Charles Barbee repeatedly denied involvement in last year’s Spokane Valley bombings and robberies, dismissing much of the evidence against him as lies.
In three hours of testimony Monday, Barbee explained his unusual religious beliefs, portrayed his October arrest as a botched publicity stunt and told jurors he was home in Sandpoint when each crime was committed.
When The Spokesman-Review and U.S. Bank were bombed on April 1, 1996, Barbee said he had just seen co-defendant Robert Berry off on a trip to Michigan.
When Planned Parenthood was bombed and the bank robbed again a few months later, on July 12, Barbee was gardening and fixing his wife’s car, he said.
Barbee characterized the deadly 1993 siege in Waco, Texas, as a personal turning point, claiming federal agencies “ceased to be my government” afterward.
“I felt ashamed I didn’t go there,” he said. “People should have gone there and put a stop to it - with violence if necessary.”
The anti-government activist admitted making grenades, mailing threatening letters and training with a militia unit, but characterized himself as man preparing to defend himself from the government - not attack it.
“The government has become usurpers,” he said. “They’re ruling over us from the point of a gun.”
But, the ex-Marine said, “you’d have to be insane” to take on the feds.
Barbee admitted he rationalized stealing vans and trucks as a necessary part of his defensive war, but denied that rationalization extended to bombings and robberies.
“There’s a quantum leap to doing something that has two mandatory life sentences from doing something like taking a vehicle,” he said.
Federal prosecutors will begin crossexamining Barbee this morning in U.S. District Court.
Barbee, 45; Berry, 43, and Verne Jay Merrell, 51, are charged with eight felonies connected to the terrorism spree. Barbee did not testify during the trio’s first trial, which ended in April in a hung jury when one juror refused to convict on the most serious charges.
Monday, holding a Bible and wearing a new purple shirt still creased at the shoulders, Barbee answered questions from his lawyer in a lilting Southern drawl. Asked if he was nervous, the former Florida resident answered, “I reckon.”
Barbee said his staunch opposition to abortion was no motive to bomb Planned Parenthood.
“I don’t feel it’s my place to punish people who take part in abortions,” he said. “Yah (short for Yahweh, an other word for God) will take care of that.”
Barbee said Berry sold a rare Italian shotgun caught on a bank surveillance camera to government informant Christopher Davidson Jr. months before the first robbery. Prosecutors contend Barbee, dressed in military garb, is holding the distinctive gun in the surveillance footage.
Barbee rejected an FBI expert’s testimony that the J.C. Penney jeans taken from his home were worn by one of the robbers.
“My opinion is he works for an agency that spent a lot of money on this case,” Barbee said.
Barbee also dismissed the testimony of jailed Montana militia sympathizer Dennis Wayne Stucker, who claimed Barbee mouthed a confession to him when he visited Stucker in jail.
Instead, Barbee said, Stucker wrote him a message, asking if mutual militia friends could break him out.
“I told him it wasn’t practical,” Barbee said.
Barbee also said the defendants drove to Portland to capitalize on news coverage generated by Spokane’s crimes - not to repeat them, as prosecutors contend. He and Berry planned to don plastic bags, hand deliver a threatening note and ignite a tear gas bomb in a U.S. Bank branch foyer, he said.
But, “Rob and I were sitting in the back of the van putting on our garbage bags and we saw a lady with a baby carriage and talked ourselves out of it,” Barbee said.
Barbee also described his beliefs.
Raised Catholic, he quit attending church at 14 - as soon as he was able - but never quit reading the Bible, “more to argue against it rather than for it,” he said.
In 1993, he read a book detailing the story of the “lost tribes” of Israel. After that, Barbee read the Bible cover to cover, and the transformation began.
“I’m an Israelite,” he said Monday. “I feel I’m a descendant of one of the lost tribes.”
Barbee maintained his beliefs are separatist rather than supremacist, but claimed they are racially neutral.
“There are other white people like me who I would be separate from based on their beliefs,” he said.
Christian Identity teaches that northern Europeans are the true Israelites and Jews descend from Satan.
Merrell, who testified during the first trial, is expected to take the stand later this week. It’s unclear if Berry plans to testify.
The three men face mandatory life in prison if convicted of their crimes.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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