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Context of '1984: Posse Comitatus Leader Escapes Federal Custody'

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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

Wisconsin Posse Comitatus (see 1969) activist Thomas Stockheimer, who founded the Wisconsin chapter in 1970 from his own organization, the “Little People’s Tax Advisory Committee,” and several of his followers lure IRS agent Fred Chicken to a farm in Abbotsford, Wisconsin, and assault him. Stockheimer is later convicted of felony assault against Chicken, and after losing an appeal, becomes a fugitive. During his appeals process, Stockheimer introduces future Posse Comitatus leader James Wickstrom to the Posse Comitatus (see February 14-21, 1983 and 1984). Stockheimer’s anti-Semitism, racism, and anti-tax philophophy are what attracts Wickstrom to the group. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2004; Anti-Defamation League, 2011]

Entity Tags: Posse Comitatus, Fred Chicken, James Wickstrom, Thomas Stockheimer

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, an anti-tax protester, Posse Comitatus member (see 1967 - 1973 and 1975 - 1981), and federal fugitive who killed two US Marshals in a February shootout in North Dakota (see February 13, 1983 and After), quickly gains national prominence as the media begins reporting on the fatal confrontation. Most media reports only identify him as a “tax protester,” failing to mention his Posse Comitatus membership and often leaving out the involvement of his son, Yorie Kahl, and two other Posse members who helped kill the marshals and wound three others. CBS news anchor Dan Rather goes farther than most of his colleagues, describing Kahl as “a radical survivalist, a fanatic, [and] an ultraright-wing tax protester” whom authorities describe as “a killer.” It does not take long for Posse Comitatus leader James Wickstrom (see 1984) to begin contacting the media himself, proudly announcing Kahl’s Posse connections and announcing: “The Posse in Wisconsin is on standby alert. All communications are locked in.” The government has, in pursuing Kahl, “declared war on the people of this country,” Wickstrom tells reporters. He adds that his organization has some three million members, though the FBI estimates its membership at closer to a few thousand; the number is hard to pin down, as many anti-tax protesters (see 1951-1967, December 9, 1968 and After, 1970-1972, 1974, 1976-1978, 1980, and Early 1980s) have at least some affiliation with the loosely organized group. As the FBI and local law enforcement officials mount a nationwide manhunt, Wickstrom, with some success, tries to turn the story away from Kahl’s murder of the two marshals and towards the story of the Posse’s anti-tax beliefs. “What we have here is a gentleman who is now being pursued in North Dakota on a setup to shut his mouth because the American people are waking up by the tens of thousands across this country, realizing that we have been duped by a private central bank,” he declares to a Milwaukee reporter. He makes an appearance on the nationally televised Phil Donahue Show, where he claims that his “heart really goes out to the US Marshals and the children of those marshals and their families.” Asked by Donahue if he would join Kahl’s wife in asking Kahl to turn himself in, Wickstrom changes the subject, arguing that Kahl’s civil rights have been violated and the real issues are farm foreclosures, corrupt courts, the income tax, the Federal Reserve, unemployment, foreign workers, and Jews. In 2002, author Daniel Levitas will write, “Phil Donahue’s dialogue with Wickstrom was oftentimes inane, and though he clearly didn’t agree with his guest, he gave Wickstrom a tremendous platform to spread his ideas.” Wickstrom will use his media appearances to mount a longshot candidacy for governor of Wisconsin. [Levitas, 2002, pp. 201-204] Four months later, Kahl will die in a bloody standoff with police officers in Arkansas (see March 13 - June 3, 1983).

