Armed and Dangerous (The NRA, Militias and White Supremacists are fostering a network of right wing warriors)

Rolling Stone Magazine/November 2, 1995
By Leonard Zeskind

"The second amendment ain't about duck hunting," Larry Pratt began. The crowd of 150 neo-Nazis and self-described Christian patriots laughed. Looking like a slightly rumpled accountant, Pratt, the executive director of the Washington, D.C., organization should be able to own the military assault weapon of his choice - and form a militia to back up his rights. It was October 1992, and the men - and they were all men - had traveled thousands of miles from more than 14 states, sometimes sleeping in their cars, to Estes Park, Colo., a resort town two hours from Denver, at the eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. Some of those who attended had already been to jail for their cause, and others were prepared to go. Although many of the participants had met before, this gathering was different. This meeting marked the birth of the modern militia movement that would tie well-armed radicals to gun advocates in a right-wing national network. *Sparked by the siege of Randy Weaver's cabin in the Idaho mountains two months earlier, the three-day strategy session was organized by Pete Peters, a dark-haired man with close-set eyes and a mustache who pastors to members of a fringe religious group called Identity. Identity doctrine contends that Northern Europeans are racial descendants of the biblical Hebrews; that our government is in the hands of satanic Jews; and that black people were created before Adam and are therefore less than human. Identity believers have begun to stockpile weapons, food and supplies in preparation for Armageddon, which they think will be a race war in the United States. "The anti-Christ Jews [in the media and government]…have a religious conviction that it is wrong for us to own and possess weapons," Peters once wrote in an Identity newsletter. * Weaver, an Identity adherent and sometimes visitor to the white supremacist group Aryan nations, had been wanted for failure to appear at trial on charges of selling two sawed-off shotguns to a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent. When federal marshals tried to arrest Weaver, a gunfight led to an 11-day siege that resulted in the death of federal marshal William Degan, and Weaver's son Samual and wife, Vicki, who was killed by an FBI sharpshooter's bullet. Their worst suspicions of the government confirmed, the men who answered Peter's call encamped at Estes Park's biggest meeting hall, the YMCA, to figure out what to do next. * Outside the Y, a couple of plainclothes police officers kept watch. Inside, Pratt stood at the podium and peered out from behind his glasses. He confessed to the crowd of gun lovers that he wasn't a particularly good shot or an enthusiastic hunter. "I bought my first gun in 1968, during the riots in Washington, D.C." that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he said. At the time all he could buy was a shotgun. "If they'd had that assault rifle, so-called, for sale, and I'd seen that big old magazine there at the time, that's exactly what I would have bought.

"I wasn't thinking about hunting," Pratt continued. "I've very seldom ever gone hunting."

Guns were Pratt's focus, but they weren't the meeting's only topic. The audience listened to speakers who mixed calls for "Christian resistance" with warnings of concentration camps for "patriots." The men gathered in committees that issued reports with conclusions like, "Vigilante action is scriptural." Richard Butler, the aging chief of Aryan Nations, in Idaho's north woods, told the group, "I have to confess to you, I am a bigot."

"I am a 100 percent bigot," he added for emphasis.

Others who spoke were unknown outside the meeting hall that crisp fall weekend but would soon become important leaders of a re-energized militia movement - like John Trochmann, who founded the Montana Militia. In 1992, the bearded Montana was just a disgruntled former hanger-on at the Aryan Nations. He has since testified before a Senate committee and now draws reporters to the tiny hamlet of Noxon, Mont., like a snake-oil salesman attracting rheumatics to his wagon.

Peters warned the men coming to Estes Park: "I said, 'Now, I want you to understand what can happen to you speaking in my meetings. You know I'm labeled a white supremacist…I just don't want people to come in unaware."

Louis Beam, a Texas Klansman before becoming a leader of Aryan Nations was there, and so was his attorney, Kirk Lyons. Lyons appealed to the men at Estes Park for money, based on their common Identity beliefs: "We've got to make sure of this, gentlemen. We have got to make sure that we, as Christian Israelites, are represented" in regard to the Weaver case.

