The Freemen standoff in Montana cast a glaring spotlight on the Christian Patriot movement's expansion into constitutional issues and common law courts. As television screens flashed the faces of hatred in living rooms across the country, Christian Patriot leaders mobilized like a motley Madison Avenue team to solve the public relations nightmare.
On camera, Colorado Sen. Charlie Duke fumed that the Freemen were counterfeit patriots and praised the patience of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents. On the Internet, Christian Patriot leaders cranked out position papers distinguishing the constitutionalist movement from the Freeman's Christian Identity-spun common law edicts. The goal was to distance themselves from the Freemen, a challenge, considering that the Montana renegades began as an embryonic cell within their movement.
It's too soon to judge their success. However, the Christian Patriots appear to be maintaining momentum as a political and spiritual movement to restore Christian values and to fight the satanic forces guiding government toward a tyrannical New World Order. The movement's common law courts, deemed necessary by its adherents to circumvent the tainted judicial system, vow allegiance to "God's law" — not man-made laws created under the influence of the Antichrist.
"Salvation" conferences and classes are taking place in fields, community centers and churches across the country. Nearly a thousand Patriots braved a chilling mist and muddy field to warmly embrace words of wisdom from speakers under a half-dozen tents at the Mid-America Constitution Conference America '96 rally east of Kansas City this past June.
The heartland speeches wove one theme: receive Jesus Christ, reaffirm America as "God's promised land" and reclaim the Christian principles of our forefathers. The reward: Salvation.
As the wind howled through tent number one, Richard Boyden, identified as the conference chaplain, presented "God's Alternative to One World Government." Boyden hosts a radio show and ministers to a small religious sect that integrates Mormon beliefs with Christianity and Native American spiritualism in Independence, Missouri. Wearing an Indian-styled bolo tie over a brown shirt, he declared that thousands of years before Native Americans inhabited this country, Jesus Christ surveyed the territory and God sprinkled ocean water on it, anointing America as the "promised land."
Citing Bible verses in Genesis and Deuteronomy that describe the size of the "promised land," Boyden noted that "200 square miles" is much larger than Israel and concluded that God was referring to the heartland. As the rapture draws near, he predicted "the Lord's presence will be established here... and will spread out to all the land."
If minority races and Jews accept Jesus Christ as their savior, Boyden said that they, too, can be spared the doom of hell in the "end times." He envisions a red ring encircling the chosen people, protecting them from worries about the Federal Reserve, the Illuminati, Council of Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission, outcome-based education, Internal Revenue Service, and the New World Order.
"There's gonna be a car factory inside the ring because people are gonna need cars, yes sir!" Boyden proclaimed. "God will remove the curse from the ground and food will grow. So what if (the federal government) turns off the water, turns off our electricity. You can just pray for the lights to stay on."
If Americans fail to return the country to God's law, Boyden warned, "we'll all get nailed with the mark of the beast" or the satanic system of the "New World Order." (He was referring to Revelation 13:18, which describes the "mark of the beast" as "600, three score and six" on hearts and foreheads of those who are the devil's advocates. The movement also equates the "mark of the beast" with the federal government.)
The "devil and his angels are down here now furthering one world government," Boyden said, offering proof in a message left on his telephone answering machine. "My name is Mephistopheles. I am the sixth demon down from Satan. I've come to collect what you owe." Boyden repeats the message twice and claims it is from one of Satan's 12 apostles on a "mark of the beast" mission.
None of the thousand constitutional "scholars" feared the "mark of the beast" at this conference. All right hands were stamped with the international bar symbol for "no" over the letters "beast."
Boyden's spirited words fell on mostly "Wonder Bread" Christian males, a few wearing "Missouri 51 Militia" black T-shirts emblazoned with a "Don't tread on me" striking rattler and one man wearing a shirt that read, "Hallelujah means Praise you, Yahweh." The audience was sparsely populated with WASP women, two Jews, and an African American couple. Native Americans and African Americans had a higher profile at the concessions selling Indian bread and barbecue lunches, respectively.
Under tent number three, Jerry Hughes, radio talk show host on People's Radio Network, held court, looking sweaty and slovenly sprawled out on a folding chair. "We are not free," he grumbled. "You have to understand that first."
The verbose talk show host asserted that the Bill of Rights has been eroded, particularly the Second Amendment concerning the right to bear arms and form citizen militias. He ticked off the worst culprits as apathetic citizens, the media, and "psychobabbling individuals in Washington" like President Bill Clinton, Republican presidential contender Bob Dole, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Congressman Charles Schumer of New York.
"None are as powerful as God," declared Hughes. "God will empower the people to put an end to the New World Order ... (because) this nation was founded on the Holy Bible." At the core of the Christian Patriot's crusade is the belief that our Christian forefathers received divine inspiration from God and the Bible when they created the U.S. Constitution.
"People who don't understand the Constitution are dumber than dirt," spat Hughes, launching a tirade against elected officials who lay one hand on the Bible and swear an oath to uphold the state constitution or U.S. Constitution when they haven't read either one. "They're lying sons of guns and they need to be thrown out on their ears," he bellowed over the sound of thunderous applause. "I don't know how vengeful God is, but if I were him and some sucker lied to me, I'd lop off his head. I guarantee you I'd kick that sucker between here and the toilet, and I'd zap him with a lightening bolt so big he (wouldn't) know what happened."
