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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)
Farmer and mechanic Gordon Kahl, a World War II veteran who earned two Purple Hearts while flying bombing missions and a convert to the Christian Identity “religion” (see 1960s and After), now embraces the burgeoning anti-tax protest ideology (see 1951-1967). He writes a letter to the IRS telling it that he will never again “give aid and comfort to the enemies of Christ” by paying income taxes, which he calls tithing to “the synagogue of Satan.” Kahl is a virulent anti-Semite who believes that World War II was engineered by Jewish bankers who had “created” and backed Adolf Hitler in order to subjugate “the feisty German people.” Kahl denies that the Holocaust ever occurred, calling the concentration camps “mostly work camps” where less than 50,000 Jews died. Communism, he writes, is a “smoke screen” for “world Jewry,” which uses every means at its disposal—including the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs—to deceive and undermine Christians. To his friends and family, Kahl is a loving father and husband and a scrupulously honest businessman, but as author Daniel Levitas will write in 2003: “These virtuous aspects of his character did not extend beyond his small Anglo-Saxon circle, however. Kahl’s world was divided strictly into opposites and he felt only murderous contempt for those who fell on the other side of the line—satanic Jews, nonwhites, and the Christian lackeys of the International Jewish Conspiracy.” Kahl is a firm believer in ZOG, the “Zionist Occupied Government” of the United States, and he believes that most law enforcement officials are either unwitting dupes of this “conspiracy” or knowing members. Kahl leaves California for the West Texas oilfields, and in 1973 joins the anti-tax, anti-government Posse Comitatus (see 1969). (Levitas 2002, pp. 193) Kahl will be convicted of tax evasion (see 1975 - 1981) and, fleeing incarceration, will kill two police officers in a shootout and later die himself after killing a third (see February 13, 1983 and After and March 13 - June 3, 1983).
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).
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. (Cooperman 6/2/2003; Southern Poverty Law Center 2010; Southern Poverty Law Center 2010)
A Posse Comitatus group (see 1969) in Michigan sends threatening notices to local law enforcement agencies about the agencies’ enforcement of state tax laws against tax protester George Kindred. (Anti-Defamation League 2011)
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)
Richard Butler, the head of the white separatist and neo-Nazi organization Aryan Nations (see Early 1970s), is arrested after he and several of his followers attempt to “arrest” a police officer who is preparing to testify against a Butler ally accused of assault. Shortly thereafter, Butler is charged in connection with an incident in which he points a gun outside the home of a movement rival, a Posse Comitatus newspaper publisher. (Southern Poverty Law Center 2010)
Anti-tax protester and Posse Comitatus member Gordon Kahl (see 1967 - 1973), after two years spent preaching the virtues of Christian Identity and anti-tax ideology to his fellow West Texas oilfield workers, joins five fellow protesters in giving a television interview in Midland, Texas. They declare their opposition to income taxation and encourage viewers to do the same. The television interview brings Kahl to the attention of the IRS, and in December he is arrested for failing to file income tax returns for 1973 and 1974. Asked by the judge if he understands the nature of the proceedings being brought against him, Kahl replies, “I understand God’s law but I’m not too good on Satan’s law,” echoing his belief that the federal income tax laws were written by what he calls “satanic Jews.” He tells the judge that he had not forgotten to file his taxes, he refused to file them out of religious conviction. The judge and jury refuse to countenance his Posse arguments, and he is convicted, sentenced to a year in prison, five years’ probation, and a psychiatric evaluation. He is also ordered to pay his back taxes. Kahl is released after several months, but loses his appeal and spends eight more months in prison before being released in August 1979. Instead of obeying court orders to file his returns and pay his back taxes, Kahl defies his court orders and begins mounting up a steady debt to the IRS. In November 1980, the government puts a lien on his property, and seizes it for non-payment in 1981. A warrant for Kahl’s arrest is issued in North Dakota, his last known place of residence. (Levitas 2002, pp. 193-194) Kahl flees the warrant and will later kill two police officers outside Medina, North Dakota, when they try to apprehend him (see February 13, 1983 and After).
