Paramilitary Figure Developing Communities in Idaho : Land use: Neighbors are troubled by work of former Populist Party presidential candidate James (Bo) Gritz. He says he is preparing for Armageddon in 1996.
High above the Clearwater River on a plateau overlooking this northern Idaho timber town, a most unlikely developer is selling lots in twin communities named Almost Heaven and Shenandoah.
In his latest incarnation, former presidential candidate and ex-Green Beret Lt. Col. James (Bo) Gritz is planning five- and 10-acre lots surrounded by hay farms and conifers for 1,000 “Christian patriots"--many of whom he has trained in paramilitary tactics.
Gritz, who garnered 10,000 Idaho votes as a Populist Party presidential candidate in 1992, sees the plateau as a haven for like-minded people to flock to in preparation for the Armageddon he says will come in 1996. The only rule in his “covenant communities” is that members promise to defend their neighbors against any “predator threat.”
“If my predictions (about chaotic times to come) are correct,” said the 55-year-old Gritz, surveying the grounds that are reachable only by a steep, winding, unpaved road, “there will be more and more people wanting to come up here.
“The FBI knows me and Special Forces know me,” he added. “The last thing they want to do is tangle with me, because I’m trained in guerrilla warfare.”
Property is selling fast. And residents here and in the Nez Perce American Indian reservation that surrounds the envisioned communities are nervous about the growing influence of white supremacists and paramilitary organizations that are springing up throughout Idaho and across the Northwest.
By sheer force of personality, this archetype for the film character Rambo--a charismatic, tough talking, decorated veteran of Vietnam and Special Forces activity in South America--is emerging as a leader of people who strongly resent gun restrictions and government intervention in their lives.
A Northwest civil rights group believes Gritz--who is a beneficiary of trusts formed to buy and sell the property that some say will fetch $1.2 million in profits--is establishing a regional power base for tax protesters, white separatists and anti-Semitic fanatics.
Gritz, who has two children who are half-Chinese and is the godfather of an African American girl, claims those are “malicious untruths” that have “falsely and wrongly caused worry and concern” among his neighbors in this community of 1,100 people.
One thing is clear: Some say Gritz’s covenant communities have injected an eerie sense into this remote Rocky Mountain town that the newcomers are gearing up for a firefight with federal authorities.
“I think that sooner or later Almost Heaven will become another Waco, Tex.,” said Rosemarie Thibault, 56, general manager of Kamiah’s Clearwater 12 Motel. “Know what else scares me? I think Gritz wants to divide this community.”
He already has. A struggle for dominance is taking place between those who are here for the tranquillity of a small town with no street lights, movie theaters or malls, and Gritz’s supporters--including some Kamiah residents--who see this as a refuge from some future calamity.
Feelings are running high, with disputes over the newcomers heard across town from the offices of Kamiah’s local newspaper, the Clearwater Progress, to the coffee klatches at Big John’s Cafe.
They talk about the letter Gritz sent to the Clearwater 12 Motel warning that he and his supporters may boycott the inn because of critical comments Thibault made at a town hall meeting earlier this year. They talk about Gritz supporters informing Idaho County Sheriff Robert E. (Gene) Meinen that they plan to run a candidate against him in the 1996 election. And they worry that the newcomers may take jobs in this rural region with precious few of them.
On Aug. 15, 700 people gathered in the stifling heat of the Kamiah High School multipurpose room to hear Gritz defend his projects and explain how members of his communities actually hope to avoid confrontations through strength.
The meeting was organized by Bill Glenn, owner of the Clearwater Progress and one of Gritz’s most vocal local defenders.
“Personally, I’m not worried these people are going to be a threat to anyone in this area,” Glenn said. “I’m a conservative . . . and politically I’m a little more receptive to his ideas about government.”
In the meeting, about half of the audience cheered when Gritz attacked the “liberal media” for contributing to a false portrayal of him and his supporters, and when he predicted that Idaho will be a “pivotal state” in the tribulation to come.
And he prompted boos from men, women and children wearing buttons that said “Strength Through Unity” by implying that critics who question his plans are not from Kamiah and surrounding Idaho County.
