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Hold It! This Land Is My Land! : Led by Commissioner Dick Carver, Nevada's Nye County Is Now Ground Zero in the West's War Against the U.S. Government

December 03, 1995|Gary Andrew Poole | Gary Andrew Poole, a free-lance writer based in San Francisco, is working on a book about the county supremacy movement.

It would be easy to paint Carver, 50, as a common kook or even as a foot soldier in the militia movement. But he's not so easy to pigeonhole. He doesn't brandish guns. He is not holed up in a cult. He is proud that his ancestors raised George Washington Carver, the great African American scientist and leader. He ran for commissioner as a Democrat, talks about how badly society treats the poor, and he says things should be changed through the courts and Congress. But there is something--what is it?--that creates mixed emotions about Carver. Was it the "48 Hours" TV appearance in which he claimed there are microchips in $100 bills? Was it his concern about being followed by mysterious government agents? Or was it his speech to a conference linked with the Christian Identity, a group that mixes fundamentalist theology with white supremacist dogma? (Carver says the speech was a "big mistake.")

When Carver sat down in the front row of Chief Judge Lloyd D. George's courtroom, he was, he would later admit, not nearly as confident as he made out. For luck--or to make sure he didn't lose it--he tapped his shirt pocket, which held a miniature copy of the U.S. Constitution. He likes to tell everyone he never goes anywhere without it. So when the courtroom filled, Carver desperately wanted vindication for himself and the movement, both of which he believes are misunderstood. We're standing up to the Feds, he told himself: "Those men who know nothing about me and my land manage my life like Dictatorial Bureaucrats from afar--from an office in Washington, D.C., where they don't know how the green brush grows in May and the night hawks swoop down through my fields devouring mosquitoes. I'm here to stop them because I am a citizen and I live by the Constitution and nothing else. I hope the great Americans in the audience stay calm. I am scared they will cause trouble."

Carver has reasons to be concerned. Six months earlier, someone had hurled a rock through a truck windshield at the Bureau of Land Management office in Tonopah, in central west Nye County. Someone threw a satchel full of explosives onto the roof of the Reno BLM office on Halloween night, 1994. The blast blew a 15-foot hole through the building and was heard for miles. No one was hurt. A bomb blew out four windows in the Carson City, Nev., office of the Toiyabe National Forest on March 30, the headquarters for Forest Service Ranger Guy Pence, who happened to have worked in Nye County in the mid-1980s. And on Aug. 4, 1995, a bomb exploded under a van at Pence's home, narrowly missing his wife and two of his daughters.

Although investigators have not directly tied those incidents to the county supremacy movement--Carver denounces acts of violence--they have raised the stakes of the trial. No one realizes this more than the two men sitting to Carver's right: John Wayne Howard, the principal legal advocate for Nye County, and Roger J. Marzulla, the former head of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Justice Department under President Ronald Reagan. In contrast to Carver's cowboy duds, they wear somber suits and monogrammed shirts. "The federal government is inherently despotic," says Howard. "The federal government owns the land, and the local government has no say out here. It's unconstitutional."

Facing Marzulla and Howard are Peter Coppelman and four other federal attorneys. Short-haired and intense, Coppelman is the Department of Justice's deputy assistant attorney general. He worked on the spotted owl case for the federal government and was the legal counsel for the Wilderness Society for nine years. He says Nye is asking the court to "redraw the map of the United States and to rewrite 150 years of American history. Under Nye's theory, there would be almost no national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and wilderness areas."

Carver rises when Judge George strides into the courtroom. A Reagan appointee, George, 65, is a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and a graduate of Brigham Young University and UC Berkeley. He shuffles his notes and looks up from the bench. He appears to be pleasantly shocked by the crowd behind Carver, who feels that George radiates "justice." George, Carver is convinced, will help rescue Nye from "tyranny."

The Incident

Within an hour, maybe two--it depends on what the person was doing July 4th, 1994--everyone in Nye had heard about it. Two hundred lucky people had even witnessed it.

The calls started about 5 in the afternoon. "Ted, did you hear?" "Ted, you know what happened?" "Did you hear that they almost killed him!" "There were men aiming shotguns, Ted . . . Hey, Ted, you there, Ted?"

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