In the last year and a half,
militias and the larger antigovernment "Patriot" movement have exploded,
accompanied by the rapid expansion of other sectors of the radical
right. This spectacular growth (see
timeline) is the result of several
factors, including anger over major political, demographic and economic
changes in America, along with the popularization of radical ideas and
conspiracy theories by ostensibly
mainstream politicians and media commentators.
Although the resurgence of the
so-called Patriots people who generally believe that the federal
government is an evil entity that is engaged in a secret conspiracy to
impose martial law, herd those who resist into concentration camps, and
force the United States into a socialistic "New World Order" also has
been propelled by people who were key players in the first wave of the
Patriot movement in the mid1990s, there are also a large number of new
What follows are selected
profiles from the Southern Poverty Law Center's special report on key
leaders in the larger 'Patriot' movement. AlterNet will be running more
of these in the coming days.
at the Heart of the Resurgent
The Repentant Taxman - Joe Banister, 47
Lots of people insist that the
Internal Revenue Service has no authority to administer and enforce
federal income tax laws. What makes Joe Banister unusual among them is
that he was an IRS special agent for five years. He spreads his anti-IRS
message on radio and television and hosts his own two-hour weekly radio
Soft-spoken, articulate and a
devout Catholic, Banister was interviewed in "America: From Freedom to
Fascism," a 2006 "documentary" by the late antigovernment conspiracy
theorist Aaron Russo, which denies the legitimacy of income tax laws and
the Federal Reserve.
Banister says that he investigated
radical tax protesters' claims about the IRS for two years. He concluded
they were right, and told his IRS supervisors so. He was placed on
leave, then resigned in 1999 to "comply with my oath to support and
defend the U.S. Constitution."
The following year, he and Bob
Schulz, founder of a leading antigovernment Patriot tax-protest group
known as the We the People, hand delivered grievances signed by
supporters to federal officials in Washington stating that the 16th
Amendment that allowed a federal income tax was illegally ratified, and
that no law or regulation requires most citizens to pay income taxes or
have taxes withheld.
Banister was indicted in 2004 in
California for preparing false income tax returns and conspiring to
defraud the federal government stemming from his work on behalf of a
businessman client. The client went to prison, but Banister was
"There's definitely a propaganda
campaign out there to make us look like a problem to law enforcement,"
he told his audience at a Patriot conference last year.
Bulldozer vs. Bulldozer - Martin "Red" Beckman, 80
In 1984, when Martin J. "Red"
Beckman ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in New
Hampshire's famously wide-open primary, he billed himself as "Montana's
fighting redhead." By that time, he had been battling the IRS for 10
Sometimes called the "Father of the
Patriot Movement," Beckman gained a measure of fame within the anti-tax
militia movement for refusing to pay more than $100,000 in income taxes
and $34,000 in property taxes, contending that U.S. tax laws are
The IRS auctioned Beckman's
property in 1979, but he refused to leave. In a 1992 ruling, the 9th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also assessed $1,500 in sanctions against
him, saying his arguments were "wholly without merit and frivolous."
Finally, his home was bulldozed in
1994. He attracted about 100 sympathizers to a rally in Billings to
protest the foreclosure an event he billed as "No More Wacos." At a
press conference that year, he called the IRS "a total criminal
organization" and vowed, "We will put it out of business at some point."
In addition to being a tax
protester and conspiracy theorist who believes the Federal Reserve and
International Monetary Fund are conspiring to dominate the world,
Beckman is a notorious anti-Semite. He's the author of The Church
Deceived, in which he claims the Holocaust was God's punishment of Jews
for worshipping Satan.
Now in his dotage, the "fighting
redhead" occasionally still speaks in public as the militias of the
1990s make a comeback. This past September, for instance, he spoke to
the "Celebrating Conservatism" group in the town of Hamilton, Mont. Two
days later, the group paraded through downtown brandishing weapons.
'Needle of Estrogen' - Catherine Bleish, 26
Catherine Bleish, one of the few
female leaders in the resurgent Patriot movement, runs the Liberty
Restoration Project and has become a popular speaker on the Patriot
"It's quite frightening the amount
of power and authority that our government has assumed for themselves,"
Bleish told the Intelligence Report. "They say, 'We are the Supreme
Being, we have the guns, we are going to do it our way.'"
Bleish, of St. Louis, Mo., speaks
passionately about the anger that's fueling the movement. "It's so hard
to start a small business, and once you start one, it's hard to keep it
open. My parents are being audited for the past six years, while
[Treasury Secretary] Tim Geithner, who doesn't pay his taxes, now gets
to oversee the IRS," she said. "People are losing their homes. People
are losing their jobs. People are frustrated and looking for answers."
