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The Arch Conspirators

The Night They Declared the Free and Independent Republic of Greenwich Village 

A shapeless figure crouched in the midnight shadows at the base of Washington Square Arch, the silent, somber guardian of the Brahman slumber on the north side of Washing­ton Square Park.

When the last strolling couple had passed beyond the pools of lamplight, when the last lone policeman had rounded the corner, the figure slid from the shadows, looked cautiously in all di­rections, silently opened the door at the base of the arch, put her finger to her lips, and motioned to her fellow revolutionar­ies gathered on lower Fifth Avenue. One by one, five people emerged from the darkness, quickly crossed the street, and stealthily slipped through the doorway.

And so, on a frigid, lightly snowing night in late January 1917 — exactly 80 years ago this week — Marcel Duchamp, John Sloan, and four other tipsy Villagers climbed to the top of Washington Square Arch and declared Greenwich Village a free and independent republic.

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The story has been jubilantly told in many memoirs of the period and inaccu­rately portrayed in nearly every Village guidebook since. The details vary in every retelling, but all accounts agree that this mock secession symbolized the Golden Age of the Village rebellion against middle-class, puritan, capitalist America.

In 1917, the Village had only thought of itself as “the Village” for a few years. Just a few blocks north of the arch, at 23 Fifth Avenue, Mabel Dodge had presided over her celebrated salon, introducing American in­tellectuals to the Wobblies and Freud, Cubism and free love, anarchism and birth control. Just a few blocks west, at 91 Greenwich Avenue, Max Eastman and Floyd Dell edited The Masses, arguably the most influential magazine in the history of American journalism. Just a few blocks south, at 239 Mac­Dougal Street, the lunatic genius Jig Cook and the blackly brooding Eugene O’Neill were transforming the American theater at the Provincetown Playhouse.

The years from 1912 to 1917 were “a joyous season” indeed, or, as another histori­an has called the period, “the lyric years.” Yet as with so many symbolic moments, the escapade of the Arch-Conspir­ators — as Sloan titled his fa­mous sketch of the event — signaled not only the beginning but the end of the era it celebrated.

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Actually, the leading conspirator wasn’t Duchamp or Sloan but a golden-haired, vivacious young Villager named Gertrude Drick. Born in Texas, Gertrude had vague artis­tic ambitions and a flamboyant personality. Quickly realizing that the only thing greater than her fervent ambition to become a violinist was her unconquerable ineptitude, she became a painting student of Sloan’s instead. And though she was “a wild little creature” fond of pranks, she also fell into frequent fits of dejec­tion, for, like many apparently lighthearted people, a deep melancholy underlay her efferves­cence. Gertrude’s solution to her mood swings was simple — she printed up hundreds of black­-bordered calling cards embossed with the single word “Woe” so she could hand them out and gaily declare, “Woe is me.”

Gertrude had heard of another Greenwich Village secession movement the preceding sum­mer. Ellis Jones, one of the editors of the monthly humor magazine Life, had called upon his fellow Villagers to join him in a second American Revolution declaring their commu­nity independent of the United States. Feeling that Washington Square Park would be too small for the expected throngs, Ellis decided to lead his cohorts into the heart of enemy territo­ry, Central Park. And fearing that it was faced with an anarchist riot, the New York City police department dispatched several ambulances and dozens of machine-gun-bearing policemen to the site. A heavy downpour on the appointed day spoiled Ellis’s revolution, however, for only a dozen or so umbrella-carrying insurgents showed up. One evening half a year after Ellis’s premature revolution, Gertrude happened to notice, on one of her strolls through Washing­ton Square Park, that the door at the bottom of the arch’s western plinth wasn’t locked and that the policeman on duty often wandered away for an hour or two at a time. (The police presence was deemed necessary because several months earlier a vagrant had made his home in a cham­ber inside the arch, his crime discovered only when, with a soaring sense of security, he hung out his laundry to dry on the parapet.)

Gertrude immediately informed John Sloan of her plan, and the two of them rounded up sev­eral of their friends to join in the insurrection‚ the laconically dapper Marcel Duchamp, the actors Forrest Mann and Betty Turner, and the Provincetown Players’ leading man Charles Ellis.

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So on the night of January 23, the six rev­olutionaries, having purchased sandwiches, wine, thermoses, hot-water bottles, Chinese lanterns, cap pistols, and red, white, and blue balloons, quietly slipped through the arch’s unlocked door, mounted the 110 steps of the spiral iron staircase, lifted the trapdoor, and emerged at the top of the arch.

After lighting their lanterns and building a small bonfire in a beanpot, the group spread out steamer rugs, unpacked their sandwiches, and uncorked their bottles for a midnight picnic. Passing the bottles back and forth to the ac­companiment of ever more raucous toasts, they began their insurrection by reciting verses. Gertrude, as it happened, was also a poet of sorts, her most memo­rable lyric — the text of which, alas, has not sur­vived — entitled “The Soul That Took Off Its Stockings and Threw Its Shoes Away.”

