DOOM AND DOOMER
Is that a gun in Dr. Norm Resnick's pocket? Yes, and he's not glad to see you. The beleaguered radio talk-show host on the USA Patriot Network can't really say who would shoot him, but he has been packing double heat since the April 19 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.
For two years, Dr. Norm's shout has been heard round the world from the KHNC studios in Johnstown, fifty miles north of Denver. But now that average Americans are beginning to hear about the startling calls to arms by "patriot" celebrities such as "Mark from Michigan," a former KHNC stalwart, Resnick's little universe may be blowing up around him.
"Am I inflammatory? Clinton is attacking talk-show hosts--that seems inflammatory," Resnick says mournfully as he trudges back into his studio after a break in his afternoon show. It's April 24, the day after President Bill Clinton criticized "angry talk" during an emotional speech to the nation. "We're in for some very hard times. The government and the media--I mean, it's a feeding frenzy out there. I'm carrying two guns now."
Then he seizes his microphone and plugs into the world. "At what point do we take a moral stand and stop being wimps?" he asks his audience. "We are under massive pressure here. We will not back down. We all deplore the tragedy in Oklahoma City. But I'm serious: Without your support, we'll go off the air. Tune in tomorrow: We're having explosives experts on."
He talks like a man under siege.
Once Resnick was a professor of educational psychology at the University of Northern Colorado, one of the few Orthodox Jews in the town of Greeley. Now he's the top gun on a radio network owned by a Christian preacher (who thinks he's a Jew) that peddles anti-government paranoia--along with guns, ammo and precious metals--to angry and scared people everywhere. KHNC, 1360 on your AM dial, is one of the country's main outlets for a variety of mad-as-hell talk, and it hooks up through Nashville station WWCR (World Wide Christian Radio) for a shortwave ride around the planet.
At least two of the station's newfound affiliates have canceled in the wake of the Oklahoma City tragedy. But the calls keep pouring in, mostly from "patriots" or militia members wounded by news stories that they say imply all of them are gun-toting crazies and that one or more of them may have been responsible for killing all those innocent people.
"Heidi from Fort Collins" insists that all patriots aren't loonies with guns. "I don't wear camouflage," she says. "I wear bifocals."
"Jim from Longmont" calls to say, "If we're going to look for a group to blame, look at the 103rd brigade of Congress. Now will you give us hearings on Waco?"
Most of Resnick's callers claim the federal government probably blew up its own building, and they compare the feds' deadly 1993 raid on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, with the bombing in Oklahoma City.
Maybe the carpeting on the walls of Resnick's soundproofed studio ought to be replaced by thick rubber padding. Resnick is losing it. One minute he's on the air, dead serious: "I apologize. I am out of control and very emotional. A great many Americans are willing to give up our civil rights for security. I'm afraid we'll get neither." The next minute he chortles in an off-the-air aside, "It's unbelievable that they're picking me up from Pensacola, Florida--from this shitty little station! I've got affiliates!" And then he's back on the air, saying, "They're calling us white supremacists, neo-Nazis. The media paint us as racists, anti-Semites, nameless, faceless bombers. Those allegations are bizarre--as bizarre as blaming President Clinton for last week."
What's bizarre are the ideas that, thanks in large part to KHNC, have burbled up among patriots in the past two years:
Chinese troops are conducting maneuvers in Montana.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has set up concentration camps across the country.
Microchips have been implanted in the heads and butts of unsuspecting Americans.
The New World Order and the United Nations will seize control of the country at any moment. George Bush will celebrate the final takeover by the New World Order during a ceremony in the year 2000 while a secretly launched U.S. nuclear missile sets fire to the planet Jupiter.
Ohio is not legally a state.
Simple craziness? Crazy like a fox, say some people inside the patriot movement, who contend that the constant political preaching about protecting the U.S. Constitution has a more mundane purpose: To stir people's anger and fear and then make money off them. Some of the more rational patriots detest the movement's hucksters and warmongers, many of whom are beamed into the air by KHNC, and they fear a massive backlash by the public and more intrusion by a government they distrust.
