130 Homemade Hand Grenades Found in DeKalb County Minuteman’s Camper Shell
Militiamen Arrested With Grenade Arsenal
By David Holthouse and Casey Sanchez
Photos by Robin Conn/The Huntsville Times
COLLINSVILLE, Ala. — Residents of this small town in the piney woods of DeKalb County knew Jeff Osborne as a wooly-bearded Vietnam veteran who dressed in a dirty Confederate army replica uniform and carried an old Army-issue 9 mm pistol in a shoulder holster. He scraped out a living selling surplus military gear from a used camper shell he purchased for $400 and occupied in a squatters' camp. Though he occasionally muttered about the looming collapse of the American economy, terrorist attacks and Mexicans taking over the country, for the most part Osborne seemed like a harmless local eccentric.
Then, in the pre-dawn hours of April 26, federal and state law enforcement officers raided his camper shell along with several other residences in the Collinsville area. They rooted out 130 homemade hand grenades, an improvised grenade launcher, a Sten Mark submachine gun, a silencer, 2,500 rounds of ammunition and nearly 100 spindly marijuana plants. Five men were arrested on illegal weapons and explosives charges, including the man known to his neighbors as Jeff Osborne. Federal agents said his real name was Raymond Dillard.
Dillard, 46, was a fugitive from justice. He failed to report to his probation officer after doing jail time for burglary in Mobile, Ala., in the mid-1990s. He is also a petty liar. Although Dillard did serve in the U.S. Marine Reserve for two years in the early 1980s, he's too young to have fought in Vietnam, as he told several of his neighbors.
But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) didn't come to Collinsville to bust Dillard for skipping out on his probation or spinning fairy tales about his military service. According to the feds, Dillard was the founder and self-appointed commander of the Alabama Free Militia, a heavily armed band of paranoid extremists with a taste for doomsday fantasies, homemade explosives and illegal firearms.
"We got the core group, the core leadership and most or all of their significant ordnance," announced Jim Cavanaugh, the ATF's southeastern United States regional director. "They had enough to outfit a small army."
Making the Case
At a May 1 bail hearing, ATF agent Adam Nesmith seemed to testify that the government had evidence of the five militia members plotting a machine-gun attack on Mexican immigrants in the nearby town of Remlap. Nesmith described a reconnaissance mission the militia allegedly conducted in Remlap and told the judge, "There was a plan to attack a group of Mexicans in the Remlap area with their machine guns." The judge denied bail, and the alleged backwoods militia machine-gun plot made news across the country. One typical headline the day after the bail hearing read, "Alabamians planned to machine gun Mexicans."
But there is no mention of any specific plan to kill Mexicans in the search warrant affidavits or any other court document related to the Alabama Free Militia defendants, and the ATF says Nesmith's testimony was misconstrued. Cavanaugh told the Intelligence Report that Nesmith did not mean to suggest that the defendants plotted to machine-gun Mexicans. What Nesmith meant to convey, Cavanaugh said, is that the militia members were planning to steal machine guns from Mexicans in Remlap — not to shoot the Mexicans with machine guns. "The purpose of the [reconnaissance] trip described by the agent in the testimony was to go to those Latinos and take their machine guns, which the militia believed them to possess," Cavanaugh said.
All five defendants have court-appointed attorneys. They portray their clients as bumbling survivalist wannabes who are being tried in the media as dangerous extremists and railroaded by overzealous prosecutors. "These were a bunch of country boys who liked to blow things up," one of the lawyers said.
The attorneys point out that the widely reported machine-gun plot did not actually exist and insist that the government has not presented any evidence that the militia members ever actually detonated a single grenade, harmed anyone or even specifically planned to do harm.
"You ever hear the phrase, 'Making a federal case out of it?" said court-appointed attorney Scott Boudreaux, whose Birmingham, Ala., law firm is representing three of the defendants. "This is it."
According to investigators, Dillard began recruiting and designating ranks for the members of his militia sometime last year. He made himself a "major" and initially took up the name Alabama Naval Militia, a curious choice considering that Collinsville is 330 miles northeast of Mobile Bay, the nearest salt water. The militia was headquartered in Dillard's camper shell, which he painted to blend with the surrounding trees and shielded from overhead view under a canopy of camouflage netting. Fellow squatter and militia member James McElroy, a 20-year-old Iraq War veteran, lived in a makeshift tent nearby. Dillard assigned McElroy the rank of "private."
The other alleged Alabama Free Militia members arrested in April were "Captain" Bonnell "Buster" Hughes, 57, "Lieutenant" Adam Lynn Cunningham, 41, and "Private" Randall Garrett Cole, 22. Like McElroy, Cole recently returned from serving in the Iraq War.