They see you are interested. So before they ever ask your name, Bob and Carol Grise draw you aside with a whisper and a quick toss of the head to pop a crucial question:
“Do you have an agenda?”
Because if you don’t--if you came to the “Preparedness Expo ’95" at the Long Beach Convention Center this weekend with an open mind--this California prison sergeant and his therapist wife very much want you to know that they drove all the way from Tulare County not because they’re nuts, Nazis, wackos, Oklahoma City bombers or members of some wild-eyed militia.
They’re here, they insist, because of reasons as American as any Norman Rockwell painting. Joked Bob Grise: “The guys in the paintings would be here.”
For this slice of Americana, Rockwell might show some people wearing buttons with the international “no” sign through the words NEW WORLD ORDER. Or looky-loos casually walking around with “Read the Bible” hats and “Jesus Saves From Sin and Hell” T-shirts.
Instead of showing them assembled for Thanksgiving dinner, Rockwell might have them gathered to see 100 exhibits displaying disaster supplies and beyond--dehydrated and stabilized foods with a shelf life of 15 years; videos of UFO sightings; the “world’s greatest sprout crisper,” and a mineral frequency therapeutic device.
His canvas would show people plunking down $5 a ticket to hear Lt. Col. James (Bo) Gritz--decorated Green Beret hero-cum-talk show host, who is now conducting SPIKE (Specially Prepared Individuals for Key Events) training across the country--give his presentation on “America and Prophecy.”
Expo promoter Dan Chittock said things were not as political when he put his first preparedness consumer exhibit together six years ago, after he figured that a series of earthquakes around the world would make people more eager to get ready for natural disasters. At first, Chittock held shows in his hometown of Salt Lake City, where he said they were well received because the predominantly Mormon population has long been advised by its leaders to stock up enough food for two years.
But now Chittock’s Preparedness Shows Co. has become a traveling operation that puts on six consumer shows a year in cities such as Orlando, Dallas, Seattle and Denver. And in the last couple of years, there have been a growing number of people coming through the turnstiles because they are worried about the threat of one world government and the loss of their personal rights.
“They’re more concerned about that than earthquakes, to be honest with you,” said Chittock, adding that he expects to draw about 4,000 this weekend, down slightly from his usual show average. “Obviously, if they’re more concerned about that, we have to address that.”
Thus, this weekend’s roster of speakers deal with the government’s role in Waco, the microbial mutations of deadly new diseases, citizen militias and the “Fourth Reich--An Emerging American Police State.”
Like a suburban couple on a stroll, Bryan and Carol Simper of Palmdale were pushing the youngest of their five children in a stroller when they came over to taste some of the dehydrated food.
“You can buy your bunker and dig your hole in the ground and wait for it to happen or you can do something,” said Carol Simper, a 30-year-old homemaker. Their answer: Trying to drum up interest in the new Constitution Party, an organization for which husband Bryan, a 37-year-old computer technician, is state secretary.
So far, he said, 2,000 people have signed up, interested in the idea of making the government live within the limits of the Constitution.
“I outgrew Rush Limbaugh,” said Bryan Simper. “Now I think of him as a liberal.”
Even before the convention doors opened Saturday, 33-year-old Don McClarty of Novato was fidgeting outside, anxiously awaiting the time when he could see the expo. A landscaper, he had driven all night from the Marin County community and slept in his car to catch some speakers and figure out what it would take to start his own citizens militia.
“If the government wants to seize everyone’s arms and start a dictatorship, the militia is the last resort to prevent that,” he said.
Bob Grise said he was a onetime Vietnam War protester who “never spat on a GI.” After the war, he said he sank into the mainstream and did all the “normal” things. But he said he began to question and read “what is not considered the mainstream press” and discovered “a whole world out there that sounds radical but it’s not.”
With his eye firmly fixed on the personal liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, Grise said he realized that Americans had been affected by a “conditioning process that is 50% intentional; [the other] 50%, well, it just happened that way.”
Things like the income tax. “How many people in this country know that paying federal income taxes is voluntary? How many people know that the IRS is a private company? Incorporated in the state of Delaware in 1935,” said Grise.
Grise said he has studied not paying his taxes, but continues to do so.
He and his wife said it was important that people keep their right to have guns, adding that the “seven major genocides were all predated by gun control.”
The Grises said they came to their views after much critical thinking, but they were concerned about being branded as extremists or kooks. “We think,” said Carol Grise. “We know how to think. We’ve got brains.”
And they are not alone, they say.
“These are Americans,” Atlanta attorney Nancy Lord, the Libertarian Party’s 1992 vice presidential candidate, said after her speech Saturday about the government’s alleged excesses in the war on drugs. “These are my neighbors. These are the salt of the earth.”