Even some patriots wonder about the movement's real agenda: Is it profit or politics? Before and after every point is made about defending the Constitution, someone has something to sell. For example, Mark Boswell, who hosts a weekly show on KHNC and runs a regular meeting for patriots in Denver, offers pricey seminars on common law and the Constitution and allows fellow patriots the chance to pitch money-making schemes hatched in faraway places.
"It's the American way," Boswell says. But profits don't change the fact, he adds, that Hillary Clinton was secretly indicted on April 17 for financial wrongdoing and that two Justice Department attorneys confessed to having planned and financed the Oklahoma City bombing and then were spirited out of the country.
"It's documented," Boswell says. "The facts will come out."
The sign for the meeting in the pleasantly moldy Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in downtown Denver reads "Welcome, Patriots and Militia!" But it refers to campaigners in a domestic war.
Tables are lined with a bewildering assortment of brochures and tapes, a brew of fundamentalist Christianity, libertarian-style tracts, merchandise order forms and cranky newspapers filled with anti-government propaganda.
Among the fliers is a "Prayer of Agreement to Bind the Enemies of America," which starts: "In the holy, blessed Name of the Lord, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, by the Power of His Blood and with the full authority vested in us, from our Seat in the heavenlies, at the right Hand of God, All Mighty: We now bind and gag the councils of the governing demons of Hades, who meet to devise plans against us or any members of our families...We also put you to shame, turn you back and bring all your meetings to a state of confusion! This we speak in the full Power and Authority of Jesus Christ, to all who desire our hurt..."
If that's too heavy, you can order a spiffy nylon jacket for $30 that says Civil Rights Task Force (CRTF on the back), a shiny gold badge for $80 or business cards for only $76. Boswell's American Law Club offers a "sovereignty training course" for $145 and a "V.I.P. Educational Fellowship Self-Study Program With Guidance" for $550. Freebies on another table include two "fact sheets" from Pat Robertson's 700 Club that unravel the mysteries of the U.N. and AIDS.
The sixty people who filter past the tables gather in small groups to informally discuss, with quiet certainty, the fact that the federal government blew up its own building in Oklahoma City.
This is not a prosperous crowd. Several profess that they are embroiled in difficulties with the government over taxes or other legal tangles. Some obviously work hard, with their hands, for a living; others have the look of the hardly-working-but-not-by-choice. Other patriot meetings elsewhere in Colorado--they gather in Boulder, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins, among other places--have had a more sinister feel. The Weld County Patriots, who used to meet every Tuesday in a pizza parlor outside Greeley, regularly wore guns--men and women. No one in this mostly male group is obviously packing iron.
But as the session gets under way, a chilling presentation is made. A man identifying himself only as "Richard" warns the crowd that he has been approached in the past three months at these meetings by people who wanted him to either assassinate someone, help plan an assassination or help build explosives. Government agents, he believes, are probably behind such talk. "Be very careful," he says. "It's a setup. Just say no."
Several others relate their seemingly futile legal battles against various government agencies. More such fights are in the offing. Mark Boswell, who runs the meeting, urges people to buy those nice "CRTF" jackets (which purposely look identical to jackets worn by ATF and FBI agents) and wear them into courtrooms. Once there, these patriots are to tell the judge that he is being watched and graded by them on his performance. Boswell is marketing the jackets and assorted badges and other gewgaws from the deceptively named U.S. Civil Rights Task Force, based in Fremont, California.
The main speaker of the evening is a patriot named Dale Pond from Fort Collins, where he runs a barter network that uses its own paper "money" emblazoned "In Each Other We Trust." He passes the "bills" around the audience. The aim is to set up an alternate economy, something separate from the corrupt system in which most people are trapped. Literature on one of the tables in back advocates that such a system could be based on the "Hebrew-Judaic Commercial Code," which supposedly states that "a workman is worthy of his hire." The idea is that labor is the key toward valuing a product or service.