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)
Nashville musician Frederick “Tupper” Saussy III, who makes a living writing advertising jingles, writes a popular anti-tax protest book, Miracle on Main Street. Along with claiming that taxation is illegal (see 1951-1967, 1970-1972, and 1976-1978), Saussy concocts a fraudulent kind of “checkbook” money he calls “Public Office Money Certificates,” and says tax protesters can use them to pay their debts. The “certificates,” he claims, are “redeemable in dollars of the money of account of the United States upon an official determination of the substance of the money of account.” The idea will be copied by Posse Comitatus protesters (see 1969) and, later, by the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994). In 1985, Saussy will be convicted of tax evasion and will become a federal fugitive. (Southern Poverty Law Center 12/2001)
Seven members of the anti-Semitic, anti-government organization Posse Comitatus (see 1969 and February 13, 1983 and After) are arrested. They are part of a scheme to assassinate two federal judges and to blow up the IRS headquarters in Denver, Colorado. (Nicole Nichols 2003)
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).
LeRoy Schweitzer, a crop duster in Montana and Idaho, becomes increasingly frustrated and resentful at what he considers interference by the government. Beginning in the mid-1980s, Schweitzer moves toward becoming an anti-government tax resister. He becomes fascinated by the legal ideology of the Posse Comitatus (see 1969), attends numerous Posse meetings, and has some contacts with members of The Order (see Late September 1983). Schweitzer, well-liked by his neighbors and friends, begins to worry them with his increasing extremism. He helps a friend, Bernard Kuennan, mount a legal defense against charges of letting his dog roam unvaccinated, and the two hammer the judge with questions about the differences between “admiralty” and “common law” (see Fall 2010). He defies police officers who stop him for traffic violations. He moves to Montana, where he refuses to get a license to fly his Cessna crop duster, resulting in federal arrest warrants. His refusal to pay federal taxes causes the IRS to seize his plane in November 1992, his Bozeman, Montana home, and other equipment, and sell it all to pay his $389,000 delinquent tax bill, dating back to the 1970s. Thoroughly radicalized, Schweitzer meets Rodney Owen Skurdal, another legal manipulator. Skurdal is an ex-Marine and Posse Comitatus advocate who, during litigation of a worker’s compensation suit in the 1980s, tells the judge that the federal government lacks the authority to print paper money and demands, fruitlessly, to be paid his compensation in gold bullion. One Wyoming newspaper claims that Skurdal’s extremism begins after he suffers a fractured skull in 1983, the source of the compensation claim; Skurdal’s former wife says after the injury that Skurdal refuses to use a Social Security number or driver’s license. Skurdal, like many in the Posse, is an adherent to the virulently racist Christian Identity belief system (see 1960s and After), and in court filings claims non-whites are “beasts,” and Jews “the children of Satan.” Skurdal routinely intertwines Identity, Posse Comitatus, Biblical, and Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) tenets in his court filings (see 1994). In 1993, the IRS seizes his farm near Roundup, Montana, for back taxes; Skurdal continues to occupy the farm and no local official dares to evict him. In late 1994, Skurdal invites Schweitzer to move in with him; they are joined by Daniel Petersen in early 1995. The three become the nucleus of what will become the Montana Freemen. Skurdal’s farm becomes a headquarters for the nascent organization, with computers, fax machines, laser printers, and satellite dishes going round the clock. The inhabitants post a sign on the edge of the property, reading: “Do Not Enter Private Land of the Sovereign.… The right of Personal Liberty is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to every citizen, and any unlawful interference with it may be resisted.” Local authorities want to curb the group, but do not want to risk violence and bloodshed. Musselshell County Sheriff G. Paul Smith says: “These people want to be martyrs. I don’t know how far they are willing to carry that.” Moreover, Smith and his small sheriff’s department are outnammed and outgunned. (Mark Pitcavage 5/6/1996)
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).
