Editor’s Note: On Tuesday, June 17, Republic of Texas militia member Richard Keyes III telephoned Joel Dyer, editor of the Boulder Weekly, and gave his first interview since his escape after the seven-day standoff this spring between his separatist group and Texas and federal law authorities. The standoff ended on May 3. Six members surrendered, but Keyes and Michael Matson fled on foot. Two days later, Texas authorities shot Matson dead after he first reportedly opened fire. Keyes escaped, and is now wanted on kidnapping charges.
Keyes had met Dyer in October 1996 while Dyer was doing research for a book on the root causes of the anti-government movement. Since then, they had spoken a number of times on the phone. Dyer’s last contact with Keyes had been on the morning of April 27, the day the Republic of Texas standoff began. Says Dyer of this latest call on June 17: “I have no idea where Richard Keyes is currently located. He would only tell me that he’s no longer in the United States and that he’s living in a compound that’s ‘armed to the teeth.'”
Texas law authorities called off their search for Richard Keyes III on May 7, suggesting the one fugitive member of the Republic of Texas almost certainly was dead. As one officer bluntly put it: “If we don’t get him, the snakes and mountain lions will.”
They didn’t. And, speaking by phone, Keyes eagerly describes how he outmaneuvered law officers who, he says, were once so close that the blades of their search helicopters slashed the air just a few yards above his head. He managed to escape, he says, with the help of a “New Mexico militia” that shuttled him out of the United States to another country, which he refuses to identify. Now, he ominously predicts that the separatist militia’s ill-fated standoff will lead to greater acts of anti-government terrorism.
This latest skirmish between law enforcement authorities and grassroots militia movements began on April 27 when county officials in Fort Davis, Texas, arrested Robert Scheidt, a member of the Republic of Texas, on trespassing and weapons charges. Republic of Texas members sprang into action, holding a nearby couple hostage until the authorities released Scheidt. After exchanging him for the hostages, the Texas police and the FBI quickly besieged the militia. Eight members holed up in the group’s trailer, which they called the “embassy” for their self-styled republic, and kept authorities at bay for six more days before surrendering — except for Keyes and Mike Matson, who fled into the nearby Davis Mountains.
The following is the version of events Keyes gave to Mother Jones, beginning with the arrest of Bob Scheidt early Sunday morning, April 27:
“[Richard] McLaren and White Eagle [Robert Otto] come running out of the embassy saying that they heard on the [police] scanner that Bob Scheidt had been picked up. Gregg Paulson made the immediate decision on the spot to take a portion of the embassy guard right into Fort Davis, capture the courthouse, and free Bob Scheidt. I argued against that because I said that if, as we had suspected, Joe Rowe, who was located at the entrance of Davis Mountain Resort, had told Sheriff Bailey that Bob was leaving the resort area, then he would also call Sheriff Bailey and say we were leaving too. Bailey would have 15 minutes’ advance notice that we were coming.
“We started to leave the embassy perimeter in White Eagle’s car; we being Gregg Paulson, Karen Paulson, and myself. We were about a mile away when White Eagle called us back on the radio.” The orders had changed. “Instead of going into Fort Davis, we were told to capture the Rowes’ house, hold the Rowes as prisoners of war.”
Prisoners of War
Keyes says he and the Paulsons drove to the Rowes’ nearby home and, yelling at the couple from outside, ordered them out of their house.
“Joe Rowe shouted back, ‘Go away, we don’t want you around,’ ‘We’re busy, come back later,’ and things like that,” Keyes says. “Finally, Joe Rowe stuck his handgun out through the door, presumably in the direction of Gregg Paulson. Gregg shouted, ‘Drop it.’ When Joe Rowe did not immediately comply, Gregg lowered his rifle and fired a three-round warning burst through the glass door.
“It was at that time Joe Rowe was wounded in the shoulder by flying glass. The reason I can tell you that it was not a gunshot that wounded him is because I believe at that time Gregg Paulson had armor-piercing rounds in his gun. I believe that if he had actually hit Joe Rowe in the shoulder with an SKS round, Joe Rowe would probably have lost his whole arm right there.
“After Paulson fired the three-round burst, Joe Rowe immediately exited the house with his hands in the air and laid his gun down. Gregg proceeded to enter the house. I followed. Once we were in the house, Mrs. [Margaret Ann] Rowe was on the phone, of course, with the Jeff Davis County Sheriff’s Department. Gregg told her to put the phone down immediately, which she did, and we moved them into the living room.