Entity Tags: Yorie Kahl, Dan Rather, Daniel Levitas, Posse Comitatus, Gordon Kahl, Phil Donahue, James Wickstrom

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Gordon Kahl, an anti-tax protester, Posse Comitatus member (see 1967 - 1973 and 1975 - 1981), and federal fugitive who killed two US Marshals in a February shootout in North Dakota (see February 13, 1983 and After), arrives at a farm in Mountain Home, Arkansas. The farm owner, Arthur Russell, is a member of another white supremacist organization, the Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord (CSA), and willingly hides Kahl, who is facing a second warrant for his arrest issued March 11. Kahl spends two months hiding at Russell’s farmhouse, studying the Bible, watching television, and spending time with Russell’s daughter Karen. While Kahl is in hiding, his family and colleagues in the Posse who were involved in the shootout are tried in May 1983; his son Yorie Kahl and colleague Scott Faul are convicted of second-degree murder and six other related charges; David Broer is convicted of conspiracy and of harboring a fugitive; and his wife Joan Kahl is acquitted of conspiracy and harboring a fugitive.
FBI Learns of Kahl's Whereabouts - In late May, after the convictions, Kahl leaves the Russell farm with his CSA friend Leonard Ginter and Ginter’s wife Norma. Ginter, an unemployed carpenter, belongs to a small anti-government group called Americans for Constitutional Enforcement, but is not too ideologically rigid not to accept food stamps for himself and his wife. Kahl and the Ginters drive to Smithville, Arkansas, a tiny Ozark town where the Ginters have a concrete house with a vegetable patch and a chicken pen. After Kahl leaves, Karen Russell calls the FBI and informs them of his whereabouts.
Final Confrontation - On June 3, FBI agent James Blasingame organizes a group of US Marshals and local lawmen at the Lawrence County courthouse to plan how best to apprehend Kahl and the Ginters. Twenty-eight law enforcement officials, including 15 US Marshals, six FBI agents, three state police officers, and four county lawmen descend on the Ginter home. While en route, they encounter Ginter, driving away from the house in a car with a rifle in the backseat; he has a cocked and loaded pistol in his lap. Ginter is apprehended without incident, but lies to the police, saying Kahl is not at the house. Unfortunately, the officials believe his story. At the officials’ request, Ginter drives back to the house, with five officials behind. Ginter parks his car, as do the officials; Ginter gets out and shouts: “Norma, come out. The FBI wants to talk to you.” He emphasizes the word “FBI” as loudly as possible, alerting Kahl to their presence. Norma Ginter comes out and is escorted away. Lawrence County Sheriff Gene Matthews, departing from the plan, enters the house through a utility room off the garage, with US Marshal James Hall and Arkansas State Police investigator Ed Fitzpatrick following him. Kahl is waiting in the kitchen, armed with a formidable Ruger Mini-14 assault rifle. When Matthews enters the kitchen, the two men see each other and open fire simultaneously; Kahl wounds Matthews fatally with two shots to the chest and Matthews kills Kahl with a bullet to the head. Hall and Fitzpatrick, unsure of what has happened, begin firing wildly, striking Matthews with buckshot. Matthews manages to get to a police cruiser before collapsing, and gasps, “I got him.” But the other officials are unsure if Kahl is actually dead, and if others may be in the house as well. They open fire on the house and let loose a barrage of tear gas. They then set the house afire with a can of diesel fuel; the fire ignites several thousand rounds of ammunition stored inside the house and the house is all but gutted by the conflagration. Eventually, officials are able to enter the house and find what remains of Kahl’s body in the kitchen. Posse Comitatus leader William Potter Gale, asked by a reporter about Kahl’s death, says that Kahl was murdered for helping farmers and belonging to the group. Another Posse member, Richard Wayne Snell, will later claim that Matthews had been killed by FBI agents after interrupting them during their torture of Kahl. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2001; Levitas, 2002, pp. 217-220; Anti-Defamation League, 2011]
Episode Destabilizes Posse Comitatus - The Kahl episode receives national attention and helps destabilize the Posse Comitatus (see 1984). The media quickly learns of Kahl’s racist and anti-Semitic past, and reprints a letter he wrote the same night he killed the marshals and later sent to reporters. In his letter, Kahl announced that it was time to begin killing Jews: “We are engaged in a struggle to the death between the people of the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of Satan. We are a conquered and occupied nation; conquered and occupied by the Jews, and their hundreds or maybe thousands of front organizations doing their un-Godly work. They have two objectives in their goal of ruling the world. Destroy Christianity and the White race. Neither can be accomplished by itself, they stand or fall together.” In an attempt to exonerate his son and Faul, Kahl took credit for all the fatal shots. Kahl’s espousal of violence and anti-Semitism causes a backlash when some Posse Comitatus members attempt to portray him as a martyr. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2001; Levitas, 2002, pp. 217-220]

