By New Times
By Connor Radnovich
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Ray Stern
By Keegan Hamilton
By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
"NOT THIS WEEKEND," J.D. said. It was February 14, 1991, the Thursday before Presidents Day. Something was up his sleeve that he wasn't telling. "Loose lips sink ships," he said.
He didn't answer his telephone that Saturday.
Sunday night he finally answered. He was jubilant, but a little tired from his night in Coconino County Jail and the walk home, 15 miles around Elden Mountain.
J.D., a stocky 56-year-old with bristling white stubble, a crew cut, blue eyes and a hearing aid as big as your thumb, had spent Friday night and part of Saturday at Wupatki National Monument, northeast of Flagstaff toward the Hopi mesas. Wupatki encompasses 35,000 acres of windswept, orange-sandstone canyons scattered with Anasazi ruins, black lava rock hidden in sparse tufts of grass, and Sunset Crater, a lava dome with burnt-red crater that erupted in 1064.
J.D. had spent his time at Wupatki dangling from the flagpole at the Visitor Center with a noose around his neck, along with an upside-down American flag and a huge, chicken-wire and straw effigy of President George Bush-complete with black hood, white gloves that had been spattered with red and its own hangman's noose.
J.D.'s "February Surprise" was a protest against the Gulf War. He was also protesting his job. He was trying to get his employer to grant him medical retirement.
Finding J.D. dangling from a flagpole in a plastic eight-foot raft with a portable potty and three days of provisions probably didn't surprise Wupatki Chief Ranger Anna Marie Fender. She knew J.D.; he worked there.
That J.D. was about to draw a lot of heat probably didn't surprise anyone else, either; had there been a time when he hadn't? Certainly he'd had his scrapes with the U.S. Department of the Interior, which runs Wupatki. Interior had already fired him three times, twice when he taught at Leupp Boarding School on the Navajo Reservation, once at Wupatki. Each time he had appealed to the Park Service's Merit Systems Protection Board; each time he'd been reinstated.
His press conference a couple of years before at Flagstaff's Peaks Ranger Station had drawn a lot of attention, too. J.D. had given TV and radio interviews from the back of his pickup truck, where he sat atop his dead horse, holding U.S. Forest Service personnel responsible for killing the horse because they blocked off a road on which J.D. was riding in his buggy and forced him into a long detour.
Then came J.D.'s February Surprise at Wupatki. But that wouldn't be J.D.'s only encounter with the authorities in 1991. Toward the end of the year, Arizona Public Service Company found a one-pound magnet stuck to the watt meter on the back of his house. If those dials can't turn, it's hard to run up much of a bill, and J.D. hadn't. He was convicted last December 10 on two counts of theft, given six months' unsupervised probation and ordered to pay a $280 fine.
The February Surprise wasn't the first time J.D. was videotaped at Wupatki. In September 1990, his image was captured in his National Park Service uniform, wearing a sandwich board reading "SMOKING CAUSES CANCER." A film crew was trying to shoot a commercial for Lucky Strike, but J.D. kept getting in front of the cameras. On his pickup truck, a sign read, "We are mad as hell that the Park Service kowtows to a tobacco company at Wupatki Ruin."
J.D. HAD BEEN WORKING at Wupatki for eight years. During the winters, he was a maintenance man; summers, he stabilized the ruins. In February 1991, he was more trouble than usual. His employer, the Department of the Interior, hadn't been swayed by his request for medical retirement. Growing his hair long hadn't persuaded his bosses. Cutting off half his hair-everything on the left side from the part to the ear, cut and shaved shiny-hadn't, either. Shaving the other half and coming to work with his entire head painted white (except for those black rings painted around his eyes) hadn't persuaded them, either.
At the time, the Internal Revenue Service was garnisheeing J.D.'s wages for penalties and interest from ten years of failing to file tax returns. J.D. said he wanted a medical retirement so he could start drawing a pension the IRS couldn't touch. He said he hoped to swing this by convincing his supervisors that he was crazy and that his work had made him that way. "I want a `crazy' out," he said. He said his employer had a loophole through which it could medically retire him if it found him "bizarre and dangerous or whatever."
After his February Surprise, he was confident that the video footage the park rangers shot would help. "Anybody looking at those videos with me standing on top of the flagpole with a hangman's noose around my neck would believe that," J.D. said.
J.D. was pretty happy the Monday after his arrest. He was pleased with the conversation he had had Saturday afternoon with Coconino County Sheriff Joe Richards. After half a day balancing in his orange raft, as deputies and park rangers yelled that he was under arrest, and park personnel lay mattresses on the pavement 30 feet below, he had a good, 45-minute talk with Sheriff Richards. With Richards talking to him and to Wupatki administrators, J.D. said, he'd reached a verbal agreement: He'd come down, and they'd grant him medical retirement, $1,600 a month.