This paramilitary leader, a bachelor who slept with his gun Shirley, wrote of trying “to satisfy that primal urge that makes you want to kill.”
The quote is from a July 5, 1996 New York Times article about an Arizona militia group called the Vipers, which probably sounds familiar to you if you watched Countdown or Rachel Maddow’s shot tonight. The article profiled two members of the Viper Militia, a guy called Dean Pleasant, a chronically unemployed twenty-something (at the time) failed political candidate who according to a former roommate, never grew out of his G.I. Joe phase, and his then-32-year-old housemate “Randy L. Nelson, a house painter who called himself the Captain of the Viper Militia,” and as described in the quote, “slept with his beloved ‘Shirley,’ a Browning machine gun mounted on the headboard of his bed.” The two wound up in the middle of a scandal, a year after the infamous Oklahoma City bombing:
Searching the trim white-and-blue bungalow in the suburb of Peoria on Monday, Federal agents, according to court papers, found a small armory tucked into dressers and stacked in closets: grenades, fuses, blasting caps, 2 pistols, 2 machine guns, 6 rifles and 56 boxes crammed with 11,463 rounds of ammunition. On the living room coffee table was a how-to manual called “Domestic Disturbances.”
Today, the 2 roommates, along with 10 other members of the Vipers paramilitary group, are in jail here, facing charges that include illegal possession of a machine gun and conspiracy to teach bombing techniques to provoke civil disorder. [A newspaper has described how an undercover state officer helped in the case. Article, page A16.]
A largely blue-collar mix of high school graduates and dropouts, all the Vipers are white, have no significant criminal records and are stuck in low-paying jobs.
The genesis of the Vipers was as follows:
In 1994, Mr. Pleasant was living at his parents’ house here and studying at a local community college when agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms knocked on the door, wanting to ask questions about his recent gun trades. Furious, Mr. Pleasant refused to cooperate, recalled a friend, Ernest Hancock. A few days later, around May 30, 1994, he and a married couple, Ellen and David W. Belliveau, started filming Government buildings in Phoenix, including the firearms bureau’s office. Later, the three friends formed the nucleus of a paramilitary group they called the Viper Militia.
The Viper name, a rallying symbol for the paramilitary movement, is believed to be a salute to the Revolutionary War-era rattlesnake flag, which carried the warning, “Don’t Tread on Me!“
Well, the Viper Militia, and a curious rise in visible firearms displays, are back, and with eerie ties to Arizona. Take the “water the tree of liberty” protester in New Hampshire, who showed up at a Barack Obama town hall strapped. According to AZCentral.com:
The man who brought a gun to President Barack Obama’s town hall meeting on Tuesday is a former Arizona resident with ties to an extreme right-wing group that calls for “resistance… against unconstitutional or illegal behavior by government officials.”
William Kostric, 36, formerly of Scottsdale, stood outside the New Hampshire meeting on healthcare with a gun holstered at his thigh and holding a sign proclaiming that “it is time to water the tree of liberty.”
… Records show that Kostric is a “team member” of the Arizona chapter of We the People Foundation, which has a stated goal of “returning America to it’s founding principles.”
On its Web site, We the People’s founder, Robert Schulz, says: “Our recent initiatives have focused largely on questioning the federal government’s abuse of its Constitutional powers to incur debt, tax labor, create currency by fiat, conduct war and police the peace,” We the People says on its Web site.
While the group maintains that it is not concerned with politics or personalities in office, Schulz is a proud supporter of the birther movement (those folks who believe that Obama wasn’t really born in the United States and shouldn’t be president) and We the People joined a lawsuit challenging Obama’s presidency based on his citizenship.
Kostric could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But records show he recently moved from Scottsdale to New Hampshire.
Kostric’s My Space page is replete with paeans to militia groups.Among his heroes, Kostric lists Randy Weaver, the anti-government separatist and end-time believer whose wife and son died during a shoot out with FBI agents at Ruby Ridge.
And there there were the dozen or so people who showed up armed at an Obama event in Arizona, including a black guy named “Chris”, who has vowed forceful resistance against the government, though he doesn’t say what for:
So who paid Chris’s way to the event, and staged that creepy show of force? As Rachel Maddow and TPM have reported:
Ernest Hancock, the online radio host who staged an interview with an assault rifle-wielding associate at the Obama event in Arizona yesterday — and was himself armed with a 9 millimeter pistol — was a vocal supporter and friend of right-wing anti-government militia members who were convicted of conspiracy and weapons charges in the 90s.
That group, of course, is the Viper Militia. A bit more:
“I was good friends with Dean Pleasant, one of the guys that did five and half years,” Hancock said, who added the entire case was “made up.”
“I’ve been feeling this coming again,” he continued. “It’s the same people. It’s Rahm Emanuel, it’s Janet Napolitano. It’s Hillary Clinton. All these were the same people that were doing it back then.” Napolitano, who later became Arizona governor and is now secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, was the prosecutor in the Viper Militia case.
“This militia scare is what got them their crime ban. It was all manufactured,” said Hancock, scoffing at the term “White Al Qaeda,” which he said he’s been seeing in the local press.
