“The War Within” Raising Cash For The Movement
CELLS: The drug connection
He’s a silver-haired grandfather and milk distributor who ran a bed-and-breakfast in a Cascade Mountains tourist town.
He’s also a convicted felon who committed federal tax and firearms crimes, and served time in prison.
Now Edwin Dale McClain is back in jail in Yakima, charged along with five other men with operating the biggest methamphetamine lab ever busted in Oregon.
McClain, 53, and at least two co-defendants have links to militia and anti-government groups in Arizona and Montana, says Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Shogren.
Investigators searching McClain’s home near Yakima last summer found a phony $1 million cashier’s check signed by Montana freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer.
McClain visited the freemen compound last winter, and admits he shares Schweitzer’s beliefs.
But why would anti-government activists operate a meth lab on a remote eastern Oregon ranch?
For the money, authorities speculate. Selling drugs generates a lot of cash that escapes taxes.
The meth lab near Burns was big enough to produce more than $1 million of the drug a month, authorities say.
Harney County Sheriff David Glerup says it appears to have operated for a few years.
It even had a commercial pill press.
“We estimate this group could have grossed as much as $6 million,” Shogren says. “We don’t know where any of the money went.”
Federal agents, who raided the ranch on July 4, found militia literature, but very little money.
“We have to presume at this point that it went into the militia movement,” Shogren says.
The ranch was bought for cash by one of the defendants, Herbert Crawford, of Tucson, Ariz.
He’s involved with the Arizona Township Association, which advocates common-law courts and self-government through townships.
Another of the defendants, Robert L. Taylor Sr., 58, was previously convicted in Virginia of possessing a machine gun and a silencer.
The meth case is being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration - not the FBI, the agency responsible for domestic terrorism cases.
Because the Burns group didn’t rob a bank, blow up a building or threaten a public official, its activities will go largely unnoticed by the FBI.
Authorities say they learned about the meth lab and the militia ties after undercover cops made a drug buy in Yakima. The dealer agreed to cooperate with DEA agents, who set up a sting.
McClain and Bernard Montgomery, 58, of Susanville, Calif., were arrested when they drove from Burns to Yakima to buy ephedrine, an essential ingredient to make methamphetamine.
McClain says he got interested in “patriot issues” in the 1960s and joined the John Birch Society. “I realized something was very, very wrong with our government.”
He lived in Leavenworth, Wash., for 25 years before moving to the Seattle area in the mid-1980s after his marriage ended.
He was convicted in 1988 of filing false federal income tax returns. Five years later, he was convicted of being a felon in possession of firearms.
About the drug charges, he says he didn’t break any laws and is a victim of government entrapment. He plans to act as his own attorney when he goes to trial.
“I’m a sovereign citizen,” he says, “and I hate the government for interfering with my inalienable rights.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos Map: Burns, Oregon