Gripping his rifle, Jim Ellison crouches behind the rusting fender of a junked convertible and waits for the "enemy." His green and brown camouflaged fatigues contrast with the white of several abandoned sinks and refrigerators nearby.
Ellison makes a squirrel-like sound to signal another member of his small group waiting with him on the hillside. They are dug in -- watching the winter-bare woods in front of them.
Soon Ellison and his men have spotted three of the enemy, advancing toward them through woods. Two enemy soldiers move ahead carelessly; the third is more cautious.
Suddenly, the "tat-tat-tat" of semiautomtic weapon fills the woods. Someone shouts: "Kill the Commies." The enemy moves closer, and Ellison's group falls back and regroups.
Soon the "battle" is over, the "kills" counted, and the lessons learned reviewed.
More than a dozen groups in the United States now engage in paramilitary training, stockpile weapons, or regularly train their members in weapons use. (This, of course, does not include traditional gun clubs, which are nonmilitary and usually concentrated on target shooting, game hunting, and gun collecting.)
Jim Ellison and the other "soldiers" practicing ambush here in rural Illinois are members of the Christian Patriots Defense League (CPDL), one of a number of groups spreading a message of impending doom for the United States and urging people to take up arms to prepare.
Prepare for what? Each group has its own scenario -- but generally it involves either (1) an economic collapse that will pit unprepared, hungry mobs against well-armed, well-provisioned patriots who heeded the warnings; or (2) an actual invasion by a foreign power -- i.e., the Russians.
Some of those who train with such groups are "survivalists" -- people who build fortified shelters and stockpile supplies against what they see as likely foreign aggression or a breakdown of society. But most of the paramilitary groups adhere to specific philosophies and goals -- some of them familiar and abhorrent to the majority of Americans. While a survivalist might train with a paramilitary organization, his is a "loner" approach -- the protection of himself and his family.
Most of the members of these paramilitary groups are not people who have made it big in life. They are people whose hard work has earned them only a slim piece of the American dream -- but it's a piece they have no intention of giving up to any of the "enemies" that lay siege to their thoughts.
Small in size (though growing), marginally trained (though heavily armed), paramilitary groups thrive on a blend of sincere patriotism, machoism, racism, religious fervor, and a high degree of fear and uncertainty about the future.
Fear of crime is one of the underlying causes of this new growth in arming, says Brian Jenkins, director of research on political violence for the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif. He notes that in many cities local television news has been doubled or even tripled and that crime coverage is a staple of such programs.
What he calls a "modest statistical increase" in crime (others would disagree) has been far outpaced by the public's perception of the increase, he says.
Such fears of the future have turned survivalism into big business -- somewhat reminiscent of the bomb shelter craze of the 1950s. Weapons, preservable foods, and survival literature are hot items, their sales spurred by advertisements catering to fears of the future.
Some of the paramilitary groups "sell fear" as a way to increase memberships, says Paul Cross of the California Department of Justice. Paramilitary training exercises are recruitment "publicity gimmicks," says Robert DePugh, founder of the Minutemen, which engaged in such activities regularly in the 1960s and is beginning to do so again on a very small scale.
Then there are the true mercenaries. Joseph Franklin Camper told the Monitor , after his arrest in Florida March 20 for trespassing, that he had been training a group of men there "for foreign combat." He said he was an Army veteran of "deep penetration" missions in the Vietnam war and had held the rank of E-4 (corporal).
Camper called the survivalist-type paramilitary camps "boy scouts" and claimed to be offering very professional training in mountain, jungle, and desert "warfare."
But there appears to be an overlap between the survivalist-oriented and the mercenary paramilitary. Robert Lee Lisenby of Troy, N.C., identified himself to police in Inverness, Fla., as a co-leader of the mercenary group with Camper. He is also identified by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League as one of the instructors of the Christian Patriots Defense League training here. This reporter met a CPDL instructor here who identified himself as "Robert" from North Carolina. He would not reveal his last name. Camper said he has trained "several hundred men" and has himself engaged in military activity in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Mexico, Jamaica, Greece, and other countries. He said he plans to continue his "mercenary school."
The apparently growing number of Americans who belong to arms-training groups is probably much smaller than the apparently growing number of go-it-alone survivalists.
But law enforcement officials, who readily say the paramilitary groups are militarily insignificant, are concerned about their potential for violence.
Some officials point to the 1979 killings of five communists at an anti-Klan demonstration in Greensboro, N.C., by Ku Klux Klan and Nazi party members as an example of where arms training can lead. The Jewish Anti-Defamation League claims some of the KKK members and Nazis involved (all were acquitted on grounds of self-defense) trained at a paramilitary camp run by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Party of America (NSPA) in North Carolina. A prosecutor in the case, however, told the Monitor he was unable to verify such training.
Some federal and other law enforcement officials want to drop some of the post-Watergate restrictions on the FBI's intelligence gathering so that paramilitary groups, especially those connected with the Ku Klux Klan, can be watched closer. Other officials say current laws are adequate and can be more fully used without violating privacy safeguards.
