Anti-Government ‘Sovereign Movement’ on the Rise in U.S.
Gary Thomas will never forget the letter he received in early 2000. It was from John Joe Gray, a suspect in a felony assault case, offering a not-so-subtle warning to the area’s chief criminal investigator: He had no intention of answering charges that he had attacked a state trooper.
“What he said was this: ‘If y’all come to get me, bring body bags,’ ” said Thomas, now a local justice of the peace.
Thomas remembers the message clearly, not because of its unvarnished threat, but because — after 12 years — Gray, who doesn’t acknowledge the authority of any government, continues to dare police to come and get him.
PHOTOS: John Joe Gray’s isolated compound
Sequestered on a 50-acre, wooded compound in East Texas since jumping bail more than a decade ago, Gray and his clan have effectively outlasted the administrations of four local sheriffs, all of whom have decided that John Joe’s arrest is not worth the risk of a violent confrontation.
“The risk of loss of life on both ends is far too great,” said Anderson County District Attorney Doug Lowe, who first sought to prosecute Gray for the alleged Christmas Eve 1999 assault of Texas Trooper Jim Cleland. “I believed it then; I still feel that way.”
The stalemate, perhaps the longest-running standoff in the U.S. between law enforcement and a fugitive living in plain sight, is also emblematic of what the FBI believes is a troubling re-emergence of an anti-government movement that vaulted to notoriety in 1995. Then, one of its disaffected sympathizers, Timothy McVeigh— angered by the government’s botched 1993 raid of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas — detonated a truck bomb outside the Oklahoma City federal building, killing 168 people in what was at the time the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil.