Separatists end standoff peacefully

The Dallas Morning News/May 4, 1997
By George Kuempel

FORT DAVIS, Texas - Heavily armed Republic of Texas separatists who had vowed to die rather than surrender laid down their arms Saturday without firing a shot, ending a weeklong standoff with law officers.

Republic of Texas leader Richard McLaren signed a "cease-fire document" with Texas Rangers. Then he and three followers walked out of the barricaded trailer where they had holed up for seven days.

But two Republic members, wearing camouflage and carrying rifles, fled into the rugged Davis Mountains rather than surrender. Both remained at large Saturday evening.

"They [Republic members] had a military-style ceremony at which they laid down their arms. They laid them in a circle" and then were taken into custody, said Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Mike Cox.

"We have said all along that we wanted to resolve this situation peacefully," he said. "We hope DPS has shown the world how it's done right."

Mr. Cox said he counted 10 rifles, several handguns and between 500 and 700 rounds of ammunition recovered at the Republic compound. Officers also said they found cans of gasoline, electrical wiring and batteries.

Terence O'Rourke, a Houston lawyer who represents Mr. McLaren, said late Saturday that his client views the "cease-fire" agreement as a victory for his cause. The state of Texas agreed not to oppose Mr. McLaren's efforts to get a federal court in Washington to order a referendum on whether Texas should become an independent nation.

"If he wins in federal court, you can toss out your driver's license," Mr. O'Rourke said. He said the agreement was instrumental in getting Mr. McLaren to surrender.

At the standoff's end, he walked away from the run-down buildings with the blue Republic of Texas flag flying overhead. He was wearing a cowboy hat, buckskin jacket and jeans. After the Republic members placed their weapons on the ground, there was one last activity before they were taken into custody, said Mr. Cox.

"There was a lot of hugging around the flagpole," he said. Mr. McLaren's wife, Evelyn, left the trailer at midmorning Saturday. She told officials that those she left behind were ready to come out. Details for the cease-fire were completed. The document was signed by Texas Rangers Capt. Barry Caver and Mr. and Mrs. McLaren, Mr. Cox said.

Capt. Caver was in charge of the law enforcement command post during the standoff.

"Rick McLaren chose not to die because Barry Caver, a Texas Ranger, signed this document," Mr. O'Rourke said.

Mr. Cox said officers allowed Richard Frank Keyes III and Mike Matson to walk away from the mountain compound. Attempts to stop them, he said, might have thwarted negotiations for the cease-fire.

Authorities were using search dogs, airplanes and troopers on horseback to search for them late Saturday.

Mr. Cox said the operation included FBI agents as advisers but was run completely by Texas officials.

Gov. George W. Bush praised the law enforcement efforts, saying he was proud that a volatile situation ended without loss of life.

"I didn't make any of the decisions, you'll be happy to know. The decisions were made where they should be, by our captains on the ground," he said.

The three Republic members who surrendered with Mr. McLaren were identified as Richard "White Eagle" Otto, Greg Paulsen and his wife, Karen Paulsen. Robert J. Scheidt, another Republic member, gave himself up Friday.

Police said Mrs. McLaren surrendered after two of her daughters, Lisa Rutledge, 33, and Julie Hopkins, 29, pleaded passionately for their mother to come out of the compound.

"Please don't make us bring your 2 1/2-year-old grandson to your funeral," Ms. Hopkins said.

Mr. O'Rourke said Mrs. McLaren did not surrender. He characterized her as a courier who came out of the compound to help in negotiations for the cease-fire.

Mrs. McLaren and the other Republic holdouts face a variety of state and federal criminal charges, including engaging in organized criminal activity, kidnapping and mail fraud.

Mr. McLaren, his wife and Mr. Scheidt arrived about 6:50 p.m. Saturday at the Presidio County Jail in Marfa.

Mr. Scheidt said that he walked out on Friday simply to transport a "diplomatic pouch" and that he still supported Mr. McLaren and the movement.

"God bless the Republic of Texas," he shouted to reporters from the open window of the car bringing him to the jail in Marfa. Jeff Davis County, in which the standoff occurred, does not have a jail.

"We have not been a part of the United States since 1865. We want merely to be free," Mr. Scheidt said. "Truth plus freedom equals courage."

Mr. McLaren's group was a victim of divisions within the separatist movement, Mr. Scheidt said, explaining why few heeded Mr. McLaren's call to arms in support of his standoff.

"This is just the beginning of the Republic of Texas," Mr. Scheidt said.

The confrontation, about 175 miles southeast of El Paso, erupted April 27 in the Davis Mountain Resort subdivision. The Republic's "embassy" is located there, along with about 90 homes.

Republic members took two neighbors hostage - Joe Rowe and his wife, Margaret - in retaliation for the arrests of two members on misdemeanor weapons charges.

One of those arrested was Mr. Scheidt, described as a "captain" in the Republic.

The separatists, who say Texas was illegally annexed by the United States, holed up in their embassy - a travel trailer and shed. They released the Rowes on Monday in return for Mr. Scheidt's release.

Mr. Scheidt then joined the group at the embassy. He was the first to surrender as more than 100 state, federal and local law officers circled the compound.

During the standoff, police pressured Republic members by turning off power to the compound. The ring of law officers remained two miles away until Friday. Then they tightened the noose and stepped up the pressure by coming to within 440 yards of the holdouts.

The advance provoked a "fire at will" order broadcast by the separatists. Officers monitoring the Republic's short-wave radio broadcasts said they heard a woman shouting, "God save the Republic," according to DPS spokesman Cox.

Mr. McLaren, 43, was defiant through Friday night. On the radio, he was heard saying, "I guess you boys didn't learn anything from Waco and Ruby Ridge . . . and you fools are going to come here and kill me, huh, and overrun this mission."

By Saturday, however, he was persuaded to give up.

The surrender ended more than a year of Mr. McLaren's high-profile activities, such as filing bogus liens against property owned by public officials and others.

He repeatedly called for a statewide referendum on whether Texas should become an independent republic. During the siege, he said he wanted to plead his case before the United Nations.

In Austin, Mr. Bush said DPS officials had total authority. "I shouldn't have had any final say whatsoever. My background is not in law enforcement," he said.

"The only thing I asked is that, 'Do we have the very best we have in Texas on the ground making the decisions?' And the answer was, 'Yes sir.' And I said if that's the case, make whatever decision is necessary to resolve this dispute."

Mr. Bush said some Republic members' statements about intrusive government might win some sympathy but not the methods displayed during the last week.

"The message ought to be very clear to people that you're free to think any way you want to think in the state of Texas. But you better not arm up and hurt innocent citizens, because we will enforce the law in our state," he said.

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