The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord
The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (initialized CSA) was a far right political organization dedicated to Christian Identity and survivalism that was active in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. CSA developed from a Baptist congregation called the Zarephath-Horeb Community Church, founded in 1971 in the small community of Elijah in southern Missouri. Over time, Zarephath-Horeb evolved into an extremist paramilitary organization rechristened CSA, which the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) identified in 1985 as the second-most dangerous domestic terrorist organization at the time. CSA operated a large compound in northern Arkansas called the Farm. In April 1985, law enforcement officers investigating the group for weapons violations and terrorist acts carried out a siege against the compound. After a peaceful resolution, officers arrested and convicted CSA's top leaders, and the organization soon dissolved.
The founder of the CSA was James Ellison, who was jailed for a period of time along with his 'high priest' Kerry Noble in federal prison. Robert G. Millar became one of Ellison's spiritual advisers, and was also the founder of Elohim City. Ellison was also mentored by Richard Girnt Butler of the Aryan Nations and Robert Miles, founder of The Mountain Church in Cohoctah, Michigan. Both extreme right leaders taught and practiced the theology of Christian Identity, a religion which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) still has on its watch list as an 'extremist religion.' Ellison had very close ties to the Ku Klux Klan and the Northern Idaho group, Aryan Nations, in Hayden Lake, Idaho, led by Richard Butler, who was described as "the glue of the Aryan Nations movement in the Northwest, if not the country" by the supervisor of the Inland Northwest Joint Terrorism Task Force. Miles had a very active prison ministry and newsletter, relating mostly to the violent white Aryan groups, of which there are many, most notably, the Aryan Brotherhood. After Ellison was released from prison, he moved to Elohim City, where he married Millar's granddaughter.
Ellison, Noble, and the entire Council of Elders at CSA were deeply influenced and mentored by many outside sources. It was this nine man council that deliberated on the spiritual meaning and direction of CSA activities.
The CSA was an organization which believed that doomsday was imminent, and the 224-acre compound that was set up in Elijah became a community for its members. There they trained their members in paramilitary operations. The group strongly believed in white supremacy, and was strongly anti-Semitic. Like other prominent anti-Semitic conspiracy groups, they referred to the United States Government as ZOG, for Zionist Occupied Government. The military leader, who used the name Randall Rader during his stay at CSA, left the group in a rift with Ellison and joined the newly forming group The Order in Idaho. The CSA professed that the United States government would dissolve from its own corruption, whereas The Order advocated revolution.
CSA assassins would monitor the homes of their targets and actually practice mock assassinations of the targets with scoped rifles and even practiced attacks in a mock "Combat City". The perimeter of the CSA compound had 100, 200, and 300-yard (270 m) indicator plates nailed to trees to allow the defenders to adjust their sights accordingly to engage attackers. The central rallying point in the event of attack was a concrete bunk house that housed the communications radios next to the 95-foot (29 m) tower, which itself, was constructed for defense. The perimeter of the compound had built-in bunkers for one to three men and each was numbered as a post and assigned to individuals as an 'area of responsibility'.
Some of the weapons the group used were purchased through a member's federal firearms license, though much of their arsenal was stolen. The line infantryman carried a Ruger Mini-14 .223 Remington rifle. As in the early days in the Marine Corps, the squads were set up in four man fire teams. One man in the fire team carried a Heckler and Koch Model 91 rifle in .308 caliber. These had been modified via a technique which the organization sold to 'brother groups', converting the rifle to an illegal selective fire weapon (capable of firing either single shots, or on full-auto). The Elite "A" Team had black clothing and some fairly sophisticated weapons such as, the .22 caliber Ruger target pistol fitted with an integral silencer, and several MAC-10 submachineguns in both 9 mm and .45 ACP, also with attached suppressors. These men trained in the covert aspects of military action, and were to be the core of the defense initiative.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) later determined that CSA had obtained 155 Krugerrands, one live light antitank rocket, 94 long arms, 30 handguns, 35 sawed-off shotguns and machine guns, one heavy machine gun, and a quantity of C-4 explosives.
