Patriot Leader Bo Gritz Shoots Himself Under Troubling Circumstances
Will the real Bo Gritz please stand up?
By Stephen Stuebner
KAMIAH, Idaho -- Late on a Sunday afternoon in September, James "Bo" Gritz was found on a gravel driveway near here, lying next to his GMC pickup truck with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his chest.
Clad in a military uniform bedecked with ribbons and medals, Gritz, 59, had shot himself with a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol on the outskirts of Orofino, about 25 miles from his so-called "constitutional covenant community," Almost Heaven. Remarkably, he was alive.
Somehow, Gritz, a man who has bragged for decades of his well-honed ability to kill, had missed the target — if he ever truly intended to commit suicide.
Within moments of pulling the trigger, the shot echoed around extremist and other circles throughout the nation. What could have caused the supposed model for the movie character "Rambo," the boastful and self-confident 1992 Populist Party presidential candidate, the former Green Beret and "Patriot" leader, to shoot himself?
Just three days earlier, on Sept. 17, Gritz told the Intelligence Report that the prospect of losing his wife of 24 years, Claudia, was too much to take. Claudia had left the man she married at age 16 a month before and filed for divorce on Sept. 11.
"It's the damndest thing," he said during a three-hour interview in his spacious, book-lined office overlooking the Clearwater River Valley. "I've never been afraid of anything on earth. It's what makes me a warrior. But I'm frightened for the first time in my life. I used to have nightmares, and I'd wake up and my bride would be there. I would praise her, and thank God, and I'd go back to sleep.
"Now, I dream of her, and I wake up, and it's a nightmare."
Breaking Bricks and Suicide
This is a man who has trained thousands of antigovernment zealots to prepare for Armageddon, a propagandist who exhorts his followers in thinly disguised terms to stand up to the Jewish-led "New World Order." He is the seemingly invincible Special Forces commando who survived six years of combat in Vietnam, a bear of a man who breaks bricks with his bare hands.
But apparently Gritz wasn't prepared for the emotional bomb blast of his wife's departure.
Was it a suicide attempt? Some kind of desperate effort to evoke sympathy, to bring his wife back home? A bizarre publicity stunt?
"We're kind of cynical up here, but obviously, if anyone would know how to kill himself, it's Bo Gritz," said Larry Nims, a 30-year resident of Kamiah (pronounced cam-ee-eye) and a member of the Clearwater Valley Citizens for Human Rights.
"We don't know if it's something he did to get Claudia back, or if he had some subconscious wish to remain mortal.
In the interview, Gritz spoke plainly of suicide. "I've thought about looking at the other end of my pistol a few times," he said. "What kind of life do I have without my bride? ... She's been my dream girl. Now my reality is my nightmare."
Gritz's apparent suicide attempt caps a year in which his personal, financial and legal affairs have fallen apart.
Longtime business partner and 1992 presidential campaign coordinator Jerry Gillespie, a former Arizona state senator, left Almost Heaven in disgrace last winter after allegedly squandering $1 million in revenues from land sales. (Gillespie couldn't be reached for comment.)
Suddenly, Gritz says he found himself owing a local bank $85,000, in addition to tens of thousands of dollars in debts owed elsewhere.
"We didn't check the books," Gritz said. "It devastated us."
A 'Trojan Horse' Faces Kidnap Charges
Meanwhile, Gritz and his son, Jim, face felony charges of attempted kidnapping, custodial interference and conspiracy to commit both crimes in Enfield County, Conn.
The charges were made in connection with a 1996 effort to "protect" the two sons of a woman named Linda Wiegand from what she loudly claimed on the militia circuit was satanic sexual abuse by her husband. (The court that awarded the father custody found no such evidence.)
The Gritzes were arrested at the boys' school just before classes let out. Jim Gritz also was charged with carrying a concealed knife. If convicted, they could serve up to 25 years in prison. Gritz says he had to take out a $100,000 loan just to make bail.
"Getting involved in the Linda Wiegand case was the biggest mistake of my life," Gritz said. "But I wanted to protect those boys." Jim's wife, Gritz's daughter-in-law Vicci, calls the case "the nightmare that won't go away."
On top of that, Gritz is being attacked by others in the antigovernment movement as being more of a publicity hound and survivalist huckster — a "Pay-triot" — than a true believer. Hard-liners bitterly criticize his role in the search for accused abortion clinic and Olympics bomber Eric Robert Rudolph.
Amid much uncritical national publicity, Gritz spent a week in August in a vain attempt to bring Rudolph out of the North Carolina woods, where he apparently has holed up since the Jan. 29 clinic bombing in Birmingham, Ala.
"Eric does NOT need saving especially by the likes of the Trogen [sic] horse Gritz," wrote August Kreis, a hard-core pastor of the violently anti-Semitic Christian Identity religion. Gritz, according to like-minded extremists, is a "Zionist Occupied Government" agent who would merely hand Rudolph over to the government "Beast."
Fear, and a Longstanding 'Mistress'
Such attacks notwithstanding, Gritz has long been at home in the antigovernment movement.
Even as he parlayed his wartime exploits and personal charisma into a kind of folk hero status, he has repeatedly flirted with white supremacist leaders and groups. He openly labels homosexuals as "faggots" and preaches paranoid anti-Semitic notions about Jews taking over the world, the media and the federal government.
In dire terms, he tells all who will listen about the end of the world and the people who are bringing it.
He preaches fear and then sells the products to cope.
For years, Gritz has traveled the country offering a series of well-attended paramilitary training sessions under the acronym SPIKE — Specially Prepared Individuals for Key Events. In them, and in the pricey, 12-part SPIKE video series he also hawks, he sells the skills he learned in Vietnam and elsewhere, from close-quarters combat to field interrogation techniques.
Thousands of men and women have emerged from these elaborate training seminars with the know-how to fight a war. And indeed, many have gone on to join the violence-prone wing of the extremist antigovernment movement.
He is a popular host on "Freedom Calls," a Talk America AM radio show said to reach 4 million listeners five days a week, and his Center for Action produces a newsletter that is rife with conspiracy theories and antigovernment lore.
In these venues, and on his Web site, Gritz advertises a plethora of survivalist items, ranging from lock-picking sets to countersurveillance techniques to "offensive driving" training — skills that could teach people to be criminals, terrorists or well-equipped locksmiths.
When movement fugitives like Rudolph run from justice, Gritz appears as a Johnny-on-the-spot, leaping at the chance to negotiate between the authorities and suspects who hate the federal government. He showed up at the Montana Freemen's 1997 standoff, and again this year in North Carolina.
Gritz's biggest — and only — success involved the peaceful surrender of white supremacist Randy Weaver in 1992.
His zeal to "save" people from the feds seems to be a throwback to the days when he was a Special Forces commando in Vietnam. He dedicates his autobiography Called To Serve to his wife Claudia, and to his "mistress, SF" — short for Special Forces. Throughout his adult life, he never could leave that mistress alone.