Rahm Emanuel? How did he get in there? And have you noticed how often his name, alongside President Obama’s, comes up? If you dig a little deeper into the militia movement, which has roots in 1980s-era groups like the defunct? Arizona Patriots and the Posse Comitatus, you’ll find that its target “enemies”, even more often than Blacks, are Jews:
The Posse Comitatus is an intermittently active, loosely organized group of “Christian Identity” activists dedicated to survivalism, vigilantism, and anti-government agitation. Following the pseudo-religious tenets of the “Identity” movement, Posse members typically proclaim Jews to be the “synagogue of Satan,” blacks and other people of color to be subhuman “mud races,” and Northern European whites to be the “Chosen People” of Biblical prophecy. The name of the group translates from Latin to mean “power of the county,” and the Posse believes that all governmental power is rooted at the county, not Federal, level.
Because Posse members believe that the Federal government is controlled by “enemies” – often meaning Jews – they resist paying taxes, as well as other duties of law abiding citizenship. Some members of the group have even refused to apply for driver’s licenses, because this would imply submission to an “illegitimate, subversive” authority. Elements of the Posse’s ideology, most notably its fierce hostility to Federal authority are echoed among today’s militias.
And the Vipers feel much the same way:
Like today’s gun-wielding anti-Obama protesters, the Vipers feared government encroachment by a Democratic president The father of a one militia member recalled him saying, “You should be happy you won’t be around in 30 years. The way we’re going, we’ve got to stop it. I hope we’ll change presidents and stop the One World Order.”
Sometimes the militia members’ paranoia degenerated into anti-Semitism. One Viper Militiaman “would talk about conspiracy theories behind gun control laws, and how the world was being run financially by this secret conspiracy composed of Jews,” recalled a former teacher of his from a Phoenix weapons academy.
Which kind of makes you take a second look at this woman… who has attracted the attention of those who pay attention to such things. Back to Mr. Pleasant for a moment. In that 1995 NYT article, he is said to have had a particular problem with taxes, gun control, and insurance mandates:
In a parallel protest strategy, Mr. Pleasant, already an officer in the local Libertarian Party chapter, decided to fight big government by running for a seat in the Arizona State Senate.
Describing taxes as “legalized theft,” the Libertarian candidate called for an end to firearms controls and mandatory auto insurance.
“The No. 1 thing I want to see done is the repeal of state-mandated auto insurance,” he told The Arizona Republic newspaper. In 1991, he spent 31 days in jail for driving without insurance and without license plates.
A bit more on the militia movement, from a prescient AZ Central article published just two months before right wing militia member Tomothy McVeigh bombed the Murrah federal building:
A ”New World Order” is building like a thunderhead. Foreign troops under the control of the United Nations are training secretly on American soil. Black helicopters are shadowing patriots to spy on them. The military, the FBI, the president, the National Guard – almost anyone in uniform, it seems – are plotting to rob Americans of their civil rights and their guns.
The key to fending off the impending assault, Cooper and others like him say, is to form private militias. And across Arizona and the rest of the nation, thousands of mostly working-class and rural folks are responding. Many are gathering in homes or at conventions, reading patriot newsletters, generating ”intelligence” for Cooper’s organization and others, communing through shortwave radio and computer. Some are training with weapons. Others are stockpiling supplies to ensure survival when the battle ignites.
… The patriot ranks are not a cohesive force, and their numbers are hard to estimate. Loosely organized militias have sprung up in at least 13 states, according to an October report by the New York City-based Anti-Defamation League. The militias are strongest in Michigan, Montana, Colorado and Florida, and their goal is to lay ”the groundwork for massive resistance to the federal government and its law-enforcement agencies,” the report states.
In Arizona, small militia bands are being organized in every county, Espy says. Some strongholds appear to be areas near Prescott, Snowflake, Kingman and the Four Corners, authorities say.
In Navajo County, when Sheriff Gary Butler ran for re-election in 1992, he was perplexed by men who would show up for his speeches lobbing questions about federal forces attacking the county and about a New World Order. He didn’t know what to make of it until he consulted someone acquainted with the group and was able to come up with appeasing answers.
”I wasn’t going to say anything to provoke them,” Butler said.
”Some would even show up with guns on,’‘ and one was drunk, he added. ”It kind of gave us all the chills.”
In many ways, the militia movement of the 1980s and 1990s is back (or maybe it never went away.) The Libertarian and Ron Paul movements, which form a significant part of the “tea party” movement, are infested with them. They have been galvanized by the ascension of a liberal, black president and his prominent Jewish and Clinton-era team, and by the comradery they are able to find on the Internet (not to mention on Fox News and right wing talk radio). They are armed, and people who argue that they aren’t dangerous just because they have clean criminal records don’t remember much history. Mr. Pleasant and his friends had clean records, too.
I’ve had some brushes with these types, and indeed, not all of them are racist, or even white. We had a few callers from the black helicopter crowd when I was on the radio, and suffice it to say I may very well have recently worked with, and for, a couple of them… And now for one last, chilling clip from that February 1995 AZ Central piece:
Their fears that government is snatching their guns, money and rights reflect the throw-the-bums-out feeling that has gripped the country. Only they add a dark, Orwellian twist.
… At the December convention in Mesa, pamphlets and speakers ran the gamut of patriot correctness: the threat of David Rockefeller’s Trilateral Commission, which they believe is pushing one-world government; the need to return to a gold standard; crimes and conspiracies they think are being perpetrated by Bill and Hillary Clinton.
… The menace posed by militia groups is not only that a violent confrontation with authorities could ensue but that it could trigger a chain reaction across the nation, civil-rights advocates say. ”You have a private army functioning out there according to their own view of the law,” said Mike Reynolds, editor of the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report, which monitors such groups.
”They want to move forward in an aggressive, paramilitary manner. It’s not a question of if it’s going to occur. It’s when, and where it will be.”
More on the militia movement from the Anti-Defamation League.