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Profile: James (“Bo”) Gritz
James (“Bo”) Gritz was a participant or observer in the following events:
James “Bo” Gritz, a decorated Vietnam veteran, calls for widespread civilian militias as part of his conservative “populist” campaign for the presidency. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
The reaction among various militia and anti-government groups to the standoff between the FBI and the Montana Freemen (see March 25, 1996) is mixed. Some militia and “common law” (see Fall 2010) organizations issue statements in favor of the Freemen, warning that the FBI will cause another bloody debacle similar to those experienced at Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992), and Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). Some predict that the Freemen standoff is the first step in a federal clampdown on the “patriot” movement, and call themselves ready for violence and even civil war. Other militia organizations are more cautious. The Tri-States Militia, a loose confederation of several militia organizations (see October 1995 and After), issues a press release criticizing the Freemen and saying they find it “insulting and offensive that people who call themselves members of the patriot community have combined their ‘patriotic’ activities with a clear attempt to defraud banking institutions and individual citizens through the use of phoney [sic] and/or money orders coupled with force and threats.” The Tri-States and other militia groups contrast the Freemen with their own, presumably “constitutional,” militias. (Later it is learned that the FBI had contacted a number of militia groups before they moved against the Freemen, apparently in an attempt to forestall any rash actions on the parts of the militias.)
Montana Militia Reactions - The Montana Militia (sometimes called the Militia of Montana, or MOM—see January 1, 1994) is cautious, perhaps attempting to ascertain where public opinion is before taking a stand. MOM founders John and Randy Trochmann say the group has sent representatives to the scene to “monitor” the situation and talk to Freeman Dale Jacobi, who used to run a business near MOM’s Nixon, Montana, headquarters. The group issues a press release asking other militias to “stand down” and not come to Montana. John Trochmann even says: “I think the FBI has been handling it very patiently. I admire them for their patience. And they’ve had a tremendous amount of pressure from the public (see March 1996 and March 25, 1996), from the local law enforcement (see November 1995), and from their superiors in the FBI and the Justice Department. I think they’re caught between a rock and a hard place, and they’re doing the only thing they can do.” Other MOM members are less cautious. Militiaman Steve McNeil announces that he is leading a militia caravan to Jordan, Montana, in support of the Freemen; he is later arrested at the courtroom where two of the Freemen are being arraigned (see March 26, 1996) for violating his probation. Had McNeil managed to bring an actual caravan, he may have found himself in conflict with a cordon of some 30 local ranchers who have grouped together to stand up to any such militia operations. Local farmer Cecil Weeding later explains: “The militias will just pump more hot air into the Freemen and make it worse. There will be a clash if they get here. This country is sick and tired of that thing up there, and wants to get it over.”
'Operation Certain Venture' - Former MOM leader Norm Olson, perhaps looking for a way to re-enter the limelight after his recent disgrace (see Summer 1996 - June 1997), tells reporters that the FBI is seeking a way to massacre the Freemen with the complicity of the local and national media, and calls on militia organizations to converge on Montana. He even releases his plans for “Operation Certain Venture,” an unarmed convoy of food, mail, and other supplies (including what he calls “women’s necessities”) that he says will help prevent an FBI slaughter. April 19, the day of the Branch Davidian conflagration and the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), might be a good day to set forth, Olson suggests. Olson is joined by the Alabama-based Gadsden Minutemen, led by Jeff Randall; Randall issues a plea for “dedicated volunteers,” but notes that “arrest is possible, and the FBI could very well decide to shoot unarmed civilians.” Mike Kemp, founder of the Minutemen, promises “there won’t be another Waco unanswered. They are pushing us to a confrontation. If the shooting starts, it could get very ugly, very quickly.” Kemp says the entire issue is over a few debts, and says the situation can easily be handled in civil court. On CBS’s Face the Nation, Olson says that if Jordan “is going to be the place where the second American revolution finally culminates in war, then it’s good for a battlefield commander to be there to look at the logistics, to look at the needs, and to find out exactly what the situation is on the ground.”