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)
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)
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)
Mark Alan Lingenfelter is convicted of attempting to kill the mayor of Weslaco, Texas, with a pipe bomb. The Lingenfelters, a family of Wisconsin dairy farmers with a fondness for the anti-government Posse Comitatus ideology (see 1969), are members of a UFO cult called the “Outer Dimensional Forces” (ODF), led by a man calling himself “Nodrog” who built a base for UFOs to land. The ODF’s prize possession is a fifth-dimensional Armageddon Time Ark which would be used to rescue a chosen few from Armageddon; Nodrog sells spaces aboard the craft. After ODF members clashed with local authorities in Weslaco, Lingenfelter attempted to kill the mayor with a pipe bomb that blew up a car in front of the paint store where the mayor works. Merlon Lingenfelter Sr. initially represents his son in court; his pronouncements are characterized as bizarre by some observers. The senior Lingenfelter tells a Brownsville, Texas, reporter, “Your president, all supporting bloodsuckers of the United States, plus all bloodsuckers of Canada and Mexico, have been duly served and convicted in the Outer Dimensional Forces Foursquare Court at Alternate Base, of triple high treason.” Mark Alan Lingenfelter chooses to represent himself as the trial wears on, but he is convicted and jailed. (Mark Pitcavage 1997)
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)
Terry Nichols, a white supremacist member of the so-called “Patriot Movement” (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990 and February 1992), renounces his US citizenship via a “nonresident alien” declaration to the Evergreen, Michigan, Township Clerk. “[T]here is total corruption in the entire political system,” Nichols says; “the entire political system from the local government on up thru and including the President of the United States, George Bush.” He adds: “I no longer am a citizen of the corrupt political corporate state of Michigan and the United States of America.… I follow the common laws, not the Uniform Commercial Codes, Michigan Statutes, etc., that are all colorable laws.… I lawfully, squarely challenge the fraudulent usurping octopus of jurisdiction/authority that does not apply to me. It is therefore now mandatory for… the so-called IRS, for example, to prove its jurisdiction.” He calls himself “a nonresident alien, non-foreigner, stranger to the current state of the forum.” Many will later detect language similar to that used by the Posse Comitatus movement (see 1969). Nichols has already sent his bank a letter revoking his signature on a credit card application, in an attempt to avoid paying $14,000 in credit card debt (another source will say Nichols owes closer to $40,000), writing in part: “I came across some information and in researching it further I have found that your credit, money, and contracts are all based upon fraud, etc., as stated in my revocation document.” The bank wins a lawsuit to compel Nichols to pay his debt; Nichols attempts to pay the debt with a fraudulent “Certified Fractional Reserve Check,” a scheme somewhat similar to the fraudulent checks advocated by the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994), which the bank refuses to accept. During the court proceedings, Nichols, ordinarily an unusually quiet and shy man, repeatedly defies judicial orders to, among other things, come to the front of the courtroom, and at one point tells the judge, “I’m… a layman, a natural person, a freedom of common-law citizen under threat and duress and to challenge the jurisdiction of this court.” Circuit Judge Donald A. Teeple will later recall: “He was hollering in a loud voice. I informed him that if he didn’t keep quiet, I’d send him to jail. Then he decided to come around the rail” and participate quietly in the hearing. (McFadden 4/23/1995; Rimer 5/28/1995; PBS Frontline 1/22/1996; Thomas 12/24/1997; Southern Poverty Law Center 6/2001; Nicole Nichols 2003; Nicole Nichols 2003) Both Terry Nichols and his brother James (see December 22 or 23, 1988) routinely stamp their paper money with the words “Discharged Without Prejudice,” a phrase indicating they do not accept its validity. The money-stamping is popular among Posse Comitatus members (see 1969) as they claim money not backed by gold lacks credibility. They also refuse to buy license plates for their vehicles or register them. James Nichols will also renounce his citizenship sometime later (Nicole Nichols 2003; Nicole Nichols 2003) , telling local courthouse officials that he is “no longer one of your citizens or a resident of your de facto government.” In mid-1992, Nichols will spend several days in jail for refusing to recognize a court’s authority to make him pay child support; after those days in a cell, he will agree to the court’s mandate. (Rimer and Bennet 4/24/1995; Serrano 1998, pp. 109) Nichols will later be convicted for his role in the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and December 23, 1997).
During this time period, over a dozen Montana anti-government tax resisters—the kernel of what will become the “Montana Freemen” movement (see 1983-1995)—establish themselves, creating what they term “common law courts” in Garfield and Musselshell Counties, and mounting a massive bank fraud scheme. (Billings Gazette 3/25/2006)
Beliefs - According to a Washington Post article, the Freemen espouse a number of beliefs that directly contradict federal, state, and local laws. These are:
All forms of organized government are illegitimate and have no right to perform duties routinely assigned to governments, from collecting taxes to requiring automobile licenses.