“Sergeant Paulson then ordered me to cut down Joe’s State of Texas flag on his flagpole over his house. He then told me to take [their] vehicle, move it out on the road as a roadblock, and disable it. I disabled it by firing two rounds into each of the four tires.”
“House Full of Armed Fruitcakes”
“A fter Mrs. Rowe treated her husband’s injuries,” Keyes continues, “Gregg and Karen moved them to the second floor and we established radio contact with law enforcement and asked for additional medical help.” Keyes says they offered to allow a paramedic to enter the house to check on Rowe, who also had a heart condition. But, Keyes says, “The paramedic they called up didn’t want to come in. He was concerned about a house full of armed fruitcakes.”
Later, a paramedic from the local fire department did show up to treat Rowe’s shoulder, and said the injuries were not life-threatening. “We offered Joe Rowe the opportunity to leave anyway,” Keyes says, “but Joe Rowe declined this offer in order to stay with his wife.
“Late in the afternoon, the ambassador [McLaren] instructed us that we should once again call law enforcement and offer to release the Rowes, who were merely civilian spies, in return for two military or law enforcement people. Again, this offer was refused by Joe Rowe himself.
“For all practical purposes, when we made that offer we were no longer holding them prisoner. They were remaining in their house of their own accord. We eventually allowed Mrs. Rowe to do whatever she wanted inside the house without an escort. The Rowes and the Paulsons sat upstairs and watched TV most of the afternoon. Mrs. Rowe even fixed us dinner that night.”
Later in the afternoon, Keyes says, they struck a deal with the Texas Rangers: “They would release him [Scheidt] and allow him to drive up. In return, we were to remove the roadblock and fall back from the Rowe house.
“Now, before we left the Rowes’ house, I gave Mrs. Rowe $20 for any long-distance calls I’d made on their line. Gregg Paulson had given them $20 for the meal that they fed us. And a third party, whose identity I’m not sure of at this time, offered to pick up the cost of the shattered door and any other damage we might have done to their house in the process.
“So they were fully compensated for what happened, except for the fact that they had a rather bad day.”
Shortly after, the Paulsons and Keyes retreated to the Republic’s “embassy,” a trailer and shed owned by McLaren, along with the militia’s other members. “We then had a small and very brief party. Then we had debriefing sessions and hunkered down for the rest of the night.”
At one point, more than 450 local, state, and federal law enforcement officers surrounded the group’s compound and called on the militia to surrender. For the next six days, the Republic of Texas members stayed holed up on the property, sending out radio broadcasts and Web site appeals for help to other militias. It didn’t take long, says Keyes, before the waiting took its toll in the form of infighting and despair: “During the day Sunday [April 27, the first day of the standoff], we were calling everyone we knew for reinforcements to come in and bust the roadblocks and get us out of there. We basically took defensive positions and just sat there.
“Every morning either White Eagle or Gregg Paulson would wake me up saying that they had reason to believe that this would be the day that someone would be breaking through the roadblocks and getting us out. But by the time that evening rolled around, we knew that it wasn’t going to happen that particular day. We had an awful lot of air activity over us. They were flying helicopters and airplanes over us off and on the whole week.”
The militia began to broadcast misinformation, hoping to keep authorities at bay. “We said we had a guy with a Stinger missile. When the planes or helicopters would get too close, we’d say, ‘I have him in my sights. Do I have permission to fire?’ They’d clear out after that. We said we had snipers in the hills, which probably explains why they didn’t surround us.
“Newspapers reported that we had underground bunkers, mines, and booby traps. All we really had was a pipe bomb attached to a propane tank buried near the gate. I had partially buried our gas cans and camouflaged them. Law enforcement thought they were bombs, but we were just trying to keep our fuel from being shot.”
“The misinformation was working well until Friday,” says Keyes. “That’s when Scheidt was supposed to go to ‘the drop’ to pick up a package. That’s how we communicated with the outside. Instead, he walked right by the drop and surrendered.
“Soon after that we started hearing law enforcement radio transmissions describing our defenses and numbers accurately. I can only assume he told them everything.
“[I]t kind of sunk in that nobody was going to come in and get us, and I have to say that the attitudes became more concerned. It was like nobody knew what we were going to do. So we were just kind of floundering at that point.”
Midway through the week, the group began to consider escaping. McLaren, however, did not want to surrender the militia’s property. “I didn’t agree with that and neither did Mike [Matson].
