Fed's Arizona Militia Bust Looks Bogus
Charged with 'Conspiracy to Furnish Instruction'

Having read the indictments of the dozen people arrested in Phoenix July 1 and charged with being members of the "Viper Militia," I must now report that these government documents contain a startling amount of hogwash.
The Associated Press reported July 8 that the ATF agent in charge, testifying during the second day of hearings to determine whether 11 of the 12 defendants should even be detained pending trial, stated the government had two snitches in the militia unit, and "knew it had no immediate plans to attack government buildings."
(That's 14 percent of the membership. We'll shortly see some indication of how active a role one of these characters played in organizing the group's agenda.)
ATF agent Steven Ott testified his snitch "felt there was absolutely no plan to conduct any bombings of these buildings at that time."
From the headlines a few weeks back, one would have thought police stations and TV towers were ready to topple within hours. Wasn't that President Clinton standing on the White House lawn July the second, saying "I'd like to begin today by saluting the enforcement officers who made arrests in Arizona yesterday to avert a terrible terrorist attack"?
Some of the more paranoid even wondered whether the defendants -- four of whom are registered Libertarians -- were busted just in time to throw the greatest possible cloud over the July 4-7 national convention in Washington, D.C. (televised nationwide on C-SPAN) at which the less-government Libertarian Party nominated financial newsletter editor Harry Browne of Tennessee as its seventh and latest presidential standard-bearer.
(Seven of those arrested in Phoenix were registered Republicans. No reporter that I know of called Haley Barbour to ask if the GOP is ashamed to be attracting such dangerous radicals, though virtually every Libertarian Party official in Arizona seems to have been asked that question.)
For the record, the Libertarian Party not only opposes the initiation of force, they are the only national party that requires prospective recruits to sign a pledge to that effect before they're enrolled as official members ... though of course anyone can register a "Libertarian" voting preference with the state, sight unseen.
When I called Arizona state Libertarian Party chairman Mike Dugger in Ahwatuckee July 7 to ask for an update, and he told me Arizona's First Amendment attorneys were licking their chops hoping to get a chance to defend this case, I thought he'd made a slip of the tongue.
"You mean Second Amendment attorneys," I said, still thinking this was primarily a firearms and explosives case.
"No, First Amendment," he insisted.
Now that I've read the indictments, I see what he means.
To win a conspiracy indictment, prosecutors are supposed to demonstrate to a grand jury that at least one member of the "conspiracy" has committed an "overt act" -- usually interpreted to mean either an outright felony, or an act unmistakably preparatory to committing a felony, like planting explosives in a bank.
But the alleged "conspiracy," in this case, was not planning to blow up any particular building, but rather (Count 1) "Conspiracy to Furnish Instruction in the Use of Explosive Devices and Other Techniques in Furtherance of Civil Disorder," and (Count 2) "Furnishing Instruction In the Use of Explosive Devices and Other Techniques in Furtherance of Civil Disorder."
If I'm not mistaken, sergeants at Parris Island conspire to teach precisely these skills to Marine recruits every day. Should they be retaining attorneys?
There's little evidence this self-described "Viper Team" ever described itself as a "militia." There are reports that their shoulder patches (yes, shoulder patches -- the whole bunch sound more and more like a paintball team who got carried away) read "Viper Team" only -- no mention of any "Militia." In fact, I suspect the government -- by insisting the 12-member "Viper Team" is or was a "militia" -- stipulates to the very defense most likely to bring an outright acquittal.
What does a "militia" do? It consists of a group of non-government employees who gather together to train in the use of military weapons, so that they'll be prepared to defend their states' sovereignty should the central government in Washington ever move in to challenge it. That is the stated purpose of the Second Amendment. Thus the famous introductory clause about "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State" ... remember?
"Free States," each with their own militia -- militias not subject to any regulation out of Washington City. That was the promise in exchange for which the Union was ratified.
And "well regulated" means "well trained." What do you think George Mason and George Washington were up to when they organized meetings of the Fairfax County Militia in the mid-1770s -- trading ginger cookie recipes?
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The Phoenix indictment contends the defendants "did knowingly and intentionally combine, conspire, confederate and agree together to teach and demonstrate to each other and other persons the use, application, and making of firearms, explosive and incendiary devices, and techniques capable of causing injury and death. ..."
