Cease and Resist

The Wild River Patriots are out to beat the New World Order in Burnett County, Wisconsin.

The dialogue continues in this vein for another hour. During the occasional, pointed silences, one of McGrath's assistants ("you'd better just call me by the initial 'P'") hovers near the doorjamb, half in the shadows, nodding and inserting references to paramilitary agents in ski masks and jackboots, and secondhand news about Vicki Weaver's autopsy, conducted under wraps in a remote morgue. Before heading back out to the yard, he turns to McGrath and says, "Don't forget the part about martial rule."

"What is martial rule?" Answer: "We are living under it now. The best word would be that we're under Admiralty Maritime Jurisdictional Law. The president runs the ship. Under martial rule, you have no rights. They won't blatantly tell you that, but what's taking place is a New World Order, run by a group of individuals and a secret bureaucracy called the Unity Pack. It's just a matter of time until martial law ensues and there are standing armies in the streets, rounding up noncompliant protesters."

Why are police departments getting all these machine guns? What are these surveillance cameras being installed? What about weather control? What is AIDS? Who really is the Pope? Why isn't the BATF listed in any phone book? Why is all this helicopter traffic taking place? Are they dropping people in? Are they doing maneuvers? Is it real? Answer: "Take time to get yourself a set of binoculars and look--see if there's any markings. Five miles south of here, they've started to paint large white Vs on the pavement. There are satellites. If you're sitting outside with a newspaper, they can read the fine print. These Vs are not to survey the movement of land, they are to monitor the movement of citizens in preparation for troop invasion."

Why is America crumbling? Why do kids kill their parents? Why is the divorce industry making $60 billion every year in the United States? What is Prozac? Why are there more psychiatrists now than ever? Why are there so many alcoholics and drug addicts today? What is NAFTA? Why is it that a family can't make it in this economy anymore? Why is it that here in Burnett County, kids are forced to park trailer houses on their parents' back lots instead of affording their own homes? Why are we being squeezed? Why are people I know dying from anxiety and stress? Where do all these heart attacks come from? Why is an old man, who would sooner give you a helping hand than speak a harsh word, in prison for his beliefs? Is this the American way we once had a revolution for? How is it possible to live under these conditions?

The answer, according to P., who has come back into the room with a stack of Veritas newspapers in hand, is that we are not supposed to live under these conditions. We are supposed to comply, give up, become deadened, and remain in debt, working our heads off in a cloud of worry and dread until the inevitable collapse of America. The time is coming when millions of Americans will wake up and understand themselves to be the express enemies of their own government.

Driving up to Burnett County for a second visit, I flipped on the radio to news of separatist "freemen" in a standoff with federal agents at a self-styled sovereign commune in eastern Montana. The talk sounded at once strangely archaic and familiar, shot through with the same buzzwords--Apocalyptic Diagnosis, Allodial Landholding, Oath People, Sham Jurisdiction, Sheople--that had cropped up over and again in conversations with Mike McGrath, Paul Ekblad's wife, Jean, and other remnants of the Wild River Patriots whom the county DA has come to call "our local collection of way-off-the-grid, fringe folks."

It has taken a long time--"for me, a decade of pure confusion about why our lives felt burnt-down and under attack by the authorities," one Patriot told me--to piece together a theoretical vessel capable of containing the seeming randomness of their lives: a volatile international agricultural market that rapidly undercut their land values in the 1980s, local factory layoffs, hiked property and income taxes, pension cancellations, white Vs on the highway. When I asked one man, who gave his name only as John Doe, about the siege situation in Montana, he had this to say: "They're talking about the same issues we are: government deception, a bankrupt money system, a New World Order program designed to enslave citizens, the wholesale evisceration of individual rights. Study what we're saying and you'll come to find this is not just some incoherent movement, like they want you to believe. It's big, and it's fed up. Eventually people like us who stand on truth will be put in those decommissioned military installations, which are being turned into gulags."

At this, John Doe's wife, who'd been peeling potatoes without a word, turned from the sink and said, "You must understand, the wheels are already in motion. It's about to storm."

Sonny Lundeen--a local dairy farmer who in 1983 sued all 21 members of the Burnett County Board of Supervisors for conducting business without taking written oaths of office--got a letter from his old friend Paul Ekblad just yesterday. It's somewhere here on his kitchen table, under the mess of tax bills, spiral-bound dairy pricing manuals, and the snapshot of an American flag plastered with a slogan that reads, "Family farms are not lost--they are stolen."

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