Desperate Measures

Like other misguided militia movements, the Republic of Texas has roots in rural poverty.

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I stayed at the Republic of Texas’ embassy for a few days back in November of 1996 while researching my upcoming book on militias and other anti-government groups. My visit confirmed what I had seen in the anti-government movement that has sprung up across the nation: People are opting out of a system in which they can no longer make enough to support their families, and in which they have lost all political faith.

“I was there [the Republic of Texas] because I was tired of getting my teeth kicked in,” says Richard Keyes III, 22, now a fugitive from Texas state authorities after kidnapping a couple with fellow militia members, prompting a seven-day standoff at the Republic’s embassy.

Before the showdown, the militia lived on the Republic’s 18-acre stretch of land outside of Fort Davis, a west Texas town at the base of the Davis Mountains not far from the Mexican border. An anti-government militia, the Republic of Texas claims the United States’ annexation of Texas in 1845 was illegal, making federal and state laws unenforceable. U.S. prosecutors claim the militia issued nearly $2 billion in Republic of Texas “warrants,” using the bogus checks to make purchases to keep the militia afloat.

“I worked 40 to 50 hours a week in a toxic waste dump where I had to mix powdered aluminum and polyester,” says Keyes. “I made $250 a week to mix chemicals that were destroying my health. I couldn’t even keep my eyes open. And what did I get? I couldn’t even afford to move out of my parents’ house. The layout of the people in the embassy was exactly economic.”

Some of the people at the embassy were homeless before they arrived. One of the guards had joined when he was issued a $300 fine because he and his children weren’t wearing seat belts. The guard, who had earned only minimum wage, wasn’t able to pay the fine. After a warrant was issued for his arrest, he panicked and headed for the Republic.

Another militia member told me a similar story. He was a $5-an-hour window washer who lost his visitation rights when he couldn’t make the court-ordered child support payments after his divorce. He was already having trouble paying his rent and eating. He told me he joined the Republic because it was a place “where they wouldn’t take away your kids because you’re poor.”

Joel Dyer is the editor of Boulder Weekly and the author of Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City Is Only the Beginning (Westview Press, July 1997).

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