"Teach?" It's now a crime to "teach?"
Every time your local NRA-affiliated shooting club holds a shooting match, and the range supervisor walks down the line, recommending one of the younger fellows wrap his sling around his arm in a way that will steady his rifle better, he is "teaching and demonstrating a technique capable of causing injury and death. ..."
In fact, under the Director of Civilian Marksmanship program, any law-abiding American can sign up to shoot in a "DCM" match, at which point those who shoot adequate scores are qualified to buy from the United States government a surplus military rifle, at cost.
Although such rifles will kill a deer, they are usually fairly cumbersome for that purpose. The main function of the battle rifle is to "cause injury to persons." And the Founders told us the "persons" we should most fear, and best prepare ourselves to oppose, are "any standing army which can be brought against them" by the central government.
In Federalist No. 29, Hamilton argued that the "people at large" (not the National Guard, which the Founders would have classified as a dangerous "special militia") must be "properly armed and equipped" so that "If circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their rights and those of their fellow citizens."
In The Federalist No. 46, Madison argued "The ultimate authority ... resides in the people alone," and predicted any encroachments by the federal government would "provoke plans of resistance," and "an appeal to a trial of force."
Mind you, Mr. Madison was arguing that this was a good thing -- a guarantee of our freedoms which should leave us in no fear of approving the limited central government he favored -- still the only kind authorized by the Constitution.
No regular army of the United States -- no ATF or FBI or U.S. Marshall's Service -- could succeed in suppressing our rights, Mr. Madison assured us, as it "would be opposed (by) a militia amounting to near half a million citizens with arms in their hands."
Why? Because Americans have "the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost any other nation."
"The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword," argued the famous federalist Noah Webster, again in defense of the new federal Constitution, "because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States."
Yet the government on July 3 disarmed the so-called Viper Militia. Why?
The government agents themselves say this rather ragtag bunch were just doing contingency planning for the event of any future federal incursion to take away our rights -- hardly a far-fetched concern, any more, after what American have seen at Waco and Ruby Ridge and Donald Scott's ranch in the past four years.
As a matter of fact, some could argue that the very arrests in question constitute the kind of encroachment on our liberties which Mr. Madison told us should "provoke plans of resistance," which should be "opposed (by) a militia amounting to near half a million citizens with arms in their hands."
Are we going to arrest all the men in the bowels of the Pentagon who draw up contingency plans for the deployment of U.S. forces to block any Canadian attempt to seize Vermont and New Hampshire? Does the fact that such a plan still sits on some dusty shelf prove those Army boys are engaged in a "conspiracy" to invade Canada? If not, why do they have all those weapons ready to go, when the nation is at peace? Hmm?
"You're talking nonsense," I can hear the statists interjecting. "You're taking about things that only the government has a right to do, as though individual citizens have a right to do the same things."
Well, yes. Where is it these folks imagine the government gets the power to do things that individual citizens can't do? Isn't the founding principle of America that all rights start with the people, who then delegate to the government only certain, limited powers? The notion of a government that starts out with the power to do anything and everything it wants, and then picks and chooses which limited things it will "allow" the individual citizens to do, was surely dreamed up by someone other than Messrs. Jefferson, Washington and Madison.
Was the Viper Militia "superior" to any band of regular troops that could have been sent in to enforce martial law and seize citizens' guns in Phoenix -- to the 82nd Airborne, say? I don't think so, do you? It appears to me they weren't strong enough to oppose a handful of ATF agents accompanied by a TV crew.
To meet the Founders' guarantee, surely the Viper Militia would have needed to be several thousand strong, and armed with full-auto 50-caliber machine guns, Apache helicopters, heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles, Abrams tanks, and 155-mm cannon, wouldn't you think?
If the contract we made with the federalists in the 1780s is still good, then surely the federal government should be encouraging the Viper Militia to recruit more members, and offering to help them buy weapons of the sort listed immediately above -- perhaps with no-interest easy payment plans -- not arresting them.