Among the dissenters was Randi Paradis, 46, who co-owns 40 acres adjoining the Almost Heaven development--which is expected to be approved by the Idaho County Board of Commissioners.
“It’s a shame to have someone like Bo Gritz, who is obviously into being a high-profile personality, come to a place like this with a message of fear and paranoia,” said Paradis, a high school teacher.
“We don’t have building codes or zoning laws, and not many people per square mile--it’s a place where people do pretty much what they want,” she added. “Now, we are faced with the consequences of being so wide open.”
Kamiah has reason to be concerned, said Jonathan Mozzochi, director of the Seattle-based Coalition for Human Dignity, which monitors right-wing extremist groups throughout the Northwest.
“Gritz’s efforts to establish a community of followers in central Idaho who have been trained by him in paramilitary tactics,” Mozzochi said, “represents perhaps the most significant development in the white supremacist movement in recent years.”
Almost Heaven, he said, may be only the first of several covenant communities that Gritz, former Arizona Police Officer Gerald (Jack) McLamb and former Arizona state Sen. Jerry Gillespie plan to establish in the Northwest.
Mozzochi said they are capitalizing on the siege mentality generated by the bloody standoff two years ago between white separatist Randy Weaver and federal officials at an Idaho Panhandle cabin about 160 miles north of here.
Gritz helped negotiate the surrender of Weaver, who was acquitted last year of all but minor charges in connection with the August, 1992, shootout that spurred an 11-day siege and claimed the lives of a deputy U.S. marshal, Weaver’s wife, Vicki, and his 14-year-old son, Sammy.
Despite his extremist views and prophecy of an inevitable holy war with federal agents, Weaver has become a hero in the eyes of some back-country Idahoans.
As the man who got Weaver to surrender with cameras rolling, Gritz emerged as an easily recognized force among people upset by what they view as parallels between the Idaho case and the government’s strategy during the April, 1993, Branch Davidian standoff at Waco in which more than 80 people, many of them children, died.
Both incidents started when federal agents brought firearms charges against people with highly unorthodox religious beliefs, living self-contained in remote locations.
Civil rights organizations contend that Gritz’s covenant communities grew out of those standoffs, and out of the survivalist training programs he conducts across the nation called SPIKE (Specially Prepared Individuals for Key Events). These critics say the SPIKE programs seem to promise to prepare “Christian patriots” for future standoffs between right-wing extremists and federal authorities.
In the June edition of Gritz’s newsletter, Center for Action, he warned that “we are hard-pressed to stay ahead of mounting events, but barring total martial law, I should accomplish my promise of having you as ready as Delta Force in time.”
SPIKE lessons cover instinctive, combat and special purpose marksmanship; how to carry, draw and hold a handgun and effectively engage multiple targets; the treatment and setting of broken bones; tracking and trapping wild game; rappel methods and tips on how to open a padlock in seconds.
All this, plus ammo, for $100 for each of six, 12-hour session.
Gritz said the communities here are open to all comers provided they are U.S. citizens and promise to defend their neighbors.
In an interview, Gritz, who said he makes a living from his military pension and proceeds from his SPIKE program and newsletter, said the Almost Heaven and Shenandoah property was largely purchased with private loans.
He also said most of the people moving onto the property will be retirees on fixed incomes or people who have small businesses who will boost the local economy by patronizing local businesses.
Kamiah Realtor Clint Engledow is more concerned about the “lost people looking for a guru” who he said are streaming into town.
“We’ve got people coming through who are true goofballs--they say we have to kill all black people before they kill us,” said Engledow, who moved to Kamiah from Southern California 16 years ago. “They also say the government is planting computer chips in new car engines so that it will know how to find them.
In 1988, Gritz served briefly as former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke’s vice presidential running mate for the Populist Party. Four years later, as a Populist Party presidential candidate, Gritz gained one of his strongest showings in Idaho.
Gritz, who currently lives in Sandy Valley, Nev., said he plans to survey his future options after he moves into the log house he is building at Almost Heaven.
“This is where we’re going to put our roots down,” he said. “We plan to move in in about two years.”
Beyond that, he said, “Time will tell and only me and Jesus know.”