Like many other Patriot leaders,
Bleish charges that the government is behind these economic woes. "The
dollar has been systematically destroyed. And that is not the American
people's doing. That is the central bank. The central bankers, what they
do is they go from country to country, and they destroy currency and
bring themselves lots of power and lots of wealth."
Though Bleish said no one in the
movement with whom she's worked wants violence, she added that people
will be driven to defend themselves if the country continues on its
current course. "The actions of our federal government [are] going to
create violence. And my goal ... is to try and stop it peacefully before
it gets to that point. I'm trying to follow the channels that are still
afforded to me to talk to people face to face. But they're going to try
and take away my ability to communicate with people of a like mind-set."
Bleish has taken part in key
Patriot events, attending the seminal May 2009 Jekyll Island meeting
that helped lay the groundwork for the resurgence of the movement. She
also spoke at the Freedom 21 conference in Oklahoma City last August.
And she was the main organizer for the Midwest Liberty Fest in Illinois
But it's not all thankless work: A
glam shot of Bleish was featured in the 2009-2010 Ladies of Liberty
Alliance calendar. "Many women involved in the liberty movement have
experienced the frustrating feeling of isolation when they look around
and realize they are just a needle of estrogen in a haystack of
testosterone," she wrote last August. "The Ladies of Liberty Alliance is
a brand new organization working to end that feeling of isolation
Of Government and Guillotines - Ted Gunderson, 81
Ted Gunderson seems never to have
heard a conspiracy theory he doesn't believe. What makes this remarkable
is that he was an FBI agent for nearly three decades, even heading up
large bureaus in Los Angeles and Dallas.
Gunderson, who did not respond to a
letter sent a month before this writing, has warned for years that
Satanists have footholds from the White House and Congress to the media.
He claims a shadow government is targeting thousands of citizens, him
included; its methods include the Internet, electronic energy beams from
a satellite, hidden cameras and wiretaps in homes. A few of his other
claims: There are 1,000 internment camps in the United States, and
30,000 guillotines stored in Atlanta to use on dissident patriots.
Children were taken from Boys Town in Nebraska in the 1980s and flown to
Washington, D.C., "for sex orgies at private parties with U.S.
congressmen and Washington dignitaries." Sonny Bono didn't die in a
skiing accident; he was murdered to stop him from blabbing about drug
trafficking by CIA operatives.
Being privy to so many conspiracies
has resulted in repeated attempts to assassinate him, Gunderson
Some of Gunderson's fellow
conspiracy theorists spin their own tales about him. One claims that
the real Ted Gunderson committed suicide in 2002 and that this
Gunderson is an imposter. Another claims that Gunderson supplied
terrorists with stolen Stinger missiles in return for drugs, and was
forced into early retirement in 1979 because he performed Satanic
ceremonies in his FBI office.
Last year, Gunderson said he was
planning to move to Panama, where he would help Americans "flee the
ever-growing Totalitarian Police State and economic chaos in this
country." Since then, he has been diagnosed with bladder cancer, friends
The Unnamed Co-Conspirator - John Hassey, 60
John Hassey was the public face of
Alabama's militia movement in the late 1990s, but he faded from the
public eye following the high-profile arrest of a close associate who
was accused of plotting several terrorist attacks.
Hassey gravitated toward the
militia movement in the early 1990s in reaction to the Clinton
administration's gun control policies. He rose through the ranks of the
Alabama Constitutional Militia, becoming public information officer and
finally executive officer.
In 1995, he explained the group's
mission to a reporter from theMontgomery (Ala.) Advertiser:
"We're not plotting or planning to overthrow the government. We just
want the government to abide by the Constitution."
Two years later, however, he struck
a very different posture during a protest in Southaven, Tenn., for a
couple being evicted to allow the construction of a park. "If they take
the man's house, they're gonna start a war here in these United States,"
In 1999, Hassey's superior officer
in the Southeastern States Alliance was charged with planning to steal
explosives from National Guard armories. Officials said Donald
Beauregard planned to blow up utilities and government facilities in
Florida and Georgia. Hassey wasn't arrested, but Beauregard's indictment
stated that the stolen munitions were to be stored on a
"co-conspirator's farm in Alabama." Hassey has said he believes he was
the unnamed co-conspirator.
In October 2004, Hassey filed for
bankruptcy, but he still lives on the parcel in Elmore, Ala., that his
neighbors call "The Militia."
Today, he's active again. Life in a
militia, he said in a brief interview, is something "you just can't
Apostle of Disunion - Larry Kilgore, 45
If Larry Kilgore ever got his way,
Texas would be the Lone Star Country. The Christian activist's goal is
an independent Texas governed by biblical law. His ideal community
"would be where folks look to God's word, the Bible."
Secession alone is not enough,
though. Kilgore would like to see Texas further balkanized into smaller
countries or counties, each one catering to a different religious or
personal belief. "There's so much cultural diversity and religious
diversity," he said. "I think that the tension we feel when we are all
forced to be together is difficult."