Other Opinions - Lawyer Gerry Spence, who represented Randy Weaver after the Ruby Ridge debacle, compliments the FBI on its restraint. “Patriot” leader James “Bo” Gritz, who helped negotiate Weaver’s surrender, implies that he is available to help negotiate a surrender for the Freemen as well, warning that “the longer these people stay within those walls, the more determined they get,” and even condoning the use of armed force against them if necessary. Samuel Sherwood of Idaho’s United States Militia Association calls the Freemen charlatans and rogues, and tells a reporter: “We’ve told everybody to stay away. These people aren’t what they are purporting to be. They are not the innocent victims of oppression.” Some members of Gritz’s “patriot” commune in Kediah, Idaho, a subgroup calling themselves the “Freemen Patriots,” go against their leader and issue claims of support for the Freemen, adding that the FBI standoff is a trap to capture more “patriots” and claiming that US Special Forces units have already been deployed at the scene. Some of the “Freemen Patriots” announce plans to hold a protest rally in Lewistown, Montana, on April 1 to support the Freemen, and ask all supporters to come sporting white ribbons. “We support the God-given right of our Freemen Brothers at Jordan, Montana, to be heard in a righteous constitutional court of law,” they proclaim. However, on April 1, only a few people actually show up. Lewistown police officer Bob Long describes the scene as “five or six guys out there at a RV park south of town. Right now, there are more newspeople in town than Freemen.” One extremist militia member, Bradley Glover, urges an array of violence to be mounted on behalf of the Freemen, but gets little reaction (see Late March 1996).
Twos and Threes - However, a small number of militia members attempt to visit the compound, usually traveling in groups of two or three. Some are allowed to visit the Freemen, but most are turned away, particularly if they are armed. If they are carrying fuel, groceries, firearms, or ammunition, these supplies are confiscated. Oklahoma militia leader and fugitive Stewart Waterhouse, with another militia member, Barry Nelson, breaks through a roadblock and drives into the ranch to join the Freemen. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]
Entity Tags: Stewart Waterhouse, Norman (“Norm”) Olson, Samuel Sherwood, Steve McNeil, Tri-States Militia, Montana Militia, Randy Trochmann, Mike Kemp, Dale Jacobi, Cecil Weeding, Bradley Glover, Bob Long, Barry Nelson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Montana Freemen, John Trochmann, Gadsden Minutemen, James (“Bo”) Gritz, Jeff Randall, Freemen Patriots, Gerry Spence
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Jack McLamb during his days as a Phoenix, Arizona, police officer. [Source: Jack McLamb]The FBI refuses to allow three “celebrity” would-be negotiators to enter the Montana Freemen compound, currently surrounded by federal and local authorities (see March 25, 1996). Famed “Patriot” leader James “Bo” Gritz (see March 25 - April 1, 1996), Gritz’s associate Jack McLamb, and Ruby Ridge survivor Randy Weaver (see August 31, 1992) offer their services as negotiators, but are not allowed to go through the perimeter. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996] The FBI will eventually allow Gritz and McLamb to attempt to negotiate with the Freemen (see April 27, 1996).
The FBI allows “Patriot” militia leader James “Bo” Gritz and his partner, former police officer Jack McLamb, to take part in negotiations to end the siege of the Freemen compound outside Jordan, Montana (see March 25, 1996 and April 25, 1996). The two men helped end the Ruby Ridge siege in Idaho (see August 31, 1992). Most law enforcement officials do not like either Gritz or McLamb, but they hope that with the two’s established credibility in the militia movement and their success in Idaho, they may be able to negotiate a successful surrender. Garfield County prosecutor Nick Murnion says: “There’s some hope. I think [Gritz] is of the right political persuasion, and certainly probably has more credibility with these folks than a lot of potential negotiators. So he does seem to offer them the possibility to come out in a more dignified manner.” After seven hours of negotiations with the Freemen, militiaman Stewart Waterhouse, who joined the besieged Freemen weeks before (see March 25 - April 1, 1996), leaves the compound, and authorities begin to hope that Gritz and McLamb are making headway. But Gritz gives mixed impressions in his initial reports to the press. He says the situation is “bridgeable,” but seems to fundamentally misunderstand the Freemen, saying that they “have no white supremacy, separatist tendencies that I saw. None at all.… They brought up the fact and said, ‘Where is the media getting the idea we have any prejudice or bias?’” Many of the Freemen, including leader Rodney Skurdal, have produced inordinate reams of court documents and other statements laced with virulently racist and anti-Semitic diatribes. Author Mark Pitcavage will later write, “In any event, there was something that Gritz was not ‘getting.’” [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] Gritz and McLamb will give up after four days (see May 1, 1996).