But there's not much labor involved in another idea Pond is hawking. It's a plan from the North American Freedom Council in Boonville, Indiana, to make millions of dollars for ordinary patriots by filing unconventional "non-commercial judicial liens" and acquiring "security drafts" through the banking system. Some patriots have landed in jail for filing false liens against judges, prosecutors, politicians and corporations, but Pond insists this is a completely different plan and has a chance of working.
It's easy to participate, he tells the group: Simply send a credit-card bill and several hundred dollars in cash to the Freedom Council, which will take care of all the paperwork, filing a multimillion-dollar lien against the bank that issued the credit card and somehow collecting on it.
"This is a God-given opportunity here," Pond says. "We've got a huge patriot movement, and everybody's dead broke. Here's funding for the patriot movement. We're going to have billions coming in this summer. This is going to be a short-lived thing; we're going to get in and get out."
After Pond's pitch, several audience members ask where they should send their money.
As Boswell calls the meeting to adjournment--a bull session will continue for several hours afterward--he reminds the audience of his own Saturday-morning talk show on KHNC, the "Citizen's Rights Forum." Still modeling that snazzy CRTF jacket, he concludes with a note of empathy for those who are fighting the government. "Sometimes," he says, "it really feels like we're up against a monster."
Few people can conjure up a monster the way Mark Koernke can. He's the clearinghouse for information on where the black helicopters are flying, where foreign troops are training in the U.S. and when the "window of opportunity" will open up for the enslavement of the American people by "globalists." He's the "Mark from Michigan" patriots have heard for years on talk radio and many other Americans are now discovering--thanks to his supposed link to suspected bomber Timothy McVeigh.
A pudgy fellow in suit and glasses with a voice that, hoarse or not, refuses to stop, he is riveting. Or so says Pat Butler, a kindly middle-aged woman in Arvada. She brought Koernke to the Denver area in February for a speech at the Holiday Inn in Northglenn. (In her spare time, Butler markets to fellow patriots a fire-retardant product and an outdoor cooker called the Volcano.)
Once an honored call-in guest on Dr. Norm Resnick's KHNC show for his ability to "stir 'em up," Koernke really has taken off in the past year. Resnick had been sponsored on WWCR shortwave by Viking International, a precious-metals dealer based in Arizona; last year he crowed that he made "big, big money" for Viking with the pitch that the imminent takeover by the New World Order and an almost-certain economic collapse made gold and silver the only things worth having besides the flag, the Constitution and some food and water.
But Viking replaced Dr. Norm, first with rogue Arizona cop Jack McLamb (who preaches the evils of the New World Order to his fellow cops with the aid of a computer program/history lesson called "Vampire Killer 2000") and then with Mark Koernke. Viking yanked Koernke off the air late last week.
And Koernke has not been welcome on KHNC for months, say Resnick and station owner Don Wiedeman. "I told him he was full of shit," contends Resnick. "We challenged him on the air." Wiedeman adds that Koernke's connection with KHNC was severed "months ago." Nevertheless, the station still lists him in its resource guide in the USA Patriot Magazine, which it began publishing last year to capitalize on its burgeoning network.
Pat Butler, who helps spread the word about patriot activities, can't understand their badmouthing Koernke. "He is point-blank showing us the truth," she says.
Butler first realized that when she went to hear Koernke speak in Indiana several years ago. She wound up staying after his speech to rap with him for hours. "He'll just talk all night," she marvels.
Many of the themes that enthralled her then came up during Koernke's February 19 speech to about 300 people. In a tape of that speech, Koernke warns Denver-area patriots of concentration camps, like the Oklahoma City Federal Transfer Center, which he says has a capacity of nearly 3,000.
"How many of you out there have firearms?" he asks. "How many of you are home-schoolers? How many of you like your Constitution? Well, we can make you all criminals real quick."
Like a berserk geography teacher, Koernke roams across the landscape, dropping scary factoids everywhere. He talks about the "Urban Warfare Training Center--not too far from Tulsa," where troops are training for "sewer warfare" as a way of invading American cities and seizing patriotic citizens.
