Texas Separatists Release Hostages

The New York Times/April 28, 1997
By The Associated Press

FORT DAVIS, Texas (AP) -- Armed members of a group demanding a referendum on Texas independence were locked in a standoff with authorities Monday after freeing two hostages in exchange for a jailed comrade.

State and federal officers ringed the mountainous Davis Mountains Resort community and more were on the way.

Authorities were negotiating with Richard McLaren, self-styled ``ambassador'' of one faction of the separatist group called the Republic of Texas. McLaren said in a news release that discussions were taking place at his ``embassy,'' a trailer in the development.

``He continues to invoke the laws of the Republic of Texas. He wants the United Nations,'' said Mike Cox, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety. Republic members have told negotiators that ``they will defend their sovereign soil.''

It was not known exactly where the group was holed up or how many members were there, or what type of weapons they have.

Authorities urged other residents of the sprawling, remote community to leave the area. But ``No one else is considered in harm's way,'' Cox said.

The confrontation started Sunday when two men and a woman wearing military-style fatigues fired assault rifles at the front door of community residents Joe and Margaret Ann Rowe and took them hostage.

They were held for 12 hours while their captors demanded the release of two followers who had been arrested. Early Monday, they exchanged the Rowes for Robert Jonathan Scheidt, identified as ``captain of the embassy guard'' of the Republic of Texas. It's was unclear who authorized the release of Scheidt, who was arrested Sunday on weapons charges.

Mrs. Rowe said she and her husband believed the attackers were willing to kill them.

``It wasn't an empty threat. If somebody will come shooting in your door, they mean it,'' Mrs. Rowe said at a medical center in Alpine, where her husband was in stable condition with shrapnel wounds to his shoulder.

Scheidt joined the three people who took the Rowes hostage.

After the exchange, the armed group left the Rowes' home and authorities didn't know where they were within the forested, mountainous development of widely separated homes. Reporters were being kept several miles from the entrance to the community, about 175 miles southeast of El Paso.

The attack followed months of conflict between Rowe, head of the remote community's property owners' association, and McLaren.

The group's members contend they are the legitimate government of Texas, which they say was illegally annexed as a state in 1845. Texas was an independent republic from 1836 to 1845.

McLaren's news release called on Texans to push for a referendum to decide whether they want to become an independent nation.

``I hope this unfortunate incident will be used to reach more people as to what their Constitution is about, what their government officials are doing and about human rights.''

He has compared his situation to the deadly government standoffs at Waco and Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

``These boys are asking for a total military assault,'' McLaren said in an interview earlier this year with The Associated Press. ``Our defense forces will fire because we would consider it an invasion.''

Members have waged what legislators term ``paper terrorism'' by filing bogus liens against Texans and public officials.

For months, bodyguards have protected McLaren as he holed up in the Davis Mountains while deputies waited to serve outstanding warrants, one stemming from a burglary charge, another from his failure to appear for a federal court hearing. Authorities have said the warrants were not a top priority.

``He's a nut,'' Jeff Davis County Sheriff Steve Bailey said earlier this year. ``He's a nothing.''

Scheidt was arrested Sunday morning after Sheriff Steve Bailey clocked him speeding outside the subdivision and found several weapons in his vehicle, including an automatic rifle, Cox said.

Scheidt did not post bail, and Public Safety spokeswoman Laureen Chernow said she didn't know if charges had been dropped or if he was released on his recognizance.

``In a situation like that, I think, law enforcement's first concern is for the safety of the hostages,'' she said.

The group also demanded the release of Jo Ann Canady Turner, arrested in Austin last week on two contempt charges. She remained in custody Monday.

Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company

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