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
(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
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
(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
"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
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
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
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" ...
"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?
# # #
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
# # #
let's return to the question of what, precisely, were the
"overt acts" (necessary to any finding of
"conspiracy") charged in the Phoenix
"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
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
Oh, and the indictment also specifies one
"team" member spoke of his attempts to develop
a two-foot long
made of PCV pipe and fueled with black powder which might
soar 200 yards, apparently without any internal guidance
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
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
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
"We told him, 'Absolutely no'," Ott
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?
# # #
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
# # #
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
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
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
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
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.
Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the
Las Vegas Review-Journal. Readers may contact him via
e-mail at email@example.com. 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