Soon soused, the six Arch-Conspirators decided the moment had arrived. They loaded their cap pis­tols, blew up their balloons and tied them to the parapet, and, in John Sloan’s words, “with suitable rite and cere­mony … did sign and affix our names to a parchment, having the same duly sealed with the Great Seal of the Village.” And as the other five cheered, waved their arms, and fired their cap pistols, Gertrude read their declaration of independence — which consisted of nothing but the word “whereas” repeated over and over (surely Duchamp’s inspiration) until the final words proclaiming that hence­forth Greenwich Village would be a free and independent republic and calling upon Woodrow Wilson to protect the new country as one of the small, strife-free nations of the world.

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The band of revolutionaries then gathered up their steamer rugs and hot-water bottles, made their inebriated way down the spiral stair­case, and disappeared laughing into the night, “to ply our various callings” — Sloan once more — “till such time as the demand of state again might become imperative.”

At dawn, Villagers were pleasantly surprised to see balloons festooned to the ramparts of their arch — all but the aristocratic residents of The Row, of course, the 10 Greek Revival townhouses on the north side of the Square, who were dis­mayed by yet another example of bohemian tom­foolery. Within 24 hours nearly everyone south of 14th Street knew of their new status as a liberated community, and for a week the balloons fluttered in the midwinter breeze as a symbol of a symbol.

What could the authorities do? No one was rounded up. No one, in fact, was even investigated. And the only result of the Revolu­tion of Washington Square — “the demands of state” as interpreted by the unimaginative guardians of the law — was that the door at the base of the arch was permanently locked.

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For a few years, Greenwich, Village had already been, in fact, something close to a free and independent republic — of mind and spirit, if nothing else. But by 1916, a year before the Arch-­Conspirators, Floyd Dell had already declared that the Village wasn’t what it used to be — the first recorded use of that perennial phrase. The spirit of joyful rebellion had disappeared, Floyd lamented after having been accosted by an up­town type at a local tearoom and eagerly asked, “Are you a merry Villager?” — the rents were ris­ing, the real artists and intellectuals were moving out, the poseurs and tourists were moving in.

As if to confirm, Floyd’s claim, by the time Gertrude and her cohorts climbed the stairs of the arch, Mabel Dodge had already brought her salon to an end and was about to depart for Taos, the editors of The Masses were soon to be indicted by the federal government for conspir­ing against the war effort, Jig Cook and Eugene O’Neill were beginning the quarrels that would eventually send Jig into exile in Greece and Gene to fame on Broadway, and the era of what Village troubador Bobby Edwards called “Greenwich Thrillage” was well under way — the era of Guido Bruno’s Garret, Tiny Tim and his “soul candy,” Sonia “the cigarette girl,” Romany Marie’s tearoom, and all the quaint novelty shops and garish basement restaurants that con­stituted the commercialization of bohemia. But of course there were those who looked back at that Village a decade later and said “the Village isn’t what it used to be” — and the phrase has been used every decade since to nostalgical­ly describe the previous decade.

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As for the Arch-Conspirators, further coun­tering Floyd’s claim, many of John Sloan’s “lyric years” still lay ahead, Marcel Duchamp had yet to discover “R. Mutt,” and Charles Ellis would later star in the original production of Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms. Gertrude Drick? She married James Oppenheim, the founder and editor of Seven Arts, the short-lived but seminal Village magazine of the late teens. And even Floyd’s “merry” Village days were hardly over, for when he issued his premature obituary he had yet to meet Edna St. Vincent Millay, with whom he had the quintessential Village love affair.

So as long as Villagers keep saying “the Vil­lage isn’t what it used to be,” they’re keeping its oldest tradition alive. ❖

 

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Donald Trump in Moscow?

Trump Sees (Red) Square

If Donald Trump has his way, the Kremlin towers will soon have a new neighbor. Trump Towers, just beside Red Square.

The Donald’s mouth has often been bigger than his bank account. But if Russian news re­ports are on the money, Trump’s first foreign real estate ventures includes plans to renovate the Hotel Moskva, a landmark-turned-to-seed Stalinist structure off one of the most famous squares in the world. A Trump team was in Moscow months ago to assess the venture. A top Moscow city gov­ernment official told Moscow News that the hotel deal was just about complete.

For now, Trump is being unusually — ­though self-servingly — silent about the deal. However, his spokeswoman did not deny it. “It’s too soon to talk about it,” said Norma Foerderer, Trump’s long-term spokeswoman.

Moscow’s first vice premier, Vladimir Resin, told the Russian news agency Interfax that Trump and the Moscow city government had “practically reached agreement” on the deal. Moscow News described the hotel deal as com­plete. Trump will apparently renovate the hotel and turn the top floor into luxury apartments. Russians, the newspaper proudly reported, will be hired to carry out the reconstruction, “excluding the finishing touches.”

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If Trump does jump into the Moscow real estate frenzy, he and his deal would make Lenin, still mummified, submerged in glass and on dis­play inside the square, rise with rage. Trump, who in some ways became a symbol for 1980s greed and American expansionism, would enter the post-Communist real estate market as anti-American sentiment in Russia is on the rise. Trump visited Moscow last November, the same month a pioneering American cowboy capitalist, Paul Tamm, was gunned down out­side the luxury Radisson-Slavyanskaya Hotel, which he helped create — and where President Clinton used to stay.

