The Threat from the Patriot Movement


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Compton, who quit his job as a real estate agent in the lumber community of Shingletown to run armed-militia training camps, says all these preparations are for the sake of his children. "I decided I'd do everything in my power to make sure that when my son grows up, he'll have the same freedoms I had," he explains. His children, who range in age from 3 to 11, are schooled at home by Compton and his wife. Compton fled the San Francisco Bay Area 10 years ago to settle on a 48-hectare mountain ranch, and his rage against the government seems to have grown in this region where more jobs than trees have been felled in recent years. "Three local lumber mills have been closed in the past year because of spotted owls," he claims. Compton also complains that he can't dig up the manzanita bushes on his own land because of local ordinances. "But," he adds cynically, "you sure better pay taxes on it, or they'll take it all away from you."

That part of Compton's rant is familiar territory for those caught up in the modern Sagebrush Rebellion, a land-rights movement that is spreading rapidly in Western states. Over the past few years, offices of the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service have come under increasing attack by ranchers, farmers and loggers fed up with federal rules about land use, water rights and endangered habitats. In Nevada, where more than 80% of the state is public land, federal employees have been refused service in restaurants, taunted at public gatherings and harassed with vulgar gestures. In March a bomb exploded in the forest rangers' district headquarters in Carson City, shattering windows and damaging the office of the chief ranger.

Increasingly these local-control activists are finding common cause with the militias. "Both have an antifederal outlook," says Dan Barry of the Environmental Working Group in Washington. "They run into each other because they have similar priorities." Indeed, their complaints are often indistinguishable. "We've been pushed so far by rules and regulations, the feds are in our pockets so deep, people are outraged," says Ronny Rardin, a commissioner in New Mexico's Otero County. The land-reform rebels have also been developing an appetite for militia-style conspiracy theories. "The New World Order will be running our lives through the United Nations!" warns a fund-raising letter for the National Federal Lands Conference, one of the leading groups.

Meanwhile, the conspiracy theories grow wilder by the day. In one, Queen Elizabeth is working through British conglomerates to regain control of the colonies -- witness the purchase of Burger King and Holiday Inn by British companies. There is also rumored to be a global conspiracy to implant newborn babies with microchips. Robert Brown, editor and publisher of Soldier of Fortune, a must-read for many gun advocates and survivalists, has tracked some of these wacky conspiracies and discounted them, including one much vaunted black helicopter sighting. But that hasn't quieted the patriot grapevine. "It's all bull. But they don't want reasonable explanations," he says, "because they don't fit their preconceived notions."

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