Thusly, the Freemen can perform a multitude of actions, such as defying foreclosures, issuing arrest warrants, and even putting government officials on “trial.”
They can also act as their own central banks and defraud the government, financial institutions, and area merchants.
Racist 'Christian Identity' Ideology - According to the Montana Human Rights Network and local citizens, most of the Freemen espouse some form of “Christian Identity” religious ideology, which claims that whites are inherently superior to other “inferior” races (see 1960s and After); they also hold radical anti-government views. (Kenworthy and Kovaleski 4/1996; Goodstein 4/9/1996; Billings Gazette 3/25/2006) The Anti-Defamation League traces the roots of the Freemen ideology to the the Posse Comitatus movement (see 1969). (Mark Pitcavage 5/6/1996) They call themselves “Freemen” because, in their view, white Christian males have special “Freemen” citizenship status, while non-whites, non-Christians, and women have second class status or worse. Freemen are above government prosecution and taxation. As US currency has no intrinsic value, any loans taken by Freemen need not be repaid. The US government is run by Jews and therefore has no legitimacy. “Common law” is the rule of the land. (Goldberg 6/15/1996) The Reverend Jerry Walters of Roundup, Montana, will later characterize the Freemen’s beliefs as a “bizarre distortion of the Christianity taught in most churches on Sundays.” (Rodney Skurdal will file a $100 billion lien against Walters after Walters refuses to alter his sermons to reflect Skurdal’s Christian Identity beliefs.) The Post will observe: “American history is littered with examples of how hard economic times produce hard-edged political splinter groups, but the Freemen of Montana are a particularly virulent strain. Their philosophy, a hodgepodge drawn from the Old Testament, the Magna Carta, the anti-tax Posse Comitatus of the 1980s, and a highly selective reading of the Constitution, is laced with racism and talk of a Jewish conspiracy, and puts them at the extreme of the Christian patriot movement.” Steven Gardner of the Coalition for Human Dignity will say: “The Freemen have, in effect, appointed themselves judge, jury and executioner. They are trying to form their own shadow government for a white Christian republic.” (Kenworthy and Kovaleski 4/1996; Goodstein 4/9/1996; Mark Pitcavage 5/6/1996; Billings Gazette 3/25/2006) “What’s driving them is their biblical and theological agenda,” Walters will say. “Their anti-government conspiracy theories, their anti-tax stance—they’re looking at these things through the lens of Christian Identity.” (Goodstein 4/9/1996)
Fraudulent Liens - LeRoy Schweitzer and the others concoct a scheme to generate money by filing phony liens against various Montana property owners, or the Montana or US government. The liens have no value; however, once they are created, it takes time for bank computers to recognize them as invalid. During that “window” of time, the liens can be used to generate money transfers from unsuspecting banks. The Freemen file the liens and deposit fake money orders at other banks to be drawn upon the bank listing the lien. The money orders are usually signed by Schweitzer, though Skurdal, Daniel Petersen, and William Stanton (see October 17, 1994) also sign them on occasion. The money orders look quite official, though sometimes they deliberately spell the words “United States” with a lowercase “u.” The Freemen also issue bogus checks labeled “Certified Bankers Check—Controller Warrant,” instead of a bank name, along with account and lien numbers. Many checks are drawn against a non-existent account in a Butte, Montana, branch of the Norwest Bank. The checks state that they are also redeemable at the Office of the US Postmaster. The scheme is, on the whole, quite profitable. The Freemen also sell the money orders, advertising them to their fellow citizens as a quick means of getting out of debt. One distributor explains on a Web site: “LeRoy Schweitzer does have their [sic] own monetary system. When you attend their course on location, they will issue you CHECKS times two (biblical) to pay off all IRS debts and all loans to banks for no charge. They are having success in this area, but it is hard fight [sic].” One Omaha, Nebraska, county treasurer will later explain, “People see these and, if you’re a very unsuspecting person, they really do look authentic.” (Mark Pitcavage 5/6/1996) Schweitzer, Skurdal, and Petersen are influenced by Roy Schwasinger, described by federal authorities as a right-wing con artist and head of the Colorado extremist group “We the People.” Schwasinger originated the financial schemes that the Freemen run. (Goldberg 6/15/1996)