In Moscow, Trump would become just one of many brash entrepreneurs in a country where the lines between government, gangsters, and business are inextricably linked. Trump may also finally meet his real estate match: the noto­rious Moscow mayor-mogul, Yuri Luzhkov.

The Trump team sent to Moscow formally assessed the cost of fixing up the decrepit Hotel Moskva, an imposing gray and gloomy building. Trump has been negotiating with Brooke Group Ltd., a Miami-based holding company that owns Liggett Group Inc., of L&M, Lark, Eve, and Chesterfield cigarette fame. Nicotine is big business in Russia, and such brands are giving Philip Morris hefty competition.

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If Trump succeeds, he will be biting into a solid chunk of Soviet history. Hotel Moskva’s lopsided towers are a tribute to Stalin’s totali­tarianism. When the architect showed Stalin two different plans, legend has it, the dictator approved both. Terrified to displease him, the architect complied; hence the hotel’s asymmet­rical design.

Russian newspapers have reported Tsar Trump’s deal as clinched. The renovation is expected to take 18 months to complete.

In the early 1990s, as Communism was collapsing, the Hotel Moskva was one of the most popular expatriate hangouts in town. It boasted one of Moscow’s only non-Soviet restaurants, known as the Spanish bar, where spies, business-people, reporters, and other unsavory types used to gather for sangria, garlic trout, imported chorizo, and special-order paella. Patrons were (willingly or otherwise) serenaded by guitar-playing gypsies and Cubans who came to Russia as students and stayed. ❖

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CRIME ARCHIVES EXTREMISM ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized Violence

Armies of the Right

Tim McVeigh’s revolutionary Footsteps

Moments after the cop ordered the Chevrolet Suburban to the side of the road that Saturday afternoon in Wilmington, Ohio, the man in the passenger seat jumped out, pulled a pistol, and opened fire on the officer. Staggering backward, the cop fumbled for his own gun and managed to get off a fusillade of shots. Unscathed, the car’s passenger ran into the woods. The driver, who had been standing beside his door, knocked aside another cop, got behind me wheel, and took off down the road.

Later that day the same men tangled with the cops in another shootout. Again they got away. The police all points bulletin for the men pictures a sweet-looking young man, with twin­kling eyes, his face protected by the floppy brim of a western hat straight out of Lonesome Dove.

His name is Chevie O’Brien Kehoe, 24. And it looks like he made a clean getaway across the Midwest in a Dodge Executive mobile home, along with his brother Cheyne, 20, and their wives and kids. Two weeks ago the motor home was found abandoned at an underpass on an in­terstate outside Casper, Wyoming.

The Kehoes are wanted for questioning in the robbery and grisly mur­der of an Arkansas gun dealer. But they are not just another gang of desperadoes. They are known to have ties with the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations in northern Idaho. And after the February 15 shootout in Ohio, police found in their vehicle what have by now become tell-tale tools of the far-right guerrilla war: bullet-resistant vests, two FBI logo baseball caps, two U.S. Marshal badges, handcuffs, a portable scanner radio, a gas grenade, pepper spray, a portable stretcher and body bag, latex gloves, duct tape, camouflage clothing, and three gas masks.

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The Kehoes, then, are foot sol­diers in a political army. Like others in that army, they see themselves as revolutionaries in a far-right movement who are determined to overthrow ZOG (the Zionist Occupation Government) and re­store society to its rightful protectors: white Christian men.

Some outriders in this movement look with favor toward Timothy McVeigh, whose trial begins March 31 in Denver, as another sol­dier in the fight for a white America. “I think he’s a courageous man,” says Dennis Mahon, the Tulsa leader of White Aryan Resistance. “Tremendous drive … If we had a hundred men like him in this country we’d probably change things around.” Referring to the Okla­homa City bombing that McVeigh is charged with, Mahon says, “I don’t agree with what he did particularly. My personal opinion is that that building should have been bombed early in the morning.” Mahon has offered to testify on behalf of McVeigh.

What makes this a movement and not just a collection of disparate violent acts is the web of associations that tie together the participants. The most powerful is the religious tenet of Christian Identity, which preaches that the true inheritors of the earth are White Aryans, and all others are subhuman “mud people.”

There are other ties that bind these like-minded people together. Some are pulled together because they practice polygamy. Many younger members are groupies on the skinhead circuit, follow­ing bands around the country, and picking up work at movement enclaves (like the sawmill at Elohim City) when the need arises. Others hang out together at summer camps, evening Bible studies, paramilitary training sessions, gun shows, and meetings of sympathetic militias. The reli­gious gatherings are where the hardcore, far-right operatives out of the old Ku Klux Klan or Posse Comitatus mix with less political, naive Christian religious people. The result is a potent combination of politics infused with religious zeal. It’s one thing to believe that it’s your mission under the constitution to set up, say, a citizens’ grand jury outside the corrupt court system, and quite something else to think of yourself as a Christian soldier in the opening phases of the battle of Armageddon.

