They half expected
a SWAT team attack by agents from the FBI, but after the body count was tallied, the real enemy of America's Patriot Movement proved to be fear itself.
And fear is a powerful enemy.
Militia leaders and anti-government delegates from 33 states had pledged to attend the Third Continental Congress near Kansas City, Missouri, Oct. 29-31 to create a new "government in exile," and possibly, a "Continental Army," to take over, if and when America disintegrates into anarchy or a federal dictatorship. But on the first day of the Congress, only 12 states were represented, with the militias of the remaining 21 states on the casualty list of no-shows.
"There's a lot of fear out there," says Ray Southwell, the Congress organizer and one of the founders of the Michigan Militia. "There's a lot of fear of the FBI and the BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms). And there's tremendous fear because you guys (the press) are here."
"But this is still America," he adds in his opening remarks, "and we still have a First Amendment right to free speech and assembly. It took a great deal of courage for these delegates to attend. Most of these people are in leadership positions. Some of them were told they'd be shot for attending, or that the Aryan Nations would be here and they'd get their pictures taken with a bunch of skinheads."
Michigan resident of Brutus, near Petoskey, Southwell looks a bit nervous himself as the Congress opens. He's taken some heat from fellow militiamen for allowing the press to attend the event, and some have apparently shunned the meeting as a result. Members of the militia movement don't like how they've been portrayed by the news media, and there are angry denunciations of the press issued throughout the day, along with threats of future retribution of the hang-'em-from-a-lamp-post variety. Many delegates also assume that agents of the FBI or BATF have infiltrated the meeting.
The seven members of the press, including a reporter from the New York Times with a "deer-in-the-headlights" expression, are as queasy as the militia men and women in the basement meeting room of a Holiday Inn just south of Kansas City. Paranoia and distrust gel the air. Yet eventually, even delegates who say they won't speak to the press begin to loosen up and talk.
The Holiday Inn seems a surrealistic staging ground for a second American Revolution, and initially, the event scares the hell out of the hotel staff. The night before, a Kansas City television station broadcast a panic-filled report that the hotel had been virtually invaded by gun-toting white supremacists of the militia movement. "I was scared at first, but they've been nice enough to me," a black waitress says later in the day, adding that the hotel management has ordered her not to talk to anyone. "If the Ku Klux Klan can hold their meetings, then they should let these people hold theirs."
This same fog of fear has bedeviled the entire Congress. Earlier, a militia sympathizer in nearby Harrisonville got the jitters and cancelled on volunteering his property for the meeting. Southwell had to scramble at the last moment to find a room at the Holiday Inn. With the entire meeting up in the air until three days before the event, many delegates didn't have time to make plans to attend.
Yet as the Congress opens, there seem to be no kard-karrying klansmen in attendance, and the delegates have been instructed to wear their "church clothes" to the meeting instead of fatigues. If there are guns present, they are tastefully tucked away.
And even with the poor turn-out, it says something that delegates from 12 states are in attendance, with some driving in from as far as 1,200 miles away.
Southwell and the Michigan contingent arrive with four delegates and three security personnel -- a group that includes two members of the black Detroit Constitutional Militia and two fur trappers from Grayling and Alpena. What emerges the first day of the Congress is a snapshot of the Patriot Movement, a diverse group united by distrust of the federal government.
delegates, joining a militia is approached as a civic-minded way to help their communities and safeguard basic freedoms. Dan Kilbane of the 51st Missouri Militia seems an example of a moderate-minded individual who says his militia includes members who are African-Americans or Jewish.
"Our first and foremost belief is that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are for everybody, no matter what race or religion," he says. "We even have a member who's a Buddhist."
Kilbane is a college student in his late 20s who's writing an article on the Congress for his militia newspaper Necessary Force.
"We don't allow any criminal activity in our militia and we're strictly forbidden to make bombs or convert weapons to automatic fire," he says, describing his group.
"We also collect food and when people are in dire need, we get on the horn and try to help out. We have a food pantry we can draw on, and the militia even helped me out when I started going to college."
Kilbane even sees his group helping the federal FEMA disaster relief program out in the event of floods or tornadoes, even though many militia members believe that FEMA is secretly poised to help create a federal dictatorship. "In an emergency, the militia can show up with tents and tools to help out."
He also says his militia picketed a secret Good Old Boys Roundup attended by federal agents. The Roundups have been condemned in the national press as racist get-togethers attended by the FBI, BATF and Secret Service.
"We opposed white supremacy, and at our next meeting, everyone was proud of themselves."
factions of the paramilitary right, such as the Klan or Aryan Nations, were not invited to the Congress.
"As you can see, there are no members of the Aryan Nations here," Southwell says, uttering the words with heartfelt contempt. Southwell feels he was wrongfully linked to the ultra-racist group by Klanwatch of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In actuality, he helped create America's first black militia in Detroit and has friends in the black community there, where he works weekends as a nurse in a hospital emergency room.
With that said, however, it's noteworthy that four delegates abruptly rise and exit the room when black militia leader Clifford Brookins II rises to the lecturn, speaking as only the second delegate of the day.
noticeable change in the Patriot Movement heard at the Congress is its growing sense of religious fervor.
"We believe the law comes from God and that statutes come from man," says Don Mickey of the American Jural Society in Cleveland. "We believe the law comes from the 1611 version of the King James Bible."
