L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 76, June 12, 2000
Live Free or Die: How Many More Carl Dregas?
by Vin Suprynowicz
TLE #39: June 26, 1998
"A well-regulated population being necessary to the security of a police state, the right of the Government to seize and destroy arms shall not be infringed."
Go where the land meets the water, anywhere in New England, and you will begin to understand how deeply the region of my birth lies in bondage to the Cult of the Omnipotent State.
Town and state governments throughout New England traditionally buy and dump tons of sea sand -- or whatever will pass for it -- along the shorelines of their municipal beaches and parks. It doesn't matter whether the shoreline of the lake, river or ocean cove in question was originally a reeded marshland, naturally filtering away pollutants while offering pristine habitat to waterfowl and a hundred other creatures -- the kind of place in which I (for one) would far rather spend my time communing with nature during that nine months of the year when it's not "time to turn, so you won't burn."
No matter: what the majority of taxpayers want is a sandy beach for picnicking and sunbathing (in fact, precious little "swimming" ever transpires), and that is what they darned well get.
Actually, the institutionalized destruction goes much deeper than this. "Urban Renewal," in New England, often includes development of new office complexes and highways on "unused" or "blighted" land. For 40 years now, the larger New England cities have bulldozed interstate highways through the "seedy, decrepit" areas of docks and profitable but low-rent private businesses which used to line their waterfronts, throwing small business owners on the dole and erecting their new throughways atop impassable 20-foot concrete embankments, until two whole generations have grown up within a mile or two of the ocean or the navigable Connecticut River in Hartford, Springfield, New Haven or Boston, without so much as seeing the water that gave their cities birth, except as a distant glitter far below the highway bridge they take to work.
But let a private citizen try to turn a slice of his own private, rocky shoreline into a boat dock, a sliver of sandy beach, or even a well-intentioned but "unpermitted" refuge for turtles and wood ducks (yes, I know of just such cases, in Connecticut and New Jersey) -- let him try to similarly adjust nature to his needs or wishes -- and suddenly the state authorities descend like locusts, seizing and destroying the privately-held turtles, demanding to see all the required permits, showering liens and injunctions like a freak April snow shower.
What's more, the very populace who blithely speed along on the shore-destroying freeways, who consider it their civic right to lie in pure white sand where geese and fox and a hundred other creatures used to raise their young, cheer with glee as these "greedy" private "despoilers of nature" are brought low, for daring to offend against the state-enforced religion of Environmentalism ... on their own property.
How dare such troglodytes tamper with sacred resources belonging to all the people, doing whatever they please with no more justification than the fact they happen to hold some bogus "private deed"?
Of course, the notion that one need only "apply for a permit" is nothing but misdirection, equivalent to telling the Jews as they boarded the trains to the East that they should be careful to "label your luggage carefully for when you return."
Big commercial developers who make big campaign contributions may well get some kind of hypocritical "certificate of environmental compliance" for their plans to pave and channelize the local waterfront ... requiring yet more government seizure of private property for another big "flood control project" upstream ... but the little guy faces years of hoop-jumping as his permit applications are lost, or returned for re-filing on updated forms, before they're finally denied.
At which point, the poor sad sack will learn to his dismay that it's too late to declare, "Well then, your whole permitting process is bogus, and I'm going ahead anyway."
At that point, the long-suffering citizen will be advised by a stern-voiced judge that he waived his right to appeal the validity of the permitting process when he filed his application (way back in the days when he was told "That's all there is to it,") thus tacitly acknowledging the right of the state to either grant or withhold its permission for the project in question!
Just ask 67-year-old carpenter Carl Drega, of Columbia, N.H.
# # #
Laughed Out of Court
In 1981, 80 feet of the riverbank along Drega's property collapsed during a rainstorm. Drega decided to dump and pack enough dirt to repair the erosion damage, restoring his lot along the Connecticut River to its original size.
