THE DANGER OF BEING FRANK

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

"So why should we be teaching children something they have no right to do?"
Ellena freely admits that his personal beliefs weighed heavily on administrative decisions at the school--especially his encouragement to teachers to apply "Christian principles" in the classroom. But he says he was merely acting in accordance with the wishes of the school board, which sanctioned his decisions on the books.

"All was well," Ellena says. "The school was doing good, the school board was happy. I thought I had found a home."
But soon Ellena began quarreling with several teachers over work hours. The school was on a four-day schedule, but the teachers, he says, were not working 40-hour weeks. The teachers were also annoyed because Ellena required women to wear dresses and men jackets and ties.

The school board continued to support Ellena. But the teachers remained unhappy--and a few months into Ellena's tenure, they went on the offensive.

Ellena arrived at school one day in late November 1991 to find his office filled with reporters and television cameras. Many of the reporters were clutching copies of Selden's Missoulian story, which had been distributed by two teachers.

Ellena's brief, happy idyll in Young was over.
After Ellena threw him out of his office and refused to grant an interview, the Arizona Republic's Rich Robertson produced a long, critical story on Ellena in early December 1991. Robertson alluded to the charges of racism contained in Selden's piece and introduced an array of new allegations about his behavior in Young--almost all from anonymous sources.

Robertson cited Ellena's efforts to "disband the school's fledgling wrestling team because of his fears that AIDS could be transmitted through sweat"--a homophobic theory, the story pointed out, that has been widely discredited by medical experts.

Minutes of the school board meetings indicate that Ellena merely alerted the board that he had concerns about AIDS transmissions, and made no effort to disband the wrestling program--which he, himself, had started a few months before. He only informed the board that he planned to keep a bottle of disinfectant near the wrestling mat in case blood was spilled.

Laura Faye Cline, then president of the Young School Board, says, "Ellena was simply making parents aware of that fact that wrestling is a contact sport. He was pointing out a risk factor, that blood, snot, slobber and all the rest could be involved. Parents could then make their own decision about the safety of the activity.

"He wasn't saying anything weird or radical."
Cline adds that although Ellena "sometimes may have gotten a little carried away, and he did invoke religion quite a bit, he was an excellent administrator. We had no student-discipline problems, and there was no evidence that he was a racist or anti-Semite.

"Nobody on the board ever heard anything like that from Frank."
Cline says that the Republic story was "a bunch of exaggeration and lies," and that she never spoke to the reporter--but was quoted as saying that the school was "a mess" because of Ellena.

"Why do you reporters make things up?" Cline asked New Times. "Everything was fine with Frank until that story appeared."
Robertson sticks by his story.
"I did, in fact, talk to Miss Cline, and I read the minutes of the school board meetings," he says. "The story was accurate."
The controversy took an immediate toll. Ellena and the school board agreed he should not return the following year, and he bitterly moved on once again--promptly falling in with the Payson Constitutionalists and Doug Carpa.

@rule:
@body:It was late August 1992 before Ellena knew there was a warrant for his arrest stemming from the altercation with IRS agents. He was weekending in a cabin in Payson, he says, when a call came from a close Constitutionalist friend warning that federal authorities were closing in and wanted him--dead or alive.

"The friend told me," Ellena says, "that federal marshals, heeding the warning that I was armed and dangerous, had set up a crossfire ambush for me.

"I knew that if law enforcement officials believed I had actually assaulted one of their brother officers, they wouldn't think twice about killing me during the arrest."
Neither the IRS nor assistant U.S. attorney Charles Steele, who is prosecuting Ellena, returned calls from New Times, so there is no way to know if federal authorities had plans to arrest him that weekend--or if they planned an "ambush" of any kind.

But while documentary evidence remains incomplete, it is easy to understand how someone immersed in the conspiracy-laden, glass-onion world of Frank Ellena could think the government meant to do him ill.

Records that the IRS have released to the court show that the agency compiled a superficial and misleading dossier on Ellena before branding him as an armed-and-dangerous racist.

Not only did it evidently accept as gospel the two newspaper articles written about Ellena--using the stories, without apparent corroboration, to link him to the Aryan Nation--but it also took the word of a dubious informant that Ellena was a violence-prone gun nut.

During his brief tenure in Young, Ellena was befriended by the local newspaper publisher, Larry Monahan, who shares many of Ellena's political and religious beliefs. As a favor to the newspaperman, Ellena agreed to counsel Monahan's son, Sean--a troubled young man who, his father says, had been discharged from the Army because of mental problems.

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