Tulsa, Okla. -- It's the first Saturday in December, and at the Grand National Gun and Knife Show in the cavernous Tulsa Expo Center, Bo Gritz has tied the familiar blue flag of the United Nations to the barrel of a Mossberg 12-gauge riot gun.
Gritz douses the flag with lighter fluid.
"I don't see a single person sitting here that won't get a chance in their lifetime to say "'no' to this New World Order - this Antichrist," he says.
Gritz lights the flag.
The synthetic material burns with a fierce orange flame. Malodorous black smoke billows upward while what is left of the flag drips to the floor in a seething puddle that turns brittle as it cools.
The stinking residue, Gritz says, is what will become of people who fail to fight. Those who cooperate, according to his interpretation of Revelation 14:9, will become living "crispy critters."
"And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever," Gritz recites from memory, "and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name."
The burning of the U.N. flag has become Gritz's trademark, and he's done it hundreds of times, mostly at gun shows like this one. This show, however, is special. Not only is it not far from his hometown of Enid, but it's sponsored by his childhood friend, R.D. Diener.
Events like this are where mainstream America and the radical right intersect, and they offer militant groups the perfect opportunity for recruiting new members, says Kerry Noble, formerly the second in command of the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord, a militarized Christian Identity compound in northern Arkansas that was ended by a federal raid in 1985.
Noble, who is now reformed and is an ex-con for his participation in the group, says such groups seek young white men looking for someone else to blame for their problems.
"There are two ways people are recruited into the movement," Noble said in a telephone interview from his home in Texas. "One is at the gun shows, and the other is through tax seminars. The majority of people have gripes with the IRS or are Second Amendment activists.
"Also, you're looking for somebody who is not happy with their life. So you try to push hot buttons, like political things that are going on in the country, and you see how people react to particular phrases " that you're tired of paying taxes, that you're barely making a living the way it is."
The next step, Noble said, is to tell the potential recruits that the government doesn't want them to get ahead because there's a Jewish conspiracy against the white working class. Or, if the trouble is in their marriage, the recruiters would bemoan the fact that women just aren't as obedient any more as the Bible says they should be. Then, Noble said, the marks are invited to attend a meeting.
"You tell them it's just not like it used to be in this country when things were founded on God's laws," Noble said. "You tell them that back then, white people really had rights, and we weren't so concerned about minority rights and welfare and all that stuff. Then you can guide them wherever you want to go."
Noble said that when he joined the CSA in 1977, it was just a church group. But as it turned militant two years later, he said, Christian Identity (also called "remnant" and "covenant') provided the core beliefs - especially the two seedline doctrine, which holds that just as the children of Adam are walking the Earth today, so are the children of Satan.
"We were looking at the world as good vs. evil," he said. "In those days, it made sense to us that if Christians were supposedly manifesting the nature of Christ, then perhaps there were some people manifesting the nature of Satan, which we would interpret as the Jews."
Many of the issues that attract recruits to the militant right have been around for decades, and even today the rhetoric sounds familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of Hitler's rise to power: A Jewish financial and media conspiracy, for example, is to blame for much of what is wrong with the country. Even an old book called "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," which is a centuries-old hoax about a Jewish world conspiracy, is still considered essential reading.
Gritz (pronounced "Grites") is a retired Green Beret colonel, and is the leader of the Christian Patriot movement. He helped negotiate an end to the Randy Weaver family standoff at Ruby Ridge in 1992, which began when a deputy U.S. marshal and Weaver's wife and son were killed; ran unsuccessfully for president on the Populist ticket, which four years earlier had chosen David Duke as its candidate; and now is host of a right-wing talk radio program, on shortwave, Internet, dish satellite and a growing number of commercial AM-FM stations.
He sells shares in a "constitutional covenant community" in Idaho called "Almost Heaven." At the Tulsa gun show, he is the featured guest, and Gritz and his wife, Judy, he calls her "Sparky," have a booth at the main entrance.
