Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Charismatic Militia Movement Hero's Stance Raises Questions : Politics: Ex-Green Beret James 'Bo' Gritz rails against the United Nations, offers military training and subdivides Idaho land. Some wonder if his anti-government vitriol isn't self-enriching.

December 17, 1995|CHRISTOPHER SULLIVAN | ASSOCIATED PRESS

VISALIA, Calif. — It was more than an hour into James (Bo) Gritz's speech, and he noticed that folks in the friendly crowd--many of them members of militia and constitutionalist groups that grow thick in the desert stretches and farmland of the San Joaquin Valley--were getting restless.

It was time for the big finish.

"Richard, do you have your U.N. flag?" Gritz said, turning to Richard Cabral, a local National Guard sergeant who earlier this year won acquittal on assault-weapons charges. Left with thousands in legal expenses, he had asked Gritz (rhymes with rights) to speak to help raise defense funds.

Cabral produced a large blue United Nations flag. "But I'm told the alarms will go off, and the Fire Department. . . . " he started to say.

"I don't care anything about alarms or fire departments. They're doing their job," Gritz interrupted in a growl he might have used when commanding his old Green Beret unit in Vietnam. The crowd of 450 chuckled and straightened in their seats in the hotel ballroom.

The men doused the flag in a liquid, then lit it. Flames jumped. After a few seconds they dropped the burning flag into a metal container that looked like a cooking pot and shut the lid, smothering the fire.

The crowd rose, whistling and stomping. Gritz, in uniform though long retired, called out: As long as they were on their feet, how about joining in an oath, the one he swore when entering the Army. More cheers.

"I will defend the Constitution," the crowd murmured, echoing Gritz at the oath's conclusion, "against all enemies--foreign and domestic."

It was vintage Bo Gritz--the devil-may-care smile, the try-and-stop-me attitude, the broadcaster's baritone, the chest full of ribbons--and he left the podium trailing charisma like a Hollywood star's.

"The greatest weapon in America today," said one man in the crowd, Pat McCarthy, "is talk radio, the Internet, and people like Bo Gritz, who're turning the country around."

*

Who was this man--by appearance a paunchy grandfather with silver hair and gold jewelry? Why is he a hero to so many? Why do others call him dangerous?

"He is one of the popular leaders . . . definitely one of the most organized and most charismatic" in the self-proclaimed "patriot" movement in the United States, said Ken Toole of the Montana Human Rights Network.

Still, he and others in monitoring groups say they wonder about Gritz's motivation. Some contend his vitriol for a U.N.-led "New World Order," his religion-tinged patriotism and his charges of government corruption and violence amount to a self-serving--and possibly self-enriching--zeal.

Fueling paranoia, they say, won't hurt sales of land that Gritz is subdividing in compounds in Idaho. They note that he charges $100 a head for a military-style training program (defensive, he insists) across the country. A gold trading company advertises on his nationally distributed radio show.

During his speech here, Gritz urged audience members to buy gold in anticipation of chaotic times ahead--and he pointed out the coin-laden table set up at the back of the hall by his radio sponsor. Dozens swarmed it afterward, many signing up for consultations.

In an interview, Gritz said he recommends that people buy precious metals because it's part of being prepared--like buying a year's supply of storable food, something he also recommends. "I don't get a mill, not a cent," he said, for such endorsements.

The cost of building roads and other improvements at his Idaho developments precluded profits there, and he has lost $50,000, he said, on the training program, called SPIKE, for Specially Trained Individuals for Key Events.

He said the purpose of the training was defensive. "I cannot see any time when I would lead any force against the federal government," he said.

"I think people want to feel safe," he said, explaining both the training and his "covenant communities."

What's the covenant? "They agree to stand in defense of their neighbor's constitutional rights," he said.

Such rhetoric is effective, Toole says, but he feels that Gritz's motivation is profit, "first and foremost."

Jonathan Mozzochi of the Coalition for Human Dignity in Portland, Ore., another watchdog group, said, "SPIKE training and the land are what makes him money," but that does not mean Gritz is not sincere in his message.

"I think there's some of both; They're not incompatible," he said.

*

After Gritz's speech, David Beckman echoed others in the audience, declaring, "I'll go home and write more letters."

That's just what Gritz had urged:

* To press for prosecution of government agents whose shots killed Randall Weaver's wife and son during the now infamous 1992 siege at the white separatist's compound at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Gritz helped negotiate Weaver's surrender.

* To question the government's version of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing. Was it really just the work of the two men charged, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols? He doubts it.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|