1977 income tax case after he violated his probation by refusing to file a tax return (see 1975 - 1981); he has been a fugitive since 1981.
Initial Attempts to Negotiate Peaceful Surrender Fail - In that year, Kahl refused to turn himself over to North Dakota federal marshal Harold “Bud” Warren after a number of telephone conversations in which Kahl insisted that he had been “illegally” convicted by the “forces of Satan.” Warren decided that Kahl’s probation violation was “hardly a serious crime” and decided not to pursue it, partially because he knew Kahl was a crack shot and feared he would lose officers in any attempt to arrest him.
Increasing Involvement in Posse Activities - Kahl moved to Arkansas, where he visited the compound of the white supremacist Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord organization. A member of that organization, Leonard Ginter, hid Kahl from federal authorities. Kahl’s wife, under tremendous stress from the situation, tried and failed to negotiate a settlement with the IRS, resulting in her excoriation by her 23-year-old son Yorie, who accused her of cooperating with “the tithing collectors of the Jewish-Masonic Synogogue [sic] of Satan.” Kahl became more and more involved in Posse Comitatus activities, traveling to Kansas and Colorado.
Return to North Dakota, Confrontation with Police - In January 1983 he and Yorie Kahl returned to North Dakota with the intention of setting up a Posse “township” near Medina, which they envisioned as being free from state and government control. Kahl’s station wagon is observed by Stutsman County deputy sheriff Bradley Kapp, who informs the Marshal Service in Bismarck. Warren’s successor, Kenneth Muir, authorizes Kahl’s arrest, and drives to Medina with Deputy Marshal Carl Wigglesworth to join two other deputy marshals, Robert Cheshire Jr. and James Hopson Jr. Kapp is spotted by some of his Posse colleagues, who quickly join him in planning to forcibly resist any arrest attempt. Reportedly, they receive the assistance of Medina police chief Darrell Graf, who is allegedly a Posse sympathizer. Kahl, Yorie Kahl, and Posse members David Broer and Scott Faul flee Medina in two Posse members’ cars, but the ruse only briefly confuses the marshals, and two police cars with flashing lights quickly apprehend Kahl and Broer. One car is driven by deputy police chief Steve Schnabel; the other by Muir and Wigglesworth. Kapp, Cheshire, and Hopson are close behind in a third vehicle. Kahl and Broer turn off the road into a driveway, and Kahl, armed with a modified Ruger Mini-14 assault rifle, prepares to open fire on the approaching police officers. The others leap out of their cars and, armed with Mini-14s, take up positions in a ditch. When the marshals arrive moments later, they get out of their cars and order the Posse members to lay down their weapons. One of the Posse members opens fire, and in the 30-second volley that ensues, Kahl and his fellow Posse members lay down a deadly fire that inflicts heavy damage on the outgunned marshals. Kahl wounds Kapp and Schnabel with two shots, and kills Muir with a shot to the heart. Muir fires off a single shot that gravely wounds Yorie. Hopson is struck in the head by a ricocheting bullet that causes permanent brain damage. Rifle fire from Yorie and Faul fatally wounds Cheshire. Kapp, severely injured, manages to shoot Yorie three more times, then takes cover. Kahl executes the dying Cheshire with a shot to the head, then points his rifle at the downed Schnabel, but chooses not to kill him, instead taking his police cruiser and fleeing the scene. He takes the injured Yorie to a Posse member, Dr. Clarence Martin; Yorie and Kahl’s wife Joan are arrested later that night at the hospital, and Yorie tells FBI agents some details of the confrontation. Faul, Broer, and Posse member Vernon Wegner are also arrested; Faul refuses to tell police or FBI investigators where Kahl might have fled to. Police find Schnabel’s abandoned police cruiser. Two days later, police surround Kahl’s farmhouse and bombard it with tear gas, only to find it abandoned. They do find a store of weapons and ammunition, and a collection of Posse Comitatus pamphlets and related documents. Kahl’s family insists that law enforcement efforts to apprehend Kahl are unfair, and complain that he is being “hunted like a dog.” Joan Kahl appears on television and tearfully pleads with her husband to surrender, to no avail. FBI and US Marshals descend on the local Posse Comitatus headquarters, and offer a $25,000 reward for information leading to his arrest, but Kahl has disappeared into the shadows of the far-right militia network. [Ian Geldard, 2/19/1995; Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2001; Levitas, 2002, pp. 194-200; Nicole Nichols, 2003; Anti-Defamation League, 2011] Kahl’s murder of the marshals will be used by Posse Comitatus leader James Wickstrom to promote the anti-tax movement (see February 14-21, 1983). Four months later, Kahl will die in a bloody standoff with police officers in Arkansas (see March 13 - June 3, 1983).

Entity Tags: Robert Cheshire Jr, Steve Schnabel, Scott Faul, Yorie Kahl, Posse Comitatus, Vernon Wegner, Leonard Ginter, Kenneth Muir, Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord, Carl Wigglesworth, Bradley Kapp, Joan Kahl, Darrell Graf, Clarence Martin, Gordon Kahl, James Hopson Jr, James Wickstrom, Harold (“Bud”) Warren, David Broer

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

1984: Posse Comitatus Begins to Disband

Members of the white separatist, anti-Semitic group Posse Comitatus (see 1969) begin to drift away from the group after federal and state authorities seize the “township” of Tigerton Dells, Wisconsin, which the group has created as part of its “breakaway” nation. The organization is also destabilized by negative media attention after one of its members, Gordon Kahl, killed two US marshals and was later killed himself in a violent confrontation with federal and state officials in Arkansas (see February 13, 1983 and After). Some of the Posse members will take up membership in other white supremacist Christian Identity (see 1960s and After) groups such as Aryan Nations (see Early 1970s). The organization will not entirely dissipate, but quickly loses influence and membership (from a height of some 50,000) to newer groups. [Ian Geldard, 2/19/1995; Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2004; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010]

Entity Tags: Aryan Nations, Posse Comitatus, Gordon Kahl

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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