In Any Color, It Was Still Koernke
In the end, the helicopter was green.
Two months after failing to appear to face felony assault charges in Michigan, 40-year-old Mark Koernke — the infamous "Mark from Michigan" who made a name for himself in the antigovernment Patriot movement with fearsome tales of "black helicopters" and government conspiracies — was arrested as he bobbed in a shallow lake.
He wouldn't have been noticed, police say, if he hadn't scampered into the brush after spotting a green police helicopter and a squad car on routine marijuana eradication patrol. Suspicious police came to the edge of the lake into which Koernke had jumped, finally convincing him to emerge after 20 minutes of coaxing.
They quickly thereafter learned of his fugitive status.
It wasn't the same tough-talking Koernke those familiar with his "America in Peril" videotape and "Intelligence Report" short-wave broadcasts might have expected.
His trademark mustache had been shaven off.
His black hair was dyed orange.
And he was affecting a poor version of an Irish brogue, police say, and insisting his name was "Mike Kearns" even after papers were found in his truck with his real name. Still imitating an Irishman, Koernke went on to sign his real name on police forms.
Left untouched in the nearby pickup was a small arsenal: two AK-47 rifles, an AR-15 rifle, a loaded .25-caliber semi-automatic pistol, a .357-caliber pistol, ammunition and several inert grenades.
Last Oct. 13, Koernke allegedly bloodied a court official attempting to serve him with a subpoena. He had been ordered to testify in the trial of John Stephenson, a man accused in the 1994 murder of William Gleason.
Stephenson and a man who is still a fugitive, Paul Darland, were accused of murdering Gleason because they feared the man was informing on them to Koernke. Stephenson and Darland, both former followers of Koernke, had fallen out with the paunchy militiaman, while Gleason apparently remained loyal.
Now, Koernke's troubles are growing.
After his arrest in late July, he was held on $500,000 bond on the original charges. He was facing potential state and federal fugitive charges. Because the weapons found in the pickup may have been illegal, he also could face federal gun charges.
And the FBI had launched a domestic terrorism investigation of him because of comments made on his radio show while he was on the lam.
According to an affidavit, Koernke on June 2 told listeners they should "shoot the buggers ... because they are tyrants, they're criminals." He was allegedly referring to Assistant U.S. Attorney Lloyd Meyer, who is prosecuting three Michigan men in a plot to blow up government buildings.
"It looks like his paranoia finally got to him," said Fowlerville, Mich., Police Chief Gary Krause, still chuckling over Koernke's pell-mell flight from police officers who weren't looking for him. "He talked the talk, but he couldn't walk the walk."