By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
"Yes, honey,'' her mother leaned to answer, "a birthday party for the country.''
The tables were loaded with deviled eggs and celery sticks, chocolate chip cookies, watermelons and orange soda. By 10:30, everyone who was coming had arrived, and the smell of meat was coming off the grill. No one was saluting anyone or performing any drills. No one even polished a gun. They were men and women, young and old, thin and fat, and white. There were maybe 35 of them, and Craig said there would have been more if they hadn't known a reporter was coming.
He was tossing horseshoes in a T-shirt that read "About to develop an attitude." He looked about 45, and he said he was an unemployed welder. There used to be more of them in the unit, he said, but after the Oklahoma City bombing, the church they were meeting in threw them out, and some members faded away, fearing the attention of the FBI.
He didn't give a damn about politics until the assault weapons ban. After Craig saw the Waco fire, he began preparing for anything his government could do to him, buying cartridge belts and canteens, large quantities of corn and rice and beans. Six months ago, he joined the militia. He would take up arms against the sons and brothers of Americans if those sons of bitches ever came to get his guns, if they ever tried another Waco.
''A police state is a state where the police have all the firearms,'' Craig said. "The surest way to make the militias strong is by cracking down on them.''
An old man wandered up, and Craig asked how he was getting along. Orville, a 69-year-old engineer, explained that he'd had cancer twice and that it's kind of like losing your rights: "It starts out real small and grows and never stops, and you wonder how much you can lose."
Then they began talking conspiracy. Orville recommended some good books: Shadows of Power and The Secret Hand. They sounded like mysteries, but Orville said they were hard facts. Craig said he believed an elite government group was profiting from the destruc-tion of the country. He couldn't understand why a Coke doesn't cost 6 cents anymore, why a loaf of bread costs $1.29. When he was a boy, he said, his neighborhood was like Beaver Cleaver's, and now, only drug dealers are comfortable there. People in Washington "can make the numbers do anything they want," said Craig, and it's obvious they're creating inflation and pocketing the proceeds. Folks in the militia are pretty hot about it.
''Hey, I wouldn't put anything past the CIA," Orville said. And Craig said, yeah, that Oklahoma City kind of reminds his daughter of the Kennedy assassination. Really, said Orville, how old is she?
"Eleven," Craig replied, "but out of the mouths of babes, you know ...."
By then, it was time to eat, and people had gathered under the trees with paper plates of hamburgers and chicken. Several men were huddled around a radio, listening closely to urgent words. A battle was raging in Concord, Massachusetts, and a reporter was live on the scene. The militia was fighting the army, and there were sounds of bombs and gunfire and dying men. It was a modern recasting of the start of the Revolutionary War, but the men of Alpha unit were thoroughly entertained.
Not Craig, though. "It's a little close to home to be funny,'' he said, walking away.
Earlier this month, at the Libertarian Party's state conference, Rob Thorn was introduced as "an invisible hero."
The room in the Doubletree Guest Suites was filled with men in coats and ties. A row of seats was reserved for reporters, and a television camera was aimed at the podium. The crowd listened quietly as Will Blumentritt told them about militia paranoia. And then Rob Thorn, in coat and tie, took his place behind the microphone.
"I am, I guess, the conspiracy theorist on the radio," he confessed. "My mission is to reach out to what the Libertarians would call the politically unwashed."
His message is Libertarian, he explained, but "toned down, with fewer syllables." He did not share some of the details of that message with them -- no reports of black helicopters or rogue agents that day. Thorn kept his conspiracies tucked away and told instead about his early days as a Libertarian and how righteous the party was then and how righteous it could be again.
It's time to grab people by the lapels, he said, time to make them listen. Thorn pounded his fist, leaned forward and rocked back. His voice rose and fell, and the crowd followed him laughing and clapping to the end.
"This is a snowball running down the hill," said Rob Thorn, "and I don't think anyone can stop it. Yeah, I have hope. I'm going to fight hard and I'm going to fight vigilantly, and I know the time will come. We'll draw a line in the sand and say, 'Are you for the Constitution, or are you against the Constitution?'
"Until then, I'll close as I close the radio show: 'Lock and load.'''