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James Paul Wickstrom, posse comitatus leader, dies at 75

James Paul Wickstrom, a leader in the Posse Comitatus and Christian Identity movements, has died at the age of 75 in Michigan, according to sources within the white supremacist movement.

Wickstrom is unquestionably one of the most significant figures within the history of American white supremacy and did as much to influence the movement as William Potter Gale, Richard Butler, William Pierce and George Lincoln Rockwell.

Wickstrom was at the height of his influence during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. In 1975, the former Snap-On Tools salesman was recruited by Thomas Stockheimer of the right-wing Posse Comitatus movement. Within several years, he attained a leadership position within the organization, declaring himself the “National Director of Counter-Insurgency” for the Posse Comitatus. In 1980, Wickstrom began spreading Posse Comitatus doctrine to farmers across the Midwest and the Great Plains.

The timing could not have been better for Wickstrom. Already facing rising interest rates and increased debt, the 1980s brought the worst economic crisis that farmers had seen since the Great Depression, resulting in thousands of foreclosures. An effective and bombastic speaker, Wickstrom raged against Jews, the U.S. government, banks, the Trilateral Commission and other nefarious forces that he believed were bent on destroying the livelihood of farmers. Although many rejected Wickstrom’s hateful ideology, thousands of frustrated farmers, their friends and family members accepted the idea their financial problems were caused by greater powers beyond their control.

Wickstrom, born on October 7, 1942, in Munising, Michigan, was also a proponent of the antisemitic Christian Identity doctrine, which holds that Jews are the literal descendants of Satan and Eve. A fellow Christian Identity adherent and Posse Comitatus member, Gordon Kahl, murdered two U.S. Marshals on February 13, 1983 near Medina, North Dakota, as they attempted to arrest him on a parole violation. Kahl escaped but was later tracked down in Arkansas after a nationwide manhunt, where he was killed in a shootout with law enforcement which also claimed the life of a sheriff.

In between Kahl’s murder of the U.S. Marshals, and his death almost four months later, Wickstrom became one of Kahl’s staunchest defenders, using the incident to promote the Posse Comitatus movement. This included an appearance on the hit television talk show Donahue. When asked by the host, Phil Donahue, if Wickstrom would urge Kahl to surrender, he refused, insisting that Kahl’s civil rights had been violated.  

Wickstrom inspired thousands of people in the white supremacist movement before and after serving two separate stints in prison. He was convicted in 1984 on two counts of impersonating a public official and was sentenced to 13 ½ months in prison. In 1990, Wickstrom was convicted of counterfeiting currency and illegally possessing firearms. He was sentenced to 38 months.

In the 2000s, Wickstrom continued to promote Christian Identity and hate. The violent rage expressed by Wickstrom is best shown in this quote taken from an interview in 2004:

I’d like to see these Jews all be brought to the VA [Veterans Administration hospital] and wooden chairs be put down on the lawn. Tie the Jews in. Bring these veterans down who have been mutilated…and give them baseball bats and let them beat these Jews to death! Every one of them! Take these chairs and Jews after they’re beaten to death, throw ‘em in the wood chipper! And from the wood chipper let the remains go into a big incinerary (sic) truck, which is right behind the wood chipper, and give them the holocaust they rightly deserve!     

Professor Brian Levin, director of The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, noted the huge impact that Wickstrom had during the height of his popularity. “You can’t underestimate the impact he had. He was quite visible and had his tentacles in every part of the movement. He had this very aggressive way of promoting Posse Comitatus ideology and antisemitism. Indeed, he was a pioneer in the Posse Comitatus movement at a time when it was becoming its most dangerous. His activities presaged the very kind of phenomenon we are seeing now. The template he helped create still exists.”


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