The CSA also had links with other radical organizations, including the Aryan Brotherhood, The Mountain Church, and The Order, all dangerous white supremacist organizations which advocated the violent overthrow of the United States Government. Many of their members were seen traveling in and out of the compound, and after a search of the compound, several stolen vehicles including one belonging to The Order were recovered.
Things began to go downhill for the organization after an alleged member, Richard Wayne Snell, was arrested for killing an African-American police officer. Snell was later tied to the killing of a gun store owner in 1981, obtaining and using the very same gun, the serial number of which had been removed by the CSA armorer, Kent Yates, who himself was arrested on Friday, July 13, 1984, on an outstanding warrant out of New Mexico for firearms violations in Farmington. He was later also charged and convicted of weapons manufacture and modification for the CSA.
After the incident with Snell the FBI began hunting for ways to infiltrate the CSA compound and stop the organization which they deemed dangerous. They finally obtained warrants under Arkansas state law to arrest Ellison, the leader of the CSA, for multiple firearms violations. (The FBI later claimed that at all times they had an "inside man" in the CSA.)
The siege: April 19, 1985
The ATF positioned around 300 federal agents in Elijah. It was necessary to keep the operation a secret, but this was not easy in the small community. However, the ATF agents took advantage of Elijah being a common destination for anglers by pretending to be fishermen and registering at different motels near the various fishing destinations. On the morning of April 19, 1985, they moved in and surrounded the CSA compound, putting some in fishing boats to seal off the lakeside area of the Compound. There they waited, until a few hours later when two guards emerged from the compound. They appeared to be unaware of the presence of the officers, and walked towards a sniper hold-out, until finally an officer yelled commands to return to the compound, with which the guards complied. Later, an unnamed individual emerged from the compound and talked with the federal agents and reported to Ellison that the FBI were outside to negotiate his surrender and the emptying of the Compound. Ellison emerged later. FBI agents had expected he would not go down without a firefight, but the FBI negotiators convinced him that the CSA would certainly lose if they had one. They convinced him that they wanted peaceful cooperation, and he asked that his spiritual adviser, assumed to be Millar, come to the compound to instruct him. The individual was flown to the area and seemed eager to convince Ellison to stand down, understanding that otherwise there would be certain bloodshed. They allowed the individual into the compound, and the FBI instructed him to call in every 30 minutes to report how negotiations were going. The date of the siege, coincidentally, was the 210th anniversary of "the shot heard round the world" from the Revolutionary War. Eight years later in 1993, this was the date of the burning of the church in Waco, after specifically having studied the outcome of the CSA standoff. Two years after that, in 1995, this was the date chosen by Timothy McVeigh, in protest against the Waco incident among others, to bomb the Federal building in Oklahoma City.
Attorney Asa Hutchinson, who would later go on to successfully prosecute Ellison and other leaders of the CSA, put on an FBI flak jacket and entered the compound to personally join negotiations, ultimately leading to a peaceful conclusion to the armed stand-off. After several calls requesting more time, early on the morning of the 4th day of the siege, Ellison, his command, and all of the males in the compound emerged, and surrendered themselves to authorities. Women and children were earlier evacuated to nearby motel housing at government expense.
U.S. Attorney Asa Hutchinson charged Ellison and most of his leadership with illegal weapon possession, Ellison faced the maximum 20 years prison sentence having been convicted on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act charges. However, Ellison was released in 1987 in a deal where he testified against the leader and six senior members of the Aryan Nations, rumored to have been strengthened by Robert Miles during his time in federal prison. (Most certainly all of the Aryan groups were embraced by Miles' prison ministry newsletters, published at The Mountain Church in Cohoctaw, Michigan.) All seven men were arrested and indicted on charges of sedition. The jury found all the defendants not guilty on all charges saying that they 'did not find the federal witness credible'. Upon his release from federal prison, he moved to Elohim City.
Richard Wayne Snell, the man who shot and killed both the police officer and a pawn shop owner, was sentenced to death by lethal injection, carried out on April 19, 1995.