Violating the oath of office is a crime worthy of capital punishment, Hughes said, launching into a history lesson. "Let me tell you what they used to do back in the good old days. They hung them, they hung them until such time they passed out. Then they took them down and revived them. Then they shot them. Then they quartered their bodies and they chopped them into small pieces and they scattered them over the countryside ... because they didn't want anyone to find a piece of the treasonous, traitorous son of a gun who had sworn an oath to God and the American people and had gone back on it."
This jaw-dropping description of justice echoes posse comitatus tenets that called for hanging those convicted of crimes, from murder to treason (including failure to uphold the oath of office) at a public site. The punishment has been incorporated in common law courts that are now established in more than 40 states.
Hughes said the point is not punishment, but finding "good and righteous people to run for political office" even though it is "the most sorry, lowest, most dirty occupation." In his mind, a true Christian candidate for political office is like a missionary saving wicked souls. "I don't know that the Lord went into the finest places to do good works. Seems like he was after the drunkards, the beasts, the prostitutes and such. Just kind of reminiscent of politics, isn't it?"
Under tent number two, Eugene Schroder announced that the Colorado Legislative Executive Committee approved a summer interim panel to evaluate the "findings of fact" delivered by the state Common Law Grand Jury Assembly in August 1995. The common law assembly found state officials guilty of operating unconstitutionally and demanded they show just cause. The verdict was based on the assertion that the country has never entirely rescinded acts that expanded presidential powers to see the nation through the Great Depression. States granted mirror powers to governors.
"In Colorado, we're trying hard to set an example for our sister states," said Schroder, founder of the American Agriculture Movement and activist in United Sovereigns of America. During the Freemen negotiations in May, Schroder and Senator Duke feared negative publicity would jeopardize approval of the pending legislative interim committee. Successful, they now hope the legislative committee lends credibility to the movement and sets a precedent of petition for redress of grievances in other states.
Schroder expressed concerns about hotheaded extremists filing false liens, physically threatening officials, and declaring secession from the union, a move in Texas that recently landed a few patriots in jail. It's palatable talk for a man who once led an armed farmers revolt, was linked to the posse comitatus and, according to The Denver Post, taught a class on bomb making (a charge he adamantly denies).
"It's better to petition the government, not secede, and stay all together," said Schroder, who believes the Civil War might have been avoided if the South had worked the system rather than seceding from the Union. Asked if the country is destined for another revolution, he responded, "Nobody wins a war. Don't kid yourself. We'll all lose."
Yet, common law activists continue to file declarations of "sovereign citizenship" with county clerks, rejecting laws that demand tax payments and licenses to operate vehicles, carry weapons, and marry. They equate Social Security numbers with the "mark of the beast" and believe that birth certificates relinquish parental rights to the government.
The common law court avenue coalesces Christian Right and Christian Identity members. "While there are differences between the Christian Right and Christian Identity, there is not a solid wall," said Leonard Zeskind, former research director for the Center for Democratic Renewal. "It is a semipermeable membrane."
For example, Christian Identity devotees are the self-described chosen tribe of Israel, Christian Patriots claim to be God's chosen people; both extol America as "the promised land" and condemn the evil conspiracy to create a one world government, also known as the New World Order.
The Montana Freemen's brand of common law justice intones Christian Identity, a racist and anti-Semitic religious doctrine that cites Bible scriptures to justify slaughtering homosexuals, minorities, and Jews, and to deny voting privileges to women and ethnic immigrants. Christian Patriot leaders assert that they are more compassionate, neither demanding death for homosexuals nor discriminating against Jews and ethnic citizens.
Both base their common law court systems on the Magna Carta, English common law, and the Constitution of the United States, including the Bill of Rights. Refusal to recognize subsequent amendments to the Constitution creates a first-class inherited citizenship status for white Christian males, and effectively reduces women and ethnic immigrants to second-class citizens, without voting and civil rights.
Like the Freemen, Christian Patriots demand obedience to "God's Law" and curse man-made law. The movement has courted Christians over the past four years, but the strategy to convert clergy and hold constitutionalist training seminars in churches is fairly new.
In June 1994, the Constitutionalist Networking Center kicked off a conference in the Indianapolis Baptist Temple with a home school band strumming "Dixie" while Rev. John Lewis marched on stage, yelling "yee haw!" and unfurled his ministerial robe to reveal a Revolutionary uniform. Lewis declared, "That ought to be our national anthem. Those are the values your granddaddies died for."
More than 125 Christian Patriots broke into objective pursuit teams to plot methods of reclaiming the country from the evil grip of "socialists" conspiring a global government. The "Education/Motivation of Pastors" team reported its goals were to "inform every pastor of the pitfalls of incorporation, the need for a national repentance and a return to His principles of government as secured for Americans by the Constitution, and the role pastors should play in helping to restore constitutional intent."