Lyons wanted money for his organization, CAUSE. To the media he described it as a constitutional-rights organization like the American Civil Liberties Union. But to the initiated he spelled out his white peoples' crusade a bit differently: "CAUSE stands for Canada, Australia, United States, South Africa and Europe, wherever the kindred people are found." Lyon knew his movement needed a change of direction, and the Weaver incident was its chance. "This is the fight of the decade," Lyons told the gathering. "This is the crucible. This is the turning poing."

Chris Temple, who is now a correspondent for an Identitiy newspaper, Jubilee, and was an organizer for Bo Gritz's failed 1992 presidential campaign on the far-right Populist Party ticket, agreed that the diverse gathering had reached a crisis, and he mapped out a new strategy.

"All of us in our groups…could not have done in the next 20 years what the federal government did for our cause in 11 days in Naples, Idaho." Temple said. "What we need to do is to not let this die and go away." Temple argued that white supremacists should bury their differences with others on the far right and build a unified single-issue movement to oppose the federal government.

"We need to remember the Muslims' saying - that my enemy's enemy is my friend," said Tample. "You know, we've got a common goal…to restore and even establish Christian government in this land." Temple wanted the groups to undertake a strategic shift. The first stage would be to embark on building a national network; the second, according to Identity doctrine, would end with the creation of an al-white Christian republic.

That approach meant men like Lyons would work side by side with people who were not white supremacists, people who operated in the mainstream but who shared the movement's agenda and many of its beliefs. In particular it meant alliances with gun lobbyists like Pratt. Pratt recognized "the importance of having an armed militia able to organize quickly and effectively." But he also understood the need to work within the mainstream. "I think that all gun laws are unconstitutional," Pratt said, "so we need leadership in the Congress to articulate our position."

The change in strategy meant one thing: It signaled the transformation of the gun lobby. Organizations like GOA or even the National Rifle Association, which were devoted to the single issue of firearms, would become the leading edge of a far right, multi-issue assault on government institutions and democratic rights. The gun lobby would be at the center of a web of right-wing warriors.

To the Estes Park gathering, Pratt made it clear that he considered the NRA a friend and an ally. Still, he criticized the King Kong-size lobby, with its claim of 3 million members and a $100 million budget, for timidity: "The NRA is an organization that does a lot of good work. And I want to make sure that I make the record clear….[But] for too long they tended to perceive the whole issue of firearms freedom as one of recreation, as one of the right to hunt."

Pratt noted that the NRA was beginning to pursue a broader and more hard-line strategy and that new board members had been elected who favored "a more aggressive approach." Change was happening, he said, it just "hasn't happened enough."

How fast and how far is a constant question for the NRA, one that is complicated by the militia movement. The support of right-wing radicals who share the organization's aims presents a real dilemma for the NRA and its claim that the Second Amendment guarantees every individual the right to bear arms. While the NRA leadership is counting on a Republican majority in Congress, combined with a Republican president in 1996, to eliminate any meaningful gun control, the militias won't wait. They express opposition to gun control by creating small, heavily armed paramilitary units, not by becoming precinct workers. It is gun disobedience, the far-right alternative to non-violent disobedience practiced by the civil-rights movement 30 years ago.

The NRA's annual convention, held in Phoenix's cavernous convention center last May, threw a spotlight on the tightrope the NRA is walking. There, a new board of directors was announced. Dave Edmundson, a 65-year-old retired engineer and sports-shooting enthusiast from Texas who was a board member from 1986 to 1992, supported a slate of "moderate" candidates to counteract the "more aggressive approach" Pratt had applauded at Estes Park. But only two of the 14 moderates won seats. One, Sen. Larry Craig from Idaho was virtually assured election anyway, since he was also supported by the so-called hard-liners on the official nominating committee. The other moderate, Don Young, is a congressman from Alaska.