# # #

But let's return to the question of what, precisely, were the "overt acts" (necessary to any finding of "conspiracy") charged in the Phoenix indictments:
"On or about Dec. 13, 1995," we're told, four of the "conspirators" met and viewed, "for the purpose of training persons in the making and use of explosive devices for use in obstructing the federal government, a video tape. ..."
Oh. Well, then. They watched a videotape!
On the video tape, some members were seen detonating "multiple destructive devices which ultimately created a crater in open land approximately 6 feet in diameter and 3 feet deep. The exercise also included Dean Carl Pleasant discharging an unarmed M-16 type rifle grenade which travelled approximately 100 feet."
That's 30 yards, kids. Ever seen what 10,000 acres of wooded land looks like after the United States Army stages tank exercises? Are Gen. Shalikashvili's armored brigades afraid they might meet a "force superior to any band of regular troops" should they run into defendants Dean Pleasant and Finis Howard Walker, with their 30-yard inert rifle grenade and their capability of blowing a hole six feet wide and three feet deep with "multiple destructive devices" in the Arizona desert?
Oh, and the indictment also specifies one "team" member spoke of his attempts to develop a two-foot long
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"rocket" made of PCV pipe and fueled with black powder which might soar 200 yards, apparently without any internal guidance system.
Talk about high tech! This was hush-hush technology, as I recall, when it was introduced to Europe from China in the 14th or 15th century. I remember trying to build something similar -- without much more success -- when I was eight. Good thing there weren't any ATF snitches in my elementary school.
Were these would-be militiamen foolish, to apparently store explosive components in suburban neighborhoods, videotape such exercises, and take notes of meetings whose discussions were bound to outrage our federal masters? Probably. Other news reports indicate the leader of the group was so fixated on talking about blowing things up that no other Arizona militia or Second Amendment group would have anything to do with him, that even his "Viper Team" had shrunk from 43 members a year ago to the 12 peacefully arrested this month.
Did the federals decide to act before they were all gone?
Anyway, if the goal here was to protect the immediate safety of the neighbors -- rather than staging media-event arrests to generate public outrage against Americans who still dare to bear arms -- why wouldn't the authorities approach these fellows openly, politely offering them a safer place to test and store their munitions, rather than sitting by and watching them do allegedly dangerous stuff for two years while they tried to "build a case"? If that failed, why not simply issue a more sensible state or county citation for "reckless endangerment"?
By July 14, reporter Louis Sahagun of the liberal, anti-gun Los Angeles Times was reporting "The Viper case now threatens to backfire on federal agencies that heralded it as a breakthrough in the war against domestic terrorists."
Last week, U.S. District Judge Earl Carroll sent six of the suspects home, ruling they constituted no threat to their communities.
In the July 8 hearings that led to those releases, our friend ATF supervisor Steven Ott admitted under oath that his undercover snitch in the Viper Team had urged the other members to rob banks to further their cause, but that they all refused, Sahagun of the Times reports. There was even "talk" of the undercover state Game & Fish officer who infiltrated the group becoming the organization's leader, Ott testified.
"We told him, 'Absolutely no'," Ott said.
But the snitch did apparently provide a meeting place. Did he offer free beer and pretzels, I wonder, as an incentive for others to attend? Just who kept this little railroad running, and why?

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In what is probably the most concrete federal charge, one of the members, Gary Curtis Bauer, is also accused of "knowingly and unlawfully possessing one (1) SKS type, 7.62 X 39mm caliber, full-automatic rifle, a machinegun as defined in Title 18, United States Code, section 921(a)(23)," etc. etc.
This little fixed-magazine carbine was replaced by the AK-47 in the Eastern Bloc countries and phased out of regular service except for guards at remote border posts during the 1960s, which is precisely why it's now so commonly available in this country as military surplus.
Nor is it illegal for any non-felon to possess in the United States, even if it includes an extra little piece of metal which allows it to fire its 10 rounds with one pull of the trigger, instead of 10 pulls of the trigger. (The same effect can be accomplished if you purposely break a few internal parts -- something the FBI is infamous for doing if it wants to "prove" a seized weapon was "capable of firing full-auto.")
All the law says is that you're supposed to pay a $200 tax to possess such a weapon, which happens to sell for $100 to $150 in its semi-automatic (untaxed) configuration ... cheaper than any handgun on the market, except for a few recycled Russian clunkers of equally antique vintage.
The ATF, however, tries to make it as onerous and time-consuming as possible to pay that tax and get the required papers, often enforcing an arbitrary six-month wait.
Does this have the effect of maximizing revenue from the tax? It does not. Many Americans are purposely deluded by the ATF into thinking the possession of such weapons is "illegal," as we've seen here.
Does this have the effect of guaranteeing that the citizen militias are "little if at all inferior to them (the standing army) in discipline and the use of arms," as the Founders intended and guaranteed? Clearly it does not, since the ATF's arbitrary enforcement methods have actually made machine guns scarce as hens' teeth, except among our beloved cocaine wholesalers.
Any legitimate taxing agency -- charged with maximizing revenues, rather than a mission far more subversive of our expressly guaranteed freedoms -- would be running Public Service spots on TV, urging folks to buy extra machine guns, one for every room in the house, and register them at their new, convenient, drive-through windows.
Any Supreme Court that honored its oath to uphold the Second Amendment would toss out all of this so-called "Title 18" on grounds of these deceptive practices, in defiance of original legislative intent, alone.
But the real point is, the "Viper Militia" is accused of owning (and failing to pay a $200 tax on) one (1), 30-year-out-of-date burp gun!
Since the seizure reports list several other "machine guns" and "silencers" which do not appear to have brought indictments as separate crimes, one can't help but wonder if most of the firearms possessed by this tiny "militia" weren't completely legal, with even the $200 tax paid. If so, one wonders if this charge doesn't amount to something more along the lines of a "bookkeeping error."
Should the commander of your local National Guard unit or Army post be indicted and jailed if a snap inspection shows his armory contains either one fewer rifles, or one more, than are reflected on his official inventory?
Also seized in the federal raids were "one bag of Viper Militia patches" (sic), "three magazines," "two books" including "Homemade C-4 for Survival," "one Uzi rifle, two other rifles, silencer, and paperwork for Uzi and silencer," "books on silencers, bomb recipes," and the like.
So now we're down to seizing books, readily available through the mail from publishers who advertise openly in national magazines. Books. The conspirators are charged with owning and reading books.
"Teaching"? "Reading"? In the antebellum South, it was against the law to teach a slave to read. Who are the slaves, today?