“They were about to hit our perimeter on Friday evening. But that’s when Evelyn [McLaren, Richard’s wife] called the command post and offered to surrender and that’s what held them off. I was in the woods on the south side on Friday night. It got so dark so quickly that night that I couldn’t have found my way back if I wanted to, and I was prepared to run in the other direction if I had to.”
“On Saturday, McLaren decided to surrender. Mike and I decided to head out.”
On the Run
Keyes describes their flight on May 3 after the surrender of the other militia members. “We decided to leave our rifles behind. I took my 9 mm pistol. All Mike had was a .22-caliber pistol. We left together and stayed together for quite a while. We were moving down a creek bed when we were spotted from the air. We split up. Mike headed for cover and I ran down the creek. It seemed to work because they followed me. Eventually I ducked into some trees.
“Later on Saturday, Mike and I got back together. On Sunday morning we were only able to go a quarter mile before the aircraft got too thick, so we stayed in one spot most of the day. Early Sunday evening we moved out past Olympia Springs toward the northwest. As we stopped, we could hear the dogs coming closer. Law enforcement was so close we could hear every word they were saying.
“We decided to head up the side of a mountain. We made it about three-quarters of a mile. On Sunday morning about 7 a.m., law enforcement turned the dogs loose and they headed up the side of the mountain after us. I grabbed my duffel bag and told Mike that we had to get going. But he just looked at me real angry and pulled out his pistol. I knew he had made up his mind not to run. I think it was a matter of differing philosophies. His concern was not to get caught at all costs. Mine was to stay alive and not get caught.”
“Rapid Three-Shot Burst”
“I left him there and headed up the mountain,” Keyes says. “I made it to the top after 15 to 20 minutes. Then I heard several shots from Mike’s pistol. That’s when he killed two dogs and wounded two others. The helicopters moved into the area and I was pinned down near the top of the mountain. I don’t understand how they didn’t see me. Sometimes the helicopter blades were just over my head. I had to stay right there in the rocks.
“On Monday, around 4 p.m., I heard five shots from Mike’s gun. I don’t know if he was shooting at the helicopters or people on the ground. Then there was a rapid three-shot burst from a rifle. That’s when they killed him. It was reported that the shots came from a helicopter but that’s wrong. They were definitely from the ground.
“I couldn’t move for three hours. By Tuesday morning I was two or three miles west of where Mike was shot. [Law officials] made one last pass from the air. For the next several days I moved as far as I could. I never saw a snake or a mountain lion, just some deer and wild turkeys.
“By the end of the week I made it to a telephone and was able to call a New Mexico militia. They sent in a special operations team and extracted me from the area. They moved me from safe house to safe house. I was in a total of six. Eventually they were able to get me out of the country. Now I’m in a place that’s armed to the teeth. If we have to make a stand, we can.”
Point of No Return
Keyes promises a payback for the standoff. “I’m past the point of no return,” he says. “We are people with nothing to lose. If the United States is comfortable with going to war with people who have nothing to lose, then so be it.”
And he promises random acts of violence. McLaren, Keyes says, “has called on all Texicans [members of the Republic of Texas], other freedom fighters such as the Zapatistas and the mujahideen, the militias in the United States, and mercenaries, to take action on their own, hit-and-run-type military action on government facilities. He has called for groups to attempt a seizure of the United Nations. I know that a seizure isn’t likely to happen at this time. It will most likely take the form of small military actions like blowing up part of the U.N.”
Keyes himself says he plans on seeking revenge for Matson’s death. “All I knew at the time [of Matson’s death] was that he had a small-caliber handgun, a .22 semiautomatic snub-nosed pistol. The amount of damage that you can do with a weapon like that is minimal. Anybody with a flak jacket on isn’t going to be injured if you take potshots at them with something like that. Mike was defending himself against killer dogs.
“The fact that someone had to gun him down with a rapid three-shot burst is completely unacceptable. I mean, the guy was injured, he was hurting, he couldn’t run, he had back problems. What we were armed with and the threat we posed to them was nominal.
“I believe that the person who shot him should face capital murder charges in a Republic of Texas district court,” says Keyes. “When Mike Matson was shot, I lost a very close personal friend out there, and I will see justice brought to this guy [the officer who shot Matson] if I have to chase him to the ends of the earth for the rest of my life. I know other people have his name, and it wouldn’t take much for me to get it.”
Joel Dyer is the editor of Boulder Weekly and the author of Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City Is Only the Beginning (Westview Press, July 1997).