Gritz looks the part of a former Special Forces officer gone radically right: He wears jeans, a black leather vest and an impressive-looking array of medals. The vest is covered with patches, including one that urges us to remember POW-MIAs from a war that ended a quarter of a century ago. He often peppers his talks with anecdotes from his combat experiences in the jungles of Vietnam, and he tells them as convincingly as if they happened just the day before yesterday.
He is also a bear of a man.
His 250 pounds appear to be mostly muscle, and although his hair and mustache have turned gray, his manner seems to indicate plenty of vigor. He speaks in a clear and commanding voice, and if he has doubts, he keeps them to himself.
And while Gritz speaks, out on the main floor, beneath the great suspended roof of the Tulsa Expo Center, the subculture is thriving.
Most of the patrons who have paid the $8 admission are sportsmen or hobbyists, and they are here to look at the acres of guns. These are legal guns, to be sure, and even the fully automatic weapons on display, such as the ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifle, are owned by federally licensed Class III dealers. They are not for sale to the general public.
Those things that are for sale include brass knuckles and throwing knives, and even 2½-ton Swiss army trucks (for $8,000). There are ready-to-eat meals, field surgical kits and just about any type of telescopic sight or breakaway holster you can think of. And, if you are looking for them, there are plenty of things that stretch the limit of what can be considered socially acceptable behavior.
You can, for example, buy a $5 booklet called "The Anarchist's Handbook" that tells you how to make pipe bombs, nitroglycerin and napalm in your kitchen sink. The book lists no author or publisher, and a disclaimer warns that the information is "for study purposes" only. There is a directory, however, of where you can purchase the chemicals needed for most of the 40 formulas in the book; three of the addresses - with telephone numbers - are in Tulsa.
Another anonymous booklet, "Homebrew Dynamite," gives schematics for rigging detonators and trip wires.
But the handbook with the most personality is one appropriately titled "Boom," and the first sentence reads: "The explosion for which I was arrested was definitely impressive." Instead of promoting violent subversion, the author says, the text is simply meant for hobbyists with a fondness for high explosives.
There are also plenty of copies of "Hit Man," an infamous Paladin Press how-to book on murder for hire, and the red-jacketed "The Turner Diaries."
The novel was written by William Pierce, under the pseudonym of Andrew MacDonald, and has become a field manual of sorts for the extreme right. Pierce is the leader of a white-power group called the National Alliance. The book describes a brutal race war and the violent overthrow of the federal government by white supremacists.
Timothy McVeigh, the man convicted of the Oklahoma City bombing, had the book in his possession when he was arrested. The novel describes how a fictional terrorist group blows up FBI headquarters.
The book also influenced a 1980s terrorist group called The Order, which murdered Jewish talk show host Alan Berg and engaged in other acts, including counterfeiting and bank robbery, to hasten the race war described in the book, according to the FBI.
Bob Mathews, leader of The Order, sought to create a tightly knit group to overthrow the "Zionist Occupation Government" after tax protester Gordon Kahl was shot by the FBI in Arkansas in 1983. Kahl himself was a Christian Identity believer who had killed two federal marshals after attempting to set up a shadow government in North Dakota.
In 1984, The Order netted $3.8 million from an armored car heist in California, and gave large sums to right-wing causes, including $10,000 to the Church of Israel at Schell City, Mo. The money later was turned over to authorities, and church patriarch Dan Gayman publicly denounced The Order and testified against it. By that time, however, Mathews had burned to death in an armed standoff with federal authorities in Washington state.
During the 90-minute talk that culminates in the flag burning - it is billed as an update on First and Second amendment rights - Gritz addresses about 40 patrons who wander in from among the hundreds on the main floor of the gun show. Scattered among the rows of folding chairs in a corner of the expo center, his listeners are predominantly male and exclusively white.
