Patriot movement leader acquitted of conspiracy, attempted kidnapping

CNN News/March 8, 2000

Enfield, Connecticut -- James "Bo" Gritz, a former Green Beret colonel and leader of the right-wing Patriot Movement, was acquitted Wednesday of attempting to snatch a 12-year-old boy and reunite him with his mother. Gritz saluted the jurors after they found him innocent of conspiracy, attempted kidnapping and attempted custodial interference. He and co-defendant Sheldon Robinson could have faced 25 years in prison if convicted.

Gritz, 61, had used his short-wave radio show and Web site to promote the plight of Linda Wiegand, who accuses her ex-husband of sexually assaulting and threatening the boy and another son. "This whole trial has been about Linda Wiegand," Gritz said. Wiegand is a fugitive wanted on custodial interference charges. She called The Associated Press on Wednesday to announce the verdict and said she still believes her children -- who remain in the custody of her ex-husband -- are in danger.

"Somebody has to take my children and protect them. Stop the madness. This is crazy," she said. "Anyone who sees my children, please tell them I am fighting for them and I love them."

Gritz and his son, James Gritz, were arrested September 30, 1996, in the parking lot of the McAlister Middle School, where Wiegand's son was a student. James Gritz is being prosecuted separately, and prosecutor John Malone said he would decide later whether to continue that case. Prosecutors said the Gritzes planned to snatch the boy from school and reunite him with Wiegand. Authorities said Robinson flew the Gritzes to Connecticut in his single-engine plane, rented hotel rooms and paid for a meal with his credit card.

Lawyers for Gritz and Robinson said the men were simply checking Wiegand's claims. Gritz said he was thinking of doing something "confrontational" to bring attention to Wiegand's case but never plotted a kidnapping. Prosecutors had acknowledged that much of the evidence against Gritz (rhymes with "fights") was circumstantial. The Gritzes had pictures of the two boys, two-way radios and other items in his car, police said.

Wiegand first accused her ex-husband of sexually assaulting the children in Vermont during the couple's divorce in 1994. Charges were dropped for lack of evidence. An 18-month investigation in Connecticut also found insufficient evidence to support Wiegand's claim.

Wiegand went on the run with the children for two years. She was arrested in Las Vegas in 1996 but has since disappeared.

Bo Gritz served as a negotiator in the FBI siege of separatist Randy Weaver and his family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992. He also briefly was a mediator in the Montana Freemen standoff in 1996. In 1998, he attempted to locate alleged abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph in North Carolina. He ran for president in 1992 and is a leader of the so-called Patriot Movement, which rails against a United Nations-led "New World Order" and accuses the government of corruption and violence.

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