Lexington -- The militia movement in Kentucky is waning due to a fading national interest and some high-profile arrests, experts and militia members say.
With former Kentucky State Militia commander Charlie Puckett in prison and Steve Anderson - another high-profile member of the group - being sought as a fugitive, the militia is in disarray, despite recent efforts to regroup.
The state militia is dead without Puckett's leadership, militiaman Roger Shanks of Lancaster said. Puckett was sentenced to 30 months in prison on federal weapons charges.
"It's not anymore," Shanks said when asked how the organization is faring. "When I joined, I joined because of Charlie Puckett."
The Kentucky militia's decline follows a national trend that has seen the number of civilian paramilitary groups drop from 858 in 1996 to 158 last year.
Militia activists cite a number of reasons for the decline, from apathy about what the government is doing to federal prosecutions of militia leaders. But militias are trying to reorganize, including Kentucky's.
"We're just deciding where we go next" since losing Puckett, said Terry Lee Ingram, a state militiaman who said he's a master sergeant in the group.
A sharp growth of militias and patriot groups followed the 1993 siege of Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, and the 11-day Ruby Ridge standoff in 1992 in Idaho with fugitive Randy Weaver.
In Kentucky, the state militia met regularly and held training sessions in which members were schooled in survival and guerrilla warfare. But virtually all of the activity has stopped.
Charles Whitley, a friend of Puckett's who isn't in the militia, said he's convinced the case against Puckett was designed to destroy the militia in Kentucky.
Puckett, 56, was charged in February with possessing firearms, pipe bombs and nearly 35,000 rounds of ammunition in violation of federal law. One of the charges alleged he also had a device to convert a rifle from semiautomatic to automatic fire.
But U.S. Attorney Greg Van Tatenhove of the Eastern District of Kentucky denied that.
"We really don't focus on the group in this instance as much as we do an individual involved in illegal conduct," Van Tatenhove said. "As federal law enforcement we've not targeted the militia, but in the militia some participating personalities have emerged who are committed to illegal acts. Mr. Puckett is an example of that."
Anderson, a white supremacist who operated an illegal radio station from his Pulaski County home, was kicked out of the state militia last fall, about the time he was accused of shooting at a police officer who tried to stop him for a traffic violation. Anderson fled into the woods and hasn't been seen since.
Ingram said Anderson caused division in the militia with his extreme views, especially among Western Kentucky members who broke off and created their own group, 911/KSM.
But Jesse Horn, former commander of 911/KSM, said last week that the group is "pretty much dissolved. I know a lot of people who still say they're active but they just don't come out.
Everybody wants to go to the Wal-Mart, go to a game, stay at home and watch cable TV."