THE DANGER OF BEING FRANK

SURE, CONSTITUTIONALIST CRUSADER FRANK ELLENA IS LOUD AND OFFENSIVE. BUT IS THAT A FEDERAL OFFENSE?

By reading the Bible on his own, he learned that a life of righteousness meant more than acceptance of the pasteurized tenets of most churches, which call for little more than passive adherence to the golden rule. It meant a life of battle against the forces of evil.

"I think of myself," he says, "as a member of what King George, during the Revolutionary War, called the Black Robe Regiment--American men of God, with a Bible in one hand and a musket in the other."
Turning the other cheek is for wimps. But Ellena, cognizant of how such militant rhetoric has contributed to his troubles, is quick to stress that his war is a peaceful one.

"I believe in changing this country back to what it once was," he says, "but only by fighting through the courts, through all legal remedies.

"I've never advocated armed revolution. I've merely advocated putting shackles and chains on an alien government that has invaded this country, and restoring the rights of the people. You can fight that battle whatever your job is, wherever you are."
Ellena chose to make his fight in the schools. But after losing two education jobs in rapid succession, he decided in mid-1992 to embark on a more direct assault on his preeminent enemy--big federal government--which he believes is the cause of social deterioration in schools and American society.

"Government has infiltrated every area of our lives. It tells us what to do, when to do it," Ellena complains. "And it specifies that Christianity cannot have anything to do with society. It says we can't have Christ in our schools; it, in effect, is at war with Christianity. And that is simply wrong."
The federal government, in essence, is the enemy of God.
What is required to defeat this enemy is a sweeping return to states' rights, local governance and individual decision making. People must take back their lives and reinject the Lord into public life.

On its face, such a philosophy isn't far removed from a Pat Buchanan stump speech--except that it calls for an active step on the part of the believer that goes beyond a trip to the ballot box. As Ellena would say, quoting the good book, "faith without works is dead."

The "works" necessary? A refusal to pay income taxes, the filthy lucre that supports the rogue, godless federal colossus.

@rule:
@body:The IRS estimates there are more than 60,000 tax protesters in the United States, and it's a good bet that a fair number of them live in the pines in and around Payson.

It's an area known for its large population of longhaired wild men, dropouts from mainstream society--a haven for survivalists, loners and individualists.

It is also the center of the Arizona contingent of the Constitutionalist movement.

There is no Constitutionalist club to join; it is more an attitude and a way of life. No one even knows who came up with the name "Constitutionalist," but there are those who claim the title in all 50 states.

Constitutionalists are a nebulous group of tax evaders, conspiracy theorists and prophets of Armageddon who ardently believe that the federal government and America's "monied interests" are out to destroy the rights of the common man. They are linked by a national network of pulp-paper newsletters and gossip, computer bulletin boards and E mail.

Their numbers and influence in the Payson area are reflected by a huge billboard on the main tourist artery into town, posing the question: "Will America Survive?"

The answer, according to the fellows at the Houston Mesa General Store, the command post of the local Constitutionalist corps, is equivocal, at best.

The store, located in the tiny town site of Houston Mesa, just north of Payson, is run by Steve Gehring, a reluctant shopkeeper whose true calling is being a paralegal, advising fellow Constitutionalists when they run into legal problems. Which, since they don't like to pay taxes, they often do.

At Houston Mesa, Payson's Constitutionalists can pick up a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread for the stomach, along with a little revolutionary propaganda for the mind. And they can speak to Frank Ellena, who is preparing for his upcoming trial by utilizing Gehring's "law office"--a ramshackle structure adjacent to the store.

It is a decrepit building with a sagging, watermarked ceiling and a lone, yellow light bulb illuminating the dim interior. Inside are stacks of law tomes and thick, three-ring binders; chairs with the stuffing bursting from the seams and battered old desks are covered with mounds of crumpled paper. Bits of half-eaten food sit atop the paper mountains, and a thick, musty smell pervades all.

On this day, a young man with long, blond, greasy hair--who says he stops by Houston Mesa "now and then to learn more about how the world works"--sits listening attentively as Gehring tries to explain the Constitutionalist creed. According to Gehring, here's why paying federal income taxes is not only unnecessary, but downright evil:

"Interpol, you see," Gehring begins, his eyes glistening through the murk of the law office, "is a direct descendant of Hitler's secret police. It is headquartered in Lyon, France. The Internal Revenue Service has an overseas headquarters in Lyon, too.

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