Militia Leader Pushed Out

In the weeks following the April 19 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, Norm Olson rocketed to fame as the voice of the national militia movement. Indeed, he may be the most famous person ever to appear on the world's stage from Northern Michigan. Not bad for a small-town gun shop owner and preacher who was rustling up support for an obscure paramilitary group just a year ago in the hinterlands north of Petoskey. But, like the hero in a Greek tragedy, Brig. Gen. Olson has seen the tides of fate lift him up, only to fling him down. When he and chief of staff Ray Southwell went public with the notion that the Oklahoma bombing was the result of a Japanese plot tied to the nerve gas attacks in Tokyo, the other members of the five-man militia command requested that they step down. Ditto with the jittery congregation of the small Baptist church where Olson has been the minister, and Southwell a deacon for five years. Even Olson's gun shop, the Alanson Armory, has shut down because he's been busy handling an endless stream of interviews, faxes and phone calls. He and his Northern Michigan Militia have felt the heat of letter writers in the pages of the local press--no small thing in the clannish towns of the north. "I'm going broke, I've lost my church, I've lost everything, but we're still going forward," says Olson, who has a wife and son to care for. He also says Southwell lost his job as a real estate agent as the result of his views and is working part-time as a nurse, living in a cabin in the woods without electricity to make ends meet. Other militia members across the country are also losing their jobs and taking the heat for their views. "The Lord has humbled us by taking away our creature comforts," he says. "Ray and I don't have anything left to lose; they've taken everything. But they can't threaten us with anything now either." Although Olson resigned from his position as militia commander, he's still active in the cause, with no hard feelings for his fellow militiamen. Most painful, perhaps, has been losing his church of about 40 worshippers. "Personally, I'm a little disappointed, but I understand the dynamic.... When you go forth with the truth, people are automatically frightened. One older lady said,'I'm too old for this,' but the way I feel is that we're never too old to defend freedom. Jefferson said the price of freedom is eternal vigilance." Olson says he's been "demonized" by a media which prefers to select sound bites of his colorful language, laden as it is with lurid tales of American patriots dying under the machine-gun fire of the United Nations troops intent upon establishing a one-world government. But in person, Norm Olson seems more thoughtful than his media persona, a genial, intelligent man with a gift for lyrical, explosive speech and the down-home camaraderie of a tavern philosopher. Indeed, he is considered a moderate in the militia movement, insisting on giving the boot to the "racialists" of the white supremacy movement. He might well be Walt Whitman, who in the early 1800s also warmly approved of vigilante groups and the destruction of the federal government. One suspects that Olson and archenemy Bill Clinton could sit down together and have a good soul-searching talk around the kitchen table. That's not to say that he's a huggable bunny, either. His home is an armory, after all, and his recent news release rants: "DAMN YOU ALL for not stopping the collision course being set between the Washington government and the militias of America! DAMN YOU ALL, for you, by your miserable failure to tell the truth, will allow this country!" Born in Detroit, Olson, 48, was raised in Royal Oak at a time when the town was a solid working-class suburb, booming after World War II. He claims to have spent 21 years in the U.S. Air Force as a communications tech, involved in top secret cryptology programs related to the Cold War. "I had one of the highest security clearances in the military," he says proudly. "I was down in the big war rooms; that's why I'm untouchable to the feds. I was honorably discharged and never broke the trust. "And the things I knew," he says with a chuckle, "the things I knew. I was entrusted with secrets about sci-op, which is the battle plan for nuclear war." After the service, Olson settled in Alanson, began preaching, and opened his gun shop, which is an extension of his garage. He and Southwell based the militia upon the example of colonial preachers. "Being a pastor is more than just preaching on Sunday," he says. "You protect and defend the flock as well, so we started the militia. In the colonial days, pastors led rifle companies." Although the Michigan Militia has never been implicated in the Oklahoma bombing (suspects Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols attended a meeting, but never joined), Olson's accessibility made him a lightning rod for the news media. In the weeks following the blast, Olson, Southwell and communications expert Ken Adams manned the phone lines and the media talk circuit to the point of exhaustion. Given the whirlwind of publicity and personal loss that he's been through, one might assume that Olson would be willing to retreat. But he still stands by his story. Giving the cause a rest is the last thing on his mind. He is still convinced that CIA agents staged the nerve gas attacks in Japan, prompting the Japanese government to frame the Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth) religious cult as the fall guys. Japanese agents, who have wiretapped the White House and know our government's every move, retaliated by bombing the federal building in Oklahoma. Olson says the bomb was created in Alabama and that Sarah McClendon, a longtime Washington reporter, was told on April 18 that the Japanese would blow up a federal building. When asked about his thoughts on Nichols and McVeigh, he says proudly that soldiers trained in special operations would never have goofed up they way they did. "He (McVeigh) rents a big, yellow truck, drives 80 miles per hour out of town with a Glock pistol and a receipt in his pocket," says Olson incredulously. "A person trained in special ops would never do that. They're taught to go in and come out of battle undetected. This was not a lone bomber--it was a very sophisticated device, not something cooked up in someone's barn." For now, the gun club of middle-aged white men is content to let the news media investigate these allegations and strike upon "a treasure trove of truth." Until then, Olson is in the struggle for the long haul. He's looking, after all, at the big picture. A Lexington-Concord style confrontation with the federal government and 40 million patriotic, gun-bearing Americans, perhaps. "No, I can't imagine sitting down or slowing down on this thing," says Olson. "My whole history has been adventurous, visionary. If they want to shoot me, they'll have to shoot me going forward." author

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