A state conservation officer, Sergeant Eric Stohl, claimed to have spotted the project from the river while passing the Drega property on a fish-stocking operation. (The river's natural ecology harbored huge runs of shad and Atlantic salmon, as well as native pike, pickerel, and brook trout. So most New England states -- these devoted acolytes of environmental purity -- now routinely stock bass, and brown and rainbow trout, none of which is native and few of which survive long enough to reproduce.)
The state hauled Drega into court, attempting to block his tiny "project."
This was piled atop earlier actions by the town of Columbia, some dating back more than 20 years, and starting when the town hauled Drega into court and threatened him with liens, judgments and (ultimately) property seizure over a "zoning violation" which was comprised of his failure to finish a house covered with tarpaper within a time-frame which the town considered reasonable, former selectman Kenneth Parkhurst told the Boston Globe.
Drega tried for years to fight the authorities on their own terms, in court. Needless to say, as a quasi-literate product of the government schools, and no lawyer, his filings became a laughing stock both in the courts and in the newspapers to which he sent copies, begging for help.
"The dispute, punctuated by years of hearings and court orders, became an obsession for Drega," wrote reporters Matthew Brelis and Kathleen Burge in an Aug. 20 follow-up in the Boston Globe. Drega "filed personal lawsuits against the state officials involved and contacted newspapers, including the Globe, imploring them to write about the injustice being done to him."
In court in 1995, the Globe reports that Drega explained, "The reason I'm like this on this case, when I started my project 10 years ago I was issued permits and everything I needed. When I reapplied 10 years later, that's when Eric Stohl came in and the Wetlands Board had absolutely no records ... I am liable for everything that's done there. In the New Hampshire Wetlands Board, if it's not done according to the plan, they can take it out. And if I don't have the money to take it out, they'll take it out. And if I can't pay for it, they'll take my property."
I sort the incoming letters-to-the-editor for a major metropolitan newspaper. The receipt of such sheafs of heartfelt, illiterate pleadings from folks at their wits' end (child custody leads the list, though property rights also feature prominently), pleading for help from someone, has become an almost daily occurrence.
Since such tirades are too long, rambling, and "not of general public interest" to run as letters, I diligently forward them to the city desk, in hopes an editor there may occasionally assign a reporter to check them out.
They never do ... unless the author shoots somebody, at which point there ensues a mad scramble through the wastebaskets.
In newsrooms around the country, the running joke when a large number of such missives or phone calls come in on the same day is that "It must be a full moon."
Reporters cover the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy is adept at putting out its version of events in reasonable-sounding, easy-to-quote form. Those who can't get with the program are generally ridiculed by reporters as "gadflies," "malcontents," and (more recently) "black helicopter conspiracy nuts." Their rambling, disjointed stories don't tend to fit well into the standard 12 inches.
By 1995, it was obvious that Carl Drega was running out of patience. Town selectman Vickie Bunnell, 42 (since appointed a part-time state judge) accompanied a town tax assessor to Drega's property in a dispute over an assessment. Drega fired shots into the air to drive them away.
(In New England, special property tax assessments are common, and especially cruel to old folks. The courts have ruled that if the town decides to run a municipal water or sewer line along a street fronting one's property, the property owner can be assessed the amount by which the town figures the property's value has been enhanced -- usually in the thousands of dollars -- even if the property owner has a perfectly good well and septic system, and opts not to tie into the new municipal lines. Failure to pay can eventually lead to eviction and auction.)
Carl Drega could see what was coming. He couldn't have been ignorant of the government tactics used to ambush and murder harmless civilians at Waco and Ruby Ridge. He bought a $575 AR-15 -- the legal, semi-auto version of the standard military M-16 -- in a gun store in Waltham, Massachusetts, a state with some of the most restrictive gun laws in America. He also began equipping his property with early-warning electronic noise and motion detectors against the inevitable government assault.
# # #
Too Light a Round
But they didn't come for Carl Drega at home. On Tuesday Aug. 19, at about 2:30 on a warm summer afternoon, New Hampshire State Troopers Leslie Lord, 45 (a former police chief of nearby Pittsburg) and Scott Phillips, 32, arrested Drega in the parking lot of LaPerle's IGA supermarket in neighboring Colebrook, N.H.
