Trouble on the Home Front

A right-wing hero's domestic woes lead to a suicide attempt

Newsweek/October 5, 1998
By Andrew Murr

Bo Gritz thought he could just fade away. On the afternoon of Sept. 20, the storied Green Beret hero, Vietnam POW hunter and self-proclaimed leader of the right-wing Patriot Movement veered his GMC pickup off Idaho's Highway 12 and drove up into the dense woods. Dressed in his old Army Ranger uniform, his chest festooned with ribbons and medals he'd earned in his years of military service, Gritz grabbed his 45 pistol and got out of the truck. This was to be the 59-year old soldier's last stand. Gritz put the gun- loaded with flesh-shredding Hydra-Shock rounds-to his chest, and fired. But something strange happened: he didn't die. A motorist found him minutes later and called 911. Doctors discovered the bullet had passed clean through his body without hitting his heart. The famed sharpshooter had missed his mark. Gritz was dumbfounded. "I don't know what I'm doing here," he told friends the next day.

News of the incident quickly raced through militia groups. Members speculated the shooting was no accident. Some charged the U. S. government had conspired to kill their leader. Others pronounced it the work of the Israeli Mossad. The truth was more mundane. Friends say Gritz was grief-stricken because his third wife-tired of his long absences from home promoting the movement-had recently left him after nearly 24 years of marriage. "I've thought about looking at the other end of my pistol a few times," Gritz told a reporter three days before the suicide attempt. "What kind of life do I have without my bride?"

In recent years Gritz, who became famous in the '80s for his real-life Rambo missions to Southeast Asia in search of POWs, had emerged as a hero of the militia movement. He led paramilitary training seminars for budding separatists and hawked an eclectic line of survivalist products-from freeze-dried rations to a $40 soap-making kit called Bucket of Bubbles. His two-hour radio show "Freedom Calls," is broadcast daily on more than 50 stations. Gritz's loftiest enterprise: a self-governed housing development in Idaho he dubbed "Almost Heaven."

Gritz's bona fides with disaffected militia members helped him to mediate conflicts between his fellow Patriots and the Feds. He negotiated the end of the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff between Randy Weaver and federal sharpshooters. But he wasn't always so successful, and his latest efforts may have proved his undoing. When the Feds began combing the North Carolina mountains earlier this year in search of suspected bomber Eric Rudolph, Gritz said he'd try to talk the wanted man out of the woods. Gritz's wife, Claudia, implored him not to go. Since marrying him in 1974 at the age of 16, she had tried to remain patient over the years as her husband traveled the country-sometimes staying away for months at a time. The couple had no children of their own, but she helped raise his four kids from earlier marriages, some nearly as old as she was. Now she wanted him home. Instead, Gritz got on a plane heading east. His attempts to coax Rudolph out of hiding failed. So did his marriage; the day he returned home Claudia packed up and left. Four weeks later, Gritz was pointing a pistol at his chest.

Since the apparent suicide attempt, Gritz has been staying in Nevada with his son. He's already planning a comeback. His radio show will once again hit the airwaves this week. Gritz tells friends he desperately wants to reconcile with Claudia, who is living in an Idaho RV park and who Gritz says wants a divorce "real bad." Getting her back could be one of Gritz's toughest missions.

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