Texas milita standoff continues

By The Associated Press / June 3, 2000

Trinidad, Texas (AP) -- With holsters strapped to their hips, three bearded men wearing camouflage hats and torn jeans sit in folding chairs at the end of a dirt driveway.

Homemade signs hang on the gate, barbed-wire fence and trees: "We are militia and will live free or die!" "Disobedience to tyranny is obedience to God!" "Notice to all public servants. No trespassing -- survivors will be prosecuted."

For six weeks, a felony assault suspect and more than a dozen of his relatives -- including seven children -- have been holed up in a remote spot some 50 miles southeast of Dallas. The adults stand guard 24 hours a day. The suspect, 51-year-old John Joe Gray, charged with trying to take a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper's gun and biting him after a traffic stop, says he won't surrender.

He has a two-year supply of food and arsenal of weapons on his 50 acres beside the Trinity River. The house and cabin are hidden by a thick grove of trees, a few hundred feet away from a narrow dirt road. There's a bunker marked "kids inside." They have generators, a cell phone and a well, and friends deliver food.

In a note delivered by a friend, Gray told authorities that if they step on his land they should bring body bags.

"We don't want to hurt anybody, but we're going to defend our property," said his wife, Alicia Gray. "Joe didn't do anything wrong, and we just want to be left alone."

Henderson County Sheriff Howard "Slick" Alfred hasn't tried to stop anyone from delivering supplies, or set up round-the-clock surveillance. He insists there's no plan to storm the property.

"There's never been a standoff or a siege. This isn't another Waco," Alfred said. "Joe Gray is just something else in the normal work day. I really think he'll get tired of all of it."

Waco is a sensitive subject in Texas. In 1993, David Koresh and about 80 of his Branch Davidian followers died after a 51-day standoff near Waco, about 75 miles from Trinidad. It started when federal agents tried to serve search and arrest warrants for a weapons investigation, and a gunfight broke out that killed four agents and six Davidians.

Waco became a rallying cry for religious and militia groups, some of whom -- fueled by rumors of police surveillance, federal involvement and an impending raid -- are calling on members to go to Trinidad.

Of the several who have responded, Michael Treis arrived a few weeks ago from Alexandria, La., where he leads the Yahshua Messiah Seventh-day Ministry. Treis, his wife and teen-age son have been staying with the Grays ever since.

"It's pretty bad when a pastor has to strap on a gun and protect a family from an attack like Waco," said Treis, adjusting his shoulder holster. "If things start taking a turn for the worse, there'll be more people here." Some people want law enforcement to be more aggressive.

Keith Tarkington believes his ex-wife, Lisa, who is the Grays' oldest child, is keeping their two young sons on the property, although he was awarded full custody. Tarkington has not seen the tots since April 1999.

He fears for the children's safety. "I just want my kids back, and the police should do their job and go in there and get them," Tarkington said. Alicia Gray won't say if Tarkington's children are there.

She said the family believes the government is so corrupt that people should only recognize God's authority. The Grays also were involved with the Republic of Texas, which claimed that Texas is an independent nation, until the group splintered after a 1997 standoff in West Texas involving its former leader.

An expert on militias, Chip Berlet, senior analyst with Political Research Associates in Somerville, Mass., thinks Henderson County officials are handling the Gray case appropriately.

"This is a dilemma for law enforcement because they know that going in there with extreme force can end in tragedy, but on the other hand, it sets a bad example in terms of people obeying the law," he said. "But the issue is not whether law enforcement is insulted but whether justice is done. Ultimately, the government has more power."

One of the couple's children, Jonathan Gray, says they have no plans to leave.

"We're a peaceful people -- until we're provoked," he said.

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