Cease and Resist

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

What this means, Lundeen says, launching into an almost verbatim rendition of a speech Mike McGrath had given earlier that day, is this: Once a man's property's been paid for, free and clear, he's done paying. That property is sovereign, and he is the ruler of that freehold estate. It's under his absolute control and ownership, and no government bureaucrat can come on and tell him what you can and cannot do with it. No levies. No feudal tenureships. No taxes. It's right there, in the Constitution. It's what the founders of this great country fought against England and died for. They said what we're saying now, that neither the state nor the king has jurisdiction once a man outright owns his place on this earth.

With this doctrine as a basis, it's not surprising that the militant-constitutionalist movement has taken strongest hold among farmers, ranchers, and others with their livelihood staked in the land. They don't carry briefcases. They don't own stock portfolios. They home-school their children. They're hooked up by short-wave. They have given up voting and registering their vehicles and guns. There is a distinct line they cross--sometimes when the next delinquent tax bill arrives in the mail, sometimes when the sheriff knocks on the door with an eviction notice--and it is a line that most will never see again. Out there over the line, there are those like Sonny Lundeen and Paul Ekblad who've gone down fighting without violence. And then there are those who Mike McGrath calls "the green beret military people here in Burnett County," folks who send $163 to Annie in Show Low, Arizona, for the Emergency Unit supply kit listed in the October 1995 issue of Veritas. Or the Security Unit. Or the Family Unit, a package that includes 1,115 pounds of sugar, flour, lentils and other staples--enough to feed a family of four for a year should it become impossible to leave your property.

You'll want to wear boots, Jean Ekblad said on the phone after giving me directions to their place a couple of miles outside the town of Anderson. The farmhouse sits at the end of a long, muddy driveway, on a low rise behind an old pine windbreak. It is surrounded by a dilapidated milkhouse, a vacant barn, and a field littered with toppled beehives that haven't been stocked or kept up since her husband was transported to the Oregon Correctional Institution just south of Madison in July last year. Most early evenings, one of their daughters comes by to have supper with Jean in the kitchen and keep her company, clipping coupons and compiling legal documents for mailing down to the prison.

Her husband is like a phantom presence around the county, Jean says. When she drives the county backroads, coming home from the elementary school in Frederic where she teaches kindergarten or heading to church up the road, she can see the basis of her husband's "philosophical doctrine" in every boarded-up farmhouse and land-for-sale posting. "Paul's absence is like a good wind gone out of these fields," she says by way of analogy. "I'm not a dramatic person, I'm not a poet, but what this time feels like is good preparation for widowhood."

Mike McGrath describes Paul Ekblad as "the kindest, the gentlest, one of the most intelligent beings walking the planet. I guarantee you that if our forefathers were alive, he would be a hero. He'd be the guy who rode the horse--the Paul Revere--warning all the people of the coming attack." If you could see the man, he went on, you'd notice first thing his hands: frail, callused from years in the strawberry fields, but feisty when he gets talking. Jean describes him as "a man who'd give the shirt off his back to help, even to those authorities he's quarreling with now." Even Ken Kutz, the district attorney whose office brought the final charges against him, characterized Ekblad as "a very resourceful individual. Even after we gave him two kicks at the cat to stay out of jail, he stuck to his principles and went down like some kind of modern-day martyr."

In a biographical sketch on file at the Grantsburg town library, Paul's sister gives an account of the family history, beginning with their father, Hjalmer Ekblad, who travelled to the high grassland area of inner Mongolia as a missionary in 1914. Out of seven children, she writes, "only my brother and I survived. The rest are buried in the missionary cemetery up there. Dad also buried both his first wife and my Mom. Seven graves from our family... in just 13 months!" In 1936, Hjalmer Ekblad took his two children, ages 6 and 7, to the last boat stop in Japan, where they were boarded for a six-week transpacific trip to the United States. Two years later, the family reunited and settled on the farm just south of Grantsburg. By the time her husband finished eighth grade at the schoolhouse that still stands a mile up the road, Jean says, he'd read the entire set of encyclopedias. The Grantsburg librarian, to whom Wild River Patriot antics just aren't funny anymore, remembers her classmate Paul as "the brightest young man you'd ever want to meet. Intelligent, well-mannered--what a shame he couldn't stay inside the law with it."

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