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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)
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