Appointing Themselves as Legal Officials - The Freemen appoint themselves “justices,” issue “arrest warrants,” and flood local courts and counties with what the Billings Gazette will term “bogus documents.” One of the documents, written by the three Freemen leaders, Skurdal, Schweitzer, and Petersen, is interpreted by local law enforcement officials as a threat. It states: “We the Honorable justices, will not hesitate to use our Lawful force by whatever means necessary to fully support, protect, guarantee, and defend our (common) Law… and… Right of self governing as a free sovereign and independent state.” District Court Judge Peter Rapkoch calls the documents “a bucket of snakes.” In July 1994, one of the Freemen, Skurdal, is prohibited by court order from filing or recording any “frivolous” document with any Montana county clerk of court, clerk and recorder, or the secretary of state (see 1994); Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean A. Turnage calls Skurdal’s filings “not only nonsensical but meritless, frivolous, vexatious, and wasteful of the limited time and resources of this court, of the clerk of this court, and of the various public officials and counsel that are forced to deal with and respond to Mr. Skurdal’s abuse.” Garfield County prosecutor Nick Murnion files misdemeanor charges of impersonating public officials against 13 residents and a felony charge of solicitation of kidnapping against Ralph Clark for a $1 million bounty posted around the county for court officers, the sheriff, and Murnion. Garfield County Sheriff Charles Phipps organizes a posse of about 90 local residents to come to the aid of his outmanned, outgunned three-person department (see January 1994). Murnion eventually files felony criminal syndicalism charges against Freemen members. US Attorney Sherry Matteucci works with local and state officials to share information on anti-government activities. “I think their purpose is to intimidate people and to cause chaos in governmental operations,” she says. (Goodstein 4/9/1996; Worthington 4/19/1996; Mark Pitcavage 5/6/1996; Billings Gazette 3/25/2006)
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)
The progressive news magazine Mother Jones publishes a detailed examination of the Oath Keepers (see March 9, 2009), one of the fastest-growing “patriot” groups on the far right. The group was founded in April 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, a lawyer who once served as an aide to libertarian US Representative Ron Paul (R-TX). According to author Justine Sharrock, it has become “a hub in the sprawling anti-Obama movement that includes Tea Partiers, Birthers, and 912ers.” (Sharrock is referring to the burgeoning “tea party” movement, the people who believe President Obama is not an American citizen (see August 1, 2008 and After and October 8-10, 2008), and the “9/12” organization formed by lobbying organization FreedomWorks and Fox News host Glenn Beck—see March 13, 2009 and After.) Beck, MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan (see May 28, 2009, June 20, 2009, and July 16, 2009), and CNN host Lou Dobbs have publicly praised the organization. In December 2009, a grassroots summit organized by the Oath Keepers drew lawmakers such as US Representatives Phil Gingrey (R-GA) and Paul Broun (R-GA). Sharrock’s profile is based on research and interviews with Rhodes, other Oath Keeper leaders, and ordinary members such as Private Lee Pray, who is stationed at Fort Drum, New York.
Group Made Up of Uniformed Citizens - What sets the group apart from others on the far-right fringe is that its membership is restricted to US citizens in uniform—soldiers, police officers, and veterans. At its ceremonies, members reaffirm their official oaths of service, pledging to protect the Constitution, but then go a step further, vowing to disobey “unconstitutional” orders from what they view as an increasingly tyrannical government. Pray says he knows of five fellow Oath Keepers at Fort Drum.
