"You're not paranoid if they're really out to get you"

Draft transcript of FBI undercover recording of militia in Bellingham, Washington

© 1997 by Paul de Armond

The complete text of the draft transcript

summary of the key points

Dateline: Bellingham, Washington — January 8, 1997.

Background — This draft transcript of a FBI undercover recording of conversations involving Washington State Militia members was introduced in evidence in the trial of U.S.A. v. John Pitner et al. in November 1996.

In late July, 1996, John Pitner — the self-appointed “Director” of the Washington State Militia — and eight others were arrested by the FBI on charges of conspiracy and violating firearms and explosives laws. Weapons, pipe bombs and bomb-making materials were seized in Bellingham and Seattle, Washington. The investigation of Pitner’s Washington State Militia grew out of an FBI “sting” operation that was seeking information on stolen property. At the time of the arrests the FBI stated that there was no connection between the stolen property and militia cases. Since that time, considerable evidence introduced into the records at the U.S. District Court in Seattle shows that this was clearly not the case.

This transcript is the only one of over 150 FBI audio and video tapes that were made during the course of the investigation into the Washington State Militia. It was disclosed following a ruling by the 9th Federal Court of Appeals to hold a new detention hearing for the purpose of determining if Fred Fisher, one of the defendents in the conspiracy case, should be granted bail. The transcript was entered as evidence by the U.S. attorney to show that Fisher posed a flight risk and should not be released on bail. The court found this evidence compelling and Fisher remains in federal custody.

The transcript is a valuable look into the conduct and thinking of participants in the so-called “militia movement.”

There is no “militia movement” per se. Many right-wing groups that have converged around slogans derived from a misinterpretation of the Second Amendment — “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” — known as the insurrectionary theory of the Second Amendment. The insurrectionary theory is usually expressed through claims that the Second Amendment was intended by the Founders to remove any legal sanctions from sedition and armed rebellion. This fallacy is embraced by a surprisingly large sector of the American population.

The insurrectionary interpretation has never been supported in the courts. Federal case law is firmly grounded in precedents which hold that there is no individual right to “keep and bear arms,” but only a collective right which is exercised by the states and federal government. The legal reality has not prevented a very sizable political lobby and fundraising network to exploit credulous and fearful gun-owners. The fund-raising propaganda of these groups prepared large numbers of the population to be suseptible to the militia organizing tactics developed by white supremacists following the FBI’s tragic fiascos at Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992 and Waco, Texas in 1993.

Militia organizing is a tactic, not the ideological basis for a political movement. If such a movement exists — the diversity of the participants has led knowledeable observers to cast strong doubts that the network of individuals and organizations involved is sufficiently coherent to be usefully described as a movement of social transformation — the Washington State Militia represents the armed faction of an alliance of convenience between Christian-Patriot, Christian Identity, and Wise Use militants in the Puget Sound region.

At the peak of the militia organizing activity in late 1994, political researcher Chip Berlet estimated that the number of the entire right-wing community in the United States numbers approximately 5 million and that the number of participants in militia organizing activities — both active participants in paramilitary groups and sympathizers — numbered no more than 10-15,000. This author later refined these figures to estimate in early 1995 the number of armed participants — which is to say those who bore arms in group paramilitary activities — nationwide was approximately 2,000 or less. This is not an insignificant number and is more than sufficient to suggest that there are few counties in the Western United States which do not contain at least one armed “Leaderless Resistance” cell of three to five members.

Insubstantial social ties have been alleged to exist between some of those facing federal charges and both the Phineas Priests gang — charged with bombings and robberies in the Spokane, Washington area — and the Justus Township Freemen in Montana. It is not expected that these social ties will form the basis of any successful federal prosecutions linking these “Leaderless Resistance” cells.

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