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

From down the hall came her answer: "Yes, I will."
The inmates in Knight's cell broke into applause and pounded him on the back.

Later, when the defendants walked up a narrow set of stairs while in shackles, Knight got close enough to Williams to speak with her.

"You'll really marry me?" he asked.
"Yes, I really will," she replied.
Once they were released and allowed to contact each other, Knight says he made a proper proposal, on his knees. Williams accepted again.

When they were released from custody on July 13, Knight, Williams and four other freed defendants ran a gauntlet of quote-hungry reporters.

Only Knight spoke, shouting, "The truth will set you free!" as he left the courtroom. It's from Scripture, and Knight says it's his motto. Only after he rejected the government's plea agreement, he says, did he feel he was living up to it.

Knight, whose ex-wife had been awarded the house in the divorce, moved into his friend's house and, after a few weeks, started working again. As a result of the arrest, he's lost three customers out of a list of 400.

"My people know me," he says.

Pastor Warren Stewart is working the room into a fever, quoting Scripture in a booming voice that builds and builds. The African-American Baptist congregation eggs him on, shouting out "Hallelujahs" and "Praise the Lords" that punctuate the sermon in a syncopated rhythm. Stewart pushes on, riffing on the commercialism of the holiday season.

Then, with the congregation buzzing, Stewart pauses briefly to catch his breath. "I could stop there," he says with a smile, "but I won't."

It draws an appreciative shout from the crowd, and from the front row, a vote of confidence.

"Listen to this white man! He said, 'Stay with it!'" Stewart shouts, pointing at a worshiper in the front row, one of only a handful of white faces in the crowd of hundreds. "I think we have truly converted him to one of us."

The crowd roars in laughter.
"He's going to have me listening to country music before too long," Stewart jokes. "How long have you been coming, brother Knight?"

"Since I got out," Knight answers.
"This is brother Charles Knight," Stewart explains to the rest of the room. "He got into some trouble, and since then he has come to us and has been coming to our door ever since."

The worshipers erupt in applause.
"He said, 'Stay with it.' Oh, you bet I am," Stewart says as he pushes on.
After the service, Knight accepts the encouragement of other worshipers at the inner-city church, First Institutional Baptist on Jefferson Street.

Knight began to attend the church at the invitation of his friend James Taylor. Taylor told him that the black Baptists would have no trouble accepting someone who had been accused--perhaps wrongly--by overzealous lawmen.

Abandoned by his friends at Northwest Christian Church, Knight gave Taylor's church a try. His shunning by former friends, he points out, is ironic, since it was members of Northwest Christian who first introduced him to the militia movement.

Today, standing outside First Institutional Baptist, he is especially proud as he introduces members of the congregation to his fiancee, Donna Williams. The two of them look wholly out of place, white folks shaking hands amid a sea of black faces.

The parishioners greet them warmly, not seeming to care that in their midst stand two of the country's most notorious serpents.

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