Covenant (CSA) - The Rock Star
In early 1978, Ellison claimed to have a vision of a coming apocalypse. In sermons he began to prophesy that the end of the world would come on August 12, 1978 – the ninth of Ab on the Jewish calender, when Jews celebrate the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. Following the Tribulation – fires, famine, pestilence, and earthquakes – criminal gangs would spill out of American cities into the countryside like a swarm of locusts, plundering, raping, and killing. “It will get so bad,” Ellison warned, “that parents will eat their children...Maggot infested bodies will lie everywhere.” Christians would be unable to defend themselves against this cataclysm and millions would die.
To defend themselves against the catastrophe, the residents of Zarapeth-Horeb were required to study paramilitary tactics. Accordingly, during 1978 and 1979 Ellison and his followers spent an estimated $52,000 on weapons, ammunition, and military equipment. Most of the firearms were purchased without paperwork at gun shows in Arkansas and Missouri, using money generated from the commune’s businesses. They included an array of 9 mm and .38 and .45-caliber pistols, assault rifles, and 12-gauge shotguns. To train his congregation in the use of these weapons, Ellison appointed as his “defense minister” a young man named Randall Rader.
Rader would play a crucial role in taking Zarepath-Horeb from a peaceful commune of pious Christians to a violent paramilitary sect. Yet he was an unlikely candidate for that calling. Randall Rader was born in the farming community of West Plains, Missouri, in 1951. Upon graduating from high school in 1969, Rader moved to Los Angeles where he became a guitar player in several fledgling rock bands. Catching the final flames of California flower power, Rader became a regular user of LSD, marijuana, speed, and downers. After four years of this, Rader experienced an epiphany of his own.
In 1974, on a visit back home to West Plains, Rader attended a fundamentalist religious revival. Something in the preacher’s message moved him deeply. Repentant for his decadent lifestyle, Rader proclaimed his sorrow and accepted Jesus as his personal savior. It was a miraculous conversion. Rader became a devout Christian and began to envision the destruction of Western civilization and the epic role he may play in preventing it. At a 1975 meeting at the Methodist Church in West Plains, Rader met Pastor Ellison.
In 1976, Rader married a woman from Chicago named Kathy James. The couple settled into a dwelling on the main compound and in the fall of 1977 Rader became a church elder. He began his work as Ellison’s defense minister a year later. Little in the once-aspiring rock star’s background prepared him for commando training. While he had hunted with his father as a boy, Rader had no formal military training. Yet as he had done first with his music career and then with his religious conversion, Rader threw himself into his new assignment, presiding over weekly military meetings and compiling a library of books on military tactics and firearms. He even learned to decipher gun manuals written in Chinese and German.
To supplement income from the logging and salvage businesses, in the summer of 1979 Ellison moved to Missouri where he took a job building Minuteman missile silos for the military–then the biggest weapons in America’s nuclear arsenal. By now, with the summer of 1978 come and gone, some of the residents had become disappointed with Ellison’s prophecies. Rader was one of them. In Ellison’s absence, Rader tried to take over the group and steer it into a more forceful direction. This began when he brought a double-edged sword to the Sanctuary services one night. Taking the platform, Rader struck a post with his weapon and threatened to do the same to another member’s head. In his memoir, Tabernacle of Hate, fellow CSA elder Kerry Noble recalls that “Randall turned into a dictator, wanting to rule by fear and intimidation...Suddenly he was wearing a Nazi-like uniform, often carrying a German bullwhip and even wearing a monocle.” Angry with Ellison’s failed prophecy about the apocalypse, Rader took matters into his own hands. His first step was to convert the group’s legal semi-automatic weapons into illegal automatics weapons.
When Ellison returned at the end of the summer, he brought something with him that only fueled Rader’s extremism. While in Missouri, Ellison met Dan Gayman, pastor of the Church of Israel near Schell City. Gayman had introduced Ellison to the odd religion known as Christian Identity, a theology that gives the blessing of God to the racist cause. (Also attending Gayman’s church during this period was the young Eric Rudolph who would later use his Identity teachings as justification for a series of bombings throughout the South, including the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta.) The Identity creed proceeds from the notion that Jews are the children of Satan, while white “Aryans” are the descendants of the biblical tribes of ancient Israel and thus are God’s chosen people. Identity further holds that the world is on the verge of a final, apocalyptic struggle between good and evil, and that Aryans must do battle with the Jewish conspiracy and its allies so that the world can be saved.
After hearing a tape of Gayman’s preaching combined with patriotic music, Ellison’s congregation began a gradual transformation toward the religion. Although Ellison took the reins away from Rader and berated him for converting the firearms to machine guns, Ellison nevertheless adopted his defense minister’s reasoning for doing so; namely, that sophisticated weaponry would be needed for protection against rioting hordes once the federal government collapsed under the weight of its own Jewish-inspired deceptions. The machine guns stayed and the commune became a criminal enterprise.
Over the next six months, the residents of Zarepath-Horeb engaged in intense study of Christian Identity. They prayed about it with passion. And, ultimately, they embraced the doctrine without reservation. And this contributed to the group’s criminality. Most notably, Ellison used the Identity philosophy to rename his commune the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord. Ellison designed an emblem for the CSA featuring a rainbow for the covenant, pierced by a flaming sword. Devotees were the arm of the Lord. Ellison insisted that every commune member sign a “Declaration of Non-Surrender,” in which they vowed to fight to the death for Jesus Christ. He also insisted that they donate their individual salaries for the logging and salvage work to the Body, and burn any remaining vestiges of their pre-Identity lives, including keepsakes and high school yearbooks. They destroyed their radios, televisions, and any other reminders of the outside world. Yet the greatest change came in the build up of paramilitary forces.
