Militias see threat in Arizona

Patriots vow to fight off 'one-world government'

By David Fritze
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 5, 1995

EAGAR - From this remote, untidy city on eastern Arizona's high desert plains, William Cooper beams his anger to the world.

Five nights a week, at 10 p.m., Cooper, one of the most widely known prophets of the growing ''patriot movement,'' rails at the federal government and talks of doomsday omens on his shortwave radio broadcast.

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.

Civil-rights groups and law-enforcement agents are nervous. They fear that the patriot movement will goad some extremists into violence against Jews, blacks or lawmen.

Militia leaders scoff at this. But they acknowledge that they think the armed conflict against one-world government for which they're preparing is unavoidable.

''You're cattle, stupid cattle,'' Cooper told any skeptics among a crowd of 250 at a December patriot convention in Mesa.

'Blood will be spilled'

While stressing he doesn't endorse violence, Cooper warned, ''Blood will be spilled in the streets of America. It's inevitable.''

Exactly where the militia phenomenon is heading is unclear.

Like its 1980s precursors - the Arizona Patriots and Posse Comitatus - the movement may taper off and die in the boredom that overtakes conspiracy causes, especially when the coming apocalypse doesn't come.

But the patriot brushfire to date shows no sign of burning out, finding kindling for its outrage in every news flash. The events that raked in militia recruits - the siege of Randy Weaver in Idaho, the raid on the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas, the signing of gun-control laws - stick in their craws. Then there's President Clinton, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the Internal Revenue Service.

''People right now are freaked,'' said David Espy, who lives near Chino Valley, north of Prescott, and who has taken out newspaper ads advising people to form militias to battle government intrusion.

''They're thinking, 'That (the Waco group) could have been our church, could have been our children.' ''

He and neighbors have set up communications networks, including laying underground phone lines and buying flare guns. At one point, they considered acquiring homing pigeons as a bug-proof way to communicate.

They've scouted for unmarked helicopters thought to be spying for authorities or the United Nations. They've discussed what they would do if federal forces invaded their land.

''The standing joke where I live is, 'When they see smoke coming from my place, that's going to be the beginning (of the battle),' '' said Espy, owner of an excavating company.

''If all else fails, if you got your firearm, you can defend yourself, and you'll have a new government.''

Loosely organized groups

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.''

Butler has since received reports of what he thinks are militia members firing automatic weapons in cinder pits near Pinedale.

Radio talk shows

The Arizona connection to the militia movement is especially evident on shortwave radio, where Cooper and former Phoenix policeman Jack McLamb host talk shows five nights a week.

James ''Bo'' Gritz, who ran for president under the banner of the Populist Party and who has Arizona connections, also has a patriot-type shortwave show in the morning.

Among the heroes of the militia crowd is former Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham, who has spoken at some national patriot conventions.

Despite their shared audiences, patriot leaders are far from being a unified clique.

Cooper, for example, said he thinks that Gritz, whom he once supported, and McLamb are agents of the New World Order, a broad conspiracy bent on instituting one-world government.

Some militia members distrust Cooper, saying he has become a querulous name-caller and cynic, calling people ''sheeple'' and ''scum.''

''Are there many other people I trust today?'' he mused in an interview. ''No. These are extremely dangerous times.''

Can't trust Libertarians, he says. Nor Republicans nor Democrats. Nor Rush Limbaugh. Nor certainly the news media, Freemasons, the Federal Reserve banks, big business, the government or the Anti-Defamation League.

Patriot advocates deny the Anti-Defamation League's claims that white supremacists and anti-Semites form a large part of the movement, though they admit some of those elements have crept in.

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.

Patriot correctness

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.

Books, tapes and other materials being hawked at tables showed what a thriving cottage industry the patriot craze has become.

666 - Mark of the Beast, read a videotape offering ''irrefutable evidence that the Warlords of Washington and Wall Street'' plan to inject homing devices into every person on the planet.

Cooper's wife, Annie Mordhorst, was selling his conspiracy book for $30 and passing out forms for ordering $9 cassette tapes of his radio broadcasts.

As strange as much of this seems, the core of the patriot message has aroused thousands nationwide.

Cooper, 51, fields calls on his talk show from fans in Long Island suburbs and Texas prairies. The broadcast is carried by Worldwide Christian Radio out of Nashville, Tenn., which receives it via phone from St. Johns.

He says he has millions of listeners worldwide and has received letters from Canada, Russia, South Africa and Norway.

A block down the street from the storefront housing his home-built studio, clerks at a Circle K look puzzled at the mention of Cooper's name.

The town is more familiar with Cooper's friend, Tim Lesperance, who owns a GI surplus store next door to Cooper's unmarked base as well as a local cafe sporting John Wayne in cardboard and a box of ''Spotted Owl Helper.''

Lesperance fills in occasionally on Cooper's radio show with tips on survival techniques in case the enemy stages a takeover.

''I'm a crazy radical,'' Lesperance says of neighbors' views of him. ''But in the last five years, a lot of people have come to me and said, 'What am I going to do?' ''

Besides his show, Cooper travels to give speeches, is collecting a patriot library in his studio and is helping form a political party.

To join his ''intelligence service,'' one must pay an annual fee and recite an oath before a notary public; then one is posted to a local intelligence chief for gathering information to aid the militia cause.

Like some other patriot leaders, Cooper refuses to get a driver's license or pay federal income taxes, saying he is willing to risk getting ticketed and has found a legal way to avoid the taxes.

Simmering violence

That damn-the-government streak has alarmed officials, who fear that an encounter with some militia members could erupt into violence.

Last year, a Joelton, Tenn., man, anticipating armed battle with a one-world government, amassed an arsenal in his house for the war. When local police pulled him over for drunken driving in November, he pulled a pistol and wounded two officers before one shot him dead.

In Mississippi, a militia group obtained the names and home addresses of all federal officers based in the state, prompting U.S. agencies to post a nationwide alert.

Most militia recruits are regular folks and have no taste for violence, however, militia leaders say.

Still, ''I think we can get too paranoid,'' said Mike Lackey, who lives near Snowflake and supports the militia. ''People, they got armed. They're all excited. They almost want it (a fight) to happen so bad that they create it.''

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.''