THE DANGER OF BEING FRANK

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

Ellena remembers a particularly enjoyable evening when the group, which called itself the Freedom Fellowship Forum, watched a video made by conservative fringe leader and sometime presidential candidate Bo Gritz. The video detailed "proof" that George Bush was receiving a cut from illegal heroin sales in America's cities.

For Ellena, such nights were an inspiring mix of politics and religion that he found to be as essential as food and drink. Especially satisfying was the Forum's willingness to "carry both the Bible and the musket"--by backing candidates for office.

In 1990, Roberts and Ellena were asked by Forum members to run for the Ronan school board and Lake County superintendent of schools, respectively. Ellena, running on a platform that strongly advocated the voucher system for public schools, soon found he enjoyed politics--it provided a kind of secular pulpit from which his proclivity for harangues could be put to good use.

The voters of Lake County evidently enjoyed him, as well. In early 1990, Ellena was considered a favorite to win.

In March of that year, Ellena and Roberts agreed to be interviewed by a freelance writer for the Missoulian, a daily newspaper in Missoula, about 50 miles south of Ronan. The reporter, Ron Selden, wrote a story detailing their conservative bent--but added the spectacular charge that they were racist and anti-Semitic, as well.

Selden wrote that Ellena had given him several pamphlets written by Pete Peters, a Colorado extremist linked to groups "said to be embraced by the Aryan Nation organization and several other nationally recognized hate groups."

Selden's story also quoted Ellena as saying that the Holocaust never occurred and that Abraham Lincoln wanted to "send all blacks back to Africa." Ellena claims the reporter fabricated those quotes.

To those who knew Ellena well, the racism angle lacked the ring of truth. One-quarter Cherokee, Ellena had spent much of his professional life teaching in schools on Indian reservations and arguing for the cause of minorities--who, he insists, suffer the most at the hands of big government.

One of the Forum's meetings had even been devoted to discussing ways to free local tribes from "dependency" on the government by helping them become economically self-sufficient.

Ellena and other Forum members may have nursed the nutty idea that the nation's vice president was a smack dealer, but they showed no overt signs of the kind of ugly bigotry suggested by Selden--if they did, the reporter was unable to find even one member of the Ronan community who could testify to it.

Rich Stripp, editor of the Lake County Leader, says he interviewed Ellena on several occasions and that "he never said anything racist to me."

"Frank is very concerned about the nation moving away from its people," Stripp says, "and he's got some different ideas. But I never heard him talk anti-Semitic."
When contacted by New Times, Selden was hesitant to discuss the story on Ellena, but admitted that he never went to a Forum gathering or talked to other members before writing his piece.

"I just knew Ellena was involved in the racist stuff," Selden tells New Times. "But please don't quote me . . . Ellena is a dangerous, paranoid man. He definitely would kill me if he knew I was talking to you."
Editors at the Missoulian did not return calls from New Times about the Selden story.

The story was a bombshell. Although Ellena steadfastly maintains he never passed racist literature to Selden or uttered racist comments, he lost the election handily.

Worse, he says, his personal life suffered a devastating hit.
"That story was the beginning of my undoing," Ellena says. "The pressure became incredible, because a lot of people believed that crap.

"I was newly married, and the stress of the situation was just too much for us to take. My wife left me. I lost my farm, and I knew my chances for working in education again in the area were pretty low."
Ellena, smarting from the blows to his personal and public aspirations, packed his bags and moved to Arizona--where his wife had fled. He hoped "to get somewhere far enough away so that I could patch up my marriage, find work, put the accusations behind me and get my life back on track."

Arizona, it turned out, wasn't far enough.
@rule:
@body:Ellena quickly found new employment as a combination principal and superintendent of schools in the tiny burg of Young, near Payson, where he supervised about 70 students.

He set to work establishing a sports program, improving the school building and grounds and, in his spare time, attending counseling sessions with his wife in Flagstaff.

A predominantly conservative, Christian community, Young was especially receptive to Ellena's education "reforms." He quickly pulled several books out of the school library--one on Satanism and another on divorce and alternative sexual lifestyles.

"I didn't think we should have books on the devil for students, nor did I think that we should have a health book that taught easy ways to get a divorce or about alternate sexual lifestyles," he says.

Ellena, who still wears a gold wedding band despite his divorce, believes that "when you get married, under God's law, the woman becomes femme covert. In other words, she becomes basically her husband's property and has no right to sue for divorce. The femi-Nazis out there might object to that, but that's the way it is.

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