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Beginning in the ’80s, groups of apocalyptic Christian fundamentalists withdrew from society, forming their own closed communities so as to more closely practice their religious beliefs and wait for the return of Christ. One group, called The Covenant, The Sword & The Arm of the Lord (CSA), aligned itself in the mid 1980s with the Order, a far-right under­ground gang. That explosive combination led to a tense showdown between 300 lawmen and some 75 heavily armed reli­gious zealots prepared to do God’s will in a shootout. The shooting was averted by last-minute negotiations.

In today’s revolutionary terrain the secluded enclaves remain, although they are of less importance now than in the last decade. Large gang-type formations like the Order have given way to a complex network of leaderless resistance cells, each made up of anywhere from six to eight in­dividuals. The cells strike at various targets, every one selected for the purpose of ad­vancing their revolution: bombing an abortion clinic, robbing a bank or ar­mored car, murdering an interracial cou­ple or someone thought to be Jewish, blacking out a big city by blowing up pow­er lines and thereby sparking a race riot (disrupting Tulsa in this manner has been much discussed at far-right gatherings), or blowing up federal buildings.

Indeed, the actual plan to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City was first hatched within the CSA during the early ’80s. The attack was aborted when the rocket that was to be used blew up in the hands of the man who was build­ing it. By adopting the leaderless resistance cell strategy, the far right made large actions like Oklahoma City possible.

These violent acts are carried out with both the aim of screwing up an oppressive govern­ment (for example, by dumping cyanide into a community’s water supply — another plan that was hatched with the help of the CSA. This time with Robert Miles, the grand dragon of the Michigan Ku Klux Klan), or the need to raise money (by, say, robbing a bank or selling dope). The money is then used to purchase land to create a white bastion, buy equipment such as radios or trucks and vans (which are sometimes stolen as well), and amass weapons and ammu­nition (which are also often ripped off through home invasions of gun dealers).

Far-right gunmen have pulled off the greatest chain of bank robberies since Jesse James­ — one a month starting in 1994, with 19 in eight states by 1996. But the bomb is their m.o. Oklahoma City was the biggest, but it was just the first of a rash of such actions: in the south, three members of the Georgia Republic Militia were convicted of stockpiling bombs. Militia members from West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania stand accused of planning to blow up the FBI’s national fingerprint center in Clarksburg. And in Vacaville, California, a federal mine inspector and his wife were critically injured in a far-right car bombing; before the car blew up, a caller had warned, “Timothy McVeigh lives on.” Other bombing attacks in­clude last-year’s Oklahoma-based conspiracy to blow up Anti-Defamation League offices in Houston, and the recent siege on abortion clin­ics and gay bars in the south.

In all, 25 states have recently experienced violent incidents linked to the far right. Amazingly the feds still see these violent acts as indi­vidual crimes.

The Oklahoma City bombing, how­ever, was clearly not a random act or terror. It was quite simply, a major operation in a growing revolution  — one that had been discussed for over a decade. And its timing suggests several intended messages: as possible retribution for the execution on April 19, 1995, of Richard Wayne Snell, a leader of the CSA who was sentenced to die for murdering an Arkansas state trooper and a pawn broker he mistakenly thought was Jewish. It may have been retaliation for the 1992 Idaho shootout be­tween the feds and Randv Weaver. And most likely, the Oklahoma City bombing could have been a response to the government’s siege at Waco.

Timothy McVeigh had been in and out of the far-right scene since he left the army in 1992, and was reportedly highly agitated by Waco. One of the main ques­tions to be answered at McVeigh’s trial, then, is to what extent did he fit into this revolutionary landscape — just how did his “cell” operate in relationship to the others now functioning across the Amer­ican hinterland?

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The Kehoe saga begins in western Arkansas with the disappearance in January 1996 of William Mueller, 53, a gun dealer; his wife Nancy, 28; and her daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Powell, age 8. They were last seen on their way to a gun show in the town of Springdale. Several weeks after the Muellers disappeared, a witness reported seeing them in a car along with several other men, fueling speculation that they had been abducted. In February, one of Mueller’s guns turned up at a pawn shop in Seattle, and it was traced to Kirby Kehoe and his son Chevie, who had sold it at a Washington gun show. The investigation dragged, and then on June 29, the badly decomposed bodies of the Mueller family surfaced in the Illinois Bayou, just north of Rus­sellville, Arkansas. Their heads were cov­ered with plastic bags and wrapped with duct tape, and the adults’ hands were cuffed.

By last summer the search for the Kehoes had widened into an interstate task force of law-enforcement officers. The witness who saw the car carrying the Muellers had identified the other occupants as Tim­othy Thomas Coombs (a white suprema­cist wanted for shooting a Missouri state trooper), and Kirby Kehoe’s two sons, Chevie and Cheyne. The cops started to close in. The Kehoes lived in a remote part of the Kaniksu National Forest in the mountains along the Washington-Idaho border — a place where most of the houses are without electricity, telephones, or even addresses. But somehow they were tipped off and witnesses reported seeing the Ke­hoes in a truck loaded with belongings, hightailing it out of the forest. The family headed for Montana where they lived until the Ohio shootout.

