As President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have learned this month, an antigovernment, pro-militia mentality is alive and well in the United States. On Monday, a guy named Ernest Hancock staged a videotaped interview with a man carrying a semiautomatic rifle slung over his shoulder outside the venue where the president spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Phoenix.
Hancock freely admitted that the interview he conducted — it was posted on YouTube — of a rifle-toting man named “Chris” was a publicity stunt to demonstrate that people can lawfully carry guns. Hancock himself packed a 9-millimeter Beretta on his hip. But Hancock is not just another ardent Second Amendment supporter. An online radio show host and publisher of a website called freedomsphoenix.com, he has been a vocal supporter of Arizona’s Viper Militia – a paramilitary group that stockpiled weapons and bomb-making equipment in the 1990s.
A grand jury indicted 10 men and two women in 1996 on weapons and conspiracy charges after an undercover state officer infiltrated the Viper Militia. Among those arrested was Dean Pleasant, who had run for the Arizona Senate on the Libertarian Party ticket. Police confiscated more than 400 pounds of ammonium nitrate and other bomb-making components in one of three homes they raided in Phoenix. They seized dozens of shotguns, rifle and other weapons, as well as home videos, including one that purportedly showed members casing Phoenix buildings as potential targets. Eleven of the 12 defendants, including Pleasant, entered guilty pleas or were convicted at trial and received prison sentences of up to nine years.
Hancock — who has run unsuccessfully several times for state and federal offices in Arizona as a Libertarian — knew the militia members and was their enthusiastic defender. “They just like their guns,” he told one interviewer. “And in Arizona, gosh darn it, that’s normal.” Hancock even helped run a website created by friends and supporters of the defendants called the Viper Reserves. Its aim was to raise money for the defense of the militia’s members.
In a video that Hancock posted in May, he said, “There is a revolution coming. Hopefully, we can keep it peaceful and between the ears. But there is going to be great change. There is going to be a great upheaval.”
His faux interview with his rifle-carrying friend on Monday came six days after a man named William Kostric stood outside a town hall meeting on health care that Obama hosted in New Hampshire with a gun holstered at his side. Kostric — who used to live in Scottsdale, Ariz. — lists white supremacist Randy Weaver as one of his heroes on his MySpace page. Weaver was involved in a standoff with federal agents in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, that ended with Weaver’s wife and young son being shot dead. It is one of the watershed events cited by devotees of the so-called Patriot Movement.
On his website, Kostric features rambling screeds about the FDA, the police and Realtors. The FDA, he complains, “constantly lies about Cancer Salves [which some really have cured cancer with]… I simply want to NOT have to mutilate my body if I choose.” He also grouses, “Judges in small downs [sic] do not have to KNOW the laws and can run our life based on their opionion [sic] …”
Kostric’s website makes no mention of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. But the T-shirt he wore outside Obama’s town hall appearance in New Hampshire read on the back: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” That’s a quote from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1787. It’s also the same passage that was on the back of McVeigh’s T-shirt when he was arrested.