Skip to main content

Not too long after our Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights grouping got together, we started hearing about the KTTL radio station out of Dodge City, Kansas, broadcasting daily one-hour racist and anti-Semitic programs. We looked into it and then wrote about it in our February 1983 magazine—40 years ago. They were all hooked up with a group called the Posse Comitatus.

James Wickstrom, from Wisconsin, was one of the Posse speakers. He called himself the National Director of Counter Insurgency. He might as well have called himself an insurgent because that is what he was. His “top man in Kansas,” Mike Ryan, killed two members of his own group in 1985 in Rulo, Nebraska.

Wickstrom & the American Farmer

Bill Gale, from California, told the radio audience that “All Jews should be dead” and other nonsense. Gale was actually the founder of the Posse Comitatus, according to Dan Levitas, who figured it out in his book The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right. He also found some very interesting things about Gale’s family background, but I’ll leave it to you, Dear Reader, to read his book and find out.

After the Kansas Posse “indicted” the state Attorney General we looked into it. “They advocate the killing of public officials and Jews,” he concluded. But, he said, they were not affiliated with the Klan.

We researched that last statement and found that David Duke, then head of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, had said, “We work with the Posse whenever we can…We get their material and funnel it to our groups.”

On February 13, 1983, a North Dakota farmer named Gordon Kahl killed two federal marshals in a roadside shootout in Medina, North Dakota. Kahl was a leader in the Posse Comitatus. His son Yorie Kahl and Scott Faul had guns and were involved in the shootout also. They had come from a meeting where they were organizing a “township.” This was a scheme for white men who had renounced their 14th Amendment citizenship rights and became sovereign citizens. It was a way, they thought, to avoid paying taxes and pursuing driver’s licenses.

With farmers in the early 1980s, high-interest rates and low commodity prices created a crisis in rural counties. The Posse Comitatus moved in with their answers: kill the Jews, become sovereign citizens, and engage in paramilitary training. Over the next few months, we sought to unearth the extent of the Posse problem. We published several groundbreaking pieces: “Right Wing Organizing Farmers,” “Posse Comitatus: Who Are these Tax Protestors,” “Posse Radio Stations Hits Snags,” “Gordon Kahl on the Run,” and “Three Convicted, One Acquitted in Posse / FBI Shootout.”  We even looked into their false theology, “Identity Church and  Radical Right.”

While we were still a small organization, we researched and wrote about topics that mattered. Soon we became a center for real answers. I started meeting with other people and working with them.

In June 1983, I got a phone call from Lynn Wells, the executive director of the National Anti-Klan Network in Atlanta. (It became the Center for Democratic Renewal two years later.) She had approached Tommy Kersey, the head of the American Agriculture Movement in Georgia, and asked him to sign on to an anti-Klan program. Kersey said sure, but have you heard of a guy named Lyndon LaRouche and his National Caucus of Labor Committees. “I like him,” Kersey said. Both Lynn and I knew that Lyndon LaRouche was no good, and we kept track of him just like we did of the Klan. The conversation with Kersey was stunning.

Lynn said she had asked around, and there was a farmer we should talk to up in Nebraska. She asked me if I would go and visit him. His name was Merle Hansen.

So I got in my 1972 Plymouth and drove up to Newman Grove, Nebraska, to visit with Merle. He was of my father’s generation and as nice as could be. I described the Posse Comitatus problem best I could, and Merle seemed to know exactly what I was talking about. Our afternoon conversation drifted off into a discussion of history, family, and social movements. When I left to go to Norfolk to stay the night with some peace activists, Merle said he would get me a bigger hearing among farmers.

In August 1983, I went to a rally at Cheney Lake Park outside Wichita. The advertisement in the back pages of the Spotlight weekly tabloid said it would be the Gordon Kahl Memorial Arts and Crafts Festival, but there were no arts or crafts. About fifty people were at this event, including a small contingent of farmers wearing American Agriculture Movement ball caps. But it showed me the core beliefs of the Posse Comitatus:  sovereign citizenship, Christian Identity, and funny constitutionalism. It also taught me something about the nature of research into white supremacy groups: you can read about and listen to everything you want, but until you are there in the middle of it, you don’t really understand it. That would become an important lesson over the next 40 years.

By the way, this small event was included in my book, Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, published in 2009, which is still available for a donation of $25 or more.

In November 1983, I was invited to speak at the U.S. Farmers Association national meeting in Iowa. Merle Hansen had come through. There were two generations of farmers there: those our grandparent’s age and those about my age; about 150 in all. As I later found out, the farmers my age were anti-war veterans of Vietnam. The older generation was from during the Korean War and was peaceniks also. Sen. Gary Hart, hoping to win some traction during the Iowa primaries in 1984, spoke. He argued that the United States should develop a widespread program of selling—really dumping—food supplies in the developing world. Those farmers who talked opposed Hart’s proposal and said that this would undermine the domestic food production in these countries. It was imperialist policy, several added. My talk was well received, although no one suggested how to fight the Posse. One elderly farmer from Minnesota said that my talk sounded a lot like the Spanish Civil War during the 1930s.

After the conference, I went home to another day working for a living. I was glad to have met these farmers and knew that we would find a solution to the growing problem around us. And I will tell you about it one month from now.

Stay tuned.

Leonard Zeskind

Author Leonard Zeskind

is founder of IREHR. For almost four decades, he has been a leading authority on white nationalist political and social movements. He is the author of Blood and Politics: The History of White Nationalism from the Margins to the Mainstream, published by Farrar Straus & Giroux in May 2009. [more..]

More posts by Leonard Zeskind