Entity Tags: Ed Fitzpatrick, Scott Faul, William Potter Gale, David Broer, Arthur Russell, Americans for Constitutional Enforcement, Richard Wayne Snell, Posse Comitatus, Yorie Kahl, Leonard Ginter, James Blasingame, Gordon Kahl, Gene Matthews, Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord, Norma Ginter, James Hall, Karen Russell, Joan Kahl

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

Posse Comitatus and Aryan Nations leader James Wickstrom (see 1969 and 1984) rails against slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a white separatist “skinhead” gathering, saying: “I have a dream! If that g_ddamn n_gger can have a dream, I can have a dream, too. I have a dream that in the days to come there won’t be anyone who isn’t white that’s gonna be in America!” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010]

Entity Tags: Aryan Nations, James Wickstrom, Posse Comitatus

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Posse Comitatus and Aryan Nations leader James Wickstrom (see 1969, 1975 - 1978, 1984, and 2003) tells a reporter in a videotaped interview: “I’d like to see these Jews all be brought to the VA [Veterans Administration Hospital] and wooden chairs be put down on the lawn. Tie the Jews in. Bring these veterans down who have been mutilated… and give them baseball bats and let them beat these Jews to death! Every one of them! Take these chairs and Jews after they’re beaten to death, throw ‘em in the wood chipper! And from the wood chipper let the remains go into a big incinerary [sic] truck, which is right behind the wood chipper, and give them the holocaust they rightly deserve!” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010]

Entity Tags: Aryan Nations, Posse Comitatus, James Wickstrom

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

After the death of Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler (see July 2004), the organization, already deeply divided and dwindling in size and influence (see Late 2000 - 2001), splits into two rival factions. One is headed by August Kreis in Pennsylvania and the other by Jonathan Williams in Georgia. Kreis and Williams are divided in part over the issue of whether neo-Nazis can find common ground with Muslim terrorists based on their mutual hatred of Jews. In 2005, Kreis tells CNN, “And I want to instill the same jihadic feeling in our peoples’ heart, in the Aryan race, that they [jihadists] have for their father, who they call Allah.” Another Nations leader, Charles Juba, attempts to anoint organization “pastor” James Wickstrom (see 1969, 1984, and 2003) as the group’s chaplain. Wickstrom aligns himself with Juba’s breakaway faction, in what some believe is an attempt to claim leadership in Butler’s wake. Aryan Nations member Floyd Cochran, who will leave the group and renounce its racist teachings, will later say: “Jim Wickstrom has a certain stature in the racist movement—one Juba doesn’t have—and especially among the more religious, the biggest ones that are really into the Christian Identity aspect (see 1960s and After).… With the death of Richard Butler, the Christian Identity aspect of the movement is now more focused on Wickstrom.” Days after Butler’s death, Juba announced he was appointing Wickstrom “Chaplin” (sic) and said the group’s new slogan would be “No Jew left alive in 2005.” However, Wickstrom has powerful enemies within the movement, not the least because in 2003 he eloped with the wife of another Christian Identity preacher, his former friend and colleague Keith Kallstrom. In reaction, Kallstrom vowed to cut off Wickstrom’s head and place it on his mountain, and shortly thereafter was arrested after driving to Michigan from Oklahoma in a pickup truck loaded with firearms and grenades, in an apparent attempt to find and kill Wickstrom. Wickstrom never becomes a full-fledged leader of the group, and though he will continue to broadcast a weekly radio program over the Internet, he will experience a steady decline in his influence among Aryan Nations and other racist, white supremacist groups. Both Kreis’s and Williams’s factions will continue to slide into irrelevance, though Kreis will have some success recruiting members from motorcycle gangs in South Carolina. By 2010, the only remnants of the groups will be small individual cliques and their accompanying Web sites. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2004; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010]

Entity Tags: Floyd Cochran, Aryan Nations, August Kreis, Charles Juba, Keith Kallstrom, Jonathan Williams, James Wickstrom, Richard Girnt Butler

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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