One baby boomer on the front row has a .45-caliber automatic in a breakaway holster strapped to his hip. Across the aisle, an elderly farmer in bib overalls and a baseball cap sits patiently with an old M-1 rifle between his knees. Not far from him there's a young man in a long trench coat; while he waits for Gritz to speak, a bayonet falls from his pocket and clatters to the floor.
There are nervous smiles all around as the young man retrieves the weapon.
"You know, R.D. Diener is the only fellow I know who sponsors these Second Amendment gun shows that has any perception about people coming in and being able to learn more and ask questions," Gritz says when he takes the podium. "You can go to other shows, but the only one where you're going to learn more than when you came in is R.D. Diener productions."
He also introduces 82-year-old Pastor Fred Gabler of the Rose Hill Covenant Church in Tulsa. Gabler married Gritz and his wife, Gritz says, after they met at a Diener gun show in Oklahoma City.
For some time, Gritz had been enamored with the Church of Israel at Schell City. He even suggested in his October 2000 newsletter that those who wanted to know more about "how to do as God has commanded" should contact Pastor Gayman.
But now there's been a falling out.
After Gritz attended Passover in April at Schell City, Gayman "uninvited" him because he felt Gritz was bringing too much unwanted attention to the church. Gritz vented his anger on his shortwave radio show, and he now considers Rose Hill in Tulsa as "his" church. His RV, in fact, is parked this weekend on the church parking lot.
Gritz has kept ties with some members of the Church of Israel, however. One of the devices he's hawking is a water-purification device called Aqua Rain, manufactured by Bob Burney, a church trustee who lives at the Schell City colony. The device looks like a large coffee pot, but Gritz says it can produce 30 gallons of potable water a day. Every family needs one, Gritz says, and although the usual price is $275, he has a supply that he'll let go this weekend for only $160 apiece.
Burney also prints Gritz's newsletter.
Gritz touches on a range of subjects during the talk: his recent participation in the "unregistered church" struggle at the Indianapolis Baptist Temple; a blasphemous (and unbelievable) plan by the enemy to clone Jesus Christ by scouring Roman Catholic churches for traces of his DNA-laced blood; the need for every family to own a special .50-caliber rifle capable of firing armor-piercing rounds that will penetrate any kind of protection available to a federal SWAT agent.
His talk is peppered with more sales pitches:
With its pistol-grip stock and eight-round magazine, Gritz says the black Mossberg shotgun that will be used in the flag burning is the perfect home defense weapon, but the vendor has only six left.
"This thing is cheaper than dirt. It is two hundred bucks plus change," Gritz says. "Now, remember the lady, she was on television just a couple of months ago, her and her husband got kidnapped by a couple of black kids? They didn't have any kind of weapon at all."
"Well, this would have been perfect. Load this turkey up with No. 6 shot, and this is exactly what you need. It's new in the box, and it's from Green Country Gun and Pawn."
There's a new "hyper velocity" ammunition for home defense, he says, that sends slugs out of the barrel at two to three times the normal velocity - turning any pistol into the equivalent of a .44 Magnum - and another vendor has a limited supply.
"A guy named Roscoe Stoker invented it, and it's new," Gritz says. "Roscoe worked for NASA, and he found that a grain of sand at hyper velocity can go through five inches of steel. Why don't we make an ammunition that is hyper velocity that would have the same kinds of characteristics?"
One of the advantages of this ammunition, Gritz says, is that it transfers all of its energy to the target, which not only inflicts massive trauma, but also leaves very little of the bullet, and forensic evidence, behind.
In his newsletter, Gritz offers the following advice:
"Look upon Amerika as if was an enemy occupied country - have your 'papers' ready, but continue your resistance to tyranny and duty to God. " My entire effort is now directed toward preparing a few Americans to win against the many."
After hearing Gritz speak, Rosemary Stewart-Stafford purchases a box of the high-velocity ammunition, in .38-caliber special.
The 54-year-old Springfield, Mo., woman later concedes the irony of the purchase. She's actually a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who infiltrates gun shows and other right-wing venues and reports her findings to an Internet watch group. But her investigation of the subculture has led her down some strange paths, she says, including being a registered handgun owner.
