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But Thorn found his biggest fans among the members of the citizen militias that have been forming across Texas for the past few years. That relationship began in earnest after Thorn issued a "Bonehead Media Award" to the reporter of a story on militias. A militiaman called to thank him, and Thorn and the Texas Constitutional Militia have been close ever since. When he gets death threats, he says, they're around to guard him. When they need a message passed quickly, he's happy to oblige, on the air.
"Pork chop belly down 72 up," he'll say, and the militia will be alerted that the black helicopters at Hobby Airport have been grounded for 72 hours. Attack seems not imminent.
Thorn is the owner of two assault rifles, but he's considering selling one now, because he doesn't think he'll be around to use it. The government is going to silence him, he believes, and so it's important that he speaks loudly now. Everything is coming down within five years. The economy will collapse, he said, and a swarm of black helicopters will fly in, and the United Nations will lay down martial law. Famine and disease will rack the land, and the streets will ring with the sounds of warfare. Only those who have prepared will survive.
"You're going to have to live like an animal," says Thorn. But before the apocalypse, a commercial plug: "Spring Army Surplus," he notes, "sells everything you need to live like an animal."
There's only one way to prevent this awful fate, a single route of deliverance, says Thorn. The government must return our constitutional rights. The citizen militias must grow strong enough to make the government do this.
The lieutenant commander of the North Gulf Region of the Texas Constitutional Militia answered the number Thorn supplied and agreed to meet at an IHOP in west Houston. "I'll be the guy in fatigues with an M-16," Johnny Johnson said. "Just kidding!"
In the back of the restaurant, he was the middle-aged man with uncombed hair, hunched over a plate of chicken bones. He sells and repairs copiers for a living, and this was lunch. Johnson wiped his hands and smiled and said the militia was getting a bad rap.
"It's much different here from the way the media portrays militias in other states," he said.
The Texas Constitutional Militia, he explained, is divided into four regions. The North Gulf Region encompasses 28 counties, and maybe 12 of these have a militia unit. Harris County has three -- Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. How many members?
"You're asking for some confidential information," Johnson replied.
No one seems really to know the size of the local militias; estimates on the total number of members range between 400 and 1,000. Johnson says their primary mission is emergency assistance -- rescuing people from hurricanes and tornadoes, saving businesses from looting. The sheriff's department has said that such help isn't needed, however, which leaves the militia with an image problem. Members like Johnson want to be seen as protectors of the people, not as an actual menace. That became impossible when Timothy McVeigh was arrested for the bombing in Oklahoma City. He had attended meetings of a Michigan militia, and the media publicized that fact widely. To Johnson and many others, then, it is the media's fault that most Americans still trust their government more than their local minutemen. Stories like this one always return to the guns, for guns seem the one thing all militia members have in common.
"We're not here to break any laws," Johnson said. "We're here to send a message to our elected officials that the erosion of our rights will stop."
When Johnson speaks of rights, he is speaking mainly of the right to bear arms. A licensed firearms dealer who says he taught guerrilla warfare in the Army, Johnson believes the Second Amendment is the linchpin of the Constitution, what holds it all together. Without our guns, he believes, we'll lose every one of our rights.
He was bothered by the Brady Bill, then, and he was enraged by the ban on the sale of assault weapons. But not until the tragedy at Waco did Johnson understand the system behind it all. When black-suited federal agents used guns to take the guns away from the Branch Davidians at Mount Carmel, Johnson knew Americans were being disarmed so they could be controlled.
"And that's when I began collecting information," he said. He began listening to talk radio. Rob Thorn has a lot of good ideas, he said. He found a place on the Internet. He read obscure books and journals. Little by little, Johnson gathered evidence until it pointed to only one thing:
"There is an overt plot for the United Nations to take over this country," Johnson said. "That's not a paranoid theory. It's an actual conspiracy."
One year after the Waco fire, in April 1994, scores of thinkers like Johnson gathered in San Antonio to establish the Texas Constitutional Militia. Just as the Alamo rallied the last Texas militia, Waco rallied this one. The new defenders of freedom issued a "Statement of Grievances" that Johnson believes compares favorably to the Declaration of Independence.