In December, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, police found another Mueller gun in a truck registered to the wife of Chevie Kehoe. The firearm and vehicle were in the possession of Sean Michael Haines, a 19-year-old Washington man with ties to white supremacist groups. He claimed he obtained the stolen rifle in a swap with Chevie. Haines later said he met Chevie at an Aryan Nations compound in northern Idaho, and that the two attended gun shows together. Kehoe married his first wife in a ceremony at that compound. Haines de­scribed him as less of a supremacist than a “white separatist” as well as a “constitutional­ist” and a survivalist. In their search of Haines’s truck, police found another stolen gun (traced back to Washington state), blood stains, flexible handcuffs, and duct tape.

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Eastern Washington, where the Kehoes far-right movement that has long sought to establish a “white bastion” in the mountains stretching into northern Idaho and western Montana. Its headquarters is the Aryan Na­tions compound at Hayden Lake, a suburb of the resort and retirement community Coeur d’Alene in western Idaho. But its followers are sprawled out into the Idaho panhandle around Sandpoint, where Louis Beam, the de facto leader of the movement, has bought land. Sandpoint is also the home base of America’s Promise, a Christian Identity ministry.

Three members of America’s Promise have been tied to a string of bombings and a bank robbery in Spokane last year, three men — Charles Barbee, 44; Robert S. Berry, 42; and Verne Jay Merrell, 51 — have been charged with the April 1 bombings of the Spokane Spokesman ­Review‘s Valley office and a nearby U.S. Bank branch office. They are also charged with rob­bing the same bank and bombing a Planned Parenthood clinic on July 12, just two weeks be­fore the Olympic Park bombings. The robbers left behind notes signed Phineas Priesthood, a symbol of the far-right racialist underground. Phineas is a Bible figure who is a mythic hero on the right because he supposedly slew an inter­racial couple having sex.

The suspects were arrested October 8 in Yakima after a botched attempt to rob yet another bank. The men told a federal judge in Jan­uary that they are “ambassadors for the kingdom of Yahweh,” and hence beyond authority of the government. If convicted they face life without parole. A fourth suspect, Brian Ratigan, 38, was arrested last weekend in Spokane. He is charged with conspiring to bomb buildings and rob banks in the area last year.

The government believes Merrell is the leader of the gang. The son of an upper-middle­-class Philadelphia family, he went into the Navy following high school. After serving in the Atlantic fleet for 12 years, Merrell got jobs — and security clearances — in domestic nu­clear power plants. Along with Louis Beam, he writes for Jubilee, the Christian Identity news­paper, whose owner, Paul Hall, also lives in Sandpoint.

In late January, the Spokesman-Review re­vealed that the same witness who originally led the FBI to the accused America’s Promise bombers claimed he sold them a military back­pack and talked to them about a time-delayed detonator. The Olympic Park bomb — which killed a woman and injured 111 people — came in a military backpack and was set off by a time-­delayed detonator. A witness places at least one of the Spokane suspects, Robert Berry, in Atlanta during the Olympics. And telephone records show calls to Charles Barbee’s home were made from Atlanta at about the time of the July 27 attack. Barbee had worked at AT&T in Georgia, Florida, and Idaho before quitting his job. “Half the people I worked with were women,” Barbee complained. “They were working instead of being helpmates to their hus­bands, as God requires.”

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If Hayden Lake and the western slope of the Rockies are at one end of the outlaw trail, the Ozarks and the Elohim City compound at the other. Elohim City is another stronghold of Christian Identity and a common rest stop for members of the far right’s western  faction when they travel east. The Kehoes, for example, stopped off at this safe haven, where some resi­dents practice polygamy. Elohim City is the headquarters for another spoke of the move­ment, the Aryan Republican Army bank robbers, a gang of four men who had robbed one bank each month, beginning in 1994, before getting caught by the feds early last year.

Led by Richard Guthrie Jr., who was found hanged in jail last summer at the age of 38, and Pete Lan­gan, 38, a former in­formant for the U.S. Secret Service, the ARA was partly masterminded by Mark Thomas, 46, the Aryan Nations leader of northeastern Pennsylvania.Thomas put Guthrie and Langan together with young skinheads who squatted at his farm outside Allentown. According to the federal indictment, Thomas took some of the $250,000 stolen between 1994 and ’96, and used it to aid other white-power groups. Thomas has reportedly agreed to a plea bargain, while Lan­gan has been convicted of one robbery and has yet to be sentenced.

These are the type of people and this is the world that surrounded Timothy McVeigh, He is known to have made the gun-show rounds while selling copies of The Turner Diaries and staying overnight with gun collectors. His phone records show that he made one call to Elohim City shortly before the Oklahoma City bomb detonated, and be also received a traffic ticket not far from that far-right compound in an earlier incident.

