Howard Phillips, 60
Many who wound up in the strange world of Patriot ideology began their journey in more conventional right-wing politics. Howard Phillips, who ran for president in 1992, 1996 and 2000, cut his political teeth working for Sen. Barry Goldwater's ill-fated 1964 run for the presidency after graduating from Harvard.
Although he would later head the Office for Economic Opportunity under Richard Nixon, Phillips quit when Nixon declined to cut funding for certain social programs.
Phillips went on to create the Conservative Caucus, a group instrumental in encouraging the creation of Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. A British newspaper reported that during the early 1980s, Phillips visited South Africa annually on "promotional tours" meant to boost the morale of defenders of apartheid.
In 1992, he created the U.S. Taxpayers Party (USTP) — which prescribed the death penalty for abortionists — as a vehicle for his presidential aspirations.
Fundamentally, USTP — renamed the Constitution Party in late 1999 — is notable for its Christian Reconstructionism, an extremist theology that calls for the "reconstruction" of society under Old Testament law.
Phillips was close to the late Rousas Rushdoony, who called for stoning incorrigible children to death and who spoke frequently to the USTP. Today, Phillips, who has proposed junking the Voting Rights Act, is involved in racist neo-Confederate groups that also have been pushing versions of his Reconstructionist theology.
Eight Lanes Out
Larry Pratt, 58
Larry Pratt, a gun rights absolutist whose Gun Owners of America (GOA) has been described as "eight lanes to the right" of the National Rifle Association, may well be the person who brought the concept of citizen militias to the radical right.
In 1990, Pratt wrote a book, Armed People Victorious, based on his study of "citizen defense patrols" used in Guatemala and the Philippines against Communist rebels — patrols that came to be known as death squads for their murderous brutality.
Picturing these groups in rosy terms, Pratt advocated similar militias in the United States — an idea that finally caught on when he was invited for a meeting of 160 extremists, including many famous white supremacists, in 1992.
It was at that meeting, hosted in Colorado by white supremacist minister Pete Peters, that the contours of the militia movement were laid out.
Pratt, whose GOA has grown since its 1975 founding to some 150,000 members today, hit the headlines in a big way when his associations with Peters and other professional racists were revealed, convincing arch-conservative Pat Buchanan to eject him as a national co-chair of Buchanan's 1996 presidential campaign.
The same year, it emerged that Pratt was a contributing editor to a periodical of the anti-Semitic United Sovereigns of America, and that his GOA had donated money to a white supremacist attorney's group.
Pratt is today close to the extremist Constitution Party and its radical theology.
Jeff Randall, 36
Like old soldiers, most of those who left the militia movement simply faded quietly away. But not Jeff Randall, a self-employed machinist and co-founder of Alabama's Gadsden Minutemen.
In May 1995, a year after the group was created, Randall and two other Minutemen infiltrated a gathering of agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) — the bête noire of the militia movement — near the Ocoee River in Tennessee.
They left the annual "Good Ol' Boys Roundup" with a videotape showing what they later described as "an orgy of racism," including shots of a "Nigger Check Point: Any Niggers in That Car?" sign. After ex-cop Randall released the video to the media, several ATF and other law enforcement officials were disciplined.
Four months later, the Minutemen's other co-founder, Mike Kemp, was arrested after 14 marijuana plants were found in his home. Randall quit after the bad publicity, rejoined a week later, and quit for good a year after that.
"I got tired of people ... wanting me to assemble armies for them," he told reporters. "The whole militia movement is either conspiracy kooks or criminals."
Randall even apologized for releasing the Roundup tape, which he said hurt many good officers. Randall now runs Randall's Adventure and Training, which offers jungle tours in Latin America — and which was featured last year on the Travel Channel's "Amazing Adventures."
Dave Rydel, 51
An early player in the particularly active Michigan militia scene, Dave Rydel was, at various times, a "lieutenant general" in the Michigan Militia, leader of the Michigan Militia Theater Command, head of the Eagles and, in the end, organizer and leader of something he called the United States Theater Command.
Although he was very much a true believer, and even signed a document threatening the use of "necessary force" should the Montana Freemen be injured, Rydel was clearly a moderate in the factional infighting that still typifies the Michigan Patriot scene.
In 1995, he turned in a man who proposed attacking the Michigan National Guard's Camp Grayling because foreign military equipment was supposedly being stockpiled there for the eventual subjugation of the American people.
Rydel's chief importance, however, was in creating one of the first and most famous movement E-mail lists, a popular forum for militia calendar items and discussions called "Eagleflight."
In 1998, after attempting to unify the movement with his U.S. Theater Command, Rydel was accused by other militia leaders of being a federal agent. Alabama militiaman Mike Kemp administered a "voice stress analysis" test and announced Rydel had passed "with flying colors," but Rydel's group nevertheless broke apart and vanished.