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Meet the Former Militiaman Behind the Fast and Furious Scandal

The blogger who helped turn the ATF op into a national controversy is better known for inciting violence than exposing wrongdoing.

| Wed Dec. 14, 2011 7:00 AM EST

Vanderboegh says his days as a left-wing radical came to an end in 1977. At the time, he was working as an aide in an Ohio hospital and an ex-Wehrmacht surgeon being treated there "wrestle[d] the devil for my soul." "Herr Doktor," as Vanderboegh called him, gave him a copy of Friedrich von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, a 1944 tome that is one of the intellectual pillars of libertarianism. Through Hayek and some tutoring from Herr Doktor on the evils of communism, Vanderboegh says, he saw the light and gave up the class struggle and even politics in general—at least for a while.

After the 1993 ATF-led siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, ended in the deaths of 76 people, including 20 children, Vanderboegh joined the militia movement in Alabama. During that time, he wrote "Strategy and Tactics for a Militia Civil War," a document that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, "discussed the utility of 'snipers using violence carefully targeted'" at war criminals, secret policemen, and militia watchdogs who'd been keeping tabs on him. Later, Vanderboegh became an anti-immigration crusader. In 2005, the SPLC included Vanderboegh in a report on the then-burgeoning nativist movement, noting his involvement in Minutemen patrol groups that attempted to police the southern border.

Vanderboegh's newfound partnership with ATF agents comes as a bit of a surprise, even to him. Thanks to the Waco disaster and other scandals, Vanderboegh says he thought of ATF agents as jack-booted thugs, who regarded guys like him as "barrel suckers." Outrage over another ATF scandal prompted him to start his current blog, and ultimately led to his Brian Terry scoop.

In 2008, 36-year-old David Olofson was convicted of illegally transferring an automatic weapon to another party and sentenced to 30 months in prison. He became a cause célèbre for gun rights activists who believed the ATF railroaded him. Olofson had maintained that the gun was a legal semi-automatic that had simply misfired when used by a friend at a gun range, and that ATF officials had manipulated the evidence to send him to prison.

After writing about the Olofson case, Vanderboegh says he tapped in to a community of ATF agents who also saw problems with the agency and he started up an informal intelligence network of agents and other "former spooks." Because of that network, "Brian Terry fell into our lap," he explains.

Vanderboegh, though, is not a deep-pocketed Washington insider who could single-handedly turn the Terry case into a national controversy. He survives on a monthly disability check and his wife's job at a forklift company, according to the Washington Post. And his blog has a very small, though devoted, readership. So Vanderboegh drew on his militia ties, getting a big assist from his old friend and militia buddy Larry Pratt, the head of Gun Owners of America (GOA), a gun rights lobbying group several times more extreme than the NRA.

Pratt, once a contributing editor to an anti-Semitic publication, wrote a book in the early 1990s that lionized death squads in Guatemala as "citizen defense patriots," according to SPLC. The book landed him an invite to address a three-day conference of neo-Nazis and other white supremacists in 1992, which in turn helped launch the militia movement in the United States. Now a registered Washington lobbyist, Pratt helped Vanderboegh connect the ATF whistleblowers to members of Congress. He also helped sponsor Vanderboegh's recent trip to DC, putting him up at his house and letting him work out of the GOA office in Virginia during his visit.

Vanderboegh is now working on other big scoops. In late November, Newsweek/Daily Beast published a story about a man who worked as a paid FBI informant in the 1990s, going undercover among neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. But Vanderboegh says Newsweek didn't run the full story, which he says included damning information about an FBI operation in the 1990s called PATCON (for Patriot Conspiracy) that allegedly involved giving weapons, explosives, and money to neo-Nazis as a way of infiltrating their networks.

Vanderboegh snagged an unedited copy of the Newsweek story and posted it on his blog under the title, "Hiding mass murder behind 'national security.' What Newsweak & the FBI didn't want you to know about PATCON and the OKC Bombing." Vanderboegh claims that the FBI had a role in repressing parts of the Newsweek story, and he's confident PATCON is going to be the next big scandal. (Asked whether the FBI pressured the magazine to cut references to PATCON, Newsweek spokesman Andrew Kirk said, "Of course not." He wouldn't comment on how Vanderboegh might have gotten the story.)

It would be easy to dismiss Vanderboegh's obsession about this latest FBI "scandal" as the healthy imagination of a conspiracy theorist with too much time on his hands. But then there's Fast and Furious.

Vanderboegh, for his part, is relishing his 15 minutes of fame, which has catapulted him into a Fox News regular. After the Holder hearing, he wrote on his blog: "Sometimes I have to pinch myself. I just can't believe Mrs. Vanderboegh's wayward son finds himself in the middle of all this."

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