After the election, Edmundson counted only five or six moderates on the 76-member board. (NRA bylaws require members to be paid for five consecutive years or to pay $500 for a lifetime membership to be eligible to vote, accorfing to NRA spokesman Bill Powers. The rule is supposed to prevent someone from signing up members in order to stage a takeover, according to Powers.) Other board members include Robert K. Brown, publisher of Soldier of Fortune, a magazine for mercenaries; former Arizona state senator Wayne Stump; filmaker John Milius, who directed Red Dawn and Conan the barbarian; rocker Ted Nugent; and conservative black activist Roy Innis, along with a scattering of firearms-industry representatives and professional gun advocates.

I asked board member T.J. Johnston, who was elected for the third year in a row, whether any NRA board members are militiamen. Johnston is a "commander" in the Orange County Corps, a group of about 1,000 men who stockpile food, water, guns, and medical supplies. (Johnston takes pains to point out it's not a militiamen because that would be against California law.)

"There are members of the board who take whatever measures necessary to defend themselves," Johnston answered. "If it involves joining a militia…" His voice trailed off. Is there room in the NRA for militia members, I wanted to know. "There is a lot of space," Johnston replied.

Edmundson is a vocal critic of the NRA's present leadership, a voice of dissent when others live by a code of silence. It is a mistake, however, to conclude that there is any significant opposition to the hard-liners who control the organization's decision-making processes and have opposed even modest attempts to legislate handguns or assault weapons. There are, of course, still NRA members primarily interested in programs for hunters and sports shooters. But the much-ballyhooed conflict within the NRA between moderates and extremists in the leadership is almost wholly a media-concocted story. The political culture in the NRA has been so radicalized in recent years that bipartisan moderates have been virtually eliminated. The division now is between Republican Party hard-liners and a free-floating, militia-driven constituency.

The ruling triumvirate of Wayne LaPierre, Tanya Metaksa and Neal Knox, along with the no-compromise lobbyists, is no longer the right-wing fringe - it's the Realpolitik center.

After the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, the NRA came under intense public criticism for fueling the kind of vicious anti-government sentiment that is believed to have been linked to the explosion. So at the Phoenix meeting, the NRA leadership made a particular effort to reverse any perception that the organization was associated with the militia movement or terrorism. The fact that Timothy McVeigh, the prime suspect in the bombing, was once a member of the NRA was never mentioned, although a resolution passed commemorating NRA members who died in the explosion. Executive Director Wayne LaPierre publicly apologized for his letter calling ATF agents "jack-booted government thugs," a reference that prompted an outrage resignation letter from former President George Bush. And with reporters stacked around the edges of the crowded ausitorium in Phoenix and television camera lights glaring, LaPierre uttered the most widely reported words of the convention: "There is not, nor has there ever been, any room at the NRA for anyone who supports - or even fantasizes about - terrorism, sedition, insurrection, treason, conspiracy or any other unlawful activity. Period! End of story!"

That it wasn't really the end of the story became clear as the convention progressed. For instance, Tanya Metaksa, the executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, gave the ILA's Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award to militia icon Richard Mack, sheriff of Graham County, Ariz., Metaksa is the architect of an NRA partnership with key Republicans such as presidential front-runner Sen. Bob Dole and House Speaker Newt Gringrich. Mack filed suit against the Brady Act, arguing that the criminal checks required for the five-day waiting period on gun buyers were an imposition on local cops that the feds had no right to make. In June 1994 a U.S. District Court judge ruled in his favor, although that decision was subsequently overturned. Five other county sheriffs are pursuing similar lawsuits, with mixed results. The cases will probably wind through the courts for years.

Mack, who wears his uniform while speaking at rallies opposing gun control, has co-written two books and organized a Graham County militia to assist his 12 deputies. He is a handsome, straightforward man with the firm belief that the Second Amendment means "the founding fathers of this nation meant for Congress, the president and all government authorities never to infringe on the rights of the people to keep and bear arms." Mack believes the First Amendment need to be reinterpreted as well. "The court-imposed separation of church and state is a folly, a myth, a lie," he says. For him, America has departed from its God-centered Constitution and is threatened by the new world order.

"Whether American citizens support the idea, damn the concept or deny its existence, the new world order conspiracy had been upon us for a long time," the NRA award winner has written, repeating the paranoid scenarios that animate today's militia movement. He believes that the militia is every able-bodied male. His books sold fast from his booth in the exhibition hall, and Mack was feted like a conquering hero.