Additionally, his defense team claims, he joined an Arkansas branch of the Ku Klux Klan, and his phone records reveal several different calls to a representative of the National Alliance in Arizona. William Pierce, who heads the Na­tional Alliance, is the author of The Turner Diaries. The McCurtain Daily Gazette, a local paper in Idabel, Oklahoma, has reported that an undercover informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, says McVeigh was a figure on the Aryan scene in Elohim City and knew the ARA bank robbers. A stripper in Oklahoma also claims to have seen McVeigh along with one of the accused ARA robbers. Although tantalizing, these stories remain largely unconfirmed. It is always possible, however, that the defense will try to insinuate them, one way or another, into the trial.

If anything, the struggle between the Aryan resistance movement and the government has intensified since the Oklahoma City bombing, with one cell after another coming to the surface. With the feds refusing to recognize their existence, the attacks by these pockets will only increase in size and strength. ❖

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From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES

Central Park Sellout

Central Park Sellout
October 14, 1997

It was always a paradox — a populist Arcadia built at a time when western expansion had begun the century-long desecration of the American frontier, a “wilderness” in the middle of an increasingly mechanized city, a utopian sanctuary no less artificial in its conception than the later rodent kingdoms of Disney would be. Anticipating Mickey and Goofy, Central Park was built with fake grass and man-made hills and artificial waterfalls. At one time, it even had a salaried shepherd tending to an ornamental flock.

It was a “natural” place intended to evoke what Freud would later refer to as the “old condition of things” — specifically the agrarian activities that gave shape to human life before “traffic and industry” deformed the planet. Central Park provided rolling meadows, scenic vistas, rustic overlooks, bridges with grottoes to shelter fictitious trolls. It gives the appearance of being a naturally occurring fragment of some imaginary countryside.

To create this distinctly New World fantasia it was necessary for Old World la­borers to hump in 10 million cartloads of soil. Designed to be many things, Central Park was foremost a kind of Rousseauesque frame for man’s encounters with his “true” self. Crossing its threshold, visitors entered into the spirit of what the landscape architect Frederic Law Olm­sted rhapsodically called a “wildness so hard to capture once put to flight.”

But the park may soon become as perma­nently tame as a golf course if the mayor ap­proves an eight-year exclusive management contract with the Central Park Conservancy. Giuliani’s signature would permit custody of the city’s most important public space quietly to pass into the hands of a private philanthropic elite. And then, with cottage garden plantings, proliferating signage, sweeps of Lawnmaster greens — and helped along by a special new pro­motional team — Central Park, the place, could soon become Central Park, the theme.

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A SATURDAY TIMES news report blandly summa­rized the future: “Formalizing a relationship that has been growing steadily for 17 years, the Giu­liani administration has decided to officially turn over responsibility for maintaining Central Park, the pastoral soul of the city, to a private group.”

Under the terms of the new agreement, the Central Park Conservancy will receive as much as $4 million a year from the city, half from the general fund and half in concessions revenues. This is in addition to Central Park’s share of the city’s overall parks budget, currently $2.9 mil­lion a year. (Of the park’s current $15.9 million budget, the Conservancy privately raises and funds about two-thirds.)

In the first year of the proposal, the city will pay the Conservancy $1 million, provided it raises and spends $5 million; the payments es­calate to as much as $2 million a year over the course of the contract’s term. The deal also calls for the conservancy to keep 50 per cent of any concession revenues above the current level, up to a maximum of $2 million a year.

Claiming that the city will retain control over all important decisions, Parks Commissioner Henry Stern insists, “This represents an ideal public-private partnership. They’re going to whitewash our fences and they’re going to pay to do it. There’s no surrender here.”

Yet the plan Stern negotiated with Conser­vancy head Karen Putnam this past summer — a time when most local community boards were on hiatus — bypassed city charter-mandated processes for establishing public policy and cir­cumvented standard competitive contracting rules to place the day-to-day maintenance of the city’s most heavily utilized public park under pri­vate control. The commissioner argued success­fully with City Hall that the conservancy’s record meritcd giving it a sole-source, no-bid contract.

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Since a partial management contract be­tween the Conservancy and the city was signed in 1993, there has not been a single public audit or review. Those agency operations not covered in its annual report are not publicly reported. If the mayor approves the long-term contract, it be­comes impossible to monitor Conservancy per­formance by means of state freedom of informa­tion statutes or open-meetings laws. And, while IRS statutes require not-for-profits to make tax returns publicly available, a visitor’s initial request placed at the Conservancy’s Arsenal office was re­cently turned away — until the visitor identified himself as a reporter. Furthermore, although the Conservancy chief — who also serves as the Cen­tral Park administrator — reports to the parks commissioner, she is privately paid, a fact that places her office another step away from accountability.

Where is the public in all this? After Con­servancy officials declined an appearance to an­swer contract questions at a City Council hearing, Council-member Ronnie Eldridge complained that “There used to be public scrutiny when we had a Board of &timatc. It’s very hard now for there to be any public oversight.”

For her part, Putnam counters that “the Conservancy has the most exhaustive review system of its own design. We do not move forward without approval front the Landmarks and the Municipal Art commissions.” Conser­vancy chairman Ira M. Millstein adds, “Never once have we tried to ‘take over the park.’ All we want to do is to keep it nice. We pay for the right to keep that park beautiful.”

