By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
A birth certificate that Griesacker sent to Shawnee County investigator Jake Mauck shows he was born in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, on June 14, 1956. A 34-year-old named Ronald Emmet Laycock is listed as his father; Laycock describes his occupation as "minister-teacher."
But Rick McLaren says Griesacker related an entirely different story about his beginnings. "What he told me was his real father's name was Ronald Hawkins, and he was an individual who worked for the Pentagon" and got involved in the "black budget"--a secret budget used during the Cold War to conceal spending on classified military programs.
Griesacker acquired his current surname in 1992. At the time, he was living in St. Mary's, Kansas, the stronghold of a Kansas freemen's movement centered at a formerly Catholic academy and college whose priests had been ex-communicated by the Vatican for espousing such beliefs as the existence of a Jewish world conspiracy and the fabrication of the Holocaust. A court record that Griesacker sent to Mauck shows he was adopted that year by Ignatius Mitchell Cartwright Griesacker--a man in his 60s who supposedly picked up Griesacker while he was hitchhiking. After that encounter, Griesacker changed his name to Ronald Alexander Augustus Griesacker.
According to the version of his life that Griesacker told McLaren and the journalists Dyer and Tharp, he once worked as a corrections officer in the Kansas prison system. He got fired--Griesacker recounted with pride--when he objected to his employer's unacceptable tactics. "He said he got kicked out for standing up for someone [a prisoner]," McLaren says.
Shawnee county investigator Mauck confirms that Griesacker did work as a corrections officer. "But he never got fired," Mauck says. "He got hurt and took some kind of disability."
In his photographs, Griesacker is a dour-faced, unpleasant-looking man. He has a thick neck, bad teeth, and a receding hairline. His highly arched eyebrows are his most prominent feature, giving his face a look of perpetual consternation and intensity.
In person, Griesacker apparently registers a threatening presence. Dyer says that when he first met Griesacker, the activist pulled a gun from a shoulder holster and plopped it on the table between himself and the author. For some five hours, Griesacker's hand rested on the weapon as it pointed ever so slightly to the left of Dyer.
McLaren says Griesacker always carried a gun, toting his AK-47 even when visiting the Texas separatist leader's home. "Mr. Griesacker had a different attitude toward guns," McLaren says. "For me, they were a negative, something we had to have under siege. For him, they were a positive."
McLaren seems fearful of Griesacker. "I never knew what was going to make him come unhinged," he says. "He was not a person you wanted to get drunk around. After a while, I wouldn't have him up to the house anymore."
Although he tells people he only graduated from the eighth grade, Griesacker strikes many as an eccentric genius. "He probably has some super-high intelligence," Dyer says. "He has a photographic memory."
U.S. News & World Report correspondent Tharp recalls that Griesacker lorded his erudition over others. "He gave a long, convoluted dialogue in which he repeatedly referred to books and documents in common law and invoked the Magna Carta," he says. "He just kept piling books and papers on the desk where I was sitting and said they proved his points."
Griesacker's first recorded involvement in anti-government groups is in 1995, when police records show he was active in the freemen movement in Kansas. He was arrested that year when he failed to produce a driver's license; many people in anti-government circles refuse to carry licenses. "He told me he wouldn't submit to that jurisdiction," Tharp recalls.
From August 1995 through June 1996, Griesacker placed long treatises advocating common-law courts--where laymen, rather than judges and lawyers, make the rules--in a local legal bulletin, the Topeka Metro News. "They were long, rambling proclamations," says Mauck, who began investigating Griesacker around then. "They were threatening to any law-enforcement official who would arrest them. They used Christian Identity terms." (The Christian Identity movement believes that Jews descended from Satan and non-whites represent a separate species.)
Griesacker advertised his supposed banking and legal expertise in other forums. In the December 1995 issue of The American's Bulletin, a Medford, Oregon-based far-right-wing tabloid, he published an essay titled "A Voice of Opposition to Tyranny." In the piece, Griesacker and the others in his group identified themselves as the "Peace officers of the country of Kansas" and announced the establishment of 18 common-law courts in that state. Griesacker, who wrote the essay, stated that he and others, including Robert Riccomini, had attended the school of LeRoy M. Schweitzer. "We have found answers," Griesacker wrote.
LeRoy Schweitzer is a notorious figure in anti-government circles. Until his arrest in March 1996, Schweitzer conducted a school in Jordan, Montana, that as many as 800 people attended, according to press reports. The lessons included such exhortations as "We are to kill all the inhabitants of other races," according to an Anti-Defamation League report. At his school, Schweitzer also offered basic instructions for funny-money schemes, including how to create "certified banker's checks" for fraudulent use.