Militia fever broke out in earnest late in the meeting when an NRA member from Arizona offered a resolution from the floor, supporting militia. Crying that the whole world was watching, the NRA leadership sent in a triage team to prevent the fever's spread. At the board meeting last February, officials anticipated that militias might become an issue in the future. In fact, February was the month when Metaksa had a secret dinner with the leaders of the Michigan Militia - the same militia whose local meetings Timothy McVeigh reportedly attended on several occasions. Militia commander Ken Adams said on Nightline that he complained about NRA President Tom Washington, who was arguing that the NRA should not align itself with militias. He said Metaksa agreed that Washington was " a problem to the NRA." Metaksa declined to comment on the meeting, but LaPierre responded that the militia asked for NRA money at a brief meeting and was refused.

When the resolution supporting militias was offered, the leadership was ready. Bill Davis, a board member from Atlanta, immediately offered a prepared draft with on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand wording as a substitute resolution. It said: "The NRA does not approve or support any group activities that properly belong to the national defense of the police.

"The NRA strongly supports the Constitution…which guarantees the right of citizens to participate in militias for proper, lawful and constitutional purposes.

"Although the NRA has not been involved on the formation of any citizen militia units, neither has the NRA discouraged nor would the NRA contemplate discouraging exercise of any constitutional right."

After a half-hour of vigorous debate, the substitute resolution won the vote.

Davis told me that until November 1994, the NRA didn't have any real policy on the militia. It still doesn't appear to . The substitute resolution was simply a compendium of resolutions already on the NRA books, some apparently contradicting others.

The resulting parliamentary muddle is the result of the divide that bedevils the NRA. The organization cannot afford to be seen as a militia mouthpiece particularly when lobbying Congress. Yet the NRA also cannot afford to spurn the militias, which are attractive to a significant number of its most active members. For instance, of the 1,245,000 members who were mailed ballots for the last NRA election, in May, only 95,000 bothered to vote to elect such board members as T.J. Johnston and Neal Knox. The 7.7 percent participated rate was the lowest in memory.

The core of hard-line activists, as well as the gap between the NRA's positions and national public opinion (which opposes measures such as a repeal of the assault weapons ban), has caused the NRA to increasingly rely on the muscle of its most fervent supporters.

While the NRA is the biggest player in terms of money and publicity, the gun lobby is in fact much broader, with tentacles that reach not only up into Congress but also out to the margins of American society that Identity believers and anti-government conspiracy theorists inhabit. In that sense, Larry Pratt is emblematic of today's gun lobby: He has one foot in the political mainstream and the other in the fringe.

Just how Pratt is helpful to allies in the mainstream was explained by T.J. Johnston. "I am a member of Gun Owners of America," Johnston told me as he stood outside the Phoenix convention center auditorium, handing out leaflets plugging his re-election to the board. 'I support Larry Pratt. He leads the edge. He's out there in front, fighting hard." Texas Rep. Steve Stockman, who was received GOA political action committee money and is himself a militia supporter, has also hailed GOA as the "no committee" gun lobby.

The "NRA has to work very carefully to keep all the coalitions together," said Johnston, explaining that anybody who "supports a conservative voice" - and opposes gun control, of course - is welcome. But the NRA "has to walk a bit more carefully," he added. That's where GOA comes in.

"Larry Pratt is a very dedicated and aggressive individual," Johnston said, " and he jumps in with both feet… He can afford to be less pragmatic." Pratt, Johnston continued, "may drag the NRA kicking and screaming" along with him.

To Johnston, Pratt's organization is the cowcathcer at the front of the NRA's political train.

Indeed, Pratt could stand as comfortably in the Capital Hill offices of House Majority Leader Richard Armey (who sits on the advisory board of a Pratt organization) and the presidential campaign headquarters of Pat Buchanan (Pratt heads the group Gun Owners for Buchanan) as he does in the Estes Park YMCA. In fact, during the 1992 Estes Park meeting, Pratt asked the assembled to keep Armey "in prayers" because if the then Texas congressman were to become a Republican leader, "we [would] have the possibility of having some issues fought." Armey, who is now Gingrich's second in command, has "always been willing to stand up and oppose the establishment…He is willing to fight."

