Western North Carolina, long a home to white supremacists and other extreme rightists, is one of the country's centers of hard-line radicalism.
Ten months ago, on the night of November 11, large-caliber bullets began crashing into the headquarters of the Southeast Bomb Task Force in Andrews, N.C., almost literally parting the hair of one federal agent and barely missing another. Agents assigned to the search for accused bomber Eric Rudolph dived for cover as the assault continued.
Then, as quickly as it had begun, the attack was over. The shooter, who had fired eight 7.62-caliber bullets while standing in the open on a public highway just 250 yards away, vanished, simply strolling away or driving off into the darkness.
The assault on this fenced and heavily guarded compound was remarkable for its brazenness. If an agent had been killed, prosecutors would surely have sought the death penalty for the perpetrator, and at the very least the attacker faced decades in prison.
But the sniper, operating amid the wooded hills and anti-government sentiment of western North Carolina, apparently felt secure enough to take the risk.
He may have had a point.
Anti-federalism in this mountainous part of the state — and in adjoining areas of South Carolina and Tennessee — dates all the way back to the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s, when the government tried to force Irish settlers to pay taxes on their bootlegged brew.
The Feds didn't have much luck getting cooperation from the locals then, and despite a $1 million reward for Rudolph, they don't seem to be doing much better today.
It is a region where Rudolph seems to have many friends.
In recent decades, this area has become a magnet for many in the radical right, men and women who are drawn to a place where the land is still cheap, the living is private and the population is white.
In 1972, Nord Davis Jr., who was to become a leading patriarch of the racist and anti-Semitic Christian Identity religion, moved to the area. A decade later, Ben Klassen, founder of the neo-Nazi Church of the Creator (see The Great Creator) followed, setting up shop in Otto, near the Georgia line.
Today, despite the deaths of both men in the 1990s, extremist activity, supported passively by some locals, is remarkably high — much as in the better-known radical enclaves of the Pacific Northwest and the Arkansas Ozarks.
"It's the legacy of hate and bigotry," Jack Horton, a former Macon County (N.C.) official now working in another county, told a reporter. "It just changes people."
Cells, Bombs and Common Law
· While "common law" activities are declining in most of the country, court files in this part of the country bulge with arcanely worded documents filed by proponents of this pseudo-legal ideology. They include declarations of "sovereignty" from the law, threats against officials and false property liens filed against those seen as enemies.
· Militias and other "Patriot" groups are not only active here, they take a harder line than most counterparts in other parts of the nation. A large number of those involved are adherents of Christian Identity, people who hold that Jews are the literal progeny of Satan, blacks are soulless "mud people" and whites are the true chosen people.
In June, almost 160 militia supporters traveled from several states to meet and train just across the border in Tennessee — about half of them so-called "seedline" Identity hard-liners.
· Every year, as many as four major Identity gatherings are held in nearby parts of Tennessee, from the "Feast of the Tabernacles" to the Identity version of Passover. These meetings have drawn key Identity figures, many of whom have criminal records.
· An underground, largely the spinoff of Davis' old organization, has developed a fairly extensive secret cell structure in the area, composed in part of some of the estimated 200 Davis followers who came to the area where Davis moved 27 years ago. One cell is known to be stockpiling explosives and training on a sophisticated gun range.
· Anti-abortion violence, like that attributed to alleged clinic bomber Rudolph, has escalated since early 1998. In Asheville, 75 miles from the Andrews area where officials believe Rudolph is still hiding, a bomb went off at the only abortion clinic in the western part of the state. The March 13 blast injured no one — probably because the powerful device only partly detonated.
Five incidents at central North Carolina clinics — arsons and unsuccessful dynamite attacks in Fayetteville and Greensboro — also were recorded.
· A cottage industry of extremist surveillance of the federal agents searching for Rudolph has sprung up, with blizzards of e-mail and other messages warning that agents are really preparing to impose martial law on unsuspecting patriots.
The cell phone traffic of both agents and reporters has been illegally listened in on with sophisticated scanners, and notes have been left in motels to let agents know they are being watched.
Planting the Seeds
North Carolinians are not more racist, or criminal, than others. To a large extent, the strength of the radical right in the area is the result of accidents of geography and history. But these accidents have produced a local movement that is remarkable.
In many ways, these activities are the direct result of the ideological seeds sown by a little-known former IBM executive and antique car buff. Nord Davis started out as the editor of the Model A Ford Restorers Club newsletter, but he went on to become one of the nation's most prolific publishers of hate material — including a major 1993 treatise that Patriot leader James "Bo" Gritz calls "almost as explosive as anything set off at Oklahoma City."
Entitled Star Wars, the 79-page booklet spoke of "perpetual warfare" between Christians (people of the five-pointed star) and Jews (the six-pointed star) and called for death for gays and race-mixers. Davis' tracts were so widely disseminated that he broke the all-time record at the Andrews post office by sending out 1 1/2 tons of material in one day.
Davis, who died of cancer in 1997, began his odyssey long ago.
In 1958, he once wrote, his life changed after reading a book that alleged that President Dwight D. Eisenhower "was a conscious agent of the Communist Conspiracy." Eisenhower was not the only subversive president in Davis' eyes. So were Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Even Ronald Reagan was "a secret International Socialist."
Davis claimed he resigned from IBM in 1966 "to expose IBM's sales of sophisticated computers to the Communists," joining a group that believed a Communist takeover was coming in 1973. American patriots managed to foil the scheme, Davis wrote, but the plot was again put into effect in the 1990s with the coming of the "New World Order."
After the failure of a "Christian covenant community" that Davis set up in Massachusetts between 1968 and 1972, Davis packed his four daughters and wife into a travel trailer and took a trip through the mountains of several states.
