WASHINGTON–The trial of Terry Nichols, which begins to unfold in Judge Richard Matsch’s small Denver courtroom this week, is supposed to be a simple replay of Tim McVeigh’s six-week trial. But the Nichols trial promises to open a window onto a weird corner of American life: the shadowy world of the Posse Comitatus.
If Tim McVeigh got his inspiration from the paramilitary right and the writings of William Pierce and his Neo-Nazi National Alliance, Nichols comes straight out of the topsy-turvy world of the Posse.
Founded as a revolutionary group of right-wing anarchists in the late 1960s, the Posse became the symbol of resistance across the American heartland during the farm depression of the 1980s. It preached guerrilla war and argued for a return to a simpler government where the county sheriff was the highest elected official and the Posse’s noose was law. Its adherents renounced their citizenship, proclaimed “sovereignty” under God, and declared war against a Jewish-dominated government.
Nichols grew up in rural Michigan, served a short stint in the army where he became friends with McVeigh, then returned home to farm in 1989. At the time, feelings against the government and the banks ran high. Nichols and his brother James began to dabble at the edges of the Posse. In March 1992, faced with a credit card debt of $32,000, Nichols “revoked” his signature–Posse lingo for severing ties with the government–and declared himself “no longer a citizen of the corrupt political corporate state.” When a judge ordered him to repay his debt, Nichols adopted a widely used Posse scam and in January 1993 wrote something called a “certified fractional reserve check” for $17,861.68.
This phony check was similar to others issued by the Family Farm Preservation, a Wisconsin-based Posse group. Last April, its leader, Thomas F. Stockheimer, 65, was sentenced to 15 years after being convicted with three others of passing as much as $80 million in bogus money orders.
On March 16, 1994, Nichols–by then living in Marion, Kansas–filed an “affidavit” with the state treasurer’s office in which he declared himself to be a “NATURAL-BORN, FREE adult Citizen,” and said studies had convinced him that he was not subject to the “internal” government of the U.S. He argued that “under the color of law,” he was the victim of a “Constructive Fraud” by a certain “Criminal Element,” which he hoped would be brought to book by a constitutional court. In challenging this “octopus,” he singled out IRS agents who he insisted “have no written, Lawful ‘Delegation of Authority’ to my knowledge and that their so-called ‘Form 1040’ appears to be a bootleg document, lacking both a required OMB number and an expiration date.”
Through the years, Terry Nichols and his brother James–who also renounced his citizenship–have drawn on the ideas of Karl G. Granse, 47, of Apple Valley, a suburb of Minneapolis. Granse is a tax protester and self-styled antigovernment legal adviser who runs Citizens for a Constitutional Republic.
In 1984 Granse unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a Reagan Republican. In 1988, he was sentenced to 90 days in jail in Ramsey County, Minnesota, for failing to pay $10,000 in local taxes. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, federal court records show Granse has not paid federal income taxes since 1988, and there is a government lien on his home.
Granse has been questioned by the FBI about his close ties to Terry Nichols, who phoned him from jail in 1995. He first came under scrutiny when government agents found tapes of his seminars in James Nichols’s car, and because James Nichols phoned him two days before the bombing, though no one has suggested that Granse is connected to the bomb plot. No charges have ever been brought against James Nichols in the Oklahoma City bomb case.
Granse has his own theory about the bombing: he thinks the Clinton administration set it up as a Whitewater diversion. The blast, he says, was touched off by a small missile containing a tiny nuclear device. Granse is pretty sure of that because the bomb-sniffing dogs used on the site, he says, have all died of radiation sickness.
Additional reporting: Beth Hawkins in Minneapolis; Marina Zweifler.