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Freemen: Waco Survivor Perspective

by WAYNE LAUGESEN Boulder Weekly

Branch Davidians Ron Cole and Wally Kennett, a Waco survivor, will go to Montana this week to defend the Freemen who are in a standoff with federal authorities. Cole says militia leaders who have refused to defend the Freemen are "cowardly, hypocritical craphats." Leaders of most mainstream militias, including the Militia of Montana, have discredited the Freemen and discouraged militia members from coming to their aid.

Cole, of Longmont, says he doesn't know if other Branch Davidians will join him and Kennett, but says other Branch Davidians sympathize with the Freemen.

Cole says the government is preying on the Freemen in an effort to divide the militia movement and stop a growing national trend in which people are joining groups to declare their sovereignty from the United States. That, he says, makes the situation almost identical to the standoff in Waco, Texas, that ended three years ago this month with the deaths of more than 90 Branch Davidians.

"I'm going up there to make as much trouble as I need to in order to do the right thing and stand up for these people," says Cole, who works at a local gun store. "These people are innocent until proven guilty. We need to give them the benefit of the doubt and give them the support they've asked for. I'll get in the face of any FBI agents or militia members who try to stop me."

Cole says the Freemen standoff is a blood bath waiting to happen. The only way it will end peacefully, he says, is if the government backs down and leaves. He thinks that's unlikely, especially if the Freemen get no support from private militias.

"These are people who legally declared their sovereignty and they do not consider themselves citizens of the United States," Cole says. "There's no way they will surrender to federal authorities. On the other hand, the government feels that it can't just stand back and let these groups of sovereign tax protesters pop up all over the countryside. I've known a lot of sovereign people and they will die for their sovereignty just like American soldiers will die for their country in combat."

A Lafayette man who once identified himself as a Freeman also says the Montana standoff will likely turn into a deadly confrontation.

"The government is setting these people up for the kill," says Toby James, who now belongs to the Embassy of Heaven, a sovereign group of former U.S. citizens based in Oregon. "Freemen live by the slogan 'give me liberty or give me death,' and they take it very literally. They will kill and be killed if the government doesn't leave them alone."

A writer for Boulder's Soldier of Fortune magazine met with Freemen Tuesday and told reporters he doesn't expect the standoff to end anytime soon. Tuesday, Montana state officials who had been negotiating with Freemen for several days said their talks had failed.

James, who doesn't think he knows anyone in the Montana Freemen group, became a Freeman in 1992 in an effort to expatriate himself from the United States. He wants nothing to do with federal or state governments because he views them as evil.

As a Freeman, James sent letters to various government agencies declaring his sovereignty and was mostly ignored. He made a professional-looking metal license plate that says "Freeman" and began driving around without a driver's license, insurance or any state-issued documents. The license plate frequently landed him in jail, but he was always released after prosecutors realized they had no serious charges to hold him.

"Once you enter into an agreement with a state to have their driver's license, you're agreeing to all sorts of stipulations that most people don't even know about," James says. "And the contract can change at the whim of a state legislature, so it's almost impossible to keep up with the contract and even know whether you're violating it."

James said he was a Freeman for about a year before discovering the Embassy of Heaven, another sovereign group whose members live in the United States but don't consider themselves citizens. They flaunt their sovereignty by refusing to pay most taxes or obtain any government authority to drive. Now James drives around with license plates issued by Heaven, as well as a full range of official documentation from Heaven.

Embassy of Heaven members are pacifists who choose to suffer when the government challenges their sovereignty.

"That's the major difference between us and the Freemen," James says. "They will die for their sovereignty, whereas we surrender peacefully and suffer for our sovereignty. There are a lot of sovereign people forming groups throughout the United States because they don't want to be slaves of tyranny. Some of these groups are pacifist, and some are more defensive. Most value their sovereignty from the government above all else."

James recently fasted for 28 days after he was arrested and locked up in Colorado for driving without state-issued license plates. A judge sent him to the Colorado State Hospital when he answered questions at his arraignment by citing Bible verses. He started eating again only when doctors agreed to stop forcing him to take sedatives.

"A doctor there told me I can't separate the Bible from reality," James says. "I was blown away by that. What a beautiful compliment. To a Christian the Bible is reality, so I guess I'm totally in touch with reality."

Cole, a member of local militias and right wing Patriot groups, raced to the rescue of Branch Davidians when federal authorities burned down their complex in 1993. While working as an aggressive advocate for surviving Branch Davidians in the following months, he embraced the religion and converted. Some survivors of the inferno consider him the new Branch Davidian leader, and he has vowed to establish a new Branch Davidian compound, probably in New Mexico.

Cole says the government attacked Branch Davidians to set an example for other expatriates, tax protesters and gun advocates. He said Branch Davidians were an easy target because public opinion could be turned against former Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, who was suspected of having sex with young girls.

"There was no public outcry, or no sympathy for the Branch Davidians until after the government killed everyone," Cole says. "It was almost identical to this situation. The government successfully manipulated the media and created a public perception that they were in a confrontation with some very bad people. This is what they've done in Montana, and they conveniently chose a group that doesn't get along with the Militia of Montana so they could even get most militia leaders to side with them."

The Freemen, routinely characterized as anti-Semitic and racist, are accused of defrauding people with hot checks and other fake promissory notes.

"I don't know if any of that's true, but it's irrelevant," Cole says. "I'm not a judge and a jury, or a politician. I simply have the responsibility to help these people maintain their sovereignty and stand up for them while they are being besieged by a government that they essentially view as a foreign enemy."

Cole says he is planning a peaceful trip to Montana, in which he will try to drum up support for the Freemen. However, Cole says he is always prepared "militarily." He and some others, Cole says, will not take a pacifist role if the government physically harms any Freemen.


The FREEMEN Challenge

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