By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The story of Griesacker's departure from the Montana freemen's community has become a legend--possibly an apocryphal one--in anti-government circles because his timing was so fortuitous. Without any prior warning, Griesacker supposedly packed up his large family one morning in March 1996 and simply drove away. He told the author Dyer he left because Schweitzer had put a woman in charge. Women holding leadership positions violated Griesacker's so-called "fundamentalist" beliefs, McLaren says.
It just so happens that later the very same day, federal agents moved in and nabbed Schweitzer--prompting an 81-day standoff between law-enforcement officials and the freemen. It ended peacefully, and Schweitzer was later convicted for failing to pay income taxes and answer a summons. Other felony charges are pending against him, including bank fraud.
Back in Kansas, Griesacker appears to have started practicing some of the tactics he learned from Schweitzer. Shawnee County's Suzanne James says she began hearing about Griesacker's involvement in several schemes to send bogus checks to businesses, followed by efforts to get sheriff's departments to prosecute banks for not recognizing them. Others in Griesacker's Kansas group have been prosecuted, including Riccomini, who has been charged with bank fraud. Riccomini's lawyer, Jonathan Phelps, claims Griesacker taught his client everything he knows about financial documents, and he doesn't understand why he wasn't prosecuted as well.
James says her office was preparing to prosecute Griesacker and others when the U.S. attorney in Wichita assumed control of the investigation. When the feds took over, she says, they simply sat on many of the cases. Finally, the U.S. attorney returned the files to her office--with the investigative folders nearly empty--just days before the applicable state statute of limitations had expired. "Griesacker figures in a lot of those cases," investigator Mauck says. (Federal laws applied in the recent indictment of Griesacker.)
In the months following his departure from Montana, Mauck says, Griesacker traveled to Missouri to advise a militia group in that state.
McLaren says that in October 1996, he learned from ROT members in Dallas about Griesacker's expertise in banking laws and his desire to come to Texas. McLaren doesn't recall exactly who called whom, but within 24 hours of hearing about Griesacker, McLaren says he'd struck a deal with the man. He agreed to send Griesacker airline tickets for his family if, in exchange, Griesacker would supply his knowledge and documentation on banking and legal systems. Griesacker immediately drove to Dallas with all his belongings, arriving a day after his wife and kids. "He drove a truck down with three computers and lots of law books and legal documents," McLaren recalls.
Within months of Griesacker's departure from Missouri, members of that group were arrested, Mauck says. "The Missouri state police crunched them," he adds. "I often wondered if Griesacker had a part in that."
The terms of Griesacker's deal with the Texas separatists were kept vague. McLaren says he paid all of the Griesacker family's bills--roughly $1,500 a month. The Griesackers lived in a trailer, and one of their biggest expenses was Arthur Griesacker's phone bill. "He liked to talk," McLaren says. "I started saving $500 a month on the phone bill alone when he left."
Griesacker promised the Texas separatists that he had the documentation--specifically copies of the seals of the United States Supreme Court--to style himself a U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Texas. In the separatists' convoluted reasoning, the ROT could issue all sorts of official "agreements" with the United States if Griesacker could establish that he was its representative.
But it didn't take long for Griesacker's relationship with the ROT to become strained. When Griesacker was videotaped at a 1996 Republic of Texas gathering at a Holiday Inn in Temple, Texas, he was caught bragging about how "I know admiralty law, common law, ecclesiastical law, and the law of necessity." Sitting behind a desk, Griesacker instructs a roomful of Texas separatists on how to establish a financial "clearinghouse" for their independent state.
Griesacker appears intensely focused--all business and no fun. He doesn't even crack a smile as McLaren makes a stab at humor. "The chair recognizes Arthur," McLaren tells the crowd. Then he pauses, smiles, and says, "Gosh, I have so much trouble with your last name."
Griesacker doesn't miss a beat. "The history of banking, I do believe, is quite well known to everyone in this room, and the susceptible [sic] to evils it brings upon a nation. I've studied U.S. history," he adds. "I've studied the banking system. I know what they have done to us."
Then, as he flips proficiently through what he claims are historical documents, Griesacker describes the specific course he believes the separatists should take. He wants the group to set up what he calls a "clearinghouse," rather than a central banking system, for the independent state. But the crowd has trouble grasping the distinction. When, for the third time, a listener asks if he's telling them not to establish a bank, Griesacker grows visibly irritated. He rubs his temples, clasps his hands, and sighs loudly before answering. "Yes, sir," he says. "Table the idea."
McLaren says he grew suspicious of Griesacker shortly after he arrived. It wasn't Griesacker's banking jargon that threw the Texas separatist leader, since McLaren doesn't believe they were doing anything illegal. Instead, Griesacker's religious beliefs--and how fervently he preached them--scared McLaren. "Arthur let his personal prejudices and maybe ego override his common sense," he says. Griesacker didn't approve of the African-American ROT members, he adds. But he wouldn't acknowledge that up front.