("Arrest" comes from the French word for "stop." Whenever agents of the state brace a citizen, stop him, and demand to see his papers, he has been "arrested," no matter whether he has been "read his rights," no matter what niceties the court may apply to the various steps of the process.)
Why was Carl Drega arrested that day? New Hampshire Attorney General Phillip McLaughlin pulls out his best weasel words, reporting the troopers had stopped Drega's pickup because of a "perception of defects." Earlier wire accounts reported they were preparing to ticket him for having "rust holes in the bed of his pickup truck."
But Carl Drega had had enough. He walked back to Trooper Lord's cruiser and shot the uniformed government agent seven times. Then he shot Trooper Philips, as the brave officer attempted to run away. Both died.
Drega then commandeered Lord's cruiser and drove to the office of former selectman -- now lawyer and part-time Judge -- Vickie Bunnell. Bunnell reportedly carried a handgun in her purse out of fear of Drega. But if so, she evidently had no well-thought-out plan to use it. Bunnell ran out the back door. Drega calmly walked to the rear of the building and shot her in the back from a range of about 30 feet. Bunnell died.
Dennis Joos, 50, editor of the local Colebrook News and Sentinel, worked in the office next door. Unarmed, he ran out and tackled Drega. Drega walked about 15 feet with Joos still clutching him around the legs, advising the editor to "Mind your own (expletive) business," according to reporter Claire Knapper of the local weekly. Joos did not let go. Drega shot Joos in the spine. He died.
Drega then drove across the state line to Bloomfield, Vt., where he fired at New Hampshire Fish and Game Warden Wayne Saunders, sending his car off the road. Saunders was struck on the badge and in the arm, but his injuries were not considered life-threatening.
Police from various agencies soon spotted the abandoned police cruiser Drega had been driving ... still in Vermont. As they approached the vehicle, they began taking fire from a nearby hilltop where Drega had positioned himself, apparently still armed with the AR-15 and about 150 rounds of ammunition. Although he managed to wound two more New Hampshire state troopers and a U.S. Border Patrol agent before he himself was killed by police gunfire, none of those injuries were life-threatening, either.
(Those preparing to defend themselves against assaults by armed government agents on their own property should take note that these failures do not appear attributable to Drega's marksmanship -- after all, he scored plenty of hits -- but rather to his dependence on the now-military-standard .223 cartridge, which has nowhere near the stopping power of the previous NATO standard .308, or the even earlier U.S. standard 30.06. Some states won't even allow deer to be hunted with the .223, due to its low likelihood of producing a "clean kill" with one hit.)
# # #
Fertilizer and Tractor Fuel
Immediately, the demonization of Carl Drega began. A neighbor told the Globe about seeing a police cruiser pull up to the Drega house at 2:50 p.m., and leave at 3:10 p.m., minutes before smoke began to pour from the house. Ignoring the likelihood that a uniformed officer might have been sent to see if Drega had gone home, "Authorities believe the fire was set by Drega," the Globe reported on Aug. 20, thereafter reporting as a matter of established fact that Drega burned down his own home.
Isn't it funny how they always do that?
Searching the barn and the remaining property later that week, "Authorities found 450 pounds of ammonium nitrate, the substance used in the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings, as well as cans of diesel fuel," came the breathless Aug. 31 report by Boston Globe reporter Royal Ford.
Trenches on the property held PVC pipe carrying wires to remote noise and motion detectors. No remote booby-traps were discovered, though the barn and a hillside bunker contained ammunition, parts for AK-47s and the AR-15, "and a few boxes of silver dollars," as well as "homemade blasting caps, guns, night scopes, a bullet-proof helmet (sic) and books on bombs and booby traps," as well as "the makings of 86 pipe bombs."
"The makings," eh? I wonder how many wholesale hardware outlets in this country currently stock "the makings" of 860 pipe bombs? Or 8,600?
