LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — In the years since the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building shone a spotlight on the deep-rooted coils of anti-government activism in middle America, the stories have become many: standoffs in Montana, bombings in Washington state, bank robberies in the Midwest.
Few of the stories of the underground war with the ultra-right have been as calamitous as that of the Kehoe brothers, two home-schooled boys from rural Washington who talked of building a white homeland in the Pacific Northwest and, authorities say, wound up on a nationwide rampage of murder, theft, bombings and police gunfights.
Their drama, unfolding in one of the government's most important anti-government racketeering trials in recent years, culminated last week on two sides of a federal courtroom here. Chevie Kehoe, 26, stood accused of leading a murderous campaign to create his dream of an Aryan Peoples Republic. Cheyne Kehoe, the 22-year-old brother who followed him on a 14-state odyssey of gun shows and shootouts before turning his brother in, gave testimony that could send him to his execution.
This, Cheyne Kehoe's lawyer told a state court jury in an earlier trial, "is truly a modern-day tragic story of Cain and Abel."
It is also one of the government's highest-profile attempts to bring the weight of federal anti-racketeering statutes against increasingly vocal movements advocating the causes of white separatism and anti-government militancy.
Chevie Kehoe, accused of involvement in five murders, two robberies, a kidnapping, a city hall bombing and two shootouts with police, is tied to more acts of domestic terrorism than any other right-wing extremist in the United States in the last decade, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors the ultra-right.
The case has drawn national attention, in part, because of the Kehoe family's connection to the Aryan Nations in Idaho and the Elohim City compound in Muldrow, Okla., where the Kehoes are said to have made contact with members of the Aryan Republican Army, responsible for a string of recent bank robberies. Kehoe's father, Kirby, who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges before trial, supplied at least one of the guns used in the ARA robberies, federal sources said.
Defense lawyers, who will commence their case this week, appear poised to throw much of the blame on Cheyne Kehoe, who they suggested could be pointing blame at his brother to remove suspicion from himself. Moreover, they have scoffed at government attempts to paint the Kehoe family--a network of drifters who wandered the West in motor homes, buying and selling guns, fixing cars, building barns and shoveling snow--as serious threats.
Indeed, by the time it had rested its case last week before a jury of nine blacks and three whites, the government had sketched the Kehoes more as white-trash thugs than Aryan warriors. The Aryan Peoples Republic appeared as a few crude insignias on written communiques and a bomb that exploded harmlessly in the night.
"If these boys are charged with trying to overthrow the government," defense lawyer Cathleen Compton told the court, "we're all safe."
Mother Tells Jury a Chilling Story
Surely the number of mothers who have offered damning testimony against their sons in capital cases must be few. Yet Gloria Kehoe sat on a witness stand last week and told jurors a chilling story about the son, the eldest of eight, with whom she had always been closest.
Breaking down in tears and occasionally locking eyes with Kehoe and declaring, "I love you, Chevie," Gloria Kehoe related the details of the most serious offense with which Kehoe and co-defendant Daniel Lee are charged: barging into the home of Arkansas gun dealer Bill Mueller, handcuffing him, his wife and her 8-year-old daughter, shocking them with a stun gun, taping plastic bags over their heads and throwing their bodies in a nearby bayou.
Chevie, she said, had calmly related the details of the murders to her when she wanted to know how he acquired the $37,000 worth of guns and ammunition stolen from the Muellers, longtime family friends of the Kehoes.
"It's got to be told, Chevie," she asserted. "There's wrong, and there's right. I can't live with it anymore. It's hell."
Cheyne told a similar story. The younger brother is facing a 24-year sentence in Ohio for a shootout with police--sparked when Chevie feared state troopers who pulled them over knew about the Mueller murders--but was not involved in any of the killings in which he implicated his brother, authorities say.
Cheyne told jurors his brother admitted to him not only his role in the Mueller killings, but also his involvement in the murders in Washington and Idaho of two former associates, Jeremy Scott, 23, and Jon Cox, 25. The five deaths form the center of the government's seven-count racketeering, conspiracy and murder indictment.
Plan for Aryan Peoples Republic