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Ellena's only sin, apparently, was the obnoxious manner in which he had delivered the "seizure order."

But a few weeks after Ellena filed his complaint, the IRS suddenly decided that the decision not to arrest him had been a mistake, and a warrant was issued.

The stated reason? The IRS said that the pathetic, home-computer-generated "seizure order" constituted a "threat" and an "assault" on agents Banks and Nielsen.

In addition, it announced that an investigation of Ellena had turned up some very important information about the blustery man who had caused such a scene at the car auction.

In an all points bulletin issued to U.S. marshals, the FBI and police forces throughout the West, Ellena was described as "armed and dangerous," a man with potential ties "to the Aryan Nation."

How could agents of the federal government believe that this hapless former school principal and tax heretic was a cross-burning, gun-toting menace to society?

Easy. They read it in the newspaper.
@body:Ellena wasn't always a professional antitax activist. He started out teaching America's youth.

After attending classes at Cal State-Sacramento and the University of Montana, Ellena got his degree in school administration in 1974. In the mid-1980s, after teaching for 11 years in California, Ellena settled in Ronan, Montana, where he taught and served as assistant principal at two different Indian reservation schools.

It was in Ronan, he says, that he became increasingly enraged at the course of American education.

"I began to have a real conflict in education, because I began to see what was going on and I didn't like it," Ellena says. "We're teaching students a secular-humanist doctrine and revised history, destroying the relationship between parents and students."
Helping to reinforce his concerns about education were the like-minded people he met in Ronan. Among them was the Reverend Keith Roberts, another fundamentalist whose church became a meeting place for about 40 members of the town's far right. Roberts befriended Ellena, and together they led spirited political discussions every Thursday night on topics ranging from the Nicaraguan contras (for them) to Ronald Reagan (for him) to abortion (against it).

Ellena remembers a particularly enjoyable evening when the group, which called itself the Freedom Fellowship Forum, watched a video made by conservative fringe leader and sometime presidential candidate Bo Gritz. The video detailed "proof" that George Bush was receiving a cut from illegal heroin sales in America's cities.

For Ellena, such nights were an inspiring mix of politics and religion that he found to be as essential as food and drink. Especially satisfying was the Forum's willingness to "carry both the Bible and the musket"--by backing candidates for office.

In 1990, Roberts and Ellena were asked by Forum members to run for the Ronan school board and Lake County superintendent of schools, respectively. Ellena, running on a platform that strongly advocated the voucher system for public schools, soon found he enjoyed politics--it provided a kind of secular pulpit from which his proclivity for harangues could be put to good use.

The voters of Lake County evidently enjoyed him, as well. In early 1990, Ellena was considered a favorite to win.

In March of that year, Ellena and Roberts agreed to be interviewed by a freelance writer for the Missoulian, a daily newspaper in Missoula, about 50 miles south of Ronan. The reporter, Ron Selden, wrote a story detailing their conservative bent--but added the spectacular charge that they were racist and anti-Semitic, as well.

Selden wrote that Ellena had given him several pamphlets written by Pete Peters, a Colorado extremist linked to groups "said to be embraced by the Aryan Nation organization and several other nationally recognized hate groups."

Selden's story also quoted Ellena as saying that the Holocaust never occurred and that Abraham Lincoln wanted to "send all blacks back to Africa." Ellena claims the reporter fabricated those quotes.

To those who knew Ellena well, the racism angle lacked the ring of truth. One-quarter Cherokee, Ellena had spent much of his professional life teaching in schools on Indian reservations and arguing for the cause of minorities--who, he insists, suffer the most at the hands of big government.

One of the Forum's meetings had even been devoted to discussing ways to free local tribes from "dependency" on the government by helping them become economically self-sufficient.

Ellena and other Forum members may have nursed the nutty idea that the nation's vice president was a smack dealer, but they showed no overt signs of the kind of ugly bigotry suggested by Selden--if they did, the reporter was unable to find even one member of the Ronan community who could testify to it.

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Darrin Hostetler

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