In Mickey's view, and seemingly many other attendees, Americans should be ruled by laws interpreted from the biblical books of Exodus, Joshua, Samuel, Acts and Corinthians, among others. This is "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" stuff. Similarly, Erich Morrow of Arkansas, a Christian Jural Society member, says "common law is scriptural law applied to society." He describes himself as "A private Christian man. I believe in being a perfect man in Christ -- a mirror for our father in heaven."
Bob Davis, of Bay County, Michigan, mixes biblical ideas with his concern over taxes and the worth of paper currency. "The Bible calls for good solid currency -- a godly currency," he says. "Now remember, we must maintain the higher word of God and he'll walk with us. If we don't, we'll get what we have now."
There's a lot
of militarism mixed with the Christian message. One militia leader justifies stockpiling weapons with the statement that Jesus once mentioned the ownership of a sword.
"God bless the republic, death to the new world order, we shall prevail," Mickey says, dolefully.
And Jim Thorsen, of the New Mexico Citizens Action Association says "We're preparing our hearts and minds for the third battle between Christ and the antichrist. We should begin arming people, but also arm them with knowledge." Thorsen also passes out a sheet called "I pledge allegiance to the Lamb," which is a take on the American Pledge of Allegiance "signed and sealed with the blood of the Lamb."
From the religious-minded speakers, one is led to believe that they want nothing less than an Old Testament Christian theocracy in America. "It's God's way or the highway" bellows the leader of the Indiana 14th Regiment.
in the day, another reporter mentions that much of this religious talk rings with the beliefs and rhetoric of the Christian Identity movement, which first developed the notion that Americans should be ruled by scriptural law. Christian Identity is an extremist anti-Semitic group originating in the West, which holds that Jewish people are Satan's demons, white people are the original Israelites, and blacks and other minorities are "beasts of the field" who have no souls. Christian Identity has been condemned by many Christian leaders, including television evangelist Pat Robertson, who is an ardent believer in the one world government conspiracy.
The Christian Identity movement is seen by militia watcher Morris Dees as the go-between for constitutional militias and white supremacists. Members of the Michigan Militia have distanced themselves from Christian Identity in the past. Would other religions be tolerated under a constitution guided by biblical scripture? Yes, replies one of the more fervent attendees, as long as they kept their beliefs private. "But if they were practicing Satanism or something like that, we'd probably have to do something about it."
While about half
of the Congress attendees seem to cross the line into religious fanaticism, the rest lean more towards a Libertarian outlook.
Dan Miaullo is a lawyer who drove in from New Jersey. He's a member of the New Jersey Militia and has been specifically directed to resist any calls for a constitutional convention. A Libertarian, Miaullo says he doesn't own any camouflage clothes. He's most concerned with the erosion of constitutional freedoms. He sees government control of things like the Internet, firearms and drugs as an attempt to limit individual freedoms. "Take the drug war -- it's not a war on drugs, it's a war on the American people and the Constitution used to foment violent crime and social upheaval," he says.
"The government writes laws to control people over issues they created in the first place (meaning the alleged CIA crack operation in the ghettos of Los Angeles)." Miaullo also takes issue with the "search-and-seizure" tactics used by drug enforcement police. He notes that in New Jersey, people who have their homes or cars seized in drug busts must pay to have them returned. "It's one thing to pay a few dollars to have a police force control crime, and quite another to pay with your liberty," he says.
Similarly, Jim Thorsen looks like he could play the role of a handsome New Mexico rancher in a Hollywood western, yet his eyes crackle with rage when he talks of gun control laws sweeping Australia, Canada, England and South Africa.
Since their hot moment
in the national spotlight following the Oklahoma City Bombing, America's militia movement has traded much of its saber-rattling and militarism for a more savvy attack on state and federal government through the creation of common law courts. These courts fill much discussion throughout the day. |
First established in the time of King John's Magna Carta, the present incarnation of common courts blend Old Testament biblical law with the Bill of Rights and statutes from the 1800s. The rationale is that God handed down the Bible, which was used by America's Christian founding fathers to create the Constitution, and from there, the statutes of the law.
The legality of these citizen-created courts is a complex and controversial issue, currently sweeping the West and germinating in Michigan. And some highly-respected constitutional experts believe that common law courts may be valid under the Constitution. In fact, prosecutors in Oakland County tried to convict pathologist Jack Kevorkian under a common law format.
Militia members repeatedly complain about the press and its negative coverage throughout the day, yet some of their conversations are peppered with hints of civil war, revolution, and threats against teachers, judges, police officers and journalists who don't buy their version of the Constitution. Thorsen says, for instance, "We don't know when a civil war is coming, but we do know there will be a civil war sometime."
"We know what the problems are, the problem is commitment," says Bill Haines of North Dakota. "We've taken an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies. Are we willing to defend our principles all the way, no matter what it takes? Our money? Property? Your lives? A lot of people lost their lives in the American Revolution. Do we have the commitment to follow this through?"
Not everyone agrees. Vallaster says every alternative should be tried before going "full militia," a euphemism for combat. With so many different influences and backgrounds, there's dissent within the Patriot Movement as to which path it will take. Southwell notes that there's no plan at the Congress to elect a single leader. Other ideas of "leaderless resistance" within the militia movement leave it just that -- a directionless movement guided by antigovernment rage.
"There's a real problem with provisional governments," says Pam Beesley, a representative of the Tri-State Militia of South Dakota. What's that? we ask. "Well for one thing," she says, "a provisional government was one of the causes of the Civil War."
Albion Monitor February 4, 1997 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
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