"One nice thing about that," he says, "is that a five-gallon can of gasoline and a match kind of cleans out sewers real quick."
The Northglenn audience has a hearty laugh over that, but then Koernke shows photos of surveillance cameras atop light poles in Bakersfield, California. And always, he rat-a-tat-tats the government.
"At some point," he warns, "you're going to confront the federal agencies and the U.N." And, God, what a tough fight it's going to be.
"Somebody sat down with me in Oklahoma," he recalls, "and said, `You know, Mark, there's no silver bullet, there's no pink slip that's going to fire the New World Order.'"
That's because the threat is so pervasive. He talks about the dangers posed by the "multijurisdictional task force" and by Belgian and Russian troops training here, right now. "In Colorado," he says, "there's lots of air traffic--foreign air traffic. And your rail lines have been very heavy with armored vehicles."
And he closes his speech with the standard refrain adopted by many patriots: "At any given point in time, we're going to have to pick up arms. And I'm going to fall. And you'll go back to Washington to liberate our country. God bless the Republic! Death to the New World Order! We shall prevail!"
By now, nobody is laughing. They are applauding.
From the middle of nowhere in central Montana, a man named Paul Dinsmore is jeering at Mark Koernke. But Dinsmore's no voice in the wilderness. Thanks to shortwave radio and the electronics age, he's made his point to perhaps millions of listeners. Last week he leveled his criticisms of Koernke and KHNC via the mainstream media out of Chicago--and on KHNC itself.
Dinsmore describes Mark from Michigan as "strictly profit-driven, cloaked in patriotism."
When he dissed Koernke on Resnick's show last week, an angry caller from Manitoba accused Dinsmore of being "an enemy agent," and someone else faxed KHNC to demand that all criticism of Koernke stop immediately.
But not all patriots feel that way. In fact, it's almost impossible to generalize about the patriots, except to say that the movement isn't unified and that all of its members are among the millions of Americans who distrust their government. Anti-tax protesters and gun-lovers are at the center. On the fringes are conspiracy freaks, white supremacists and anti-Semites (like the people who murdered Denver radio talk-show pioneer Alan Berg in 1984). Many patriots are Bible-thumpers who believe it's their duty to convert everybody to Christ. Some are bullies who like to wear guns. But others are libertarians who want to be left alone not only by government but by religions, too. Many people in the movement are frustrated enough by their economic status to look for scapegoats; those who love weaponry may wind up in militias. The more fearful may build bunkers and lay in a year's supply of food and water and transfer their meager assets into gold and silver. There always are people hovering around the movement who are itching to make a buck out of all this frustration.
Ray Parker of Vermont, a retired cop, considers himself a patriot and bemoans what's happened to the movement. "We have to discipline ourselves," says Parker. "We have to cull from the herd those within the movement and not buy their products and not fall for their hucksterism. We cannot look under every rock and find a demon or a government agent. There is some paranoia here that can be construed as out of control."
Both Dinsmore and Parker, themselves strong critics of the government, have hosted shows on KHNC during which they've taken the station to task for giving air time to loonbags.
"I told people the U.S. patriot movement can either be a force for lucidity or lunacy," says Parker. "We tend to gravitate towards the bizarre."
Of course, KHNC's very nature is bizarre. It was started a little more than two years ago by Don Wiedeman, who runs Beth Messiah Congregation, a Christ-believing Messianic Jewish group in Denver. Resnick, still a devout Jew, says the Christian Wiedeman celebrates all the Jewish holidays "and actually believes he's a Jew." Wiedeman himself refuses to discuss his religion or his radio station, except to say that KHNC is not a religious vehicle and that "we have nothing to do with the patriot movement or militias."
Neither contention is true. Resnick, whom Wiedeman says "speaks for the station," often injects religion into his daily show. He constantly reminds listeners that KHNC stands up for "traditional Jews and traditional Christians" and has told his audience that "everybody at the station is Jewish" (which they aren't). Resnick also attacks "anti-Semitic and racist elements," which he estimates make up 20 percent of the patriot movement.
