Ex-Green Beret Links Two Worlds
Self-styled leader in N.C. manhunt walks line between radicals and police.
In the shadowy world of militias, conspiracy theorists, and others tied to the radical antigovernment movement, one figure stands out as a link between such groups and the law-enforcement agencies they distrust.
James "Bo" Gritz has tried to bring an end to several armed standoffs in recent years, sometimes with notable success.
But in the process, the former Green Beret colonel, who served as a model of sorts for the movie character Rambo, also has alienated many antigovernment activists who once saw Mr. Gritz as a leader of their cause.
In recent days, Gritz and a small band of supporters have been combing the North Carolina woods in search of Eric Rudolph, who is on the FBI's list of 10 most-wanted fugitives for allegedly bombing an abortion clinic in Alabama last January.
Mr. Rudolph, who has eluded hundreds of federal agents, also is wanted for questioning in the Atlanta bombing during the 1996 summer Olympics.
Officials say they did not ask Gritz for help, and they warned that any freelance searchers could be in danger. But authorities did not forbid Gritz's Operation Cross from proceeding, and the number of federal agents in the area was reduced by more than half.
Gritz says he wants to save the fugitive's life, and he promises to dedicate any reward money to Rudolph's legal defense.
Rudolph is seen as a hero by some right-wing radicals. But in a flurry of e-mail criticism, Gritz has been referred to as a "backstabbing Judas ... a Trojan horse" - and much worse - by hard-core antigovernment activists suspicious of his motives.
Gritz calls himself a "chief leader of the American Patriot Movement."
"I don't like abortion," Gritz has said. "But the way to do it is not with a bomb. It's cowardly and indiscriminate and murderous."
"True extremists in the movement recognize that Gritz would never cross the line into revolution against the government," says Kerry Noble, a former leader of Covenant, Sword, and the Arm of the Lord, a violent hate group active in the 1980s.
"Bo Gritz would only be looked upon by the die-hards of the movement as a compromiser," Mr. Noble says, "someone who interferes in standoffs that the movement hopes will bring about the bloodshed of law enforcement and an uprising of the patriotic movement."
Gritz is a highly decorated Vietnam veteran who became controversial when he led unofficial, unsuccessful forays into Southeast Asia in search of American military personnel unaccounted for after the war.
Since then, he has been a popular figure at "preparedness expos," where survivalists, tax resisters, militia members, and others at the fringes of conventional politics gather.
For the past five years, he has been conducting SPIKE Delta Force training sessions advertised on his Internet site as focusing on "gun control, rappelling, counterterrorist driving, handwriting analysis, body language, medical emergencies, and lock-picking." SPIKE stands for Specially Prepared Individuals for Key Events.
In 1992, Gritz was able to talk white separatist Randy Weaver into surrendering in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, after a shootout and 11-day standoff in which a federal marshal was killed along with Mr. Weaver's wife and son.
He also went to Jordan, Mont., in 1996 to talk with armed Freemen holed up against FBI agents. The Freemen finally surrendered after 81 days.
Gritz, who did not respond to requests for an interview, has established several "constitutional covenant communities" in rural Idaho, a region that has drawn many in the patriot movement. But he has not associated himself with such groups as the Aryan Nations, which preach antisemitism and the supremacy of the white race.
"Gritz has shown a willingness to embrace the vision of the far right, but a considerable reluctance to accept the dark side that comes along with it," says historian Mark Pitcavage, who studies right-wing groups.
While Gritz plays up his many years of military service, this may, in fact, be one reason why those anticipating - if not advocating - a violent overturning of established government do not necessarily trust him.
"Right-wing extremist adherents have long recognized that those with two to four years of military experience [or less] are valuable because of their training," says Noble, referring to people like convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
"Those with more than four years," Noble adds, "are only used as symbols of authority with no substance in revolution because they have too much patriotism in them, too much adherence to our country's Constitution."