Ellison instructed the men to shave their beards and cut their hair short. They were issued camouflage uniforms with the CSA logo on shoulder patches, along with red berets and combat boots. Every man was given a pistol and rifle. Concrete-enforced bunkers, hedgehogs, pillboxes, razor wire fences, a communications center, and a military storage unit were added to the main compound. Tunnels were dug between the houses and the bunkers. Shooting portals were built into the Sanctuary. A sixty-five foot radio tower went up. Next to the creek across from the valley compound, Rader constructed a firing range. Lookouts and foot patrols were posted throughout the area. Klansmen appeared at the commune and the CSA began a mail-order service for such hard-to-find neo-Nazi hate literature as the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, The Negro and the World Crisis, and The Holy Book of Adolf Hitler.
Ellison’s sermons became absolutely electrifying. In a late 1979 service, he stood before his armed warriors and proclaimed: "The Jews have declared war on our race, promoting race-mixing and thereby polluting the pure seed of God. This ZOG, this Zionist Occupied Government, is killing our white babies through abortion! It is destroying white minds with its humanistic teaching of evolution! I tell you this–niggers may be descended from apes, but my ancestors never swung from trees by their tails. In order to preserve our Christian heritage and race, it is our right, our patriotic duty, to overthrow the Anti-Christ government....Prepare for war, O Israel! Wake up the mighty men! Let the men of war come near. Beat your plowshares into spears and your pruning hooks into swords. Let the weak say, ‘I am strong’!"
In the spring of 1980, the CSA sold their hogs, believing them to be unclean. They celebrated their first Passover complete with a slaughtered lamb and blood sprinkled on the door posts of Ellison’s house. Ellison’s men of war were now the true children of Israel. “Now we were no longer Christian survivalists,” wrote Noble, “but we were white supremacists!” Around this time, Ellison replaced his failed prophecy with a new forecast: God had warned him that a war against the forces of ZOG was imminent. To further prepare for the struggle ahead, the CSA would need to fortify its resources.
The CSA’s first felony took place on April 18, 1980, when Ellison directed Rader to help Ellison’s sister, Jean Troxell, with an insurance scam by burning down her house located near the CSA property. With several others, including Ellison’s teenaged son, Rader assisted in the arson which resulted in an $11,000 settlement.
Rader’s criminal skills were also developing in the area of gun smithing. Working out of the machine shop, Rader turned his attention to converting Chinese AK 47 and German Heckler & Koch assault rifles into fully automatic weapons. He did so by modifying the bolt carriers, trigger packs, and trigger housings–a process that allows the trigger hammer to follow the bolt carrier forward when the rifle is fired. (The hammer-follow-down results in automatic fire.) The modification was completed by adding flash suppressors to the firearms, or devices that swallow flames spit out by a gun’s firepower. Kent Yates, a Vietnam veteran and former Green Beret who had been trained as a demolitions expert during the war, assisted Rader by manufacturing silencers – made from aluminum tubing, rubber, and Allan bolts – as well as land mines and hand grenades made from C-4 explosives and dynamite.
Rader also began to fashion exotic weaponry. This included a firearm that eventually become legendary among right-wing activists of the era. Back in 1979, on a visit to a gun shop in nearby Mountain Home, Arkansas, Rader had purchased an Ingram MAC-10 machine pistol. As manufactured by Military Armament Corporation (MAC), the gun was a legal semi-automatic. Once converted to a machine gun, the MAC 10 was one of the most gruesome weapons ever made. The gun resembled a small metal box mounted lengthwise on its side, a trigger on the underside, with a slot for the ammunition clip serving as the grip. It had a short barrel which Yates threaded for a silencer. Rader then added a takedown pin, enlarged the bolt handle, and wrapped the pistol grip with camouflage tape. The result was a weapon that was worthless from a distance, but at close range it was a meat grinder. Rader’s MAC-10 could fire more than nine hundred rounds per minute, fifteen bullets a second. It had only one purpose: to kill another human being with extreme prejudice.
But Rader’s pride and joy was a paramilitary training school he built next to the firing range called Silhouette City. Modeled after the FBI’s shooting range at Quantico, Virginia, Silhouette City was designed to resemble an urban intersection, complete with buildings arranged along four streets, abandoned automobiles, and silhouettes of a state trooper wearing a Star of David and the Israeli leaders Menachem Begin and Golda Meir. Trainees were drilled in “Christian martial arts,” rifle and pistol marksmanship, and wilderness survival. Specialized instruction involved capturing buildings, repelling facades, and planting bombs, all of which was spelled out in Rader’s Christian Army Basic Training Manual (which remains to this day the most comprehensive guide to guerilla operations ever printed in the United States). The school charged a $500 tuition and it was a resounding success. By early 1982, Silhouette City was known throughout the racist right, as applications poured in from white activists across the nation.
By now, Rader had matured into a supremely competent leader who commanded some forty men. “Randall Rader was not someone you would call ‘Randy,’” said Noble. “He was 6 foot-two, muscular, with brown hair cut short, and good looking.” But he was also as cold and ruthless as a man could be. Noble recalls times when Rader would use his bullwhip to strike men under his command for not working hard enough. He took survivalism to its limits.
Once Rader killed and skinned his own dog and then ate its raw meat to demonstrate his commitment to the cause. In their authoritative book on the radical right, The Silent Brotherhood, Kevin Flynn and Gary Gerhardt write that “It was Rader who was most responsible for the CSA’s enjoying the reputation it had throughout the right wing for militant survival training.” As a result of his reputation, Rader ultimately attracted one of the most violent men the right has ever known.
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