The gun, she says, is for her own protection.
Although Stewart-Stafford's skin is white, she is the child of a mixed marriage. She says she was conceived on the night the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and she was born to be a peacemaker. Her father was black and American Indian, her mother was white, and she describes them as "original hippies."
But her great-grandfather was part of the mob that lynched three young black men over Easter weekend in 1906 on the Springfield square. Wrongly suspected of raping a white woman, the three were hanged from a tower topped by a statue of the Goddess of Liberty.
Stewart-Stafford's call for reparations has been called "absurd" by at least one member of the Springfield City Council. But that hasn't stopped her from pressing the issue and insisting that the city owes the black community money and an apology.
But Stewart-Stafford wasn't always an activist.
The turning point, she says, came in October 1990, when the Ku Klux Klan staged a rally in a park near her home in Springfield. Her daughter, who was eight months' pregnant, was taking photos of the rally, and was threatened with violence by one of the Klan women. But the threat wasn't treated seriously by authorities, she says.
Her daughter wasn't hurt, and she declines to identify her now for fear of making her a target of a hate crime. But Stewart-Stafford decided to do what she could to combat racism, and she became one of the NAACP's most vocal activists. She also decided to gain as much information as possible about the radical right, and she discovered the most reliable way of doing that was to become an infiltrator.
She has become a regular at gun shows and militia rallies, and many of those in the subculture who know the light-skinned woman as "Shelley" or "Katherine" would be shocked to learn that she is passing along the information she gleans to the very human-rights groups they consider the enemy.
One of the stickers she received after making a token donation to Kingdom Identity Ministries at Harrison, Ark., carries the following message: "Only inferior white women date outside of their race. Be proud of your heritage, don't be a race-mixing Slut!"
Women are victimized by the Christian Identity and militia movements, Stewart-Stafford says, because they're considered "breeders" and valued mostly for their ability to have children. Those who grew up in abusive households are particularly prone to falling into the subculture, she says, because they are used to keeping secrets.
The subculture also discourages women from thinking for themselves, Stewart-Stafford says. For children, she says, the oppression can be even worse, because not only are they discouraged from thinking for themselves, but contact with outside ideas is severed at an early age.
"They exist in such isolation and they are nearly always home-schooled, or schooled in a compound, and they grow up without normal socialization," she says. "When they get a little older, and get out in the wide world, it's a recipe for disaster. They have so much anger, and it ends up being channeled somewhere."
Eric Robert Rudolph, the fugitive wanted in the fatal bombing at Olympic Park in Atlanta in 1996, and bombings at abortion clinics and a lesbian bar elsewhere in the South, is an example of a child raised in such an environment, she says. Rudolph grew up in the right-wing Identity subculture, and he spent a few months at the Church of Israel in Schell City in 1984. Since Rudolph was charged with the bombings in 1998, the FBI has come up with a profile that describes terrorists such as Rudolph as "lone wolves."
For that reason, Stewart-Stafford says, there needs to be some regulation in Missouri of home and private schools. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education neither regulates nor monitors home schooling in Missouri. State law says parents "may" notify the superintendent of schools or the local recorder of deeds of their intent to home-school, but notification is not mandatory.
"It makes this state a haven for these kinds of people," Stewart-Stafford says. "Other states do a better job of regulating home-schooling."
The subculture survives, Stewart-Stafford says, because much of what the followers embrace looks quite harmless at first glance, such as Christianity and traditional American values such as patriotism. But a closer examination of their racist and militant views, she says, would shock most Americans.
Driven by Y2K fears, she says, the extreme right was braced for the collapse of the government Jan. 1, 2000, but was disappointed when 1999 ended with a whimper instead of a bang. Now, Stewart-Stafford says, the militants have done the math and come to the conclusion that the millennium didn't really start until this month and are preparing for a tribulation period based in part on their interpretation of biblical prophecy.