James Wickstrom Faces Attacks, Continues to Preach Christian Identity Doctrine
By Susy Buchanan
It was 1975 when Wickstrom met tax protestor Thomas Stockheimer, a man who would introduce Wickstrom to the Posse Comitatus (Stockheimer founded the Wisconsin Posse Comitatus in 1970) and Christian Identity.
Wickstrom remembers that day well. His sales route took him past Stockheimer's "Little People's Tax Party" office each week. One day Stockheimer called out to him and posed a troubling question. "Do you know who you are? Do you really know who you are?" Stockheimer queried. "Do you know that you're an Israelite?"
Wickstrom was initially offended. He had little use for Jews and didn't much like being called one. But after hearing Stockheimer out, Wickstrom ended up leaving with two tapes in his pocket, William Potter Gale sermons entitled "Jacob the Double Blessed" and "Jews are of Cain."
The tapes were the first of many that told Wickstrom he was more than a pasty, pudgy salesman.
Christian Identity teachings told him he was one of God's chosen people and a member of the Israelite tribe.
They explained Jews were the demonic offspring of a sexual union between Eve and Satan.
They told him blacks were subhuman because they couldn't blush, no better than beasts of the field and mere tools of the Jews in their fight to destroy White Western man.
To Wickstrom, it made perfect sense.
He and Stockheimer set up a Bible study group in Wickstrom's basement which they gradually built up, studying Scripture and listening to tapes of Gale, one of Identity's great teachers and a founder of the Posse Comitatus, and other ministers. Soon, Wickstrom says, they were drawing 45 members each week.
Wickstrom had to go it alone without Stockheimer's aid after a short while. Stockheimer had assaulted an irs agent in 1974. When his appeal failed in July 1976, Stockheimer skipped town and spent the next four months on the lam.
Not long after Stockheimer's hasty departure, Wickstrom quit his job and moved his family to Schell City, Mo.
"I wanted to be with like-minded people," he explains.
Wickstrom bought land near fellow Identity minister Dan Gayman's property and taught history and geography at a small school operated by Gayman and another minister, Loren Kallstrom. He formed his own church in 1977, Mission of Jesus the Christ Church, and lived off tithes and donations.
But he would soon have a falling out with Dan Gayman. Wickstrom claims he discovered that the property Gayman was living on, which was supposed to have been deeded to the Life Science Church Gayman had established, in fact remained in Gayman's name. In late 1978, Wickstrom packed up his family and moved to Wisconsin.
The Farmers and the Dells
Wickstrom came at the invitation of Donald Minniecheske, who had formed a chapter of the Posse Comitatus and was beginning to create a Posse compound out of a tavern and several mobile homes located on 570 acres on the shores of the Embarrass River.
Wickstrom constructed a church out of two side-by-side mobile homes, and began what he calls his "rejuvenation" of the Posse Comitatus by naming himself "National Director of Counter Insurgency."
Wickstrom and Minniecheske formed their own make-believe town out of a bar and a few trailers. They called it the Constitutional Township of Tigerton Dells. Minniecheske had lost his liquor license for the tavern and dance hall he ran two years earlier. Wickstrom, who had decided he was to be the town's judge and municipal clerk, used his position to grant Minniecheske a new one.
He also began traveling throughout the farm belt, appearing at meeting halls, in basements, and at farm shows. "I knew that something had to be done. I knew that the ranchers and the farmers were being meticulously destroyed by the Jew banking system in America," Wickstrom says.
What he offered was an attractive, if somewhat fanciful, solution to their problems. Wickstrom told them that both taxes and the federal government were illegitimate. He told them they were sovereign citizens and that debt could be paid with fictitious money orders.
He called ZIP codes and driver's licenses examples of government tyranny that were to be abandoned.
He said it was up to the people to regain their power through direct action. He told them Jews, tax collectors, and other enemies of the people were to be lynched.
Floyd Cochran grew up on a dairy farm and heard of Wickstrom's work early on.
"In the '70s and '80s farming went through a drastic change. A lot of people I'd known a good part of my life went out of business," Cochran says.
"Wickstrom was organizing farmers out West, appearing at farm shows and things of that nature telling farmers you are losing your place not because of something you did but because the Jews want to take away your farms."
Posse Power Peaks
The next three years would see a surge of support for Wickstrom's beliefs. Paramilitary training began at Tigerton Dells in 1980, and Wickstrom claimed that Posse seminars drew thousands of participants who were taught survival skills and covert military operations by high-ranking Vietnam vets.
That same year Wickstrom ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate on the far-right Constitution Party ticket and managed to garner 16,000 votes. In 1982, a local radio station began broadcasting his speeches and Wickstrom ran for governor.
He boasted improbably that his Posse was more than 2 million strong. He continued speaking all over the country and met with great success. Soon, events would introduce the fiery preacher to an even wider audience.
When Gordon Kahl went to war with the government, it was Jim Wickstrom's big break.
On Feb. 13, 1983, the Posse became national news when law enforcement agents tried to arrest North Dakota Posse member Gordon Kahl on a probation violation. Kahl opened fire, killing two officers and injuring several others. Kahl escaped in the confusion and eluded law enforcement until June, when a standoff in Arkansas resulted in the death of Kahl and a sheriff.
Wickstrom loudly proclaimed Kahl the Posse's first martyr and, suddenly, the media was listening.
Wickstrom appeared on "20/20" with Geraldo Rivera, and on a memorable broadcast of "The Phil Donahue Show."
"The highpoint for Wickstrom was his appearance on 'Phil Donahue.' He completely snookered Donahue," says Daniel Levitas, author of The Terrorist Next Door and an expert on the Posse, adding that Wickstrom used Kahl as a rallying cry.
"Wickstrom turned Kahl into a media megaphone."
Wickstrom toned down his racist rhetoric for the broadcast, and instead tailored his message to address the frustrations of the working class, emphasizing his love for country and strong Christian beliefs. Far from discrediting Wickstrom as a violent racist, the appearance was nearly an infomercial for Wickstrom's Posse.
But Wickstrom's turn as a television star was short-lived. Soon after Donahue, Wickstrom was charged with two counts of impersonating a public official relating to his activities in Tigerton Dells.
During the proceedings, prosecutor Douglas Haag successfully argued that "the question is whether or not a man with even marginal intelligence who can read and write the English language believes that he can put a fence around his back yard, set up a separate government and call himself a public official."
Haag added that "if [Wickstrom] has a sincere belief that he is a public officer within the laws of the State of Wisconsin, I'm the Easter Bunny."
Wickstrom was convicted and received the maximum sentence, 13 1/2 months. But even with Wickstrom behind bars, the seeds he had planted in 1982 would take root in an unemployed trucker in Nebraska.
The results would prove to be deadly.