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Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord (CSA)

In the early 1980s the criminal activities of a secret collective of paramilitary survivalists, tax protestors, bankrupt farmers, skinheads, and ex-convicts were motivated by an extreme right-wing political ideology. Rather than maintaining the status quo or influencing government policies, their sole objective was mass murder. They would assassinate federal officials, politicians, police officers, and Jews. They would sabotage gas pipelines, blow up electrical power grids, and derail passenger trains. They would rob banks, armored trucks, and military installations. They would burn churches and synagogues. They would attempt to poison municipal water supplies with chemical agents. And they would bomb federal buildings, including the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Their story begins with a racist terrorist organization called the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSA = Confederate States of America retronym).

On April 19, 1985, the FBI attempted to serve a warrant on the CSA at its fortified compound in rural Arkansas. After a four-day standoff between two-hundred law-enforcement officers and the CSAs Home Guard, agents entered the encampment and discovered a stockpile of illegal weapons and ammunition, including thirty-five machine guns, fifteen automatic rifles, silencers and hand grenades, three anti-aircraft rockets, fifty pounds of military plastic explosives, three-hundred blasting caps, a thousand rounds of ammunition, and twothousand feet of detonator cord. Agents also found thirty gallons of cyanide which the CSA planned to unload into the water supply of Washington, D.C. Although the CSA was part of a larger conspiracy involving dozens of extremists, three men were primarily responsible for its criminality.

The CSA founder James D. Ellison was born in 1940, somewhere in Illinois, to parents of Caucasian and Cherokee Indian heritage. When he was fourteen years old, Ellisons father was killed in a traffic accident, leaving the teenager to care for his mother and younger siblings. His fathers untimely death also coincided with Ellisons conversion to fundamentalist Christianity. Ellison matured quickly and avoided the temptations of alcohol and drugs. After graduating from high school, he married a woman named Cheryl and enrolled in Lincoln Bible College, a seminary affiliated with the Church of Christ in Lincoln, Illinois. But Ellison was expelled prior to graduation for questioning church doctrine. Nevertheless, in 1962 Ellison moved to San Antonio, Texas, where he somehow became an ordained minister in the Church of Christ.

Evangelists often claim that they have been slain in spirit possessed so completely by Jesuss love that theyve died themselvesbut Ellison did nearly die during a religious awakening in 1970. In later sermons, Ellison claimed that he experienced an epiphany in April of that year following a construction accident. While working on a building as an iron worker, Ellison fell to the ground and was struck by a steel beam. The young minister broke his back and both legs, as well as all of his ribs and left ankle.

Doctors did not expect Ellison to live. Two weeks later, however, he was back on the pulpit declaring that God had spared him for a reason. For the next nine months Ellison preached feverishly about the accident in the context of Gods judgements in the Book of Revelation. One by one, Ellison began to draw a following; and in 1971 the Ellisons and seven other families moved to a farm in Elijah, Missouri, where they established a Christian commune. While I was praying, Ellison later explained to an Oklahoma grand jury, God directed me to come to this part of the country, and acquire land, and establish a place of refuge for people that needed a place to live. Over the next few years, though, one by one Ellison lost his following. Cheryl also abandoned him after years of physical abuse at the hands of Ellison, leaving the preacher to raise five children by himself.

In 1972, Ellison met Ollie Stewart, an attractive twenty-two-year-old bank employee from Lewis Springs, Missouri. The daughter of a Church of Christ minister, Ollie was on the mend from an abusive relationship with her former husband, who had left her with a mountain of debt and sole custody of their mentally retarded two-year-old daughter. She enjoyed spending time with men, said Ellisons confidant, Kerry Noble. Ollie found strength in Ellison. He was a handsome and charismatic pastor. He gave her safety.

In 1976, Ellison bought a 224-acre plot of land from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes on the shore of Bull Shoals Lake in the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas, just south of the Missouri line. Soon Ellison began to attract fundamentalists unhappy with mainstream churches who were looking for a more authentic Christian experience. Though mostly poor and rootless young couples in their early thirties, Ellisons flock also included a smattering of ex-convicts and ultimately some four-hundred recovering drug addicts, primarily young and destitute.

The layout of the land provided a natural parceling into three settlements. On the main compound, Ellison and his followers constructed primitive housing, barns, sheds, a machine shop, and a large stone building called the Sanctuary which served as a combination churchschool. Also on the main compound was a saw mill and a salvage business that generated modest revenues for the community. Adjacent to the lake was the plateau compound and further inland was the valley compound.

In these areas, the communes men, women, and children worked a large garden providing an abundance of fresh vegetables. Cows, goats, hogs, sheep, chickens, and horses grazed nearby. Ellison christened his idyllic setting Zarepath-Horeb. In the Old Testament, Zarepath was a Phoenician seaside village; Horeb was the Old Testament name for Mount Sinai, where God appeared in the burning bush to Moses. Ellisons group had little interest in politics, left or right, and discussions about race and anti-Semitism were virtually non-existent. Our objective, Ellison said at the time, is to simply be free to exercise our rights the way we want to.

Daily life inside Zarepath-Horeb was highly regimented by Ellison and six elders. Smoking, drinking, and swearing were strictly prohibited. Work was mandatory and all material property (wedding rings, family heirlooms, vehicles and the like) were turned over to the Bodyor the organization as a whole. In prayer services, Ellison used the scriptures to warn his flock about Americas imminent social and economic decline. Because of this, Ellison asserted that Christians must develop the capacity to survive.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 01-09-2020 20:43:39 ZULU