The report was co-authored by Greg Dixon, pastor of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple, a member of the Constitutionalist Networking Center board of directors and former secretary of the Moral Majority. Less than two years earlier, in 1992, Dixon addressed a gathering of militia leaders and white supremacists organized by Christian Identity leader Pastor Pete Peters at a Colorado YMCA camp, said researcher Leonard Zeskind. Nearly 150 "neo-Nazis and Christian Patriots" attended the conference to hear Dixon, Gun Owners of America leader Larry Pratt, Aryan Nations chief Richard Butler, Aryan Nations leader and former Texas Klansman Louis Beam, Militia of Montana founder John Trochmann, and white supremacist attorney Kirk Lyons.
In April 1995, the Antioch Baptist Church in Bismark, North Dakota, drew 50 people to hear Eugene Schroder and Graham County, Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack, author of From My Cold Dead Fingers. According to the Bismark Tribune, the meeting was coordinated by Pastor Todd Dennis who said, "Just like 200 years ago when our founding fathers questioned their government, so are we."
In September 1995, Montana Freemen member Frank Ellena was arrested on a fugitive warrant after concluding a seminar on common law courts at the Mesa Bible Church in Arizona. In a letter to the Arizona Republic newspaper in Ellena's defense, Cheryl K. Burgess, a Wickenburg town council member, explained, "The movement is Christian, and a lot of people do not understand that when you take God's law or the common law away, you are under man's injustice and whims called law."
In April 1996, more than 50 ministers gathered at a constitution seminar in an Ocala, Florida church to hear Schroder and attorney Larry Becraft. George Hall, co-founder of Middle Income Citizens of America, the group that organized and videotaped the seminar, said Christian Patriot study groups are meeting in independent churches, "the only free religious institutions. Conventional churches are influenced by an unseen power... invisible government."
Like patriot peers, Hall is angry with perceived Jewish-controlled mainstream media. "If you say homosexuality is wrong," he said, "they'll brand you a homophobic. If you're not careful about what you say about Jewish people, they brand you anti-Semitic. If you're not careful about what you say about coloreds, they brand you a racist. If it's a true statement, it's not racist, not anti-Semitic."
As Zeskind noted, a fluid movement blurs lines between the right wing movements. One example is Ross Perot's political education conference in Dallas last year. United We Stand America members, a Catholic priest-led Operation Rescue team, Christian Patriots, and the Texas Constitutional Militia networked in the civic center, as well as at nearby hotels.
The mix of Bible references, invocation of Jesus Christ and fear of the new world order is tantalizing rhetoric to tap the "silent majority" awakened by Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition and Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family empire of millions. Dobson is listed as a resource in Patriot USA magazine, and his radio program airs on Patriot Radio Network. Can the Christian Coalition be far behind?
At the Colorado Christian Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Denver this past January, the only candidate to show was Charles Collins, a Christian Patriot from Florida who usually travels with a bodyguard, who publishes a patriot newspaper, and who belongs to a New Mexico militia.
In addition to a half-dozen Christian Patriot candidates courting votes for local seats, the movement wooed recruits in the exhibit hall. Clad in a tricornered Revolutionary soldier hat and armed with a musket, Ted Gunderson's campaign aide Douglas Millar hawked "$3 Queer Reserve Notes" (lampooning the Federal Reserve System currency), patriot literature, and conspiracy videos of the Waco fiasco and the Oklahoma City bombing. John Birch Society organizers Dennis Falk and George Sechrist sold The New American magazine and a myriad of books exposing the evil New World Order schemes. The U.S. Taxpayers Party promoted gutting government-funded "activities to encourage homosexual conduct" to dismantling the welfare system because "the message of Christian charity is fundamentally at odds with the concept of welfare rights."
Colorado Christian Coalition director Marty Nalitz, a radio talk show host formerly with USA Patriot network, is credited with forming a united conservative voting bloc of coalition members, pro-lifers, patriots, and militia troops. Nalitz has also stumped for presidential contender Pat Buchanan at Republican club meetings and hosted a live radio broadcast from Buchanan's pep and patriot rally just hours after the New Hampshire Primary victory.
As much as the Christian Patriot movement is trying to distance itself from bigotry, it continues a cooperative relationship with Christian Identity zealots such as Pastor Pete Peters, who promotes the separation of races to keep Aryan genes pure and demands the death penalty for homosexuals through his books, radio and satellite television shows, a worldwide web page, and Scriptures for America newsletter.
Earlier this summer, Peters invited ministers, church leaders and communicators of all faiths to a conference entitled "Israel Identity" at the YMCA camp near Estes Park, Colorado. The conference brochure promoted a mix of preacher and patriot speakers, including Martin "Red" Beckman, Montana tax resister and "grandfather" of the Fully Informed Jury Association. According to Peters, the conference was organized by leaders of Baptist, Church of Christ, Lutheran, Episcopal and Catholic faiths.
"There is a teaching spreading from church to church, silently crossing denominational lines and frequently bypassing church leaders," Peters proclaimed in the conference brochure. "It is rapidly being embraced in patriot groups and conservative movements through the land."