That doesn't mean the station shuns patriots. In fact, it caters to them with its "Patriot Network" and Patriot Magazine that feature such hard-nosed celebrities as Bob Fletcher of the Montana militia and Colonel James "Bo" Gritz. Both the magazine and the network are flooded with stories about mysterious helicopters, sneaky federal agents and savage "socialists" like Hillary Clinton. They're also filled with ads for survival gear, guns, ammunition, gold and silver.
One of the station's primary advertisers is First American Monetary Consultants, a Fort Collins group of metals marketers and "economists" that includes such patriot heroes as former state senator Jim Roberts. FAMC, headed by a former Tennessee legislator named Larry Bates, preaches against the New World Order and warns of impending economic doom. Two ways out, it suggests, are to heed the Bible and buy precious metals. Call for a consultation, it urges.
Dinsmore, who used to have a KHNC show called The Intelescope Hour, loves to debunk the bunker mentality from his combination ranch/farm/tannery "54 miles down a gravel road from the nearest gas pump." Those Chinese troops conducting military maneuvers in Montana? "They're Hmong immigrants, people from Cambodia, coming over during the season to harvest huckleberries," laughs Dinsmore.
No fan of the government, he nevertheless resents how people's fears "are fanned into flames by hucksters."
"This is a business whose way of doing things is through the political process and is run by those who have the ability to recognize when people are at their lowest and weakest points," says Dinsmore. "These people are being used."
He compares the grip of patriot propaganda to the techniques used by televangelists to drum up money. "The antitax movement started out good," he says, "but then the munitions people came in to make a buck."
And now KHNC, he contends, is in way over its head. "The station's main problem is, they have no one who knows diddly-squat about the patriot movement," he says. "They're naive, and they're so far into it that now they don't know how to back out of it."
Ray Parker, who used to host The Parker Perspective on the station, echoes that view. Neither Resnick nor Wiedeman will discuss KHNC's finances. But Parker says talk-show hosts pay the station $40 an hour for satellite time and $250 an hour for shortwave time. Then the hosts drum up sponsors who hawk products in what often turn out to be political infomercials.
"I started listening to the Patriot Network and started calling," says Parker. "Then I went on as a guest on the Norm Resnick Show and started telling him and others to cut the crap and hold people's feet to the fire. He said he was very naive and didn't know about his guests. He's the host! It's his responsibility to check them out. They gave me a show, and I told people about the so-called patriots and so-called Christians who use this movement. It's so transparent. I think we should be talking about what's really going on in this country instead of talking about microchips in somebody's head or butt."
Now, to Parker's chagrin, the excesses of patriot radio are getting air time in the conventional press. "The media is pretty much liberal in coverage of this subject," he says. "They single out the kooks and take things out of context."
But he acknowledges that much of what goes on really is kooky. "The government did the bombing in Oklahoma City?" he says. "That is absolutely irresponsible. Nobody knows what happened yet. I've been pleading on the air to have rationality. With freedom of speech comes responsibility."
It would mortify him, he says, if it turns out that the Oklahoma City bombers were linked to the patriot movement.
"I'm not saying patriots did this," he says. "No real patriot would kill these innocent people. But if it can in any way be stuck on to the patriot movement, it's going to hurt us. There'll be more Draconian measures coming down from the government, more laws, more cops on the street. Killing innocent children and civilians solves nothing. It makes people's anger more intense toward you."
KHNC, says Parker, "is at the center of a storm it can't control. The station has the potential to be a very good outfit, but they have decided to ascribe to some of the flakier types, the hucksterish types, not the violent types. They talk about `ELF waves' being emanated from Russia. They're talking about `extreme low frequency' waves, but I call it the `extreme lunatic fringe.'
"It gets a little silly. I'm 58 years old now, but when I was a kid, we used to buy sci-fi magazines. When you're a big boy, though, you don't talk like this.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.