Kilgore, a telecommunications
consultant, said he doesn't support or oppose armed resistance against
the U.S. government. He has invested his own efforts in the political
process (he's a perennial candidate for public office) and is willing to
work with any organization, no matter their politics, in order to escape
what he calls an oppressive federal government.
At an August 2009 secessionist
rally in Austin, Kilgore left no doubt about his personal feelings. "I
hate that flag up there," he said, pointing to the American flag. "I
hate the United States government. ... They're an evil, corrupt
Apparently, Kilgore's secessionist
talk didn't play well in his initial, quixotic campaigns against
better-known, better-funded candidates. In a 2004 run for the Texas
House, he received just 474 votes.
But he may not be tilting at
windmills these days. In 2006, he challenged Gov. Rick Perry and
captured more than 50,000 votes. Two years later, Kilgore lost a bid for
a U.S. Senate seat, but not before sweeping up 225,649 votes.
Though he recently bowed out of the
2010 gubernatorial race, his influence lingers. Perry has begun courting
the antigovernment vote and recently even suggested Texas might be wise
to consider secession.
Railing About Reds - John F. McManus,
John McManus is the president and
longtime public face of the secretive John Birch Society (JBS), the now
fading anti-Communist organization founded in 1958. The former public
relations director was named president in 1991 after working for many
years alongside founder Robert Welch. He has spoken in public
extensively in recent years to boost dwindling membership and funds even
as JBS has worked to link arms with the Patriot movement and others with
McManus, who joined the society's
staff in 1966, has continued to promote its founding principles. The
central thesis is that a sinister cabal of politicians, bankers,
globalists and other elites throughout history including the
Illuminati, every U.S. president since Woodrow Wilson and the Council on
Foreign Relations have worked to peel away the rights of individuals
and put the U.S. on a path toward a totalitarian one-world government.
The often-lampooned group, which
reached its zenith in the 1960s, has been anti-immigrant, anti-United
Nations and even anti-Newt Gingrich. It once suggested that Dwight D.
Eisenhower was a "conscious agent" of Communism.
McManus, who didn't return phone
calls for this story, hates the Federal Reserve, which he blames for the
stock market crash of 1929, the current recession and other calamities.
"The combination of the government and the Federal Reserve are
destroying the dollar and setting us up for world currency, world
control, world government," he told his hometown Appleton, Wis.,
Post-Crescent last April.
An ultraconservative Roman
Catholic, McManus has been accused of anti-Semitism, a charge he has
denied. In 2005, according to The New York Times, Birch
staffers who were ousted amid internal turmoil leaked recordings of
McManus saying that Judaism was a dead religion and that militant Jews
have influenced the Freemasons, who were "Satan's agents" and part of
the Illuminati conspiracy to cause world upheaval.
Back in the Saddle - Norm Olson, 63
Few people played a bigger role in
transforming Michigan into a hotbed of militia activity during the 1990s
than Norm Olson. Today, the founder of the Michigan Militia is living in
Alaska and working with others to build the Alaska Citizens Militia. He
told the Redoubt Reporter that he was convinced Americans would be
forced to repel "tyrannical, oppressive federal aggression."
Founded in 1994, the Michigan
Militia was one of the first major contemporary militias. It was thrust
into the national spotlight after the Oklahoma City bombing, when
reports surfaced that conspirators Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh had
attended meetings. Olson confirmed that each man attended one meeting
but added that their rhetoric was not welcome and they were not
encouraged to return.
After the 1995 bombing, Olson
suggested the Japanese government was responsible a statement he later
said he should have "fully corroborated." Olson wasn't re-elected to a
leadership post in the Michigan Militia. He later founded his own
Northern Michigan Regional Militia.
By 2005, Olson was moving to
Alaska. He declared Michigan "hopeless" and auctioned off weaponry and
memorabilia from his Alanson, Mich., gun store even offering Michigan
By late 2009, Olson and Michigan
Militia co-founder Ray Southwell were in Nikiski, Alaska, promoting the
Alaska Citizens Militia. Earlier this year, Olson was serving as interim
commander of the Kenai Peninsula Division.
"America is very, very ill," Olson
said. "And people across the country are preparing themselves."
Out of the Barrel of a Gun - Larry
When it comes to sniffing out
sinister plots to disarm gun owners, Larry Pratt and the Gun Owners of
America (GOA) are constantly on the lookout.
Health care reform? It's a plot to
take your guns, according to the GOA website.
Environmentalism? You guessed it
another plot to take your guns. At the Ninth Annual Freedom 21
Conference in Texas in 2008, Pratt warned that "the major goal of the
sustainable development movement is to disarm Americans."
