The Sound and the Fury

Talk radio's Rob Thorn warns of the New World Order and impending apocalypse. The Texas Constitutional Militia is listening.

"Federal officials have made war on the People," it declares. And then it gets to the heart of the matter: "They have established a criminal Secret Government, involving a conspiracy of key officials in all branches and levels of government, and involving government contractors, financial institutions, business organizations, the media, educational, religious, and charitable organizations, labor unions, trade associations and political action groups."

It's a conspiracy, in other words, of almost every living soul except those who have joined the militias. According to a recent report from the Anti-Defamation League, at least 15,000 people have joined militias in at least 40 states. Ordinarily, the League would weigh in about here on the dangers of mixing firearms with paranoia and traces of age-old anti-Semitism, but Johnson expected that and said he'd done a little research of his own on his "enemy." It seems the ADL is actually an arm of the British secret service. In fact, they may have been part of that South Texas cult a few years ago that sacrificed college students and ate them.

"You don't realize the kind of people we're talking about," said Johnny Johnson. "This is not a sweet and simple world."

He gathered up his evidence, the papers strewn all over the table, and walked out of the restaurant and got into his van. On the back, a sticker read, "Freedom of the press does not mean the right to lie.'' The media have just butchered the militia, he said. Why should he expose his people again? They were really quite defenseless.

"You have to remember," said Johnson, "most of us are not schooled in protecting ourselves with words."

Of course, the militia trains with guns, he said, but no, a reporter can't watch. All meetings are open to the public, but they aren't open to reporters.

The best he could offer was a little picnic planned for the Fourth of July -- a family affair. Maybe that would be okay for a reporter.

''You do us a good job, and we'll take you out and buy you coffee,'' he said, shaking hands. "You don't, and we'll take you out and shoot you. Just kidding!''

He made the arrangements, but after that, the lieutenant commander seemed to realize the media was going to disappoint him again. He grew tired of questions. He refused to wear his uniform for the photographer. He said he knew what kind of story we were trying to do. And he denied any differences of opinion with Will Blumentritt.

Until a couple of months ago, Blumentritt, a NASA engineer, was executive officer of Harris County's Bravo Unit, in the Pasadena-La Porte area. As he tells it, a meeting of unit leaders was called together one evening in Johnny Johnson's home. They gathered round and listened for more than an hour as Johnson outlined a prophet's predictions for Armageddon. Finally, when he could take no more, Blumentritt stood up and asked what any of this had to do with the militia. That was the fork in the road.

Not long afterward, while Blumentritt was out of town, the Bravo Unit convened for an impromptu election and voted him out. His men, he learned afterward, wanted more training with guns, less talking with the press and government.

"I still believe in a well-regulated militia standing against tyranny,'' Blumentritt said, "but at the same time, I think it will never be effective until we get these paranoid people focused.''

Blumentritt figures about half the local militia are "paranoid." A split is growing now between members who believe the government can still be changed through the ballot box, and those who keep the ammo box near. As a leader, Blumentritt thought political lobbying was more important than combat training. Johnson, on the other hand, has lost all faith in government. He thinks the federal government may have bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City as an excuse to attack the militias.

In Montgomery County, unit leader Mark Bowers refused to join the North Gulf region because of its preoccupation, he says, with ''scary ideas and war games.'' Blumentritt has never heard talk of offensive action, "even from the scariest of the scary,'' but there were times when he worried his men could be provoked. He said Johnson often called to say "something's coming down real fast.'' Twice, Blumentritt's unit was asked to deploy to Arkansas because federal troops were massing there. Twice, Blumentritt stood against it.

The fear descends from Johnson and the regional command, Blumentritt said, and there's a movement now to push the regional command out. Militias were founded at the county level, and some see the regional command as just another big government. If regional authority is abolished, the militia will be closer to what Blumentritt has in mind. In a government that's fundamentally sound, the militia is "kind of like insurance,'' he says. "I hope my house never burns, but I still buy fire insurance.''

The first members of Harris County's Alpha Unit arrived at 7 a.m. for the Fourth of July picnic. They wanted to get the best site. They draped the tables in red, white and blue, hung banners from the trees and planted a large flag above a Texas Constitutional Militia sign. It was the most festive area in all of Bear Creek Park when a three-year-old girl waddled up and mumbled, "Birthday party?"

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