Preparing for Tyranny, Martial Law - He and other members are actively recruiting, arguing that under Obama, the US government is turning increasingly tyrannical and must be opposed, violently if need be. Pray says that many Oath Keepers had problems with some government policies under President Bush, but those reservations have grown with Obama’s ascension to power. Rhodes tells Sharrock: “Too many conservatives relied on Bush’s character and didn’t pay attention. Only now, with Obama, do they worry and see what has been done. Maybe you said, ‘I trusted Bush to only go after the terrorists.’ But what do you think can happen down the road when they say, ‘I think you are a threat to the nation?’” Pray, like many members, believes it will be a year at most before Obama declares martial law, perhaps under the pretext of a natural disaster or another 9/11-level terror attack, and begin detaining citizens en masse and banning interstate travel. Another Oath Keeper advises Sharrock to prepare a “bug out” bag with 39 items including gas masks, ammunition, and water purification tablets, so that she will be prepared “when the sh_t hits the fan.” Pray and his friends have a “fortified bunker” at one of their member’s parents’ home in rural Idaho, where they have stashed survival gear, generators, food, and plenty of weapons. If need be, they say, they will attack their fellow soldiers. Pray describes himself as both a “birther” and a “truther,” believing that Obama is an illegitimate president installed by a government that launched the 9/11 attacks on its own soil to drive the country further down the road towards tyranny. Pray has suffered demotion for a drinking problem, and was denied deployment to Iraq when he injured his knees in a fall. Right now his job involves operating and maintaining heavy equipment on base, and he is listed currently as “undeployable.” He and his fellow Oath Keepers on base spend their free time researching what they call the “New World Order” (see September 11, 1990) and conspiracies about detention camps. Pray is one of the few active-duty members who will agree to have his name made public; Rhodes encourages active-duty soldiers and police officers to hide their membership in the group, saying a group with large numbers of anonymous members can instill in its adversaries the fear of the unknown—a “great force multiplier,” he calls it. Pray worries that the CIA is monitoring his phone calls and insists that unmarked black cars follow him when he drives. A fellow Fort Drum Oath Keeper who only allows his first name of Brandon to be used, and who is also “undeployable” due to his own injuries, says that the off-limits areas of Fort Drum contain concentration camps. Sharrock notes that the soldiers’ behavior might be considered “paranoid,” but writes, “Then again, when you’re an active-duty soldier contemplating treason, some level of paranoia is probably sensible.”
Stewart Rhodes - Rhodes, a Yale graduate and constitutional lawyer, is working on a book currently titled We the Enemy: How Applying the Laws of War to the American People in the War on Terror Threatens to Destroy Our Constitutional Republic. He is an Army veteran who was honorably discharged after injuring his spine in a parachute jump, and worked for a time supervising interns in Ron Paul’s Congressional office. He briefly practiced law in Montana, has worked as a sculptor and a firearms instructor, and writes a gun-rights column for SWAT magazine. He describes himself as a libertarian, a staunch constitutionalist, and a devout Christian. He decided to abandon electoral politics in 2008 after Paul’s presidential bid failed, and turned instead to grassroots organizing. In college, he became fascinated with the idea that had German soldiers and police refused to follow orders in the 1930s, Adolf Hitler could have been stopped. In early 2008, he read a letter in SWAT magazine declaring that “the Constitution and our Bill of Rights are gravely endangered” and that service members, veterans, and police “is where they will be saved, if they are to be saved at all!” Rhodes responded with a column predicting a future President Hillary (“Hitlery”) Clinton turning the US into a despotism while dressed in her “Chairman Mao signature pantsuit.” He asked readers if they intended to follow this “dominatrix-in-chief,” hold militia members as enemy combatants, disarm citizens, and shoot all resisters. If “a police state comes to America, it will ultimately be by your hands,” he wrote. You had better “resolve to not let it happen on your watch.” Shortly thereafter, he set up a blog he called “Oath Keepers,” asking for testimonials from soldiers and veterans, and began gaining popularity. Military officers offered assistance. A Marine Corps veteran invited Rhodes to speak at a local tea party event. Paul campaigners provided strategic advice. In March 2009, Rhodes attended a rally staged by a pro-militia group, and in front of the crowd of some 400 participants, officially launched the Oath Keepers movement (see March 9, 2009). Buchanan and Beck have praised Rhodes, with Buchanan predicting that he “is headed for cable stardom.” Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars.com has repeatedly featured Rhodes and the Oath Keepers on his radio talk show.