The FBI was johnny on the spot, of course, helping New Hampshire State Police Sgt. John McMaster search the three-story barn, with its "concrete bunkers" containing not only ammunition, but also "canned food, soda, and a refrigerator."
(I wonder if my basement would suddenly become a "concrete bunker" if I had a run-in with the law? How about yours?)
But it was the 400 pounds of ammonium nitrate (the estimate kept dropping during the week) and the 61 gallons of diesel fuel in five-gallon containers that gave authorities the willies.
"Realizing the he had walked into the most dangerous private arsenal he had ever seen, McMaster began climbing the stairs to the second floor," reported Brian MacQuarrie and Judy Rakowsky of the Boston Globe on Aug. 22. "Halfway up, (State Trooper Jack) Meaney shouted for him to stop: he had just picked up a bomb-making manual opened to a chapter on how to booby-trap stairs ...
"The large stores of dangerous materials, combined with the discovery of three instruction manuals on explosives and booby traps, helped persuade N.H. authorities that they should destroy the barn with a controlled burn and explosion," which they promptly did.
"Some federal agents initially questioned the plan to destroy the huge cache of evidence that may have shown whether Drega had links to militia groups or criminals," the Globe also breathlessly reports, though the paper at least had the decency to note no such affiliations were ever established.
(One wonders whether the newspaper would have given equal play to someone lamenting that they thus lost the chance to search for hypothetical links between Drega and the Irish Republic Army, Drega and the Ted Kennedy campaign staff, or Drega and the Buddhist nuns who laundered campaign contributions for Al Gore.)
Ammonium nitrate is, of course, a common fertilizer, sold in 50-pound bags to anyone who wants it -- no questions asked -- in garden stores in all 50 states.
Farmers all over the nation store more than 60 gallons of diesel fuel at a time, and even know how to combine the diesel fuel with the ammonium nitrate to make a relatively weak explosive, useful in blowing up tree stumps. Purchase of blasting caps for this purpose is also perfectly legal. If this and a few hundred rounds of military surplus ammo constituted "the most dangerous private arsenal" the head of the New Hampshire state police bomb squad had ever seen, he must not get out much.
Anyway, the buildings are all burned to the ground now -- just like at Waco -- and the newspaper reporters -- trained to just report the facts and never express opinions -- had ruled within days that Carl Drega was "diabolical and paranoid."
The remaining question is, did government agents Vickie Bunnell, Leslie Lord, and Scott Phillips deserve to die? Did Carl Drega pick the right time and place to say "That's as many of my rights as you're going to take; it stops right here?"
Or is that the right question? The problem with the question is that the oppressor state and its ant-like agents are both devious and clever: except when faced with overt resistance and a chance to make an example of some social outcasts on TV, they rarely send black-clad agents to pour out of cattle trailers in our front yards, guns ablaze.
No, they generally see to it that our chemical castration is so gradual that there can never be a majority consensus that this is finally the right time to respond in force. In this death of a thousand cuts we're always confronted with some harmless old functionary who obviously loves his grandkids, some pleasant young bureaucrat who doubtless loves her cat and bakes cookies for her co-workers and smilingly assures us she's "just doing her job" as she requests our Social Security number here ... our thumbprint there ... the signed permission slip from your kid's elementary school principal for possessing a gun within a quarter-mile of the school ... and a urine sample, please, if you'll just follow the matron into the little room ...
"Those are the rules," after all. "Everybody has to do it; I just do what they tell me; if you don't like it you can write your congressman."
When ... when is it finally the right moment to respond, "I'll tell you what; why don't you take this steel-cored round of .223 to my congressman? In fact, take him a whole handful, and tell him to have a nice day ... when you see him in hell!"?
Carl Drega decided the day to finally say that, was the day they came to arrest him on the private property of a supermarket parking lot, supposedly for having rust holes in the bed of his pickup.
Does anyone believe that's really why they stopped Carl Drega?