Pratt, the GOA's executive
director, was scheduled to speak at the "Second Amendment March" in
Washington, D.C., this April 19. The event, which the GOA helped
sponsor, was designed to let politicians know they had better not
support anti-gun legislation. Patriot and other radical groups were also
expected to participate.
There's one tiny problem. There's
no evidence that the government is plotting to strip citizens of their
guns. President Obama has even signed legislation allowing guns in
national parks and on Amtrak trains. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun
Violence has given Obama an "F" on every issue on which it graded him.
But that's not stopping the
hard-line GOA, which claims more than 300,000 members and doesn't
believe in any gun restrictions at all. When armed citizens began
appearing outside presidential events, Pratt addressed it in a column on
the GOA website. "There are those who don't like Americans owning guns
at all, let alone carrying them openly. They can be counted on to run
around squawking like Chicken Little that the sky is falling."
Pratt may be the figure most
responsible for introducing the militia concept to the radical right. He
authored Armed People Victorious in 1990. Based on this study
of "citizen defense patrols" in the Philippines and Guatemala groups
that became more commonly known as death squads Pratt offered a
flattering portrayal and promoted militias for the United States.
Two years later, in 1992, he was
invited to a Colorado meeting where the outlines of the militia movement
were shaped. More than 150 extremists attended the meeting, which was
hosted by a white supremacist minister. In 1996, Pratt was ejected from
the co-chairmanship of Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign over such
associations with white supremacists.
Of Cops and Conspiracies - Stewart
A former aide to Texas congressman
Ron Paul (see profile in "The Enablers"), Stewart Rhodes founded a group
called Oath Keepers in early 2009. The rapidly growing organization is
comprised mostly of active-duty police and military, as well as
veterans, who fret about things like gun control and the much-feared
"New World Order." Members swear (a second time) to uphold their oath to
the Constitution and not to obey orders they think conflict with that.
Among those orders (10 "Orders We Will Not Obey" are listed on the Oath
Keepers website): Imposing martial law or a state of emergency on a
state, and forcing those who resist into detention camps.
Rhodes is an Army veteran and a
Yale Law School graduate. He and others in his organization have been
frequent speakers at Tea Party rallies, helping channel Patriot ideas
into that movement. Rhodes insists his group isn't antigovernment, but
he and other Oath Keepers do describe the government as tyrannical and
repressive. "We saw a dangerous increase in power of the executive
branch and a dangerous increase in government power over the American
people," he told Watergate felon G. Gordon Liddy on the latter's radio
show in April 2009.
In interviews, Rhodes has suggested
that his worries about concentration camps and martial law are purely
theoretical concerns. That is false. At the top of the list of orders
his group will not obey is a quote from George Washington, saying now is
the time to decide whether we are "freemen" or "slaves." Rhodes' site
then says, "Such a time is near at hand again," clearly suggesting
Rhodes also has appeared for
friendly questioning at least twice on the radio show of όber-conspiracist
Alex Jones. And, last November, he explained on the Conservative
Political Network why his organization doesn't focus on politicians,
lawyers or judges. "They've already demonstrated by their behavior they
have contempt for the Constitution and have no regard for their oaths,"
he said. "So I focus on the military and the police because they still
have honor, and if they stand down ... and refuse unlawful orders, it
doesn't make a difference what the politicians want, it can't be done."
Correcting the Constitution - Jon Roland, 66
When a militiaman claims the
federal government is trampling the Constitution, he might have Jon
Roland to thank for his reasoning. In the mid-1990s, Roland founded the
Constitution Society, a Patriot organization whose website assembles
writings on all manner of constitutional issues, including a section on
the alleged right to assemble a militia.
The site also delves into the world
of conspiracy theories by providing links to sites questioning the
Oklahoma City bombing and the role of researchers in creating the HIV
virus. It even includes a section on mind-control technology.
It's all in keeping with Roland's
role as a purveyor of information to the Patriot movement, a role that
includes the founding of the Texas Militia Correspondence Committee in
the mid-1990s. He's also played a role in the movement's resurgence by
attending a gathering of extremist figures in Georgia last year that
appears to have pumped new life into the movement. "The Feds are out of
control," he told the Intelligence Report in an interview about
that meeting. They "have actually been engaging in warlike activity
against the American people."
Roland, a computer specialist in
Austin, Texas, has run for office several times since 1972. At a website
exploring a possible candidacy for U.S. Senate, he promotes a
"Constitutionalist Platform" that would "involve the repeal of much
existing legislation," including statutes that make "anything but gold
or silver coin legal tender on state territory." He supports the ability
of private mints to issue such coins.
And, of course, he wants to revive
the militia system he says was envisioned by the Founding Fathers.
Roland appears determined to fulfill a statement he made in 1994 that is
still quoted on the Constitution Society website: "I decided history
needed a course correction, so I reached for my keyboard."