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Separatist Siege Ends in Peaceful Surrender

Standoff: Declaring 'cease-fire' with Texas, self-styled militant is taken into custody with followers shortly after his wife was coaxed out by relatives. Two others flee into woods.


FORT DAVIS, Texas — Heeding the pleas of his wife, who was coaxed from their hide-out by her own tearful children, self-styled militant Richard L. McLaren ended his armed standoff with authorities and surrendered Saturday, a week after vowing to turn these West Texas mountains into a modern-day Alamo.

Three other members of his so-called Republic of Texas also laid down their arms--nearly a dozen rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition--piling them around a flagpole outside the ramshackle trailer that served as their "embassy." Later, police found an arsenal of pipe bombs and other explosives.

While authorities were taking the five into custody, two other members of the group escaped on foot, fleeing into the woods with assault weapons, a backpack and camouflage gear. A dragnet of police circled the fugitives with aircraft, mounted patrols and bloodhounds, but the pair still remained at large late Saturday evening.

Despite that setback, police were pleased. "This has come down exactly as we wanted it to: a peaceful resolution," said Mike Cox, spokesman for the state police, which has been in charge of handling the crisis. "We hope the Texas Department of Public Safety has shown the world how to do it right."

McLaren, a 43-year-old winemaker who believes the Lone Star State is part of an independent nation that he represents, faces charges of organized criminal activity as a result of the siege.

So do five of his cohorts, including a militiaman who surrendered the day before. Three of them face additional charges for a brief hostage-taking last Sunday that sparked the seven-day standoff. All could be sentenced to life in prison.

Police also revealed that McLaren's 50-year-old wife, Evelyn, a retired Postal Service employee he married last year in a "Republic of Texas" ceremony, had been indicted in February on separate federal charges of bank fraud and mail fraud, as well as aiding and abetting a fugitive. All the suspects were being held without bail at Presidio County Jail in nearby Marfa.

"We want to thank God for answering our prayers and for bringing our mom out of a very dangerous situation," said Lisa Rutledge, 33, one of several relatives who made emotional appeals for Evelyn McLaren to walk out alive. "We can never express how grateful and proud we are of our mother for having the strength and courage to come out to all of us who love her and need her so much."

Saturday's arrests brought a sudden and surprising end to the weeklong siege, the latest in a growing roster of skirmishes between law enforcement authorities and anti-government extremists.

Wary of provoking a bloody confrontation, such as those near Waco, Texas, and at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, police initially approached McLaren and his ragtag group with kid gloves, waiting day after day as negotiators tried to reach a nonviolent settlement. But McLaren, who likened the state to a "foreign agent" on his sovereign soil, refused to budge.

Even after authorities turned up the heat on Friday, moving elite SWAT officers to within a quarter-mile of his mountainside shack, McLaren taunted them on his shortwave radio and ordered his six compatriots to shoot on sight. He also issued a manifesto that closely echoed the famous words of Col. William Barrett Travis, commander of the 187 defenders of the Alamo who perished in that critical battle for Texas independence.

"Everyone has chosen to stay and hold the sovereign soil of the Republic," McLaren wrote. "I pray reinforcements arrive before they overrun the embassy."


But on Saturday, just as it seemed that authorities were poised to overtake McLaren, the impasse began to melt.

Part of it, undoubtedly, was in the numbers. An estimated 200 officers, backed by bulldozers, military helicopters and battering rams, were stationed in the Davis Mountains to square off with McLaren. "He was very much aware we had a very strong presence around his area," Cox said. "I believe he came to realize he wasn't going anywhere."

Part of it, however, appeared to be more sentimental--the love of one woman, by her children and for her husband. Evelyn McLaren's two daughters, accompanied by her 2 1/2-year-old grandson, flew here from Fort Worth and bombarded her with desperate pleas, by phone and via radio. As long as those discussions continued, said the McLarens' attorney, police had agreed not to launch an assault.

At 11:15 a.m., she walked out of the compound.

Her family, standing under a searing sun at a police barricade along Highway 166, traded hugs and kisses upon hearing the news.

"I'm out and I'm fine," she told them. "I'm going to try to get the rest of these guys out in an honorable, decent way."

According to their attorney, Terry O'Rourke, she told her husband: " 'Honey, now is the time. The tanks are going to start rolling.' "

Three hours after she walked out, her husband followed in a cowboy hat, boots, jeans and his trademark tweed jacket.

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