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30


THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 30, June 15, 1997

Trial of a Viper

By Fran Van Cleave
askvc@imap2.asu.edu

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Opening arguments began on June 4th for the first member of the Viper Team to stand trial, Charles Knight, a 47-year-old Army veteran and former M.P., now businessman/owner of Knight's Air Conditioning Service & Repair. He is charged with conspiracy to make and possess unregistered destructive devices, a Federal felony.
         The prosecution must prove intent to harm in order to make the destructive device charge stick. Otherwise, the charges and blasting caps possessed by the other members of the group can only be defined as explosives.
         The jury of 8 men and 7 women were quickly put to sleep by Prosecutor Welty's monotonous hour-long opening statement, which characterized the Vipers as "militant survivalists" compared to the rest of us, "who would only store food and water or build a bomb shelter against a possible nuclear tragedy." The defense attorney, Ivan Abrams of Bisbee, Ariz., confined his remarks to a terse 15 minute soliloquy on the virtues of Duty, Honor, and Country, and of survival training in the aftermath of such urban disasters as the L.A. riots and the hurricanes in Fla.
         In a move that surprised many, the prosecution put John Schultz, the confidential informant, on the witness stand. Previously, the government had held that they did not need to put either Schultz or Drew Nolan, the other informant,on the witness stand. Invoking government privilege seemed to be the primary reason for making Schultz, an employee of Game & Fish, into an ATF agent a few days before they went to the grand jury last May.
         Schultz, alias Private Investigator Scott Jason Wells, also known as 'Doc,'took his PH.D. in environmental science with a dissertation on mosquitoes. A former Colorado State Trooper, he has worked undercover since the early nineties, and claims to have been involved in sixty covert operations, twenty of which are still open. He states that he obtained his cover job at Shooter's World because "violators often frequent such places." In the team photo, which Dr. Schultz showed to the jury, he's the one with the snake tattoo. His other informant, Drew Nolan, was also employed at Shooter's World, and was paid "under $10/hr. by ATF in the beginning, less so later."
         At the request of the prosecutor, Schultz read the oath (Exhibit 89) from the Militiaman's Handbook. "I swear that I will protect and defend the U.S. Constitution and the original Bill of Rights...." At the first team meeting he attended on Nov. 15, 1995, the group voted out the use of alcohol on the range, and engaged in a lengthy discussion of a barbecue at Chuck Knight's house.
         It took him five months to interest any agency in following the Vipers -- initially the FBI and ATF would not return his phone calls -- but Schultz persevered.
         In testimony, Schultz uses what I think are an unusual number of overly descriptive terms -- for example, he used the word "indiscriminate" to describe the way Dean Pleasant fired his Thompson submachine gun on the range. Mr. Abrams objected to that, and was immediately over-ruled by Judge Earl Carroll, who in the last five days has over-ruled at least two dozen objections, and sustained only one.
         Schultz testified that Randy Nelson and Rick Walker appeared at Shooter's World shortly after he joined the group, and demanded to be taken to his apartment, that Nelson rode behind him in the car with a loaded gun, and that Walker called his phone from (Walker's) portable as soon as they arrived to verify that he was not an informant. Like the other members of the group, Nelson usually carried a gun, and Schultz did not say how he knew that it was loaded. Nor did he say whether or not it was pointed at him, so we'll have to assume that it wasn't. Prosecutor Hannis has had him describe the behavior of all group members in stultifying detail, in order that the jury may know, as he puts it, the full extent of the conspiracy, so it seems odd that he left that out.
         In one of the few incidents that involve today's defendant, Schultz described a time when Donna Williams, on guard duty at a shoot that involved automatic weapons, saw two cars, roughly a mile and a half away, coming toward them via a dirt road. He states that Knight, who was in charge of security, responded to the alert carrying a ".308 M1A sniper rifle." At the prompting of the prosecutor, Schultz explained how much more lethal .308 ammunition is compared to .223, and how much less prone to wind shear at 200 yards. The cars turned off and went away on their own. We in the audience were left with the hideous implication that the affair was in the lap of the gods, but for that piece of luck, Knight would have picked them all off one by one, preferring cold-blooded multiple murder to an outsider's discovery of the Viper's un-tax-stamped guns.
         This seems strange in light of the fact that Knight does not own any proscribed weapons himself, nor did he try to obtain any, and comes across on the tapes -- what one can hear of them, for the government has made no effort to clean up the villainously inept audio -- as a calm and moderate person. I wonder if the tapes would sound better had Schultz majored in a different kind of bug at college -- say, wireless microphones instead of mosquitoes.
         Though I recognized three of the Viper's voices, I could not follow who said what about two-thirds of the time. The jury got transcripts to read and follow along. Interestingly, Knight has discovered an error in the transcripts, where the government claims he made an inflammatory anti-government statement that was made by combining crosstalk from Randy Nelson.
         During cross-examination, Schultz was asked about the time when he suggested that the group rob banks to finance their meager bank account. The group said no, and Knight said, "That'd be the last thing we'd do!" Schultz agreed that Knight had said that, but insisted that it was not a negative answer, "only prioritizing." Mr. Abrams then asked what would be the next-to- last thing Mr. Knight would do, where-upon the prosecution objected, saying that he was trying to get the witness to speculate. Judge Carroll sustained the objection. Knight insists that he added, "If we start doing stuff like that, we lose the moral high ground," and says Schultz deliberately left it out, despite the fact that it is on the audiotape, and that he (Knight) said it more than once. Call me prejudiced, but anyone who's a fan of Robert Heinlein and loves "Moon Is A Harsh Mistress" -- as Knight told me he does -- is an unlikely candidate for bank robber. Prior to dismissing the jury today, Judge Carroll cautioned them not to read anything they might find on their cars, or anywhere in the parking garage, "purporting to be about juries." He never uttered the dreaded acronym "FIJA," just told them to throw those things away, or give them to the court to dispose of. He's going on vacation in two weeks, and is in a hurry to get this trial over with.
         The jury seems to be aware that something is not right here. Surprisingly, there happened to be an unusually large number of gun owners in the jury pool the day this jury was picked. Man, it's hell when you run out of pre-emptive challenges, isn't it?
         I think the most salient point here is that statements such as "Members were highly vocal and critical of FBI involvement at Ruby Ridge and Waco" are now being admitted as evidence of ... what? Bad intentions? Or (to wring a double pun from a campy aside by Myra Breckinridge), as we Latin bombshells call it, mens rea, an evil mind? We are not told, exactly, but we know that it is not a good thing, just as we know it is not a good thing to discuss what to do if we woke up and found our house surrounded by men in black ski masks with guns.
         Schultz said he "assumed" this last scenario referred to government agents. I find it a reasonable assumption. Isn't that the tragedy here?
         Until next time, greetings from the free and democratic people's United State ... er, States.
         Contributions to the Charles Knight Legal Defense Fund may be sent to Acct. #14928432, Bank One, 4922 E. Bell Rd., Scottsdale, AZ 85251


Fran Van Cleave is a science-fiction writer and cat owner. The September issue of Analog Science Fiction includes her first short-story sale,"Second Chance," a libertarian solution to the abortion problem. It hits the bookstores July 15!


NOW AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER. Sexual Correctness: The Gender-Feminist Attack on Women, by Wendy McElroy [McFarland Publishing]. Reviewed in The Libertarian Enterprise Issue 16, article 5. Carried by Laissez Faire Books (800)-326-0996.


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