Downtown: Stand-off in Texas

ByABC News

Sept. 25, 2000 -- Sixty miles south of Dallas, past locked steel gates and barbed wire, is the armed camp where John Joe Gray, an anti-government right-wing extremist, resides.

Gray, 51, a self-proclaimed “freedom fighter” and colonel in the “Texas Militia,” lives there with his wife, children and supporters — 17 in all.

“We’ll defend it, that’s all there is to it,” says Gray, who was indicted for assaulting a state trooper earlier this year. “You come after us, bring extra body bags. Those who live by the sword die by the sword.”

Alicia, his wife of more than 30 years and the mother of their six children, says, “We’re prepared to die for what we believe in.”

What the Grays believe is that the government has taken away too many of their God given rights. “I’ve put out literature about the new-world order and what’s going on,” Gray says.

A Run-in With Police

John Joe Gray got into trouble with the law last spring, when a car he was riding in was stopped for speeding. According to the state trooper who pulled him over, Gray was carrying a pistol — illegally .

“He said, ‘You got a permit?’” Gray recalls. “I said, ‘No, sir, it’s my God given right to carry.’”

The two men ended up in a scuffle, with Gray biting the officer. Later indicted, Gray refused to appear in court, saying that he acted in self-defense and that the entire judicial system is corrupt and conspiring against him. In protest, he now refuses to obey the law, including paying taxes, and has lived inside an armed camp for the past six months. His compound — which has no electricity or running water — is about an hour’s drive from Waco, the scene of the deadly Branch Davidian stand-off in 1993.

Inside the compound, the vehicles have license plates “issued” by a church called the Kingdom of Heaven. The American flag hangs upside-down. A sign that reads “Kids Inside” stands above a bunker, and sandbags, presumably to be used for cover in case of an attack, rest on the dirt ground. Two years worth of food is stockpiled. And throughout the compound, all the adults carry weapons.

The sheriff’s office in Trinidad, Texas, has been staking out the closely guarded compound, but they approach the situation cautiously because of the passionate threats made by Gray and his militia to engage in an armed battle if there is an attempt to raid the compound.

“I just don’t want to see a blood bath here because they are committed and they are going to defend their property,” says Alex Jones, a right-wing radio talk-show host who is sympathetic to the Grays. “His family has been harassed and he has a right to live his life as a free human being and defend his property and family.”

A Waiting Game

Authorities are playing a waiting game for another reason: Inside the compound are the two sons of Gray’s former son-in-law, Keith Tarkington.

“I’ve been through hell because I know where my kids are, ” Tarkington says. “I have custody of them and I cannot get the sheriff’s department, the Texas Rangers, the FBI can’t even help me get to my children.”

Tarkington says that life was good for the family until Gray convinced Tarkington’s wife to leave him. They divorced, and a court later awarded custody of the boys to the father. But, says Tarkington, he hasn’t seen his children since last summer because his ex-wife has them inside Gray’s compound.

“Because he’s raising my children,” says Tarkington, “he knows as long as he got them, the laws won’t come in there and get him.”

If authorities try to take the children by force, Gray says he will defend himself — and his right to live as a free man — to the end. “I’m willing to die for it, because how else could you live,” Gray says. “They can take my land, you know, OK. They can take my life. But they can’t take my freedom.”

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