Pratt operates out of a modest suite in a three-story brown brick building in the middle of Springfield, Va., office park. He sits atop a complex of related organizations that in addition to GOA includes two different tax-exempt educational charities, several non-profit organizations and a political action committee, the Gun Owners of America Political Victory Fund. The operation spends more than $1 million a year, about 1 percent of the size of the NRA's budget, and claims a membership of about 140,000, which is less that 5 percent of the size of the NRA's. Recently the federal government made it easier for one of the charities, the Gun Owners Federal Campaign, a list of about 1,200 nonprofit organizations to which the 2 million federal employees can contribute through automatic deductions from their Foundation, to collect contributions. This year it became part of the Combined paychecks. The NRA's Firearms Civil Rights Legal Defense Fund is on the list, as are groups such as Guiding Eyes for the Blind and the Haitian Society for Mutual Aid. These organizations also receive a portion of funds whose use is not specified by the employee donor. In addition to lobbying, GOA also puts put videos. Five days before the start of the 51 day siege near Waco, Texas (and four months after the Estes Park meeting, David Koresh showed one of GOA's videotapes to Robert Rodriguez, an ATF agent who had infiltrated the Waco compound and was attending Branch Davidian Bible sessions. The video "portrayed ATF as an evil agency that threatened the liberty of U.S. citizens," according to a Treasury Department report. Pratt has written more expansively on those views, arguing in his 1990 book Armed People Victorious that professional law enforcement should be replaced by militias. "It is time that the United States," he wrote, "return to reliance on an armed people." Pratt didn't found GOA. H.L. Richardson, a former California state senator who belonged to the conspiracy-minded John Birch Society three decades ago, did. It was 1975, a time when according to Josh Sugarman's book NRA: Money, Firepower and Fear, hard-lines were worried that the NRA's leadership was forsaking politics for conservation and sports shooting. Richardson, who now owns a data-processing business, had been a member of the NRA's board.

Richardson is president of the tax-exempt Gun Owners Foundation, chairman of GOA and chairman of Gun Owners of California, a separate organization. His daughter works for the California organization. Pratt, a former executive director of the American Conservative Union and a one-term Virginia state legislator, is executive vice president of the Gun Owners Foundation as well as the executive director of GOA.

If NRA board members like T.J. Johnston and congressman like Steve Stockman appreciate Pratt, so do radicals like Kirk Lyons. Pratt ended up coming to Lyons' aid after the FBI's April 19, 1993, attack on the Branch Davidians complex, which ended in the deaths of 80 adults and children and became one of the militias' most powerful rallying points.

During the siege, hundreds of onlookers and reporters set up shop just outside the police lines. Aryan Nations leader Luis Beam was among them. When he attended an FBO press briefing, claiming to represent a West Coast Identity tabloid, Beam was charged with trespassing. Lyons got the charge dropped.

Lyons had become Beam's attorney after he was indicted, along with nine others, in 1987 for seditious conspiracy. The charges were based on the crimes of a group known as the Order, which had attempted to finance a white revolution with armed robberies in 1983 and 1984. The Order had followed a battle plan drawn from a neo-Nazi underground novel, The Turner Diaries, which was sold through classified ads in racist tabloids and gun magazines such as Soldier of Fortune, (Timothy McVeigh was a avid reader of the book.) Beam was never implicated in any of the bank robberies or murders - only charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government. All the defendants were acquitted.

Lyons quit his position as a staff attorney in a personal-injury law firm in Houston to help in his friend's defense, and the case launched Lyons' career in the movement. Since then he has been a regular at rallies and was the marshal at a 1989 skinhead march in Pulaski, Tenn. On Sally Jesse Raphael in March 1993, he called himself a white separatist, not a supremacist, although it is a distinction without a difference. According to Klanwatch and the Coalition for Human Dignity, watchdog groups that monitor racists, there are about 25,000 hard-core white supremacists in the United States and another 150,000 active sympathizers who buy literature or attend meetings.

