L. Neil Smith's

Number 11, August 1996

The Minister and the Viper

by Fran Van Cleave

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise.

         I went down to the Maricopa County Jail this morning and got in to see Dean Pleasant.
         This is no mean feat. It was my third attempt to see this member of the infamous "Viper Militia," who is being held without bail in Administrative Segregation inside Maximum Security.
         Ostensibly, this is for his own protection. It also limits his visiting hours to two half-hour periods each Sunday and Wednesday -- really only twenty minutes each, because they count the time spent getting him as part of your half-hour.
         Only family members, lawyers, and clergy can visit him. As a minister in the Universal Life Church, a once-popular Southern California church that willingly ordained anyone with a belief in God and $10, I duly produced a letter from myself stating the purpose of my visit to be religious services, and was ushered up to the fourth floor, visiting booth D2.
         Not, of course, before surrendering my sunglasses, my watch, and my wedding and engagement rings. No doubt some clever Viper, schooled in survival techniques, could have used my engagement ring to cut through the glass window and, using my watch to determine direction from the sun, divined his way to the nearest waterhole and thence to the Mexican border. Alas, the watch is digital -- the scheme never would've worked!
         Aside from exchanging a few words with Dean at the bail hearing on Tuesday the 9th of July, this was the first time I'd had a chance to talk with him since before the arrests. We sat on either side of a screened glass window, and the guard handcuffed him to the bench. A joke about captive audiences flitted through my head and vanished. I picked up the phone and said, "Hey, Dean!"
         The guard fumbled with the handcuffs, making Dean drop the phone. He picked it up again and said, "Hi, Fran!" All smiles, he looked amazingly chipper for someone who'd been in jail for over two weeks, not to mention being spit upon by other inmates. I do seem to have this salutary effect on people, particularly men who haven't seen a woman in a while. Chalk up the other half of it to the resilience of youth (he's 27).
         "I'm doing OK," he said. "Just you wait and see, we'll be a movie of the week. On one of those boring time slots after the cop shows...."
         I've known Dean for almost 3 years, since the winter before the '94 campaign, when our Libertarian Party had monthly meetings at the Spaghetti Company downtown on Central. Yes, he's quite a gun enthusiast, and no, I can't imagine him ever initiating force against another human being. He's a kindhearted, even-tempered optimist who told me and another friend in April that one of the reasons that he continued to hang out with this other group of people was because two of its members were on the edge, and he felt he was good at calming them down. Thinking back, I believe he was afraid to leave.
         Golly, could those two have been the FBI informants? The ones who admitted in court Monday the 8th that they tried to get the Vipers to rob banks, sell drugs, and distribute racist literature?
         The Vipers refused to do those things. Instead, they'd made a video of themselves blowing up ... dirt. Blow up dirt, go to jail?
         Well, but they intended an identical fate for government agents, the Feds assert. If ATF really believed that, why did they not warn anyone in the supposedly targeted buildings? The answer is, they didn't believe it, nor suspect it, nor charge the defendants with such plans. The conspiracy charges boil down to one Orwellian word: Thoughtcrime.
         The mainstream media, those staunch guardians of free thought, fell all over themselves to validate Janet Napolitano's characterization of the Viper's as a bunch of Tim McVeighs in utero. When the black inmates heard this on the news last week, "they wanted my ass," says Dean. After all, these Vipers must be racists and baby-killers. Dean's name had been bandied all over the place as the most prominent Libertarian, so it was only reasonable to storm over to his cell and try to beat the crap out of him. Right?
         Fortunately (I use the word advisedly) his new room-mate, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, locked them in and called for help from the guards. The guards decided to place Dean in Administrative Segregation. The incensed inmates, deprived of their rightful prey, spit on Dean as they hustled him off.
         Of course, we can't ignore the possibility that this was a set-up to put Dean in fear of his life, thereby making him more amenable to plea-bargaining.
         "Rick (Walker) has been talking about killing himself," said Dean. "He's lost everything, his business, the house. His wife's moving back to Detroit with the kids, and her old boyfriends live there, so he thinks it's the only way he can die with honor...."
         Die with honor? Jesus H. Christ, is he trying to head his lawyer off at the pass?
         "Any fool can die for a cause," I said forcefully, disgusted by this talk of "honorable" suicide. "It takes a strong person to live for one."
         "I know," said Dean, looking me straight in the eye.
         "Good," I said. I felt briefly like a minister, despite my present agnosticism. He knows, of course, but how much? Not as much as my 42-year-old self, scarred from the world's stupidest psychedelic drug bust six years ago.
         But I didn't mention this. Dean disapproved of drugs. In fact, when I first met him, he was so Republican-looking I wondered how we'd ever get along. Now I'm reminded of the unlikely friendship between Timothy Leary and G. Gordon Liddy.
         "I got your cards yesterday," said Dean over the phone. "I needed that ... they were great, especially the ones from the kids."
         Dean and I and Chris Wilcoxson had taken care of Ernie Hancock's four kids after he'd burned himself in a carburetor fire in November '94, giving Donna time to visit Ernie in the Maricopa County Burn Unit. Dean bought the kids ice cream and took them to the movies.
         The kids wrote, "We love you, Dean. We know who the bad guys are."
         Dean smiled when he talked about our cards, but after a moment he had tears in his eyes. "Sorry, I just get...."
         "It's OK," I said. "How 'bout if I read you something from my ULC book?"
         He nodded, and I began, "'If we believe in our own liberty sufficiently to let everyone else enjoy theirs, we can achieve peace beyond all our expectations and prosperity must follow, just as the day follows the sun. Armed with the inventiveness of liberty, the human race always transcends itself. The ULC Church champions above all else Liberty of Thought, the mother of all invention...."
         "Um, I have to go," he said, and I looked up to see the guard uncuffing him from the bench. I hadn't realized it was 11:00 already -- my watch was downstairs in that flimsy locker with my rings and my sunglasses.
         I couldn't help but wonder how free one's thought can be when you're in chains.


         Anyone wishing to contribute to the Dean Pleasant Viper Defense Fund may send money to S.A.F.E., Bank of America (stop at any branch, or mail to Bank of America, Metro Center Branch #119, 10459 N. 28th Drive, Phoenix, AZ 85051) Account # 119 743689. Check memo entry: "D.P.V.D.F." (First Interstate and Norwest refused to let me open an account for him, saying that I would have to "prove" that it was in the "community interest.")

Fran Van Cleave is a gun owner, a fledgling science fiction writer, and Libertarian activist. She believes the militia phenomenon to be a mirror image of the '60s hippies, and just as opaque to the mainstream media.

Get your Viperwear(TM) T-shirt: "The Viper Militia as seen by...." Hilarious, sharp 4-color design. Postage-paid with donation of $18 or more to SAFE (memo: Dean Pleasant Viper Defense Fund), 10412 N. 8th Ave. #3, Phoenix, AZ 85021. State shirt size(s) and number of each. Preview the design by visiting http://www.nguworld.com/viper.

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