Possible ties to the Oklahoma City bombing
There are several claims that the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bombing was tied to the "New Day" teachings of Elohim City. No proof, however, has ever been established. Elohim City was assembled for the purpose of gathering "prophets of the New Day". Leader Robert G. Millar envisioned himself to be the "Shepherd of Shepherds" traveling to numerous alternate societies, many of which were and are still communes. His ambition was to unite these underground organizations. He appeared several times at the Padanaram Settlement, in southern Indiana, but contrary to reports, members of the Padanaram Settlement did not concur with the radical calling of either Millar or Ellison who made two appearances there. "The Valley" was and still is known more for being a cultural hub for artists and philosophers and until roughly 2003, it operated the largest deciduous hardwood sawmill in five states.
Timothy McVeigh was tied to several radical religious organizations, however, McVeigh was not yet exposed to the charismatic messages of these groups in his early teen youth and was just joining the Army when the CSA compound was besieged and broken up. Also, the Oklahoma City bombing occurred very close to the 10-year anniversary of the siege of the CSA compound. But the most plausible link is that Richard Wayne Snell, who was executed on the day of the bombing, had planned a similar attack on the Murrah building in 1983 after becoming upset with the Internal Revenue Service. Additionally, Snell was heard taunting jailers that something drastic would happen on the day of his execution. It is plausible that McVeigh may have been mentored by Snell since Snell frequented gun shows, a CSA practice until shortly before Snell made active contact with the group that he is documented to have been a member of. By itself, that is understandable since Snell hid out at the CSA compound between pawn shop robberies. He did not, however, reside on the property. CSA considered him to be a "Patron". Shortly after McVeigh was released from the Army he became very active at gun shows.
The single incident of CSA involvement, the robbery of a pawn shop in Springfield, Missouri, was in fact, foiled by a CSA member on the orders of Jim Ellison, unknown to Wayne Snell, who headed up the plan. It was in regard to this event in which Ellison saw a "sign from God" which he interpreted to mean that they should not carry out the attempt; not the attack on the Oklahoma City Federal Bldg.)
The death knell of CSA was their attempt to kill FBI special agent Jack Knox, the lead agent assigned to investigate the group; Asa Hutchinson, the federal prosecutor; and the Federal judge who presided over the affair that brought about the eventual action against Gordon Kahl, a tax protester and member of the Posse Comitatus, by federal agents at Leonard Ginter's home (affectionately called 'The Bunker', due to its construction from concrete covered with earth). Ellison revered Kahl as a hero. Like McVeigh, incidentally, Kahl was a decorated American soldier; Kahl earned a Silver Star in the Korean War, and McVeigh a Bronze Star in the first Gulf War – Desert Storm.
In popular culture
- British band Cabaret Voltaire released an album in 1985 called The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord
- The CSA is referenced in the 1998 novel Rainbow Six written by Tom Clancy. In chapter five "Ramifications" the organization is cited as an example of how an ideological group may use criminal activity to support itself.
- Jessica Stern wrote extensively about Kerry Noble in her book, Terror in the Name of God, recounting facts from an interview she did with Noble.
- Jim Ellison is in the 1984 documentary The Jupiter Menace where he tours Zarabeth Horeb, a CSA compound.
- On the HBO Series, The Newsroom written by Aaron Sorkin, the CSA was referenced in a segment discussing Christian Radicalism in America.
- In 2013, Kerry Noble appeared on the Investigation Discovery show "Dangerous Persuasions" talking about his time with the group.
- In 2013, Kerry Noble was on "Brainwashed" on Slice Network in Canada to discuss his time with the CSA.
- Associated Press in Los Angeles Times/August 28 ????
- Noble, Kerry (2010). Tabernacle of Hate: Seduction into Right-Wing Extremism (2nd ed.). New York: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 978-0815632481.
- FOIA release of FBI documents on CSAL dated 7 Oct 1987
- Wiecha, Joe (Director) (2004). The FBI Files: Brotherhood of Hate (television documentary). USA: New Dominion Pictures.
- Michel, Lou; Herbeck, Dan (2002). American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh & the Tragedy at Oklahoma City. Harper. ISBN 978-0061065187.
- Clancy, Tom (1998). Rainbow Six (1st ed.). Putnam Adult. ISBN 978-0399143908.