In 1990, Lyons married Brenna Tate, the sister of Order member David Tate, who murdered a Missouri highway patrolman who stopped him during a dragnet for Order members. Tate and his sisters had grown up in the shadow of the Aryan Nations compound, where their father was second in command. Lyons was married at the compound with Aryan nations chief Richard Butler officiating. Beam was his best man. Beam was Lyons' first client at Waco. But the lawyer was soon pressing four other lawsuits against government officials on behalf of surviving Branch Davidian members (some of whom are, ironically, black Jamaicans) or gun dealers accused of supplying Koresh.

Actually, Lyons had asked the NRA in September 1994 for $50,000 to finance his work on the Waco cases, making a personal presentation to its Firearms Civil Rights Legal Defense Fund, which provides money to support gun-rights cases. So far he has not received anything. His assistant David Holloway wrote in the CAUSE newsletter that fund trustees told Lyons they wanted to award the grant but that some were concerned about Lyons' political pedigree.

At the NRA convention, I asked Sandra Froman, one of the Legal Defense Fund's nine trustees, whether Lyons' ties to Aryan Nations were a factor in the denial of the grant. "This is not a factor for me," said Froman, a Harvard Law School graduate with a small gold pistol charm hanging from her necklace. She declined to explain any further.

When Pratt learned that the NRA had denied Lyons and CAUSE money, he tried to fill the gap. Gun Owners made a contribution of CAUSE. "Not %50,000 - but a lot of money for us," Pratt told me. He anted up another $1,000 to pay for an arson investigator to determine exactly what caused the incineration of the Davidian compound. Pratt also said that friends of Lyons were attempting to establish another corporation which wouldn't have his name on it. This new corporation would then pursue a grant for Waco-related lawsuits from the NRA. Pratt said that he wasn't sure if the NRA would know the money would ultimately wind up in Lyons' hands but that the third-party corporation would give them "plausible deniability."

Without acknowledging the issue of deniability, Lyons himself said that a colleague, an Atlanta attorney, is incorporating the Waco Justice Foundation, in Delaware, to act as an umbrella organization for all funds donated to Waco-related litigation. Lyons told me, "I think the Waco Justice Foundation, of which I would be a member by virtue of the fact that I'm pursuing Waco litigation, will approach the NRA and ask for funding."

Blinding outrage over Waco has been a unifying force for those on the radical right. On the day the Oklahoma City federal building was bombed, Pratt was in Washington, D.C., for a demonstration at the FBI building on the second anniversary of the incineration of the Branch Davidian compound. Three days later Pratt flew to Branson, Mo., where he once again met up with Pete Peters and about 600 so-called Christian patriots for a unity session. They were there to continue what they had started there years earlier at Estes Park: building a working alliance between Identity Christians and others who might be sympathetic to some of their goals. Pratt told the group that there was a connection between the Oklahoma bombing and the events in Waco. According to Michael Reynolds of Klanwatch, who attended the meeting and later described the event in an article he wrote for Playboy, Pratt said: "The government behaves as a beast. It did in Waco, and we have somebody, whoever it might have been, whatever group it might have been, assuming they can't rely on the Lord to take vengeance." The answer, Pratt counseled, was for everyone to arm themselves - it was God's order.

Guns are not the only issue where Pratt's financial and political support has been useful to the far right. His involvement in the right's broad agenda shows just how deeply unmeshed in a web of organizations that support right-wing causes- from anti-immigration to abortion to Oliver North's failed Senate candidacy. It also shows how often the paths of mainstream political figures and far-right radicals cross.

Consider the Council for National Policy, of which Pratt is a member. The organization, which functions as a policy committee for the far-right, was founded in 1981 at the prompting of a chairman of the John Birch Society, the late Georgia Congressman Larry McDonald.

