By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Drew Nolan sets down his briefcase before he reaches out for a handshake.
"Always have to have one hand free," he says with a smile.
It's a statement he makes only partly in jest. He is armed, and after spending more than a year crisscrossing the country to keep from being found, he has come to the place where he faces the greatest risk.
Phoenix. Where, in July 1996, Drew Nolan became a wanted man for helping to bring down the Viper Team militia.
The federal government's much-hyped arrest of Viper Team made national news and brought comment from both Attorney General Janet Reno and President Bill Clinton. The arrest of a dozen members of the militia was hailed by the government as a blow to domestic terrorism; the very destruction of Phoenix itself had been averted, the public was told.
Almost immediately, however, the government's story began to change.
The militia members weren't charged with planning to blow up downtown buildings, as had first been advertised. Instead, some faced weapons charges for possessing explosives and fully automatic weapons. Others faced a charge of conspiracy for plotting to own such unregistered "destructive devices."
And, contrary to initial proclamations, half of the defendants were seen as so little of a threat, they were freed pending trial.
While news organizations scrambled to learn whatever they could about the defendants, the militia's activities and the investigation that brought it down, debate raged about what threat to public safety Viper Team had really posed.
Some wondered if the defendants hadn't been entrapped by overzealous undercover agents.
Prosecutors admitted that two had infiltrated the group. And within days after the July 1 arrest, reporters had learned their names.
The other infiltrator was not a member of any law enforcement agency.
He was an assistant manager at Shooter's World, and his name was Drew Nolan.
Prosecutors refused to produce either of them for Viper bail hearings. Instead, federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms group supervisor Steve Ott testified on their behalf. Schultz and Nolan were referred to in court only as Mr. X and Mr. Y.
But that attempt by the government to protect his identity, says Mr. Y himself, was too little too late.
His cover blown (he still isn't sure how it happened), Nolan skipped town. He's been running ever since, convinced that members of the militia movement or their sympathizers want him dead.
He has returned to Phoenix during the trial of Christopher Floyd, the last of the militia defendants, which is going on now in federal court here. He will leave soon after it is over. He bears no malice for Floyd or any of the other militia members, he says. And he will not testify for either the prosecution or the defense. He will not attend the trial. The U.S. Attorney's Office and the ATF don't even know he's in town, he claims.
He's returned because he wants to be here as the Viper saga ends. And, he says, because he was betrayed by the government he served in the case.
Hoping that the Floyd case will revive press interest in Viper Team, Nolan has notified every major news organization in the Valley that he is back. Publicity, he says, may help him find an attorney. And with that attorney, he plans to sue the government for money he feels he's owed.
He hopes New Times can give him local coverage to bolster an article he's been told will appear in the Los Angeles Times as soon as Floyd's trial ends. Nolan wants to talk, for the first time, about the life he says he's been forced to lead since the Viper arrest.
So, after extracting promises that he will be neither photographed nor taped, Nolan agrees to discuss his role in the investigation of Viper Team and the hell it has made his life ever since.
Looking dapper for a fugitive, Nolan wears a roomy black suit. His thinning gray hair is pulled back in a ponytail; white muttonchop sideburns sweep into a bushy mustache under a long nose and hazel-green eyes. He's 38, but could pass for nearly 50. He wears small silver earrings in each ear, an old watch on his left wrist and a silver-and-turquoise ring on the third finger of his left hand. (He doesn't mind the detailed inspection of his appearance. "Next week," he says, "I'll look completely different.")
If he weren't actually a government informant, he could play one on television.
About his Klan membership, he says: "Yeah, it doesn't look real good, but then, I don't have anything to apologize for."
The blacks have the NAACP. And for Latinos there's LULAC and similar organizations. Seeking a similar group for people of his own background, it was only natural, Nolan says, that he should join the Klan. "At that time, what was there for someone who was white?" he asks.