Death and Taxes

In the murky underground of patriots, tax resisters, and cash-strapped working stiffs, Karl Granse's basement is Law Central. Now he's about to watch his most famous

Not everyone preaching the anti-tax gospel is necessarily a true believer, Mason adds. Privacy laws mean that new converts will never know whether the lecturer they're listening to has escaped the long arm of the law through a compelling legal argument, quick wits, or because he secretly pays his taxes. Granse certainly has no track record of the latter, but Mason's point is well-taken; it's possible to make good money selling snake oil you wouldn't consume yourself.

The IRS and its lackeys can scoff at Granse's theories all they want. But in the mind of supporters, ideas like his are so dangerous to the federal government that the nation's leaders will stop at nothing to keep people from hearing them. Back at Granse's house, he and James Nichols--on the speakerphone from his Michigan farm--try to explain.

"What was going on [at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing]?" asks Granse. "Well, we had launched a new Congress, and the patriot movement had really come alive. And patriots were taking a stand, they weren't backing down. There was a movement in like 26 states to defederalize. That means throw the feds out, or make them prove they actually have jurisdiction to do what they're doing in the first place by the Constitution.

"Well, they couldn't do it. And this scared the living daylights out of the federal government. Not only that, you had the purported militias--which are nothing more than lawful groups, as every state can have a militia--that were saying that we'll back you up... Of course the White House was in shambles, and Clinton's approval rating was about 22 percent then, on April 18." Nichols murmurs his agreement.

"So all of this stuff is going on, pro the people, anti-government," Granse continues. "And they had to put a stop to it and the only way they could do it was to blame this very sect, the conservative sect, be it Rush Limbaugh, be it the militia, be it the homespun guy who waves the flag, they had to be stopped. And the only way to stop them was to do the bombing."

What blew up the Murrah building, Granse maintains, was not ammonium-nitrate fertilizer, as prosecutors charge, but a small nuclear missile launched by the government itself. "The kind used to destroy runways," he explains, like in Tom Clancy's Clear and Present Danger. The action served as a tidy method for simultaneously diverting attention from the Clintons' growing Whitewater troubles and discrediting the increasingly magnetic patriot movement. It's a refined version of a theory members of the movement have been spinning via the Internet, low-budget video tapes, public-access cable shows, and shortwave radio in the two and a half years since McVeigh and Terry Nichols were arrested; the nuclear missile is Granse's own contribution.

But while Granse has pleaded with McVeigh's lawyer to make this case, the story of the upcoming trial will probably be quite different. Nichols's defense is likely to portray him as an unwitting tool of McVeigh, while prosecutors will lay out a skein of evidence showing how Nichols purchased the bomb ingredients. During the McVeigh trial, witness Michael Fortier described conversations in which Tim McVeigh told how he and Nichols planned the bombing of the building in Oklahoma City. Prosecutors will also probably cite physical evidence to link Nichols to storage lockers used to hold the bomb components.

Clearly, there's a longstanding connection between both Nichols and McVeigh. After protesting outside the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas in April 1993, McVeigh drove straight to the farm, according to James Nichols, to vent his anger over what he had seen. Later, McVeigh got a driver's license bearing Nichols's Michigan address. Also, upon his April 19, 1995, arrest in Perry, Oklahoma, McVeigh listed James Nichols as his next of kin.

Whether Granse himself will figure in the arguments isn't clear. The feds do know from phone records that two days before the Oklahoma City bombing, James Nichols called Granse and they talked for 45 minutes. When the FBI asked Granse about it two months later, Granse said Nichols was asking unrelated questions on behalf of a friend in Decker.

There is no evidence that Granse knew either McVeigh or Terry Nichols at the time, though both almost certainly knew of him. Just before James Nichols left Decker for Granse's 1994 seminar in Appleton, he'd played host to both men. The three reportedly conducted survival exercises and set off small bombs in the woods behind the farm. After Nichols got back--all fired up and with a new worldview, he says--the three traveled together to at least two meetings of the highly visible Michigan Militia. It's believed that at one of the confabs members of the paramilitary organization allegedly discussed an attack on an Army Reserve base in northern Michigan.

None of this, Granse and Nichols tell me, in any way contradicts their theory that the feds themselves planned and carried out the Oklahoma City bombing. Rather, they say, it shows why Terry Nichols and Tim McVeigh are perfect patsies. Federal agents have acknowledged taking McVeigh's picture in Waco, they note, and probably trailed him after the conflagration to Nichols's farm. Both McVeigh and Terry Nichols were well-known on the gun-show circuit, which most everyone in the patriot movement believes is lousy with federal agents. The two could have been targeted during the five weeks they spent together doing the shows before the bombing.

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