CNP soon received financial support from the Coors family, the Colorado brewers, and guidance from Paul Weyrich, who has been involved in nearly every ultraconservative cause since 1974. Weyrich was one of the early strategists for the New Right and was the first president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, which now provides policy proposals to a generation of Gingrich Republicans. Fourteen years ago, Weyrich wrote in Conservative Digest: "We want to change the existing power structure. WE are not conservative in the sense that conservative means accepting the status quo." His latest project is a closed-circuit satellite television station for conservatives called National Empowerment Television. The station broadcasts town-hall meetings, in which viewers can participate, in cities throughout the country. The NRA and the Christian Coalition also have contributed programming to the channel.

The CNP's aim is to set the future direction for the conservative movement and for national policy. There are six standing committees, including a committee on law and justice, co-chaired by former Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese. Members include Soldier of Fortune's Robert K. Brown, congressional representatives Helen Chenowith, R-Idaho, the Stockman, both militia sympathizers, and Armey, GOA chairman H.L. Richardson co-chairs the CNP's committee on institutional reform with right-wing fund-raiser Richard Viguerie.

While Pratt is simply a member of CNP, he is secretary of the Council for Inter-American Security, another well-connected outfit, the president of which was assistant director of the Peace Corps under former President Richard Nixon. CIS supported Oliver North's efforts to fund the Nicaraguan contras. North, who was then a member of Reagan's National Security Council, congratulated CIS for that support. North also received about $2,000 for his unsuccessful Virginia senatorial campaign last year from GOA's PAC.

Pratt has other pet conservative causes as well, such as English First, one of the most radical organizations in the right-wing's campaign against bilingual education and immigration. English First, which Pratt, helped found, has been accused of racism. It maintains a small political action committee that raised $2,400 in 1994. It divided the money among North, Maryland's Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (who also received PAC money from GOA) and seven others. Arizona pol Wayne Stump (now on the NRA's board of directors) served on its advisory board in 1985.

John Stoos, the former Western representative for English First and the former executive director of the Gun Owners of California, has also been an adviser to the California chapter of the powerful Christian Coalition - which is headed by the Rev. Pat Robertson, managed by the charismatic Ralph Reed and courted by every major Republican politician, including the presidential contenders. California Coalition state chair Sara DiVito Hardman calls Stoos a "political friend." Stoos lost his job with Gun Owners of California earlier this year after he gave a talk in February at the Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley, Calif., representing himself as being from the Christian Coalition. According to the Contra Costa Times, Stoos said, "There is no such thing as a pluralistic society…You can't say we are all going to agree or disagree." America, he continued, should be founded upon the absolute principles of biblical Christianity. Religious minorities would not belong but would be tolerated. Stoos is now chief of staff for a California state assemblyman, Republican Roberts Margett.

English First is actually a subsidiary of another Pratt entity, the Family Foundation. Both are run from the same office suite in Virginia that GOA calls home. Pratt founded the Family Foundation as a Virginia nonprofit corporation in 1980 after he was already GOA's executive director. By 1987, the Family Foundation had a 13-member advisory board of state and federal legislators, including Armey. (Armey has been listed on GOA letterheads as an advisory board member, but his office denies any official association.)

That same year, in a fund-raising letter for the Family Foundation, Pratt called for a quarantine for anyone with AIDS. "Our judges coddle criminals instead of caring for the victims of crime," he wrote. "They've chased God out of our schools, defended abortions…and now they are trying to infect us and kill us with strange and horrible diseases."

In 1990, Pratt used the foundation to pay bills for Randall Terry's militant anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue. Terry flouted a court injunction ordering Operation Rescue not to interfere with women's health clinics in New York and was arrested and fined $50,000. Terry refused to pay, and Operation Rescue's bank accounts were seized. At that point, the Rev. Arthur F. Tomlinson, an anti-abortion activist, approached Pratt on Terry's behalf, according to the Washington Post.

Pratt responded. During the first six months of 1990, he sent potential contributors three letters from the foundation, asking for money to pay the debts and operating costs of Operation Rescue. As Richard Viguerie has said, "The pro-life and anit0control groups have no conflict with each other."

The foundation spent more than $146,000 on Operation Rescue's debts that year. When a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the foundation could also be held liable for Operation Rescue's fines, since it was raising money and paying bills, Pratt stopped sending letters, and Terry shut down his Operation Rescue office.

