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Profile: James Wickstrom

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James Wickstrom was a participant or observer in the following events:

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)

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)

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)

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).

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).

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).

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)

Dennis Ryan, 15, helps his father torture and kill a man. Michael Ryan, a partially disabled farmer in Rulo, Nevada, has for three years followed the violent white supremacist teachings of the Posse Comitatus (see 1969) through Posse leader James Wickstrom (see 1975 - 1978), who in 1982 told him to prepare for Armageddon. After speaking to Wickstrom for the first time in Kansas, Ryan told his son to quit playing football and begin practicing with a rifle. Wickstrom adopted Ryan as something of a protege, and steered some of his supporters towards him, making him a leader in local Posse circles. In 1985, Dennis, on his father’s orders, shoots James Thimm in the face. His father had become angry with Thimm. When Thimm does not die, the elder Ryan chains him inside a hog shed, kicks and beats him, and forces him to have sex with a goat. Dennis, again complying with his father’s orders, shoots off Thimm’s fingers and partially skins him. The elder Ryan sodomizes Thimm with a shovel and finally kicks him to death. The entire procedure takes two weeks. In 2001, Dennis Ryan will tell a reporter: “I don’t hold Wickstrom responsible for the crime I committed. I hold him responsible for getting my dad into it.… Wickstrom didn’t make my dad kill anybody, but he planted the seed. He planted it in my dad and then he helped it grow.” Author Daniel Levitas will agree, telling the reporter, “There could not have been the tragedy in Rulo if there was not a James Wickstrom.” Dennis Ryan wil add: “He was looking for something to believe in. He didn’t like blacks to begin with. I don’t think he was ever a popular person growing up. I think that it was the right time for the wrong thing. He was weak and you don’t let someone indoctrinate you into something like that unless you are weak-minded. He was all screwed up.” Former Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord member Kerry Noble will say of Wickstrom: “[He] is dangerous to the extent of provoking others. He is typical of leaders. They won’t do violent stuff, yet that’s all they’ll preach. They’ll push buttons, but they are extremely cowardly.” Dennis will recall: “Jim Wickstrom was the reason Dad got into this stuff. He’s the one who showed Dad how to talk to Yahweh, the reason we started getting guns and preparing for Armageddon. He was always so amazed at all the weaponry and how well Jim Wickstrom and his followers in Tigerton Dells (see 1978 - 1983) were armed.” After moving from Whiting, Kansas, to a farm in Rulo, Ryan ordered his family to steal farm equipment, livestock, and weapons in the name of Yahweh. Dennis will recall that the crimes were based on Wickstrom’s teachings, saying: “We were supposed to kill all Satan’s people. Dad was supposed to be the King of Israel and I was the Prince. He was supposed to die before the New Jerusalem was brought down from Yahweh, and then I’d be the king. I believed it 110 percent. All the way. Hell, I helped kill a man for it, and I never once questioned it.… Wickstrom wasn’t physically a constant presence in our lives, he wasn’t over all the time at the house or always on the phone with my dad, but he was there in that he was Dad’s teacher. We had all of his fliers and cassettes. Dad would even listen to Wickstrom while he was taking the garbage out.” Dennis will say that by 1985 Ryan had become obsessed with religious fervor and his conviction that Armageddon was imminent. He became more and more violent, focusing much of his rage on Luke Stice, the five-year-old son of follower Rick Stice, whom he savagely abused until March 1985, when he broke Luke’s neck. Rick Stice helped Ryan bury his child. Dennis will serve a 12-year prison sentence for his role in the death of James Thimm. Michael Ryan will be sentenced to death. Dennis, after serving his sentence, starting a family, and becoming a carpenter, will have no further contact with his father. He has little trust in organized religion. He says: “I look at the Bible and it scares me because I know how people twist it and use it for their own benefit. I don’t want some man up there telling me what God expects of me. I was told that before, and I killed someone.… So many people interpret the Bible so many different ways. I mean, take 9/11. That’s their religious beliefs. They’re no different than what my dad did except they actually carried it out. As far as killing thousands of people—that was his goal, too.” (Southern Poverty Law Center 12/2004)

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)

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)

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)

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)


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