Militia leader James “Bo” Gritz, brought in four days earlier to help negotiate an end to the Freemen standoff in Montana (see March 25, 1996 and April 27, 1996), quits. On the third day of negotiations, the Freemen told Gritz and his partner, Jack McLamb, that they would surrender if they could speak before the Montana legislature—which is not due to convene until 1997. No one was sure if the offer was a sincere one. Gritz relayed offers of reduced or even dropped charges for some of the Freemen. He and McLamb, along with Soldier of Fortune reporter Jim Pate, believe that the Freemen are divided into two groups: one willing to negotiate a deal, and one controlling the group and entirely unwilling to make any deal. Despite the hopes of the negotiators, no one else leaves the compound. Instead, the Freemen tell Gritz that all of them have made an “affirmation” to God not to surrender, and even say that God has placed an invisible barrier around the farm that protects the Freemen from outsiders. They restate their demands for a common law court of male, “non-14th Amendment” citizens, not government employees or in debt to anyone (see Fall 2010). [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] In his newsletter, Gritz will say that the Freemen are ruled by a small “hard core” of leaders—Edwin Clark, Dale Jacobi, Russell Landers, and Rodney Skurdal—who are holding others hostage, including three young girls. Gritz will write that he had implored Clark to let the nonmembers go, to no avail. “I beseeched Edwin to release the non-Freemen,” he will write. “His pained reply made it clear that they knew the value of placing children between themselves and the FBI.” Gritz will write that Clark replied, “But, Bo, if the others left, what would happen to the Freemen?” Gritz says his time with the Freemen was marked by dwindling food stores, a large weapons arsenal, and incessant rants about the “Zionist Occupational Government” the Freemen say is manipulating the United States. According to Gritz, the oldest of the three girls, 14-year-old Ashley Taylor, tells him: “I am only here because of my mom. This is not something I am willing to die for. I haven’t even started to live.” Her mother is Dana Dudley Landers. [New York Times, 5/18/1996] Gritz calls the Freemen a “potpourri circus of over-the-hill outlaws, people with no past or future.” According to Gritz, the Freemen’s grip on reality is sometimes tenuous. He will say that Dudley Landers told him her father had been a great physicist murdered in Europe because he knew the truth about flying saucers; recalling that tale, Gritz will say, “I expected to see Alice and the Mad Hatter appear.” [New York Times, 6/15/1996]
Charles Duke. [Source: Crooks and Liars]At the FBI’s request, Colorado Republican State Senator Charles Duke, a respected figure in militia circles, arrives in Jordan, Montana, to negotiate with the besieged Montana Freemen (see March 25, 1996). Duke and FBI negotiators spend six days in fruitless negotiations culminating in an argument between Duke and Freemen leader Rodney Skurdal. Duke says only half of those in the compound are real Freemen, with the rest “nothing but criminals trying to escape prosecution.” The Freemen promise to allow Duke and an FBI team to interview everyone in the compound, and to release two young girls among their number, but fail to deliver on either promise. [Chicago Tribune`, 5/24/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] Gloria Ward and her two daughters, aged 8 and 10, appear at one negotiating session with their luggage packed as if readying to leave, but instead of exiting the compound, they go back inside when the talks end. [Reuters, 5/20/1996]
Talks End in Angry Shouts; No Support from Militias - Duke is blazingly angry at the Freemen’s refusal to honor their promises. As Skurdal climbs into an automobile to go back to the ranch house, he shouts, “You aren’t enough of a man to come face me, get out of that car!” Afterwards, Duke says: “I told him, ‘I’m going to go out of here and I’m going to tell the American people what you’re doing here. You will not get support from the patriot community, you will not get support from the militia community, and if you die, nobody’s going to avenge you.’” Many in the militia community have similar feelings as Duke’s. Montana Militia leader Randy Trochmann says: “People in contact with them understand now that what they were doing was fraud. With the public, a good percentage of them want the FBI just to leave, put a berm around the house, and let the state police patrol it. And another percentage just want them [the FBI] to go in and finish them off.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/5/1996] Duke adds: “The FBI has now pursued each and every avenue to a peaceful solution. If it should come to a less than peaceful solution, I can tell you for sure the FBI has bent over backwards to avoid it.