Patriot Leader Bo Gritz Shoots Himself Under Troubling Circumstances
Will the real Bo Gritz please stand up?
By Stephen Stuebner
Gritz has been many things to many people. He's been called a war hero and a patriot, a white supremacist and an anti-Semite. Who is the real Gritz?
Bo Gritz was born in Oklahoma on Jan. 18, 1939, an only child who arrived at the outset of World War II. His father, an Army Air Corps pilot, was shot out of the sky in November 1944, when Bo was five. His mother also served in the war as a ferry pilot, leaving Bo to be raised by his grandparents. From early childhood, the military fascinated him.
Gritz attended the Fort Union Military Academy and, at age 18, he enlisted in the Army. He was a hard-headed recruit, court-martialed twice but acquitted while still in basic training. He became a Green Beret and Special Forces officer in Vietnam, beginning in 1965. "I needed to be tested," Gritz wrote later. "I wanted to go out and hit something."
Gritz commanded a mobile guerrilla force assigned to missions in the "dark zones" of North Vietnam, places that had never been penetrated by U.S. forces. Gen. William Westmoreland, in his memoirs, singled Gritz out as a classic American war hero.
In these years, Gritz had two children, James and Jay, with his first wife, and two others, Micheil and Melody, by a woman he describes as an ethnic Chinese former prostitute from Vietnam. While getting a master's degree in communications at American University in 1974, he married Claudia, then a karate instructor near Washington, D.C., shortly before leaving for Panama. They were unable to have children.
Gritz claims to be the most decorated Green Beret commander who served in Vietnam, with 62 citations for valor. The war took its toll, however. For five years, he said, mental trauma caused him to carouse in bars, get in fights and "shoot out the street lights... . I finally had to put my guns away."
The POW Missions
After retiring from the military in 1979, Gritz took up the cause of American prisoners of war who, he maintained, were still being held in the jungles of Laos. Although four separate forays to the Far East would produce no POWs, they eventually did bring Gritz an appearance before a Congressional subcommittee to report his findings — which turned out to be insubstantial at best.
In more than 200 pages of his autobiography, Gritz portrays an eight-year, heroic search carried out in the face of political and more sinister opponents. But Washington Times reporter Susan Katz Keating, in her 1994 book Prisoners of Hope: Exploiting the POW/MIA Myth in America, paints a very different picture.
In a lengthy section, Keating depicts Gritz as "an inveterate publicity hound ... a man who has toyed with human lives while in pursuit of his goals." Armed with funding from backers including Texas billionaire Ross Perot, she says Gritz exaggerated his exploits and alleged government backing, used such questionable methods as employing a psychic to describe an alleged POW camp, and even abandoned one of his men in Laos.
While on his missions, Gritz alleges that he learned of the involvement of U.S. officials in the lucrative heroin trade and became severely disenchanted with the federal government. He claims that it was to keep him quiet that federal officials charged him with using a false passport in 1987. The charges were dropped two years later.
During the late 1980s, Gritz's anger at the government translated into his first venture into politics, and the beginning of his lengthy engagement with white supremacists and other bigots.
At the urging of Willis Carto, founder of the anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby, Gritz agreed to run for vice president on the far-right Populist Party ticket. Although he says he expected another candidate to be selected, the convention nominated former Louisiana Klansman David Duke to head up Gritz's ticket.
David Duke and the Race Question
Gritz says he withdrew within 48 hours of learning he would be running with Duke. But in an interview at the time, he seemed unconcerned, saying that he'd met with Duke several times and had been assured the platform would not be a racist one.
Four years later, Gritz would write Carto saying Duke "has done more harm to the Populist Party ... than Hitler would have. Why do you continue to ride a dead horse?"
Duke won 0.05 percent of the national vote. In 1992, Gritz, this time heading the party's ticket, captured 0.1 percent, twice the amount that Duke had received.
But Gritz's biggest achievement in 1992 had nothing to do with presidential politics. Instead, armed with a letter of introduction from Identity minister Pete Peters, he managed to talk Randy Weaver into surrendering to federal officials. The standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, drew national attention after agents shot and killed Weaver's son and wife. Years later, the government settled a suit with Weaver for $3 million.
Gritz denies that he is a racist, pointing to his two Asian-American children and a mixed-race godchild. But there is no question that his 1992 campaign galvanized white supremacists and other antigovernment extremists.
"There's an old saying," Gritz concedes now, "that if you lie down with dogs, you get fleas."
James Aho, an Idaho State University professor who has written extensively on the white supremacist movement in the Pacific Northwest, says Gritz "compromises himself by associating with people who are racist. But he's not an out-and-out racist. I've never been able to find evidence of that."
The evidence of Gritz's antipathy toward Jews is clearer. Earlier this year, in a lengthy diatribe falsely alleging Jewish control of the media and financial institutions, he wrote: "Why is there such an intense effort toward Jewish control? ... I don't think it is right for such a small special interest group to control our nation... ."
Elsewhere, he wrote: "Do you see the sign, the scent, stain and mark of the beast on America today? ... Are you willing to submit and join this seedline of Satan? ... Look to those who are openly antichrist... . [W]ho in the world is promoting abortion, pornography, pedophilia, Godless laws, adultery, New Age international banking, entertainment industry and world publishing? Wherever you find a perversion of God's laws you will find the worshippers of Baal with their roots still in Babylonian mysticism."
Gritz said in the interview that he is not anti-Semitic, but that Jews control too much of the world's wealth and power. "It's grossly out of balance," he said.
Whither Bo Gritz?
The future for Gritz is unclear. After leaving the hospital he moved to Sandy Valley, Utah, and Claudia returned to their Almost Heaven home. Now, some observers believe his credibility in the antigovernment movement will be destroyed. But Gritz has survived other travails and managed to come back strong.
Larry Nims would prefer to see Gritz remain powerful — to keep the more militant extremists around Kamiah from becoming violent. Bill Wassmuth, executive director of the human rights group Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, says there will likely be trouble no matter what.
"A few of his followers are a lit fuse away from violence," he said. "There's just too many ... trigger points for that not to happen."
To Don Simler, a third-generation Quaker who owns farm property next to Almost Heaven, it comes down to this: Bo Gritz has wrecked his quiet country life.
"I think it's ruined our country up here," Simler said. "It's really changed the character of the area. A lot of these people come out of the big cities, and they're packing guns. I guess they're afraid of the government or whatever. It's just never going to be quite the same around here."
Steve Stuebner is the author of six books, a contributor to The New York Times and other publications, and a freelance journalist who lives in Boise, Idaho.