News & Politics

Profiling 10 of the Deeply Troubled Individuals Leading the Right-Wing, Government-Hating Crusade

Militias and the anti-government Patriot movement are on the rise, accompanied by the rapid expansion of other sectors of the radical right.

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 mid–1990s, there are also a large number of new players.

What follows are 10 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.

individuals at the heart of the resurgent movement.

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 show.

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 acquitted.

"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 years.

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 illegal.

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 circuit.

"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 last October.

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 forever!"

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 complains.

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 say.

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," he said. 

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 leave."

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 government."

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, 75

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 similar ideas.

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 Militia patches.

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 Pratt, 67

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 Rhodes, 44

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 imminent catastrophe.

Rhodes also has appeared for friendly questioning at least twice on the radio show of über-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."

Read more of Southern Poverty Law Center's latest issue of the Intelligence Report.