… One can only conclude the adults inside care only for their safety and care not one whit for the safety of their children, because they’re willing to sacrifice them and use them as a shield (see May 1, 1996). I think it’s unconscionable.” After Duke leaves, the Freemen begin rotating armed foot patrols, something they have not yet done during the duration of the standoff. [Associated Press, 5/21/1996] After leaving the Freemen ranch, Duke says he sees little hope of resolving the standoff by peaceful means. “I realized this is going nowhere,” he says. It is time for the FBI to make the Freemen “feel some pain.” [Chicago Tribune`, 5/24/1996] “This is not a battle for the militias,” Duke later adds. “The Freemen are using the Constitution as a facade to prevent their incarceration for illegal activity.” Militia leader James “Bo” Gritz, who himself attempted to negotiate an end to the standoff (see May 1, 1996), says the standoff is not a cause for any militia groups or their supporters. “There isn’t anyone in the legitimate patriot movement who doesn’t want to see the Freemen out and before the bar of justice,” he says. “The FBI are wrong in their fears.” Gritz is referring to fears that if the FBI moves on the Freemen, the right-wing militia groups will condemn the bureau for its actions, and perhaps launch counterattacks. [New York Times, 5/24/1996]
Fear of Cancer, 'No Brains' Drugs - At least one of the Freemen expresses his fear of being injected with cancer cells and “no brains” drugs if he were to go to jail, and several of the Freemen say they are ready to shoot it out with the FBI. The information comes from audiotapes Duke makes of his conversations with the Freemen; he will publicly air some of the tapes on the June 17, 1996 broadcast of Dateline NBC. Freeman Edwin Clark says: “When [LeRoy Schweitzer, the Freeman in federal custody] went to Missouri (see March 30-31, 1996), a man, a doctor from New York City, come in and told Leroy, he says, ‘You’ll never see the light of day.’ And he says, ‘I’ll guarantee you before you leave here I’m gonna inject you with a, with a deadly ah… dose of cancer.” Clark says that government officials have tried to kill other jailed Freemen: “I know of two of them, one of them at least, he was as healthy as a [expletive] horse when he went in there, and he came back… there was another one, I can’t remember his name, they, they give him a lethal dose of ‘no brains’ when he come back.” [Associated Press, 6/17/1996]
A distant shot of the Freemen compound. Reporters were not given much access to the area, and photographs of the area and the participants in the standoff are limited. [Source: CNN]The besieged Montana Freemen (see March 25, 1996) surrender peacefully to federal authorities. Officials credit Freemen leader Edwin Clark (see June 11, 1996) with playing a key role in negotiating the surrender. [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] The New York Times writes that the siege ends “so peacefully that the surrender [does] not even disturb the cows grazing at the group’s remote Montana ranch.” Local postal carrier and rancher Ruth Coulter exclaims after the surrender: “My God, it’s finally over! And nobody got killed! Wonderful. Wonderful!” [New York Times, 6/14/1996]
16 Freemen Surrender - CNN identifies 16 people still inside the compound: Ralph Clark (see 1980s-1994), the elderly leader of the Clark family and one of the group’s leaders; Clark’s wife Kay; Clark’s brother Emmett Clark, the actual former owner of the 960-acre wheat farm occupied by the Freemen and dubbed “Justus Township” (see September 28, 1995 and After); Emmett Clark’s wife Rosie; Ralph Clark’s son Edwin; Edwin Clark’s son Casey Clark; Rodney Skurdal, a founder of the group (see 1983-1995); Russell Dean Landers, one of the leaders of the group and a member of a North Carolina anti-government, anti-tax group called “Civil Rights Task Force”; Dana Dudley Landers, Landers’s common-law wife, a fugitive from federal and state charges, and a member of the “Civil Rights Task Force”; Dale Jacobi, a former Canadian policemen; Steven Hance, who faces state charges from North Carolina; Hance’s sons John Hance and James Hance; Cherlyn Petersen, the wife of arrested Freemen member Daniel Petersen; Casey Valheimer; and Barry Nelson, who with another man entered the ranch after eluding blockades (see March 25 - April 1, 1996). [CNN, 6/12/1996] The surrender is peaceful; the Freemen drive to the ranch gates in cars, trucks, and a Winnebago motor home. They gather in a quiet circle for a final prayer. Then Edwin Clark approaches an agent and shakes hands. Finally, in pairs escorted by Clark, they surrender to waiting agents, who ease them into passenger vans. Clark is the last one to enter custody. Fourteen of the Freemen are taken to the Yellowstone County jail in Billings, 175 miles away from Jordan. Two, Kay Clark and Rosie Clark, face no charges and are not jailed, though the FBI says they will not be allowed to return to the compound. After hearing of the surrender, President Clinton tells guests at a state dinner, “We will all say a little prayer tonight for this peaceful settlement.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/14/1996]
