If At First You Don't Secede

articles
May 11 1997 3:30 AM

If At First You Don't Secede

The eyes of the nation are upon the new Republicans of Texas.

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Forget the Alamo!

This sounds crass, but I can't deny it: I desperately wanted the standoff at the Republic of Texas trailer-trash compound to last longer than it did--for selfish reasons.

Not weeks longer, mind you. Just a few hours. Just long enough for me to get there. Having missed all the famous government vs. fringe standoffs--Ruby Ridge, Waco, the Montana Freemen--I was determined to go and bear witness this time. I would find out at last if mysterious U.N.-dispatched "black helicopters" really buzz around at these things like giant hell-spawned bumblebees. I would document the local movements of guts-and-glory militia reinforcements. (A militia offensive of some sort was widely rumored on the Net, where one rabid militia man wrote: "WE HAVE HAD A BELLY FULL OF THE FBI, BATF, DEA, ETC. ETC. ... Lock and Load, prepare to Rock and Roll.") It sounds silly now, but militia trouble did seem plausible at Fort Davis. Wednesday, April 30, three days after the siege began, several heavily armed Republic of Texas members were apprehended at a truck stop near Pecos, Texas, about 90 miles from the action.

Alas, none of it was to be. I took off from Newark, N.J., at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 3. After landing in El Paso, I called a militia contact who had agreed to ask around about possible right-wing bivouacs. (I even brought camping gear!) Things looked "hot" when I left--from inside his "embassy," ROT leader Richard McLaren was busily faxing out apocalyptic maydays--but his hot blood turned to pink Jell-O.

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"Hey!" said my contact. "Guess you heard. It's over."

"What? No! McLaren was talking so tough."

"Well, he came out."

While I groaned, he described the final hours. McLaren had swallowed the old negotiator's bait of surrender "with honor." The lawmen treated him like the head of a brave conquered nation. He would be allowed to press in court his claim that the Republic of Texas had been illegally annexed by the United States in 1845. Then he would go to jail for many years. Not the best of deals, but he obviously preferred it to Plan B: getting shot.

Irented a car and putted around morosely, listening to the radio and mulling over my options. Texas lawmen were boasting, justifiably, about the happy outcome. Yes, there was one tiny glitch--two ROT activists had somehow slipped away--but that was no problem. A drawling official said these fugitives were not experienced in the back country, so they would be easy pickings. For my part, I knew there would be little left to see. The militia would "stand down." Even the trailer compound--which had been tricked out with Swiss Family Robinson-style self-defense gizmos--was still off-limits to the media.

There was, however, one notable event left: Sunday, members of the other factions of the Republic of Texas were holding a big rally in Kilgore, to make clear that the movement would live on. (The republic, as you probably know, contains three competing clans.) I unfolded my map. Hmmm. Kilgore was way over by Louisiana. Even at 75 miles per hour, I could count on driving at least 12 hours, making it just in time for the opening gavel at 1 p.m.

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