By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
It's easy to dislike Frank Ellena.
He is loud and argumentative, with a boorish and aggressive manner that is instantly alienating. A large, hulking figure, he has a plump, oval face surrounding two eyes that bulge and burn with righteous anger whenever his views or logic are even gingerly questioned.
The faint aroma of perspiration wafts around him. When he is discoursing on a topic with particular passion--and he rarely speaks any other way--a fine mist of saliva often spurts from his lips.
An unforgiving Christian fundamentalist, he is prone to rage about the decadence of the world at exasperating length.
He is equally zealous about preaching political doomsday dogma; he predicts that government storm troopers will soon impose martial law on society and snuff out our rights and liberties.
Ellena believes that the Internal Revenue Service is made up of foreign agents aligned with the forces of tyranny that operate the United Nations, which is secretly planning to institute a freedom-quashing global government.
Therefore, he believes Americans are under no obligation to pay income taxes.
He believes that AIDS is a virus created by the CIA to control the population.
He believes his wife is a piece of chattel, owned and controlled solely by him and having no rights of her own.
These are odd things to believe.
But neither believing them nor being an obnoxious lout is illegal in America, where people are constitutionally protected from being punished for their beliefs or personalities alone.
At least that's the way it's supposed to be.
Ellena, however, is being persecuted not for what he has done, but for who he is--an abrasive man with some unconventional beliefs about his nation and his God.
Because Ellena is different from most members of society, federal prosecutors and agents of the Internal Revenue Service are trying to put him in jail.
Jail, in fact, is where he spent most of the last six months--held for a "crime" he probably did not commit and for which he will most likely never be convicted.
He has lost his family, his belongings and any prospects of employment in his chosen field: school administration.
He is, in his own words, a man undone.
The odyssey of this ruined radical began when Ellena, 44, first burst onto the public stage in 1990--as an unsuccessful candidate for superintendent of schools in Lake County, Montana. Because of his outspoken positions on the importance of religion in the classroom and warnings about the dangers of the oncoming New World Order, Ellena was labeled, in a lurid newspaper story, as a white supremacist.
The tag stuck, and followed him to his next job as a school administrator in Young, Arizona. There, a labor dispute and another newspaper story, borrowing liberally from the first, set into motion a series of events that led to Ellena's departure--and his immersion in the labyrinthine subculture of the Arizona "Constitutionalist" movement, a loose-knit group that favors a dramatically reduced role for the federal government.
That connection, in turn, quickly led him to a brief argument over a $600 pickup truck with Phoenix IRS agents--who, taking the word of the newspaper accounts and of a shadowy "informant" with an alcohol problem and a reputation as a compulsive liar, branded Ellena an "armed and dangerous" member of the white-supremacist Aryan Nation.
Before he knew it, the rural school administrator had become a federal fugitive--the object of a chase across North America that climaxed in a dramatic capture in Alaska. He now faces a May 25 trial on charges that he "intimidated" federal officers with a piece of paper.
"We're reaching a time in our country's history," Ellena says, "when anybody who believes in God and country is a white supremacist, an outlaw.
"I might have made a few mistakes along the way," he admits, shaking his head with the realization that he often can be his own worst enemy.
"How I ended up in jail, though . . . it just doesn't make sense."
But in a way, it does. In America, it is becoming increasingly dangerous to be different, to hold views that run counter to the mainstream, to be decidedly politically incorrect.
It is becoming dangerous to be a man like Frank Ellena.
@body:Ellena wasn't born a religious or political radical. His blend of extremism, in which God and state are intertwined, is of his own making.
A Kansas native whose family operated a ranch and farm in northern California, he was brought up in a clan that was religious but, at the same time, antireligion.
"My father was poor, and the Baptist church where he was going put a list up on the church wall of those who hadn't been tithing," Ellena remembers. "He couldn't afford it, and so he decided he had enough of organized religion."
Ellena remained outside any kind of formal church hierarchy, as he does today. There are few churches worth joining, he says, because there are so few that preach the true word of God. The Bible, he insists, teaches disciples of God to fight--not to bow in obeisance to pacifism, which he says is a "false doctrine."