FBI Director 'Obviously Relieved' - FBI Director Louis Freeh, described by the Los Angeles Times as “obviously relieved,” says the FBI “put patience above the risk of bloodshed” to end the standoff. He says the bureau “made no deals to drop or lessen the federal charges” against any of the Freemen in order to precipitate the surrender. Of critics who called for quicker and perhaps more “tactical” solutions, Freeh says: “I understand their impatience. But it was essential that we followed our established crisis management procedures.” He says the standoff proves the worth of the new crisis response plans implemented after the tragedies in Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992), and Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). This time, the bureau used “a fundamentally different approach” that “may not always work, but it worked here.” Giving negotiators more influence during the standoff did cause some “disagreements” and “friction” within the FBI, Freeh acknowledges, but it was the right decision to make. Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick says “[t]he tactical option was always on the table.” Freeh notes that as the standoff wore on, the Freemen gained a certain level of reluctant trust in the bureau. “We never broke a promise to them,” he says, and “we told them before things happened,” such as cutting off electrical power (see June 3, 1996). [Los Angeles Times, 6/15/1996]
Outreach to Rightist Figures, Low-Key Techniques Brought Successful Resolution - FBI agents credit help they received from militia members in helping to resolve the standoff, along with the new, more low-key techniques of handling such confrontations now being used by the bureau. “Overall, our approach was to find a balance between negotiations and other lawful means,” says FBI agent Ron VanVranken, who took part in the final settlement negotiations. “We recognized it would be prudent and beneficial to use the services of third-party intermediaries and to be constantly soliciting the advice of outside experts.” Freeh says he was supportive of the decision to use third-party negotiators who hold similar anti-government views to those of the Freemen: “I think that, given all the other cumulative steps over the last 81 days, that that helped persuade the remaining subjects to finally come out of the compound.” The Los Angeles Times says that the FBI’s strategy of reaching out to far-right figures may have had an added benefit of creating dissension among rightist groups (see March 25 - April 1, 1996) and avoiding a “united front” of opposition that might have helped strengthen the Freemen’s resolve to continue holding out. “It was probably a wise move that the Freemen came out, as opposed to being burned out or shot,” says Clay Douglas, publisher of the far-right Free American newspaper and a leading member of the “Patriot” movement. “And it’s an election year, so the FBI had to be good.” However, the FBI’s decision to use “Patriot” negotiators “was pretty smart on their part. It has divided a lot of patriots. A lot of people thought they were being traitors for going in and trying to talk them out. Some people side with the Freemen. Some people side with the ‘Patriot’ leaders. So it’s just another small part of how the government keeps America divided. It’s called gradualism. They keep gradually encroaching on our freedoms.” The FBI brought in militia leaders James “Bo” Gritz and Jack McLamb (see April 27, 1996), Colorado State Senator Charles Duke, a rightist sympathizer (see May 15-21, 1996), and white supremacist lawyer Kirk Lyons (see June 11, 1996); even though most of their attempts at negotiations failed, it served to build a “bridge” between the FBI and the Freemen. Another technique was to promote Edwin Clark, the Freeman the FBI considered the most likely to leave the compound, as a leader in the absence of arrested Freemen LeRoy Schweitzer and Daniel Petersen (see March 25, 1996). The final element was the introduction of Lyons, who was contacted three weeks ago by FBI agents and asked for a plan to negotiate with the Freemen. Lyons’s colleague Neill Payne says somewhat incredulously, “It is to Director Freeh’s credit that he was broad-minded enough to go along with a crazy scheme like ours.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/15/1996]
Entity Tags: Cherlyn Bronson Petersen, Ralph Clark, New York Times, Neill Payne, Montana Freemen, Charles Duke, Ron VanVranken, Rosie Clark, Russell Dean Landers, Barry Nelson, Louis J. Freeh, Casey Clark, Ruth Coulter, Steven Hance, Casey Valheimer, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Kay Clark, Dana Dudley Landers, Kirk Lyons, Dale Jacobi, Clay Douglas, Civil Rights Task Force, Daniel Petersen, Edwin Clark, LeRoy Schweitzer, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Hance, Jamie Gorelick, James (“Bo”) Gritz, Emmett Clark, Jack McLamb, John Hance
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
The first annual American Heritage Festival, billed as a family-friendly “patriotic Woodstock” aimed at drawing militia members, Patriot group members, and others, draws some 3,000 participants to the Carthage, Missouri, event over two days. Some of the scheduled speakers include well-known militia figures James “Bo” Gritz, Jack McLamb, Oklahoma State Representative Charles Key, right-wing investigative reporter Christopher Ruddy, and others. [Center for New Community, 6/1998; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