He was looking for moderate climate, a plentiful water supply, low taxes and a place where one could become economically self-sufficient. He found all of this and more in the Nantahala mountains, in a community just 10 miles from Murphy, the town where Rudolph would grow up.
Macon County, North Carolina's westernmost, was chosen "because it had all of the above," Davis wrote, and was peopled with "pretty well-armed" Christians.
Northpoint and the Lone Wolf
Davis' new project would be called Northpoint Tactical Teams, a name which referred both to Davis' publishing operation and the group he structured into "teams" with a variety of specialties.
At least 20 families followed Davis to the area in the next few years, settling within a 35-mile radius of his well-manicured home. Others came to be near Davis after the 1993 Waco tragedy. Later that year, Davis claimed to have 12 teams.
But throughout, he emphasized the power of the lone wolf — the unaccompanied terrorist who, like Davis' follower Rudolph, would act without aid from others.
"America will not be saved by organizations or groups," he wrote in 1990. "If you ... study what happened in the South after the War between the States, you will see how America will be saved again. ... Small groups, known by the Socialist traitors ... as the 'invisible empire,' will meet and work in secrecy and high security, and quietly eliminate the problem people. ...
"There will be no unified command structure between the various groups so any infiltration will be both expensive and time consuming."
In 1992, Davis wrote a lengthy pamphlet called Brassmouth that reiterated these ideas. Brassmouth, he said, is the English translation of "Phinehas" — a Biblical character who slew a race-mixing couple. Davis said that Brassmouth referred to "the one who acts alone."
Indeed, others calling themselves Phineas Priests have bombed and robbed banks in the name of racist revolution — acting as a tiny cell, without support from others.
A few months after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Davis repeated this theme. "If possible, one man is always the most effective when done correctly. Enough said."
Rudolph appears to have taken the words of his mentor to heart. Officials believe that Rudolph, acting alone, bombed the Centennial Olympics Park in 1996, killing two people and injuring 100; a lesbian nightclub and an abortion clinic in the Atlanta area in 1997; and a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic in 1998, killing an off-duty police officer and maiming a nurse. Rudolph has been charged in all four bombings, and a $1 million reward offered.
Davis spawned other disciples in the area, too.
· Ramon Sparks moved there from Ohio in 1995, after Davis attended a memorial service for Michael Hill, an Ohio militia leader who was shot by police after allegedly pulling a gun in a confrontation. Davis transported an 8,500-pound stone monument honoring Hill from the Andrews area to Ohio.
Sparks served as Davis' security chief, but after Davis' death in September 1997 formed a new group, the 91st Brigade USA Israel. Sparks recently has lost prestige because of inflammatory and widely circulated Internet messages which, among other things, have attacked the "so-called Patriot militia set" as soft-liners.
A manual used by Sparks' group calls abortion "the greatest atrocity" and abortionists "contract killers."
· John Roberts, a former Special Forces member and Vietnam veteran, is another Davis follower. Roberts heads the Militia of East Tennessee, headquartered just a few miles from Andrews across the state line.
On June 11-12, almost 160 Patriot adherents — from Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina and Tennessee — gathered on Roberts' property. They practiced long-range sniping and pistol shooting with man-sized steel targets and casualty-response medical training, and watched an attack-dog demonstration.
·Wayne Mack, an active member of a common-law court in Macon County, has helped spread his doctrine throughout the area.
Officials say that people have filed pseudo-legal common-law documents in at least four western North Carolina counties: Buncombe, Cherokee, Haywood and Macon. Among other things, the documents have declared their filers to be "Freemen" — people supposedly exempt from state and federal law.
In April, Mack addressed the Identity Passover gathering held in Sweetwater, Tenn.
"Freemen activity has really picked up over the last three to four years," says Richard Lightner, Macon County's tax assessor. "In Macon, maybe 100 people show up for their meetings downtown in a government building. Peter Stern is the chief honcho. I've got a three- to four-inch stack of papers from him threatening to sue us, and his group has become more vocal lately."
Stern, identified in numerous media accounts as a common-law leader, denied to the Intelligence Report that he headed any common-law group.
Retorts Lightner: "He's lying like a dog. Now he's formed some kind of church. He figures with a church he can get away with anything. He even wants to get his 1966 Chevy exempted."
'We're Going to Bomb Your Building'
Common-law activists in Macon County — some of them originally from neighboring states — have spread their doctrines through the region. Across the South Carolina line in Anderson County, Sheriff Gene Taylor says the situation is heating up.
"Common-law activity is getting worse," says Taylor, who was himself hit with a bogus, $20 million lien against his property. "They are inundating us with stacks of paper."
Anti-abortion activity in the area, perhaps inspired by Rudolph, has picked up, too. Stephanie Mueller of the National Abortion Federation says there has been an increase in bomb threats.
Clinic operators, she adds, "have received calls from individuals saying, 'If you don't call off the Rudolph search, we're going to bomb your building.'"
Many in the area have expressed support for Rudolph, telling reporters that they see him as an anti-abortion hero rather than an alleged murderer. (At one point, Rudolph obtained a six-month supply of food from the home of a local organic food store owner — an owner who took four days to report being approached by Rudolph.)
There have been reports of federal agents posting guards outside while eating in area restaurants. At one point, a resident shone a laser light at a federal helicopter, prompting a scare.
Certainly, most in the hills of western North Carolina support the search for Rudolph and the rule of law. But the fact remains that antigovernment sentiment is strong enough there that it is federal agents, not right-wing extremists, who hole up in well-armed compounds.
And that is a fact that was clearly seen by the man, still at large, who fired on the Andrews compound.