The Militia Movement and Klamath Falls

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This article was first published as "Fools Rush In: The Militia Movement and Klamath Falls"in PR Watch, Volume 11, No. 1, 1st Quarter 2004. It original article was authored by Sheldon Rampton and is used here with permission. As with all SourceWatch articles, feel free to edit and revise. --

Following Timothy McVeigh's 1995 terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City, the militia movement seemed to go into decline, with a number of militia groups publicly disbanding. In Klamath Falls, however, the militia movement proved itself still capable of aggressive organizing, swelling local protests by trucking in activists from neighboring states, and using the water conflict as an opportunity to indoctrinate and recruit local farmers to their cause.

Oregon alone has five separate groups that participate in the militia movement: Emissary Publications, the Constitution Party, the Embassy of Heaven Church, the Southern Oregon Militia, and Freedom Bound International, which is based in Klamath Falls. However, militia support for the farmers came from militia groups nationwide. The Kentucky State Militia and the Michigan Militia Corps Wolverines followed the events in Klamath closely.

The Montanta Human Rights Network (MHRN), which monitors the activities of the radical right, obtained copies of e-mail messages exchanged between militia members, several of which advocated the use of armed force. One message said it would be "a great honor and privilege" to "fire the first shot at the feds." Another called for opening the water gates by "those of you who have access to airplanes and explosives."

The cause of Klamath received prominent attention in publications like the Federal Observer, which calls itself "a voice of Truth--for America" and sports patriotic icons on its web site including a bald eagle, an American flag and a handgun-toting Rosie the Riveter.

Calling Klamath Falls "the wellspring of a new sagebrush rebellion," Federal Observer writer Patty Wentz noted that Wise Use members, calling themselveds "Good Americans," "Patriots" and "Revolutionaries," were flocking to Klamath in caravans from places like California, Nevada, Washington and Idaho.

Other protesters were local, such as Gavin Rajnus, a farmer who found himself drawn into civil disobedience actions when water to his farm was cut off and he received a quick indoctrination in anti-environmentalism from "a local businessman he won't identify. ... From the Good Americans, Rajnus learned about the high salaries, hyperbolic scare tactics and expensive direct-mailing campaigns of the national environmental groups," Wentz wrote. "He learned that children are being brainwashed in schools by innocent-seeming Earth Day celebrations, when carries political alerts against President Bush."

Thanks to this education, Wentz continued, "Rajnus became convinced that environmentalism is leading the country down the path toward socialism or, worse, communism. ... Rajnus also suspects that the ONRC-supported program to save water by using government money to buy farms from willing sellers is really a collusion between the United Nations and the U.S. government. That the Wildlands Project, a non-profit organization that says it wants to establish connecting natural corridors for wildlife, really wants to cage all humans in the cities and leave the rest of the West for natural habitat."

The Sierra Times, a web site with militia ties, also supported the Klamath protests. The Sierra Times is edited by J.J. Johnson, a founder of the Ohio Unorganized Militia and a major player in the militia movement during the 1990s.

According to Johnson, the farms around Klamath are really "encampments" in a "war" being fought against humanity itself. "The forces against us claim they are trying to save fish," he wrote. "We are trying to save humans. In our minds, the most threatened species in the Klamath Basin is man himself. This may become one of the greatest rescue and resupply operations ever--and more important than the Historic Berlin Airlift."

Convoy of Tears

In August 2001, convoys from Montana and other states journeyed to Klamath Falls in support of the farmers, calling themselves the "Convoy of Tears" (a name that echoes, ironically, the "Trail of Tears" of the early 1800s, in which Native Americans were forcibly removed from their homelands by the U.S. government, with thousands dying during a forced march to relocation camps). The MHRN obtained an e-mail, written by convoy organizer Cathy Aastrom, which documents logistical collaboration between the convoy planners and the Militia of Montana.

After the MHRN issued a news release about the militia's involvement, participants in the convoy tried to downplay the militia role. Right-wing talk show host and militia supporter John Stokes of KGEZ radio was originally slated to join the convoy, bringing along a 10-foot wooden swastika, painted green. Stokes planned to burn the swastika at a rally in Klamath to dramatize his notion that "this green movement is based on Nazism." In the end, Stokes chose not to participate personally but sent along the swastika. "As far as the Network knows, it was never burned and press reports said the swastika was not allowed in a parade held in downtown Klamath," reported a MHRN advisory.

Extremist rhetoric also came from Jack Redfield, a member of the Klamath Falls Police Department. Redfield, who also owns a ranch, delivered beef he had raised to a barbecue celebrating a limited release of water to farmers. Still in uniform, he donned a white cowboy hat and delivered a fiery attack on "the so-called environmentalists and our federal agencies," which he accused of "thinly disguised domestic terrorism directed at the economy of the US. ... They will not stop in the Klamath Basin. They are already up to their devious evil in other parts of Oregon and other states. ... When you expand the crisis to our 50 states over the next year or two as this madness progresses, you are looking at the destruction of the livelihoods of millions of people and businesses. ... I think the potential for extreme violence, even to the extent of civil war, is possible if action is not taken in the very near future to remedy this tragedy."

Redfield also singled out local environmental activists Andy Kerr and Wendell Wood for particular attack. "It won't take much from Andy Kerr or Wendell Wood or their like to spark an extremely violent response," he said. "I am talking about rioting, homicides, destruction of property like dams that hold the precious water from the agricultural community."

These remarks, with their implied endorsement of violence and law-breaking, led to Redfield's temporary suspension from duty. Carl F. Worden, a "liaison officer" for the Southern Oregon Militia, responded by calling him a "prophet" and proposed an even more violent strategy for defeating the evil bureaucrats at the Bureau of Land Management:

One man carrying a white flag approaches the armed BLM officer at the Head Gate, presents him with a demand that he and his cohorts leave immediately, and allows him no more than five minutes to accomplish that task. The demand further requires the BLM officer and his men surrender their weapons AND their personal identification upon evacuation of the area. They are warned not to return. It is obvious the man carrying the white flag is backed up by over fifty heavily armed citizens surrounding the Head Gates, all with their precision sniper rifles and semi-automatic weapons brought to bear on the BLM officer and his men. The BLM officer is ordered not to attempt to communicate the situation to his superiors, and if he cooperates with the citizens, he and his men will be allowed to evacuate the area with the understanding that if they ever return, no quarter will be granted.
The BLM officer sees the light--or he doesn't--and he either evacuates per the demand, or he and his men die right on the spot. It really doesn't matter to the citizens at this point. All evidence and shell casing are carefully recovered, boot prints are obscured, tire tracks are obliterated, the Head Gates are opened, and the citizens go home to a quiet night with their families.

This incitement to violence is precisely the sort of thing that leads to real terrorism, but Worden must have known that he had little to fear from local law enforcement--not when "prophetic" officers like Jack Redfield are on the job.