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

"Well, yeah, because it's being done so cold," says Knight, referring to the lifeless tone of Pleasant's voice.

"No, because it was done at all," Taylor answers. "If I was sitting on a jury right now, and I heard that, I'd be ticked off. Does that tape still make you want to be so supportive of these people?"

"I think [Pleasant] had the right to be stupid," Knight answers. "I don't think he had the right to do anything about it."

"You think this is the right to be stupid? Or something else?"
"I think he was just bored. Dean Pleasant has a tremendous mind, but he can't focus himself, he can't do anything. I mean, he's unable to support himself. He was working at a doughnut farm, for God's sake, just to keep himself employed. Do I think I owe him anything? No."

"Do you think a jury of your peers will see that as just some guys who are bored?"

"I think it would be up to the defense to make that case. Or it would be up to the defense to make the case that the tape does not affect people two years later. Those people could have all kinds of criminal intent. But two years after the fact nothing has happened, there was no plan, [and government witness] Agent Ott said on the stand the reason they didn't alert anybody [supposed targets] that there was this dangerous group out there was because they knew there was no plan, no one in danger."

Later, Knight expresses regret at watching the tape. He's afraid of what prosecutors might make out of it but knows that his attorney should be able to keep it out of his trial: It was made nearly two years before he joined the group, after all. If it implicates the others, then so be it. He should not have to pay for the mistakes made by other defendants.

And he has reason to believe that his involvement, considered alone, would convince a jury he doesn't deserve prison time. At detention hearings, attorneys grilled government witness Ott about the participation of defendants such as Knight and Donna Williams, who faced none of the illegal weapons charges.

Knight's attorney Thomas Martinez, who has since been replaced by Tom Hoidal: "You didn't see Charles Knight mix, detonate, export . . . do anything illegal?"

ATF group supervisor Ott, testifying on behalf of the government's undercover agents: "Not to my recollection."

Martinez: "Charles Knight didn't use, export, buy, sell, make, teach, store anything on his own?"

Ott: "No."
Martinez: "The affidavit [for the search warrant] says, 'All members participated in making or mixing explosives.' Isn't it a fact that this isn't true?"

Ott: "That's correct."

Although they had been wary of each other at first, Knight and Williams developed a friendship and a curiosity about each other which had become a passionate affair. Knight says that although he had been married several times earlier, Williams was the first woman he had ever loved.

"I am not ashamed. We became the best of friends way before there was a chance of a romantic relationship. Both of our marriages were in failure by that point."

His divorce was final June 20. Williams' divorce decree had been final prior to that date.

Knight is not offended when he is asked how a man of faith can have so many failed marriages.

"That's what it's like to live under the grace of Jesus," he says. "You're allowed to screw up, and if you do, it doesn't mean you're less of a human being. You try to learn from your mistakes and move on instead of being buried by them."

Knight describes Williams as strong-willed and intelligent, someone who challenges him constantly on many different levels. In person, Williams has a striking presence: she's tall, handsome, and has intense eyes. In the militia, she had been called "Valkyrie."

On the morning of July 1, Knight and Williams woke up in his apartment. They dressed and walked outside, and Knight told her he'd see her later that day.

Knight drove to his first air-conditioning repair appointment of the morning, and he'd hardly pulled up his truck when it was cut off by an ATF van.

"Get out of the car! Get out of the car! Get out of the car," a pistol-wielding ATF agent screamed at him again and again.

Luckily, he says, a U.S. marshal with a cooler head took over, and his arrest went smoothly.

Gradually, the defendants realized what a media circus had erupted.
Most of the time during their incarceration, Williams and Knight could not see each other. They had contact only when male and female defendants were brought together at the federal courthouse for detention hearings.

One morning about a week after their arrests, Knight sat in one of the court's holding cells with the nine male Vipers and other inmates. In the next cell, other men were talking loudly. Down the hall, Knight knew, the female defendants, Williams and Ellen Belliveau, sat in a separate cell. He couldn't see them.

"Will everybody shut up a minute?" Knight shouted. The inmates quieted down.
"Donna," he said, "this is going to sound dumb in here, but will you marry me?"

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