# # #
Lots More Coming
I am not -- repeat, not -- advising anyone to go forth and start shooting cops and bureaucrats. To start with, one's own life expectancy at that point grows quite short, limiting one's options to continue fighting for freedom on other fronts. Most of us -- unlike Carl Drega -- also have families to think of.
Third, there may be other solutions. Just as much of the farmland near Rome sat vacant by the fall of the Roman Empire -- it simply proved cheaper to move on than to endure the confiscatory Roman taxes -- so do James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg predict in their new book, The Sovereign Individual, that internet encryption may allow many to spirit their hard-earned assets beyond the reach of this newer, oppressive slave state, making "the tax man in search of someone to audit" the laughing stock of the 21st century.
And finally, such a course invites obvious risks of mistaken identity, collateral damage to relatively innocent bystanders (witness newspaperman Coos), and an end to due process ... a concept for which I still harbor some respect, even if our government oppressors do not.
What I do know is, in little more than 30 years, we have gone from a nation where the "quiet enjoyment" of one's private property was a sacred right, to a day when the so-called property "owner" faces a hovering hoard of taxmen and regulators threatening to lien, foreclose, and "go to auction" at the first sign of private defiance of their collective will ... a relationship between government and private property rights which my dictionary defines as "fascism."
Carl Drega tried to fight them, for years, on their own terms and in their own courts. We know how far that got him.
What I do know is that this is why the tyrants are moving so quickly to take away our guns. Because they know in their hearts that if they continue the way they've been going, boxing Americans into smaller and smaller corners, leaving us no freedom to decide how to raise and school and discipline our kids, no freedom to purchase (or do without) the medical care we want on the open market, no freedom to withdraw $2,500 from our own bank accounts (let alone move it out of the country) without federal permission, no freedom even to arrange the dirt and trees on our own property to please ourselves ... if they keep going down this road, there are going to be a lot more Carl Dregas, hundreds of them, thousands of them, fed up and not taking it any more, a lot more pools of blood drawing flies in the municipal parking lots, a lot more self-righteous government weasels who were "only doing their jobs" twitching their death-dances in the warm afternoon sun ... and soon.
When is it the right time to say, "Enough, no more. On this spot I stand, and fight, and die"? When they're stacking our luggage and loading us on the box cars? A fat lot of good it will do us, then.
Mr. Jefferson declared for us that "whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People, to alter or abolish it."
Was Mr. Jefferson only saying we have a right to vote in a new crop of statist politicians every couple of years, as the pro-government extremists will insist?
No. The Declaration fearlessly declared that the Minutemen of Lexington and Concord had been right to shoot down Redcoats who were "only doing their jobs" in Massachusetts the year before. And it put the nations of the world on notice that Gen. Washington was planning to shoot himself a whole lot more.
"You must be kidding!" come the outraged cries. "This guy shot a fleeing woman in the back."
Oh, pardon me. Did Judge Bunnell propose to fight a straightforward duel with Mr. Drega, one on one, mano a mano, to determine who should have a right to decide whether he could build a tarpaper shack on his own property?
Of course not. The top bureaucrats generally manage to be sipping lemonade on the porch when the process they put in motion "reaches its final conclusion," with padlocks and police tape and furniture on the sidewalk ... or the incinerated resister buried in the ashes.
Go watch "Escape from Sobibor". When the Jewish concentration camp inmates finally start to kill their German oppressors, tell me how long you spend worrying that they "didn't give the poor, jackbooted fellows a fair, sporting chance."
Each and every one of us must decide for him- or herself when the day has come to stand fast, raise our weapons to our shoulders, and (quoting President Jefferson, this time) water the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots, and of tyrants. Give up the right to make that decision, and we become nothing better than the beasts in the field, waiting to be milked until we can give no more, and then shuffling off without objection, heads bowed, to the soap factory.
Carl Drega was a resident of New Hampshire. On the day Carl Drega decided was a good day to die -- on the day they towed it away -- the license plates on his rusty pickup still bore the New Hampshire state motto: "Live Free or Die."
Carl Drega was different from most of us, all right. He believed it still meant something.