THE DANGER OF BEING FRANK

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

"I tried to help the kid," Ellena remembers. "But he was doing things like shaving his head, drinking, behaving strangely. I finally had to give up on him, forget him."
But Sean Monahan didn't forget Ellena. Larry Monahan, now a car salesman in Washington state, says his son contacted IRS agents in the summer of 1992, sometime after their investigation into Ellena began.

"[Sean] didn't like Frank much, because he was an authority figure over him," the elder Monahan says. "In retaliation, he told the IRS some pretty strange things."
Saying his son is a "pathological liar" with a severe alcohol problem who is being pursued by the law for failing to support his children, Larry Monahan admits Sean told the IRS that Ellena was "heavily armed with big guns, and was willing to use them to help bring about the victory of the white race.

"He told them he was a neo-Nazi who would rather die than surrender."
Whether the IRS questioned the veracity of its informant before branding Ellena armed and dangerous--a label that would prompt officers to approach him with guns drawn--isn't known. Nor does anyone seem to know where Sean Monahan now resides--not even the IRS, which, in court records, lists his address as "variable."

But it wasn't just the haphazard way in which the IRS branded him a dangerous criminal that frightened Ellena.

This, after all, was the summer of 1992, when white supremacist and tax dodger Randy Weaver was blockaded inside his Idaho cabin, surrounded by federal agents and sniper teams who killed both his pregnant wife and son. The Constitutionalist cadre nationwide was on full alert, certain that this tragedy marked the beginning of martial law.

It didn't take much for a man like Ellena to imagine that federal agents would target him in much the same way.

So he made a decision that he admits, in retrospect, was a horrendous mistake.
Ellena packed up a few belongings, abandoning the rest, and fled his Payson cabin to become a federal fugitive.

For more than a year, he was on the lam, living a hand-to-mouth existence as "Samuel Jeremiah Johnson," a heavily bearded itinerant worker. Ellena shoveled snow, picked crops and labored on a ranch, hiding from a system that he was certain had marked him for death.

He wandered aimlessly from Washington state to Alaska, where he finally got steady work in construction and lived on an old boat in Wrangell, a small town about 160 miles south of Juneau.

That's where authorities, tipped off by a citizen who recognized Ellena's face on a wanted poster, found him in November 1993. A frightened, shaking Ellena was rousted one morning by five local police officers, an army of state troopers and U.S. marshals, a Coast Guard cutter carrying a sniper team and a Blackhawk helicopter bearing more sharpshooters.

"It was like I was John Dillinger," Ellena remembers, grinning.
This public enemy was found with a shotgun and an old rifle given to him by his late father--hardly an impressive armory to hold in the wilds of Alaska. He was clapped in irons and brought to Arizona to stand trial.

@rule:
@body:When Ellena arrived in Phoenix, prosecutors seemed almost embarrassed. They did not seem to know what to do with his case, which one U.S. Attorney's Office insider says "had clearly gotten out of hand."

The ludicrous assault charge had been watered down to three lesser counts of intimidating a federal official, obstructing and impeding the administration of revenue laws and attempted recovery of seized property. But the evidence for even these accusations seemed thin.

So prosecutors did what prosecutors unsure of their cases often do--bluster and fight on all the harder.

Although the government's designation of Ellena as armed and dangerous had been rebuffed, federal lawyers ardently resisted his request to be released to the custody of friends while awaiting trial, saying that since his comrades "shared his beliefs and ideology," they could not guarantee that Ellena would not flee.

Then, after months of delay, when it appeared that U.S. District Court Judge Robert Broomfield would reject the feds' argument on the grounds that it discriminated on the basis of thought and speech, prosecutors tried a new tactic.

In an extremely unusual move, they requested that Broomfield order a psychiatric examination of Ellena, saying they believed he was too "zealous" to stand trial. It was a polite way of suggesting that Ellena was insane.

Peter Morgan--a Constitutionalist who petitioned the court to release Ellena into his custody--notes that it is the defense that is supposed to invoke the insanity plea, and says that prosecutors were trying to "brand Frank as crazy because they didn't have a case against him."

"That way, they could get out of trying a case for which they had no evidence, but still discredit him as nuts," Morgan says.

If that was the aim, prosecutors were sorely disappointed. The psychiatric report noted that while Ellena's beliefs were "on the fringe of mainstream society," he was unquestionably sane. The examining doctor even went beyond normal protocol to lodge an impassioned plea with the judge for Ellena's immediate release.

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