As a boy growing up in Phoenix, Ariz., Dean Carl Pleasant was
an enthusiastic member of an Explorer post sponsored by the local
police department: he even won what was quaintly known as a "stop-and-frisk
competition." This fact, coupled with his lifelong fondness
for guns, led his father to think the boy might someday be a cop.
But Pleasant, 27, is now in jail as a suspected member of a group
of terrorist wanna-bes who, among other alleged misdeeds, once
discussed blowing up Phoenix police headquarters. And if it is
still unclear whether he became a genuinely dangerous radical,
the path he took spaks volumes about the frightening world of
Team Viper, a.k.a. the Viper militia, allegedly consists of 12
apparently ordinary Arizonans who, according to a NEWSWEEK investigation,
are a strange assortment of middle-class gun crazies whose lives
revolved around owning and using paramilitary weapons. If the
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is right, they held regular
secret meetings at a blue and white bungalow at 6748 Shangri La
Road in Peoria, a Phoenix suburb. Pleasant lived there along
with Randall Lynne Nelson, 32, a house painter who doubled as
Viper captain. The house is a sparsely furnished bachelor pad
complete with a beer-can collection; a friend says Pleasant and
Nelson loved the movie "Red Dawn," about a Soviet invasion
of the U.S. heartland. But Pleasant, Nelson and other members
of the team were talking a dangerous game - about how to use guns
and explosives "in furtherance of civil disorder" against
a government they feared and hated. The ATF says the Vipers owned
a huge arsenal and that one member, Gary Curtis Bauer, 50, allegedly
had the makings of an Oklahoma City-style fertilizer bomb. The
ATF also says the Vipers talked about ferreting out informers
- there was at least one and probably two spies among them - and
once discussed targeting the families of federal agents. Six
Vipers, including Pleasant, Nelson and Bauer, now face conspiracy
charges. The other six, facing weapons counts, have been released
pending trial. All have plead not guilty.
The Vipers were preparing for guerrilla was against an unspecified
enemy: if the Russians didn't invade Phoenix, the Feds might.
Nelson succeeded Rick Walker, 41, as the team's captain. But
Vietnam vet Bauer, the Viper's weapons expert, may have been the
real power in the group. Pleasant and David and Ellen Belliveaux,
both 27, were among the hard-core followers. Pleasant and the
Belliveaux couple were old friends: they went to high school together
and, according to Pleasant's father, lived together before Pleasant
moved in with Nelson.
Sport shooting was their hobby and much of their social life.
Pleasant's father, Ralph, said Pleasant met Randy Nelson at the
Wednesday-night league competition at Shooter's World in Phoenix.
Pleasant, Nelson and some of the others also were regulars at
gun shows in the Phoenix area. In 1992 Pleasant, a part-time
college student and a sometime doughnut maker, met Mike Dugger,
an organizer for the Arizona Libertarian Party. The party was
recruiting gun owners with an aggressively pro-firearms stance,
and Pleasant, who was outraged by the crackdown on assault weapons,
joined up. He had another grievance as well- mandatory auto
insurance. According to his father, Pleasant spent a month in
jail for defying Arizona's auto-insurance law. Repealing it was
part of Pleasant's platform when he ran for the state Senate as
a Libertarian in 1994. (He lost.)
But playing was games with the Vipers was his passion all this
time. Dugger heard about it and chided Pleasant about "going
into the desert and shooting off guns." Pleasant told him
he knew there were "loose cannons" in the group but
said he was the "voice of moderation." But was he?
According to the ATF, this was about a year after a video showing
how to bomb police headquarters and the local offices of the FBI,
the Secret Service and the ATF. "You have to understand
Dean's mind-set," says fellow Libertarian Ernest Hancock.
"People have to decide whether they believe the government
will grow to a point where it will take away our means of defending
ourselves." Pleasant believed it would - and the question
now is, how far were he and his friends prepared to go?