A fugitive armed with a machine gun and a homemade bomb was arrested Wednesday in North Idaho after meeting with what he thought were two militia leaders.
After realizing his would-be militia friends were really cops, Paul James Cavanaugh attempted to run away but was tackled and captured.
He has been a fugitive since May 20, when he showed up unexpectedly, then fled, while Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents were searching his cabin north of Davenport, Wash.
One undercover officer involved in Wednesday’s arrest is the same ATF agent who came face-to-face with the Uzi-toting Cavanaugh two months earlier.
The search of the cabin grew out of the investigation of the unsolved April 29 bombing of Spokane’s City Hall.
During the search, agents found a bomb-making instruction book, gunpowder and illegal firearms, but nothing specifically linking him to the City Hall bombing.
Cavanaugh, 36, has federal convictions for attempting to make methamphetamine and illegal possession of firearms in 1989. He has expressed anti-government sentiments in the past, officials say.
Shortly before he became a fugitive, Cavanaugh told a state employee in Spokane that militia groups “have every right” to shoot government workers.
ATF agents have known for about two weeks that Cavanaugh was hiding in a woman’s rural home near Blanchard, Idaho, just east of Mount Spokane.
But they didn’t want to go to that cabin, fearing a possible gunbattle or standoff.
“It’s a relief to us that he’s in custody, without any injuries to anyone,” said ATF spokesman Jim Provencher in Seattle.
The arrest was planned for several days, sources said.
When agents learned Cavanaugh wanted to contact militia leaders, they set up Wednesday’s rendezvous in a wooded area between Athol and Spirit Lake, just off state Highway 54.
ATF Supervisory Agent Bob Harper said two undercover officers - one from ATF, the other from the Montana Department of Justice - drove a pickup truck with a camper shell to the spot.
Three other ATF agents bolted from the camper when the undercover officers attempted to arrest Cavanaugh and he began to run.
The ruse was similar to the way ATF agents successfully arrested Randy Weaver in January 1991. Released prior to trial, Weaver returned to his North Idaho cabin and was a fugitive sought by deputy U.S. marshals, who got involved in the infamous Ruby Ridge siege.
“He was armed with an Uzi machine gun and five or six loaded magazines” of ammunition, Harper said. Two knives and martial-arts throwing stars also were found on the suspect.
Cavanaugh was taken to Moscow, Idaho, for an initial appearance before a U.S. magistrate, who ordered him held in jail.
Eventually, he will be returned to Spokane where he’s expected to be indicted on federal charges of being a felon in possession of firearms and a machine gun.
He also could be indicted in the District of Idaho for possession of a destructive device.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo