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Only later did he realize that the organization was run by pinheads stuck in the 1860s, he says.
So, in 1987, he cut off ties to the group.
Eight years later, when a co-worker named Doc Schultz at the gun store Shooter's World wondered why Nolan owned such cool Nazi memorabilia, Nolan admitted that he had once belonged to the Klan.
Schultz had already let Nolan in on his own secret: that besides working at Shooter's World, Schultz was a state Game and Fish agent.
Schultz asked Nolan if he wanted to help out in law enforcement operations. Nolan says he refused. But after several more proposals, Nolan began to get more interested.
He'd worked as a cop before, both in the Air Force and in other states. Nolan says he was a military brat, and grew up primarily in the East. He mentions Boston a few times. At one time, he says, he was a security officer at a meat-packing plant in Texas; at another time, he worked in Maricopa County's Rabies-Animal Control department before getting the job at Shooter's World.
Nolan says he and Schultz discussed the growing militia movement and whether it posed a real threat to the public. The bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and revelations about Timothy McVeigh's ties to the patriot movement motivated them to learn more about local groups.
Nolan says he learned about Viper Team quite by accident. An acquaintance came into the store and Nolan asked: "Where have you been, out playing with the militia boys?"
"No, not me. That's Gary," replied the acquaintance, whom Nolan won't identify.
The customer told Nolan about Gary Bauer and a group that toyed with automatic weapons and talked about going off to the woods for exercises.
Nolan says he passed that information on to Schultz, and the two of them decided to investigate Bauer's group. It was June 1995.
"Nobody knew enough about any group, and since they were well-armed and in the middle of nowhere, we wanted to know what they were doing," Nolan says.
He claims that they were also motivated by a story he says was later confirmed by Bauer: that members of Viper Team had talked about--perhaps only jokingly--"putting a bullet in Bubba," killing President Bill Clinton.
For infiltrating the group and attending Viper meetings and outings, Nolan says he was paid only about $5 an hour by the government. Later, his pay was upped to $250 a week.
An August 1996 Arizona Republic story revealed that, at this time, the ATF was investigating Shooter's World for not reporting stolen guns and for paperwork errors that violated several laws. An ATF supervisor recommended that Shooter's World's gun-selling license not be renewed. But that recommendation was overturned by a higher-level ATF official at the same time Schultz and Nolan--who by then were being supervised by the ATF--were taping Viper activities.
But Nolan rejects the newspaper story's suggestion that Schultz and Nolan were motivated to investigate Viper Team as a way to influence ATF decisions about Shooter's World.
"The people at Shooter's World did not know what Doc and I were doing," he says.
He refuses to go back over the entire surveillance of Viper Team, saying that all of it exists on audio and video tape and has been entered as court record.
On those tapes, the Viper Team discussed its antigovernment feelings and what the team should do to prepare for the possibility of a cataclysmic--if poorly defined--future. Prosecutors point to those plans as proof that Viper Team had the potential for, and were moving closer to, domestic terrorism. Defense lawyers have countered that the Vipers were sorely unorganized, had no concrete plans and were motivated primarily by the thrill of shooting off exotic guns and blowing up dirt in the desert.
Did Nolan perceive that the group was a greater threat to the public than defense attorneys later portrayed?
"I won't say yes or no to that," he replies.
He does comment that the group was becoming more skillful over time. "Until the arrest in July, they went from kindergarten to college. Rockets were being constructed, high explosives fired off. They were starting to get really good at what they were doing."
Militia defendant Chuck Knight claimed, however, that the group was tiring of its experiments in explosives and wanted to become strictly a rifle group. Several defendants, through their attorneys, claimed that explosives were brought on a final Viper outing only at the insistence of the informants, Schultz and Nolan.
"Doc and I didn't ask them to bring the explosives," Nolan counters. "They were brought specifically because I had missed a training." He claims he was told that he needed to learn how to detonate certain devices, and he says he didn't object.
If he hadn't missed a training, would the group have brought explosives at all on the final outing?
"I have no idea," he replies.
He's clearly proud of his role in the investigation, remarking in particular on a moment when an unsuspecting militia member was mixing explosives and then paused to say to Schultz and Nolan: "If you guys are feds, we're fucked."