John Trochmann speaks in hushed tones and fiddles absently with a white beard.
At a glance he could be an English professor strolling with a visitor along a dusty lane.
The image is pulverized in seconds.
A Chevrolet Suburban barrels toward him and slides to a stop. A protective, wild-eyed driver and his passenger glare through the windshield. They exhale relief and remove loaded pistols from their waistbands.
“Don’t leave like that without telling us where you’re going!” the driver shouts to Trochmann.
Welcome to Trochmann’s world.
For the 52-year-old patriarch and co-founder of the Militia of Montana, a prototype for citizen militias around the country, it’s a frenzied place steeped in contradiction and fear. Here, a 10-minute walk down a driveway escalates into unfounded suspicions of violence perpetrated by the toadies of a shadow government.
After the April 19 Oklahoma City bombing, outsiders are prying into that world.
Trochmann’s Montana domain has long been an ink blot test of sorts, where everyone sees something different.
To the hundreds that Trochmann and his compatriots address at frequent speaking engagements, the militia leaders are folk heroes, warrior-philosophers who claim to speak the truth about a pending New World Order.
To many of the 400 or so residents of this depressed Clark Fork River logging community, they are a harmless nuisance, businessmen using gun control to market propaganda that includes tips on how to find work as a sniper. Cafe owners complain they hold whispery meetings in Noxon restaurants but don’t buy anything.
Others here say the militiamen are petulant, racist hatemongers who preach veiled violence in public, open revolution on the sly and host 3 a.m. war games in their back yards.
Now, television crews from Salt Lake City, Toronto and Japan swoop in and out of tiny Noxon. London and Dallas newspaper reporters dawdle for days at the militia’s 20-acre compound. Esquire magazine is expected to stay for weeks.
With his cluttered office as the tent, Trochmann is adapting to his role as ring leader of the media circus. For the Minnesota farmer’s son and former snowmobile parts designer, image now is everything.
“To the major part of America, I guess the Militia of Montana is pretty bad news,” Trochmann says. “That’s because they just don’t know us.”
The core of the Militia of Montana is just four men: Trochmann, his brother David, 49, nephew Randy Trochmann, 27, and spokesman Bob Fletcher, 52.
They claim no members, but say thousands support them. Authorities say numbers are significantly lower.
The Trochmanns and Fletcher believe the federal government, under a series of deceptive presidential orders, is quietly funneling the country’s power and resources to the United Nations.
They believe U.N. troops will use old, black Soviet tanks, helicopters, missiles and guns to shatter resistance.
The militia urges formation of small, heavily armed, leaderless forces to defend against attacks.
“People say, ‘I can’t believe that would ever happen,”’ Randy Trochmann says. “But you can order the documents yourself from the U.N.”
They say the way federal agents handled standoffs at Randy Weaver’s Ruby Ridge cabin and with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, is proof the takeover is under way.
The Trochmanns witnessed the 1992 Weaver siege. They befriended Weaver, often delivering food and supplies. They formed a Weaver support group that later became the Militia of Montana.
Even the Oklahoma massacre isn’t beyond the scope of this conspiracy. John Trochmann says the bombing “reeks of a very internal high-tech government operation” to discredit the militia.
In its aftermath, he is convinced the telephones are tapped, there are warrants out for his arrest and agents soon will storm the office.
“It’ll happen, you’ll see,” he says.
The militia is housed in a green metal shed designed as a machine shop. It’s here, beneath snow-capped Government Mountain, that the four militiamen rail against the secret regime.
Five days after federal agents tied the Oklahoma bombing to the militia movement, the pace at the militia’s hive is frenetic.
At a desk near the door, John Trochmann hunches over a telephone, scribbling notes as he talks to out-of-state militia members. Behind him, David Trochmann snatches faxes off the machine.
Around a divider, Randy Trochmann designs the next militia newsletter - “Taking Aim” - on a computer. Pinned to the wall above him is a “black helicopter identification chart.”
The room is littered with maps, gun show brochures, gun calendars, newsletters and newspaper clippings. The ringing of the telephone is constant. Rifles rest in a corner. A folding table holds coffee and a bag of gingersnaps.
Fletcher, a former Georgia puppet-store owner and would-be Florida congressman, is in the next room. Through the walls he is heard spitting expletives at a Canadian reporter for disputing that the United Nations now pulls Congress’ strings.
He claims to have sources high in government who feed him confidential information.
Asked if compiling secret documents is illegal, John Trochmann grows belligerent. The government commits crimes daily, he says.