Attracts Attention of Anti-Hate Organizations - The Oath Keepers has come to the attention of anti-hate organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which have cited the group in their reports on rising anti-government extremism. Rhodes has accused the SPLC of trying “to lump us in with white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and of course make the insinuation that we’re the next McVeigh,” referring to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Author David Neiwert, an expert on right-wing groups, tells Sharrock that it would be a mistake to term them another amalgamation of “right-wing crackpots” or “extremist nimrods,” as other press outlets have done. “[T]he reality is a lot of them are fairly intelligent, well-educated people who have complex worldviews that are thoroughly thought out,” Neiwert says. Neiwert and Sharrock tie Rhodes’s message to the much earlier views expressed by members of the now-defunct Posse Comitatus (see 1969), and note that the last reemergence of this brand of rhetoric took place during the last time a Democrat, Bill Clinton, was in the White House. Today, groups like the Oath Keepers use the Internet, particularly Facebook and YouTube, and cable news networks, to connect with like-minded citizens around the world. “The underlying sentiment is an attack on government dating back to the New Deal and before,” Neiwert says. “Ron Paul has been a significant conduit in recent years, but nothing like Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann [R-MN] and Sarah Palin (see October 10, 2008)—all of whom share that innate animus.” While Rhodes and most Oath Keepers say they will only begin active disobedience under the delineated circumstances laid out by the group, some members have gone down their own paths of violence. Oath Keeper Daniel Knight Hayden set off a controversy last April 15 with a barrage of messages on Twitter stating his intention to “START THE KILLING NOW!” by engaging in a gun battle at the Oklahoma State Capitol and urging other Oath Keepers to join him (see April 14-15, 2009). Rhodes denounced Hayden, but Neiwert notes that Rhodes’s inflammatory and inciteful rhetoric can have what he calls “an unhinging effect” on people inclined toward violent action. “It puts them in a state of mind of fearfulness and paranoia, creating so much anger and hatred that eventually that stuff boils over.” In January, ex-Marine and Oath Keeper spokesman Charles Dyer, who beat a treason charge for advocating armed resistance to the government, was arrested on charges of raping a 7-year-old girl, and authorities found stolen military weaponry at his home; some militia groups have hailed Dyer as “the first POW of the second American Revolution,” but Rhodes removed information about him from the organization’s Web sites and now denies he was ever a member (see January 21, 2010). Rhodes says he and his Web staff are “overwhelmed” with the need to delete messages encouraging racism and violence from their blog, and recently he shut down one Internet forum because of members’ attempts to use it to recruit for militia organizations. Chip Berlet of the watchdog group Political Research Associates and an expert on far-right movements equates Rhodes’s rhetoric to yelling fire in a crowded theater. “Promoting these conspiracy theories is very dangerous right now because there are people who will assume that a hero will stop at nothing.” What will happen, he adds, “is not just disobeying orders but harming and killing.” Rhodes acknowledges that to follow through on his rhetoric could be risky, and reminds Sharrock that freedom “is not neat or tidy, it’s messy.”
Gold Standards, Muslim Rights, and Treasonous Federal Institutions - During a recent meeting at a North Las Vegas casino, Sharrock took part in discussions of whether Muslim citizens had rights under the Constitution, why the Federal Reserve was a treasonous institution, why the government should be run under Biblical law and a gold standard, and how abortion-rights advocates are part of a eugenics plan targeting Christians. The group takes no official stance on the US’s war on terror or its foreign engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, but a recent Oath Keeper member who promoted his dual membership in the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) on the Oath Keepers blog had his post removed by Rhodes, who called the IVAW a “totalitarian” and “communist” organization.
Expanding Membership - Rhodes says the group has at least one chapter in each of the 50 states, and claims the group has some 29,000 members, not counting the ones who keep their membership off the computer lists. Volunteers are preparing a large “outreach” to soldiers serving overseas. The organization has worked hard to become a staple of tea party events, and tells tea partiers that bringing guns to those events reminds participants of their constitutional rights. The organization has made strong connections with groups such as the Constitution Party and Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, and national figures such as Ralph Reed, the former director of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, and Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America. Elected officials such as Broun, Gingrey, Bachmann, and Steve King (R-IA) have expressed their interest in sponsoring legislation crafted by Oath Keeper leaders. (Sharrock 3/2010)