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If it really needs saying, no one should be planning to blow up any specific occupied buildings, except in defense against overt attempts to deprive us of our constitutional rights. Innocents could get killed. That would be stupid and immoral.
But totalitarian regimes are not put in place in a single day. They erode our rights a little at a time, in hopes that no single step will be seen as severe enough to cause decent, law-abiding citizens to risk their lives, jobs, property and reputation to say "That's it, that's the last straw; today we load our rifles and start shooting every government official we see. Where's that damned mailman?"
They count on us saying: "No, not yet, maybe they'll stop with making the Jews sew those silly yellow stars on their clothes. ..."
Or, in our case, "OK, so the Supreme Court ruled last week that the federals can now jail you for years -- not just six months any more -- without a jury trial. So they're seizing cash from people at airports and at traffic stops without even charging them with crimes. So the IRS can seize your bank account and your paychecks without even allowing you a day in court. So I can go to jail if my collectable military rifle has a bayonet lug (lots of bank robbers using rifles with bayonets, these days, I guess.) But is any single one of these things sufficient reason for me to give up my home, my family, my job, and take to the hills with my rifle?"
In Germany in the late 1930s, precious few citizens chose to take that course. We now sneer at the "good Germans" who whined after the war, "What could I do? What could any one person do? It was the law."
Would history have gone differently, had thousands of everyday Germans taken up arms and begun training in 1935, in violation of government of the law, putting Herr Hitler on notice that any further erosion of personal rights -- even those of Jews and Gypsies -- would be met with cold steel?
It never happened, and no one now reveres the Germans as a freedom-loving nation, and likely never will.
Instead, Americans celebrate each Fourth of July the courage and sacrifice of men like Carter Braxton of Virginia, the wealthy trader who saw his ships swept from the seas and died in rags, and Thomas Nelson, Jr., who aimed the first of Gen. Washington's continental cannon at his own home in Yorktown after Gen. Cornwallis took it over as his headquarters, later to die bankrupt as a result.
We celebrate Francis Lewis of Long Island, who saw his home and properties destroyed, and his wife and son die in British prisons.
We celebrate John Hart, who was driven from his wife's bedside as she lay dying. His fields and gristmill laid waste, he lived for more than a year in forests and caves before dying of exhaustion and a broken heart.
These brave men were among the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence -signed by each and every one of them in violation of the law. And when they spoke of risking their lives and fortunes, they weren't just whistling Dixie.
Today, would such men -- men who took up arms against the established crown and his mercenaries -- be honored in Janet Reno's America? Or would they -- along with Mr. Washington -- be arrested and charged with "Conspiracy to Furnish Instruction in the Use of Explosive Devices and Other Techniques in Furtherance of Civil Disorder," their homes and farms and firearms all seized and "forfeited" to the new crown?
Will Ms. Reno's storm troopers tell us how they believe a civilian militia should train to resist oppression? What steps we should follow to legally become adept in the use of heavy machine guns and shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles -- skills now common to the lowliest Vietnamese peasant or free Afghan goatherd -- without running afoul of her snitches, spies, and agents provocateurs?
The federal agenda appears to be coming clear. They aim to malign, discredit, infiltrate, break up, and arrest all civilian militias until we are, indeed, a nation of disarmed slaves.
The best hope of peace and liberty now lies with the courts and fully-informed juries of Arizona, whom I trust will laugh out of court the notion that citizens who never harmed a fly should be jailed for "watching videotapes" of their friends blowing up sand dunes in the desert, no matter how incautious their talk.
Because if the Viper militiamen (and gals) are convicted, the day will have drawn that much nearer -- very much nearer -- when all Americans will have to decide whether to follow Mr. Madison's advice, to make "plans of resistance" and "appeal to a trial of force," or whether we're going to docilely turn in our deer rifles down at the police station like Good Germans, leave our doors open so the police can enter at their convenience without bothering to knock ... and hope for the best.

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Readers may contact him via e-mail at vin@intermind.net. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/ The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.

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