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It’s Millstein’s sweeping assumption of no­blesse oblige that should sound an alarm, since the Central Park Conservancy board currently includes among its members the multimillionaires Richard Gilder, Michael Bloomberg, and Henry Kravis —  group not unaccustomed to having its collective way. “The Conservancy is increasingly alone in en­suring that the premier property in the city’s park system does not again become a humiliating ruin,” Gilder wrote in last winter’s City Journal, the pub­lication of the Manhattan Institute. Gilder went on to blame the park’s disastrous past not on dra­conian budget cuts but on shiftless, work-to-book unions. That particular problem will be tidily dis­pensed with under the new contract, which, among other conclusions, gives the private non­profit the right to fire city employees.

“As a principle, it’s a terrible mistake,” one former Parks Department official says of the contract, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Thee director of the Conservancy isn’t selected by the mayor. It’s too public a place to have a private entity in charge.”

In a 1995 interview, the then Central Park administrator and Conservancy chief Elizabeth Barlow Rogers remarked that “we must avoid the privatization of public space.” Even Gilder himself — $17 million benefactor of the Great Lawn restoration — has paid lip service to this high-minded ideal. “New York’s parks arc in­valuable public amenities and must remain under close public supervision.”

However, according to Carolyn Kent, a member of Manhattan’s Community Board 9, which opposed the long-term contract, “We’re very deep into parks issues at this board, and we weren’t consulted. We were shocked. This is not a parochial issue where only the people who live in adjacent aparnncnt houses set the debate. Are only the wealthiest supposed to call the shots?”

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WHERE RUMINANTS ONCE cropped the Sheep Meadow, the 843-acre park is now dominated by a bureaucratic sacred cow. And it must be said that the Conservancy — brought in to save the ailing park in 1980 by Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis, after Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan suggested turning the place over to the National Parks Service — can legitimately claim responsibility for good works. The restoration of the Harlem Meer, the Dairy, the Bethesda Fountain, and the general reversal of decades-long Parks Department misfeasance were unforeseeable feats at a time when both the elms along Poet’s Walk and the city itself were afflicted with creeping rot.

Since then the economy has rebounded, and Central Park can once again merit the ap­pellation of “crown jewel of the nation’s urban parks.” With the conservancy’s successes came increasing pressure from the board to expand its powers beyond fundraising and general main­tenance to full-scale management. “What’s hap­pened,” says Moisha Blechman, of the New York City Sierra Club, “is that, ultimately, the people who gave the money said, ‘We want to control how the money is spent.’ It makes no sense in a wealthy city to have the takeover of a public entity by a private organization.”

Many things that now occur in the park make little sense, and few of them are held up for public scrutiny. The alienating effect of shutting off areas of the park for promotional events, for example, has some significant prece­dent (Simon and Garfunkel, Diana Ross, etc). But when a Garth Brooks fan complained to The New York Times of the 10 a.m. opening and 6 p.m. closing of the park on concert day, her let­ter cast a chill. “In the future,” wrote Darlene Geller, “perhaps passes can be given out at dif­ferent times and places beforehand.”

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Or perhaps in the future, Team Cheerios will be the order of a Central Park day. On a steamy afternoon in mid August, a giant yellow inflatable cereal box loomed above Bethesda Terrace, a sort of bloated corporate affront to the fountain’s famous Angel of the Waters. Idling on the nearby transverse, several Rollerblade vans advertised the brand’s newly purchased ($1.6 million to the Parks Depart­ment) slogan as “THE OFFICIAL SKATE OF NEW YORK CITY PARKS.” A New York Rangers slap-shot booth parked beneath some elms bore a huge Coca-Cola logo. The displays are here to celebrate a national youth-sports conclave. Oddly enough, it’s the one fact not ex­plained with any signs. A visitor who didn’t know better could easily imagine having wan­dered into a soccer-league fundraiser at the mall.

On another summer morning a beach vol­leyball tournament is underway near the Naum­burg Bandshell. There are bleachers and announcers and cancerously sunbaked people spiking balls into the imported sand. The event is underwritten by the hair-care magnate Paul Mitchell, whose workers have erected canvas tents in which they offer free trims and comb-outs. “One of Mayor Giuliani’s top priorities is to de­velop and nurture public-private partnerships that result in sustained improvements in the condition of our parks,” is how Parks Commissioner Stem reasons away this usurpation of public space.

Events like these are officially sanctioned by the Parks Department, and not the privately funded Central Park Conservancy, but the de­marcation between the two has increasingly be­come blurred. The $750,000 fee HBO paid for Garth Brooks’s concert, for instance was split by the parks department and a Conservancy trust. So was the $55,000 BMW paid to publicize a new sports-car test-drive through the park, the $100,000 Sony and Toys “R” Us paid to hold game exhibitions along the park’s Fifth Avenue entrances, and the $50,000 Breakstone paid to stage an annual Easter egg roll on park lawns.