Most recently, the Family Foundation has allied itself with the Christian Coalition and several Republican presidential candidates to oppose Goals 2000, President Clinton's education initiative.

Congressmen, militia members, militant anti-abortion activists, radical anti-immigration advocates, Christian Identity believers, white separatists, gun lobbyists, the Christian Coalition, high-powered right-wing fund raisers - they're all entangled in a web of interlocking relationships. To a large degree, that's precisely what the Estes Park attendees sought to create.

It was Friday night, six weeks after the Oklahoma City explosion and the unity meeting in Branson. Three hundred people in casual clothes and militia T-shirts sat in a large hall in a convention center in Orlando, Fla., listening intently to speakers describe how the bomb was part of a sinister government plot to take away their weapons.

The audience members were among the more than 2,000 people who paid $6 each day to attend the Preparedness Expo '95. It was billed as a survivalist convention for those preparing for disasters, natural and man-made, but it was more than that. It was a place where America's gun advocates, militia members and political extremists could meet.

Larry Pratt was at the podium. "Don't let Handgun Control [Inc.} intimidate you by associating you with everything that they don't like, whether it be the militia or just an angry white man," he said. "After all, every time you read the founders, they say something that makes them sound like they were a bunch of militia types," because, Pratt continued, "that's exactly what they were."

Bo Gritz soon got up and explained what was required for a fertilizer bomb to destroy a nine-floor building and concluded that some official sitting in the basement of a Washington office was responsible for the blast. The Vietnam veteran spat out his story as if giving final orders for a nighttime parachute drop behind enemy lines. Each man in the audience was a brother in arms, each one must be ready for the worst perfidy from the so-called commander in chief, bivouacked safely away by the Potomac.

Gritz then gave his definition of gun control: "Hitting the target with every shot."

Next up was Mark Koernke from the Michigan Militia. Wearing a dark business suit, Koernke said: "You must prepare yourselves… For you are someday going to have to release your husbands or your boyfriends or your brothers, and we may have to face, yes, a terrible juggernaut, and some of us will not be coming back."

The crowd loved it.

Speaking last on this panel of patriots was Nancy Lord, a lawyer, a doctor, the Libertarian Party's 1992 vice presidential candidate and a member of Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership - which received $4,590 from Pratt's Gun Owners in 1993. She argued that the Jewish Holocaust was possible only because it was preceeded by gun control.

In this exhibit hall, meanwhile, the Christian Patriots Network was arguing that the Holocaust didn't happen. Its booth was a ministore filled with books that claimed Hitler didn't do it as well as some that claimed the Jews started World War II. Business was brisk. Down the aisle was Florida's Seventh Regiment Militia. According to regiment leader David Paine, "The state militia is not subject to the state or the federal constitutions….[it] is not a paramilitary organization; it is a 'military' organization."

There were other, mixed in with the vitamin sellers and pamphlet hawkers, who explained how to convert assets to silver and gold, Florida's Rod and Gun Trader was pushing the First U.S. Militia, from Key Largo, Fla. Carolyn Trochmann, the wife of the Montana Militia founder, was selling books and videos. Within earshot, the Second Amendment Militia from Binghamton, N.Y., was selling T-shirts and dispensing advise on recruiting women to the cause. Gritz and his wife, Claudia, sold a $65 knife with a blade that automatically sprang out when removed from its sheath. For another $60 you could buy eight hours of videotaped paramilitary training including lock-piling lessons. Another booth was filled with bomb manuals, and still others sold ammunition boxes, camouflage clothing, and tubes for burying food or weapons. For the occasional Floridian worried about hurricanes, several speakers and exhibits specialized in food preservation and water purity.

On Sunday afternoon, Gritz returned to the stage to plug Larry Pratt. "Friends, its time to stop talking," Gritz said. "and it's time to start walking. I'm a life member of the NRA, but, friends, that ain't nothing. You get out there where somebody's really doing something. I want you to go out there and make sure you're part of the Gun Owners of America."

After the applause, everybody filed out of the room. About a dozen guys stopped by Pratt's table to sign up.

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