Sunday, August 29, 2004

Almost Heaven, but not quite

Readers of my first book, In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest, will be interested in this Associated Press feature by Rebecca Boone about Bo Gritz's apparently failed attempt to establish a right-wing encalve in north-central Idaho called Almost Heaven, whose founding I described in detail in the book:
Almost Heaven almost gone? "Patriot" haven now silent a decade later

This is largely an update that finds most of the extremists have seeped out of the community, leaving a handful of more stable occupants whose politics are certainly far to the right but who appear less inclined to cause trouble.

The activity generated by the extremists was well worth noting:
Some residents filed documents with the Idaho County Courthouse, renouncing their U.S. citizenship and claiming to be "sovereigns" of the "Idaho State Republic."

Others started a militia group called the Idaho Mountain Boys. The group was later accused of plotting to kill U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge, and member and former Almost Home resident Larry Raugust eventually pleaded guilty to 15 counts of making bombs. He was accused of planting land mines around the foreclosed property of a friend near Almost Heaven. Two other militia members were convicted of a 1999 plot to blow up a propane tank farm near Sacramento, Calif.

Meanwhile, the enclave also had a ripple effect, spreading to nearby areas such as Grangeville, but also creating a countercurrent:
Meanwhile, all the press piqued the interest of other extremists who settled around Idaho County, not just at Almost Heaven, [Kamiah businessman Larry] Nims said.

"Probably 5 to 10 percent of extremists settled in Grangeville. We've always had a number of ultraconservatives and it's never been threatening. It's a good thing, a balance. But when you get hundreds of them, well, I was heartened to see the county wake up," Nims said.

Local residents became more active against the patriot group, joining a loosely organized discussion group started by Nims -- the Clearwater Valley Citizens for Human Rights. Area businesses posted signs stating "No Guns" after some Almost Heaven residents began toting six-shooters on their hips. Letters were written to local lawmakers and newspapers, and over time law enforcement agencies became more successful in arresting any lawbreakers in the patriot group.

Readers may also recall that I wrote a kind of follow-up for Salon on Bo Gritz's divorce and subsequent suicide attempt.

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