John Trochmann’s distrust of government dates to his days as a Naval flight engineer during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He says the whole thing was a lie: Photographs depicting Fidel Castro’s missiles were actually of barrels stacked under a tarp.
That’s why he began stockpiling food and weapons more than 20 years ago, he says. That’s why the militia today tries to educate people about the pending takeover, scheduled for the year 2000.
His group appears to do so primarily through mail order.
Its catalog consists of 50 videos, 45 books and 30 cassettes. The militia also sells pepper sprays and stun guns, “but we’re getting out of that,” Randy Trochmann says. The sale of weapons now longer suits their image, he says.
The militia quartet and their families survive on money left over from the long-ago sale of a family business and income from the catalog sales. Their post office bill can top $1,200 in an afternoon.
“We send out 40 start-up packets a day,” Randy Trochmann says.
They work 75-hour weeks. They take orders and update other militia organizations about new presidential decrees, newly uncovered United Nations documents and so-called secret CIA and FBI files.
It’s a national network, linking Noxon to the outside via three telephone lines, a fax machine, the Internet and a ham radio.
Anti-government beliefs are not new for the Trochmanns.
Larry Doyle, a banker from Maple Plain, Minn., knew John Trochmann in the 1970s and early 1980s, when he and brother David ran Trochs Enterprises, a snowmobile parts store.
“He (John) was always giving me things to read about government,” Doyle says. “He gave me a tape once and I stuck it in the car radio and it was just some guy talking about the government. It was boring so I threw it away.”
The brothers landed in Noxon from Delano, Minn., after selling the business in 1984. Randy Trochmann showed up a year later.
Randy Trochmann’s first major anti-government act was his arrest in Thompson Falls, Mont., at age 20 for refusing to get a driver’s license.
He since has learned there’s a need for some government and laws. “We still need the stoplight,” he says.
Fletcher’s ideology has shifted in the last 10 years.
The Orlando Sentinel reported five years ago that Fletcher was interviewed by Iran-Contra investigators in the mid-1980s after he accused his business partner of selling arms to the Contras. It’s unclear whether anything came of the interview.
Running as a Democrat in 1990, Fletcher challenged U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., a member of the House Iran-Contra committee.
“Fletcher was really bizarre and mysterious,” says Doug Head, Democratic Party chairman for Orange County, Fla. “He came out of nowhere and pretty much returned there after the election.”
Fletcher lost the election, getting 40 percent of the vote. A year later, the Sentinel reported Fletcher had turned up as a gumshoe for Manuel Noriega’s defense lawyers, trying to dig up dirt on CIA Panamanian operations.
Later, in 1991, he met the Trochmanns at a Bozeman, Mont., rally. MOM’s seeds were sown.
“We’re just a slice of Americana,” Fletcher says.
That view of American life includes clemency pleas for a white separatist on death row, praise for activists demanding freedom for “white men,” and a handful of down-played visits to the Aryan Nations Church.
The Trochmanns publicly deny racist views, but Noxon residents say they privately preach hate.
“They don’t like Jews, they don’t like blacks, they don’t like homosexuals,” says tavern owner Sharon Larkin.
Behind her bar is a plaque urging “the Great Spirit who made all races” to take away the “arrogance and hatred separating us from our brothers.”
MOM’s hostility unnerves Noxon. Many fear retribution for public criticism.
“I wouldn’t trust my back to them,” says one Noxon woman. “There’s this real mafia feeling around them. Sometimes, even their silence is intimidating.”
At night, that silence is said to broken by occasional machine gun fire from the compound. Some residents claim to have seen tracer bullets over head.
Yet Jay Simons, reporter for the weekly Sanders County Ledger, says even her teenage neighbor has been known to fire rounds into the night sky. “This is Montana,” she says.
The militiamen say they’re not to be feared. They may carry handguns, bury rifles and shotguns around the yard and pack weapons when they’re on the road. But they don’t perform late-night maneuvers, and they don’t advocate violence, they say.
Authorities aren’t so sure.
“I think Mr. Trochmann chooses his words very carefully,” says Montana Attorney General Joe Mazurek.
This spring, John Trochmann told a Post Falls crowd that militias should “use our muscle very discreetly.”
Police worry constitutionalists and so-called freemen now banding together are itching for violence. A charismatic leader may indirectly encourage them.
“All it takes is one or two people” to hear the wrong message, Mazurek says. “They may be the ones who end up firing the first shots.”
Montana State Rep. Jim Elliott, a Democrat who farms half a section 15 miles up river from Noxon, puts it this way.
“Anybody who’s angry and owns a gun is dangerous,” he says. “Anybody who’s angry and paranoid and owns a gun is really dangerous.”