James ‘Bo’ Gritz. [Source: Hyde Park Media]Militia leader and former Green Beret James “Bo” Gritz arrives in Andrews, North Carolina, from his camp in Idaho. Gritz, now a right-wing talk show host and vehement anti-abortion advocate, says that he and his fellow militia members have been asked by the FBI to help find fugitive Eric Rudolph, who is in hiding from the FBI (see July 1998) after bombing abortion clinics, a gay and lesbian nightclub, and the 1996 Olympics (see January 29, 1998 and October 14, 1998), and persuade him to surrender; Gritz tells reporters that the alternative for Rudolph is a “bullet in the neck” from the FBI or police officers. Gritz says he believes Rudolph may have a shortwave radio and is listening to his broadcasts. Gritz is a leader in the Christian Patriot movement and was the 1992 presidential candidate of the far-right Populist Party. In 1992, he helped the FBI negotiate an end to the armed standoff in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Gritz and some 100 fellow militia members and area volunteers spend a week in Andrews. The plan, according to author Maryanne Vollyers, is for Gritz to solicit the help of Rudolph’s mother Patricia, persuade Rudolph to come out of hiding, and protect him with lawyers and bodyguards through his legal processing. In return, Gritz will claim the $1 million reward being offered for Rudolph’s capture by the FBI. However, Patricia Rudolph refuses to cooperate with Gritz. A week after their arrival, Gritz and his followers give up trying to find Rudolph. [CNN, 7/31/1998; CNN, 5/31/2003; Vollyers, 2006, pp. 166-167] Later, Gritz will tell Vollyers that his purpose in trying to find Rudolph was to turn him into a “Christian Patriot icon,” whom he could use to advocate against abortion and homosexuality. Gritz views Rudolph as a potential “champion” for their shared right-wing views. Gritz will say that he believes Rudolph could win an acquittal through “jury nullification,” and will tell Vollyers: “I thought, boy, what an impact if a jury was to turn Eric Rudolph loose. Every abortion doctor in this country would have to grab his anus and head for wherever he could hide.” [Vollyers, 2006, pp. 166-167]
Around 10,000 people attend the “Center for Preparedness Expo” in Denver to prepare for the imminent “Y2K” collapse of society warned of by many white separatists and “Patriot” movement members (see October 20, 1999 and February 4, 1999). The expo has traveled the country, including a stop in Philadelphia in June. Promoter Dan Chittock says the show offers “practical information for the uncertain times we live in,” but Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center says the expo features what he calls “a queer mix of people interested in organic farming and political extremism.” Visitors can buy anything from radiation detectors, tents, and survival rations to guides on avoiding income taxes and making their own license plates to avoid paying licensing fees for their vehicles. Lectures are offered with such titles as “Trapping Techniques for Self-Reliance and Survival,” “Don’t Get Caught With Your Pantry Down,” and “Save Your Life, Be Your Own Doctor.” Three seminars are about life under martial law. Previous expos have featured speakers such as militia leader Bo Gritz, who has spoken about coming plagues, imminent food shortages, and how President Clinton has sold out America. Stephen O’Leary, a University of Southern California professor who studies beliefs about the millennium, says that the expos have become recruitment centers for anti-government, survivalist militia groups who often hold racist and anti-Semitic views. “It’s not just about preparing for an emergency or disaster,” he says. “What they’re selling is a whole world view—a program for the apocalypse.” Potok, who has attended previous expos, says “it’s not unusual to see booths for the John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) and the Montana Militia next to a granola salesman.” The radical right, Potok says, is using fears of the upcoming millennium—“Y2K”—to fuel hysteria about what they say is the imminent declaration of martial law by the federal government and the eradication of constitutional liberties. Chittock calls such concerns “nonsense.” Barry Morrison of the Anti-Defamation League says of the expos: “What we’re concerned about is that some people take the position that the government is not to be trusted. Some of these exhibitors… portray people like Jews in an unfavorable light and as having undue control over their lives.” Morrison says anti-Semitic tracts espousing “Christian Identity” ideology (see 1960s and After) have appeared at previous expos. He also says Gritz’s Liberty Lobby is “the most influential anti-Semitic propaganda organization in America today.” He adds: “I’m not saying everyone [at the expos] is an extremist or subscribes to those views, but this is a vehicle that attracts that element. It’s part of the mix.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/11/1999; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
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