Sticking By His Guns

ccused conspirator Charles Knight talks about his days in the Viper Militia, why he's fighting the government's case against him, and how he fell in love with fellow defendant Donna Williams

Knight is asked if he knew his dues were being used to purchase such supplies. "Yes," he answers.

Knight admits that the $25 he paid in dues was put into a kitty that reached about $500. Along with many other supplies purchased from that kitty, the "explosives guys," as Knight refers to them, used some of the money to buy blasting caps, small charges normally used by miners to set off explosions.

"The group as a whole tolerated the explosives for the camaraderie of the group, so we could all stay together."

Knight says he still doesn't understand why the explosives were such a big deal when the group had no plans to do anything other than blow up dirt in the desert.

Knight had only heard of--but hadn't seen--the infamous "target tape," made two years earlier by three of the defendants. The indictments suggest that the target tape is the proverbial smoking gun, the government's best evidence the Viper Team planned to blow up buildings. At the July detention hearings, government prosecutors attempted to show the tape, but after a few seconds of it played before a rapt courtroom audience, defense attorneys leapt to their feet and objected. The tape has still not been shown in public.

Knight says, "I didn't see it. To this day, I still haven't seen it. They mentioned it in one of the meetings. They said that Dean [Pleasant], Ellen and Dave [Belliveau] drove around in a car one weekend with a video camera, looking at buildings and narrating how to blow them up. I said, 'That's stupid. Where is that tape?' They said, 'It's been destroyed.' 'Have you seen it destroyed?' 'No, I gave it to [undercover agent] Doc to destroy.'

"They gave it to the ATF guy to get rid of. And the first thing he did was say 'Hey, look, we got probable cause, guys, here it is!' Well, that tape was two years old."

And Knight claims the tape was made for another group, not the Viper Team, which would not be created for another year. At least that's what he remembers from what he's been told about evidence in the case. He's been given voluminous copies of evidence--discovery that the government had to turn over.

"Let me see if I have that tape now. I might," Knight says, and he goes into a bedroom to search through some boxes.

He emerges a few minutes later.
"This is the target tape," he says as he walks to the VCR. Once it begins playing, this is what he hears:

Today's date is May 30, 1994. This is a reconnaissance tape for American patriots. What you are looking at now is the Phoenix, Arizona, Treasury Building, which houses Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms [the bureau has since moved]. You see here the communications array, including microwave. Also seen in this shot: the power transformer, on a telephone pole, leading to the building. Certainly not their only power source, but important and of note.

We will be going around the building. We will be taking note of its structure. We will also be walking up to the building. This is the address: Second Street and Indianola. We are south of Indian School. Today is Memorial Day. The offices are closed.

This is the main entrance to the building. You see there the iron grating, closing off the garage. We are on Second Street, west side of the building. Notice the structure. These pillars support the entire building. Take out these pillars, simultaneously, with explosives . . .

"Oh, my God," Chuck Knight says softly.
. . . and the building will collapse. This is important to note, an important objective to go after. Because if the building is not collapsed, information transfer will take place electronically. Records of local investigations, local suspects and various different operations will be transferred to federal computers back in Washington, D.C. . . .

Here we are on the north side of the building again, moving east, so you can see these mailboxes. If you wanted to put antipersonnel devices in here to harass Treasury employees, this would be an ideal location.

Knight says, "Jesus. God in heaven."
Also on the north side of the building, a water main. If you wanted to burn the building down, or you didn't want anyone to extinguish the fire after an explosion, take this out.

Knight says, "I'm going to throw up."
He shakes his head as future Viper colleague Dean Pleasant continues to narrate the video tour of Phoenix buildings. From the Treasury Building, Pleasant and the Belliveaus make similar assessments of the IRS office, Great American Bank, the U-Haul building (which Pleasant incorrectly identifies as the location of DEA offices), the INS building on Central Avenue (behind which, Pleasant notes, shrubs offer excellent concealment for a sniper), KPNX-TV Channel 12's studios, Phoenix Police Department headquarters, and the Maricopa County court complex.

When the tape ends, there is uneasy silence in the room. Then, in case Knight hasn't grasped the significance of the tape, James Taylor, Knight's pastor, crystallizes the peril it may pose. Taylor shifts in his chair and says, with measured restraint, "This tape would excite a jury."

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