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Editorializing on the need for creation of a “central park,” the influential 19th-century land-scape achitect Andrew Jackson Browning wrote that “deluded New York has, until lately, content­ed itself with … mere grassplats of verdure … in the mistaken idea that they are parks.” Deluded New York still contents itself with mere grassplats, or anyway settles for being herded from one pre­cious grassplat to the next, as the city’s greatest public space is segmented with fencing and sold off to, say, Anheuser Busch and Evian, two firms that jointly paid $100,000 to hold a beach vol­leyball tournament in a place without a beach.

“The commercialization of the park,” be­comes that much easier when planning and op­erations are conducted out of public view, says the Sierra Club’s Blechman. “An adventure play­ground goes through without community input. A power station just appears at 86th Street and Central Park West. You begin to get increased signage all over the park, done without commu­nity input. Central Park was not designed to have maps and directions everywhere. The Conser­vancy wants to obscure the natural wonder with huge signs telling you where you are.”

Where exactly are you? Are you feeling warm and fuzzy seated on the Christine Hearst and Stephen Schwarzman memorial bench at 76th Street? Are you stopping on your official skates of NYC parks for a sip of water from the Sidney and Arthur Diamond fountain? Are you memorizing the sentimental hokum of an anony­mous donor’s plaque — affixed to a bench near In­ventors Gate — informing parkgoers that “one touch of nature makes the whole world kin”?

What if you’ve had enough of “kinship” with 8 million fellow individuals — not to men­tion their products, their philosophies, the oppressive din of their names? “Donor naming has become commonplace in hospitals and synagogues, why not the park?” says commissioner Stern. “Commercialize forever if you want to,” responds attorney Robert Makla, founder of the historicist Greensward Foundation. “Name everything. Give money and ask for a plaque. The point of Central Park is to cross the street and leave the commercialization behind. Stop identifying with Time Warner and Garth Brooks and Disney. Evoke nature, not an indi­vidual. Take a look. Do Frederic Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux have their names anywhere?

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They do not. As Carolyn Kent of Commu­nity Board 5 notes, “The problem is there’s no landscape historical staff at the Conservancy to keep the park from becoming a graveyard of memorial plaques.”

Central Park, as biographer Lee Hall writes in Olmsted’s America, was not “created in a social vacuum, or under ideal protection by governing authorities.” It was created on “an undercurrent of political pork barreling, vote trading, and power brokerage.” Lacking the grotesque bra­vado of the Tweed clubhouse, the current power brokers assert a subtle aesthetic hegemony over a piece of Manhattan larger than Monaco.

For “safety,” they seal the park perimeter dur­ing ethnic parade days. They install “temporary” snow fencing that becomes a de facto fixture of the landscape. They festoon fences with self-­celebrating signs and install English-style cottage gardens where the park’s designers mandated na­tive plantings. Increasingly, perhaps in imitation of the 19th-century parks “sparrow cops,” they exhort parkgoers to indulge only in proper forms of public behavior. Sports or unleashed dogs are sternly discouraged, while “relaxing, sunbathing, daydreaming?” are deemed okay.

“The Conservancy is not, must never be al­lowed to be, and should not be seen as, an elitist organization of East Side snobs acting like Lord and Lady Bountiful,” warned William Beinecke, the founding chairman of the conservancy. Yet, as one Upper East Side activist remarks, “the Con­servancy’s history of communicating with groups and individuals is very poor. There are many unanswered questions about how park money will be allocated, how they’re going to spend concession revenues, who decides which of these big public events are held in the park. No one has seen this contract and yet the people from the Conservancy refuse to discuss it. Once the contract is signed, they say, they’ll talk.”

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BEFORE THERE WAS a Central Park Conservan­cy, there were the volunteer Friends of Central Park, and before them there was an activist-­historian named M. M. Graff. Although you’ll find no citation on Graff in the Encyclopedia of New York City, she remains a figure of some rev­erence among people who love the city.

It was Graff who conducted crucial surveys of Central and Prospect parks, compiled defin­itive guides to the bridges, trees, and trails, and also wrote pithy biographies of the park’s cre­ators, pronouncing them “visionaries endowed with highest order of and dedication” and then promptly cutting artistry them down to size. Calvert Vaux, claims Graff, saw the park as an opportunity to advance the art of landscape architecture. Frederic Law Olmsted was moved by democratic ideals.

For decades Graff fought to preserve the balance of these differing visions as realized in a park that is part aesthetic conception, part ex­perimental proving ground.

“The Conservancy is bad and Parks is worse,” Graff says now. “The trees are in terri­ble danger from automobile emissions, but no­body says a word. I hear they’re going to put up signs for traffic, how to get here and there. Ob­viously, once that happens, that’s a place you can put advertising, too. They consistently cheapen and vulgarize the park experience, but Land­marks and the Municipal Art Society do noth­ing to stop them. Only Robert Makla speaks up and everyone hates his guts. I’d like to get out and help, but I’m brushing 89. Frankly, I don’t feel Central Park has much future anymore.” ♦

1997 Village Voice article by Guy Trebay about privatizing public parks

1997 Village Voice article by Guy Trebay about privatizing public parks

1997 Village Voice article by Guy Trebay about privatizing public parks