The actual number of such groups nationwide is probably much larger than the dozen or so verified by the Monitor. Time did not permit following up all the leads from various sources.
Some of the groups are fairly well known: various factions of the Ku Klux Klan (which have trained at paramilitary camps in Texas, Alabama, and possibly North Carolina and Connecticut), the small neo-Nazi NSPA, and the small Jewish Defense League.
Others are less known: the CPDL, remnants of the Minutemen (active in the '60 s), the Brown Berets (a Chicano group still active in the Southwest), the puzzling, Wisconsin-based Posse Comitatus.
The Special Combat Operations Team (SCOT), run by Dallas machine gun dealer Ricardo C. Lopez, holds occasional weapons training in rural areas. As with a number of the paramilitary groups, many of the participants are former Vietnam Veterans.
Often one group points to another group as a reason for its own arming.
Texas Brown Beret leader Gilbert Herrea says he is under pressure from his more militant members to take armed action against the KKK. Texas KKK leader Louis Beam named the existence of two left-wing groups -- one in California and one in Alabama -- as among reasons for weapons training by the Klan. Yet when this newspaper tried to locate the two groups, police in California said the group there had disbanded several years earlier. And an Alabama assistant attorney general, after checking with others, said no one there had ever heard of the other group.
A handful of paramilitary groups have as their aim the overthrow of a foreign government.Among these are several Cuban groups training in south Florida and secretive Puerto Rican and other terrorist groups operating in the US.
Some religious groups have acquired stockpiles of weapons; some train members in the use of the weapons. Police in California uncovered an arsenal on property used by devotees of the Hare Krishna movement. A California Department of Justice investigator says some Krishna devotees in other locations are armed and training. And hundreds of members of the Way International, another religious organization, have had weapons training in rural Kansas. Local officials in the area of the training say the group's explanations are puzzling.
Those who participated in the paramilitary training exercise watched here in southern Illinois belong to a religious group of about 15 families who live in a secluded, rural area next to the Missouri-Arkansas border.Training leader Jim Ellison and his followers say they are appointed by God to prepare for the coming doom -- and survive it by killing, if necessary, to protect themselves.
"Hey, you been dead 30 minutes," Ellison scolds one of the enemy he had spotted earlier through the scope of his rifle (which, like the others, had been loaded with blanks).
The two- to three-dozen "soldiers," in varying degrees of physical fitness, walk back in the overcast, nippy afternoon toward a run-down building without plumbing --Vernon. It is the focus of activity for the weekend of training here , the headquarters for the CPDL.
Dressed in a business suit, white-haired John Harrell, founder of the CPDL, walks casually among the assembled "troops". Hands in his pockets, he chats with the men. He has been preaching impending doom for years -- but his "army", in his own words, amounts to only "a handful of people."
He claims a CPDL membership in excess of 25,000, but only about 50 persons showed up for the weekend's training, one of several session during the year, but not the main one.
Mr. Harrell laughingly says there is "no way at all" to verify the CPDL's membership total.
Like most private groups engaged in paramilitary or arms training for its members in the US, the CPDL is vague about such things as membership or even what kind of "enemy" they are preparing against.
Harrell has drawn a "mid-America survival area" on a map. Its four corners are Lubbock, Texas; Scottsbluff, Neb.; Pittsburg; and Atlanta. It is the only territory defendable by "patriots" against an "alien force," he says.
The area includes the most "patriots." How does he know this? By measuring response to his ads for CPDL membership in such publications as Soldier of Fortune.
His vague plan is to assemble the patriots on farms and other donated lands in the defense area and somehow survive with stockpiled food and weapons. How long will they have to hold out? What happens when the food runs out? What about potential radiation damage in a war? These are not the key concerns on weekend maneuvers such as the one here.
In a lengthy interview here, Harrell called the defense line "arbitrary."
As the interview progressed, his racial and ethnic views became very clear. Blacks, he said are "physically superior, mentally inferior" to whites; he is willing to help pay to send blacks back to Africa. He condemned Zionists and said Jews are "not the chosen people." He spoke vaugely of "parasitic" races, later praising the "Anglo-Saxon Nordic" race.
"Our job is to maintain and preserve the white culture," he said. "This isn't racial hatred, it's racial preservation."
Would he do as he taches others to do: Kill to protect himself and his family in an emergency? Yes, he says, after some hesitation.Would he share food in a crisis? "To a point," he says.
is he willing to devote some of the energy he puts into warning of doom to efforts to minimize the risk of doom? He tried, once, he says. He ran for the US Senate in Illinois in 1960 (losing badly). Today, after years of doom-preaching, he feels slightly encouraged by the election of Ronald Reagan. In a final word, he suggests people get involved in politics.
During the interview two long-distance calls come in asking for information on CPDL. He gives the callers his 60-second rundown on pending disaster. He has said it all so many times, the words vary little.