James Gordon Gritz
January 18, 1939
Enid, Oklahoma, U.S.
|Political party||Populist (1984–1996)|
|Alma mater||University of Illinois, Urbana-|
|Website||bogritz.com via Wayback Machine|
|Branch/service||United States Army|
|Years of service||1957–1979|
|Unit||B-36, 5th Special Forces Group|
|Awards||Silver Star (3)|
Legion of Merit (2)
Distinguished Flying Cross
Bronze Star (4)
Purple Heart (2)
Air Medal (26)
James Gordon "Bo" Gritz (//; born January 18, 1939) is a retired United States Army Special Forces officer who served with distinction during the Vietnam War. Following his military career, Gritz became involved in various attempts to rescue prisoners of war (POWs) associated with the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue.
In the realm of politics, Gritz ran for the United States presidency in 1992 as a candidate of the Populist Party, advocating an isolationist platform encapsulated in his manifesto, "The Bill of Gritz". His campaign was characterized by the slogan "God, Guns, and Gritz".
Gritz's life has been marked by controversy, including questions regarding his military awards, his involvement in high-profile standoffs with federal authorities, and his involvement with the Christian Patriot movement and other right-wing militia groups. Despite these controversies, he remains a significant figure in discussions of American military history, politics, and the POW/MIA issue.
Early life and education
Gritz was born on January 18, 1939, in Enid, Oklahoma. His father was a serviceman in the Army Air Force during World War II and tragically lost his life in action. In the wake of his father's death, Gritz was raised by his maternal grandparents.
Gritz's early education was marked by a significant event when he was expelled from his local high school for reasons not specified. This setback, however, did not deter him from pursuing his education. He subsequently attended the Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, a prestigious military school known for its rigorous academic and physical programs. Gritz successfully graduated from the academy, setting the stage for his future military career.
Gritz began his military career when he enlisted in the Army on August 20, 1957. He quickly ascended the ranks, attending Officer Candidate School (OCS) and achieving the rank of captain in 1963, followed by a promotion to major in 1967.
During the Vietnam War, Gritz commanded detachment "B-36" of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). This detachment was a mixed American and Cambodian-Vietnamese MIKE Force composed predominantly of local mercenaries. They operated in the III Corps area of southern South Vietnam near the Cambodian border. Among his successful missions was the retrieval of the black box from a downed Lockheed U-2 spy plane in enemy territory in Cambodia in December 1966.
After six years in Vietnam, Gritz served in a variety of assignments, including commanding Special Forces in Latin America from 1975 to 1977, serving as a Desk Officer for the Middle East, and acting as Chief of Congressional Relations for the Defense Security Agency (International Security Affairs) in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 1977 to 1979. He retired in 1979 at the rank of lieutenant colonel. Following his formal retirement, Gritz claims, with video evidence, to have trained the Afghan mujahideen in America on behalf of the government.
General William Westmoreland, in his memoir A Soldier Reports, cites Gritz as "The" American Soldier. Gritz received numerous military awards during his service, although some of these have been called into question. A memo regarding his awards and award recommendations during his time in Vietnam seems to indicate that Gritz was personally involved with the recommendation of some of his medals, including the Legion of Merit, and that some of his award recommendations cited the same missions and incidents, effectively awarding Gritz multiple medals for the same missions, including the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Air Medal and Army Commendation Medal.
In the early 1980s, Gritz became involved in the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue, undertaking a series of private missions into Southeast Asia. His goal was to locate U.S. prisoners of war who, according to some beliefs, had been detained since the Vietnam War by the communist governments of Laos and Vietnam, specifically in areas such as Nhommarath.
Gritz's missions were initially supported by elements of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 1981, and later financed by high-profile donors like Clint Eastwood and Ross Perot. Operating primarily out of Thailand, Gritz used aliases such as "Richard Patrick Clark" to evade detection. Despite his efforts, Gritz was unable to provide any concrete evidence of the existence of the POWs when he testified as a witness before the House committee headed by Stephen Solarz in 1983.
Gritz's activities were heavily publicized and controversial, with critics deeming them haphazard and poorly executed. For instance, some commentators pointed out that supposedly secret missions involved women openly selling commemorative POW-rescue T-shirts in border towns. In his book Inside Delta Force, CSM Eric L. Haney, a former Delta Force operator, claims that the unit was twice told to prepare for a mission involving the rescue of American POWs from Vietnam. However, both times the missions were scrubbed, according to Haney, when Gritz suddenly appeared in the spotlight, drawing too much attention to the issue and making the missions too difficult to accomplish.
In 1983, Gritz and four of his associates were tried and convicted in Thailand of illegally importing radio equipment during their "Operation Lazarus Omega". One of them, a former Navy SEAL David Scott Weekly also known as "Doctor Death", was also later convicted in America of smuggling explosives. Thai authorities expressed concern that Vietnamese forces in Laos would retaliate against them for cross-border armed intrusions and threatened to jail Gritz for 20 years. Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach called Gritz's actions "a flagrant violation of the sovereignty of Laos that everyone should denounce."
In 1986, Gritz traveled to Burma (now Myanmar) to interview drug kingpin Khun Sa about potential locations of U.S. POWs. He returned with a videotaped interview in which Khun Sa named several officials in the Reagan administration as allegedly involved in narcotics trafficking in Southeast Asia. Among those named was Richard Armitage, who later served as Deputy Secretary of State during George W. Bush's first term as president. During this time, Gritz established contacts with the Christic Institute, a progressive group that was then pursuing a lawsuit against the U.S. government over charges of drug trafficking in both Southeast Asia and Central America.
Political involvement and conspiracy research
In the 1988 election, Gritz was the candidate for Vice President of the United States on the Populist Party ticket. Initially, unbeknownst to him, he was presented as the running mate of former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke. Gritz withdrew early in the race and publicly distanced himself from Duke, opting instead to run for a Nevada Congressional seat. He was subsequently replaced by Floyd Parker on some ballots. Gritz has stated that he accepted the party's nomination under the impression that he would be the running mate of James Traficant. After meeting Duke, Gritz described him as "a brash, untraveled, overly opinionated, bigoted young man" and declared, "I will not support anyone that I know to hate any class of Americans."
In 1989, Gritz established the Center for Action, which focused on various issues, primarily conspiracy theories. He attempted to build bridges among conspiracy theorists and unite activists from both the left and the right, organizing a conference in Las Vegas called "Freedom Call '90". Speakers at the conference included 1980 October Surprise theory researcher Barbara Honegger, Bill Davis of the Christic Institute, far-right writer Eustace Mullins, and others.
This shift in focus proved to be almost as controversial as his earlier missions searching for POWs. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Gritz opposed the war and linked it to a conspiracy theory alleging plans to implement a one-world government, known as the "New World Order". He appeared on Pacifica Radio stations in California as a guest several times, and for a short period, he was sought after as a speaker to left-wing and anti-war audiences. However, during this period, he also became closely associated with the Christian Patriot movement on the right, and spoke at conferences sponsored by Christian Identity pastor Pete Peters. When these associations became known to those on the left, especially after the publication of a report by the Los Angeles-based group People Against Racist Terror labeling Gritz a "front man for fascism", left-wing audiences lost interest in Gritz, and the Christic Institute and Pacifica Radio ended any further association. He has since distanced himself from the movement.
In the 1992 election, after failing to secure the U.S. Taxpayers' Party's nomination, Gritz ran for President of the United States, again under the Populist Party banner. His campaign slogan was "God, Guns and Gritz", and he published a political manifesto titled "The Bill of Gritz" (a play on his last name rhyming with "rights"). He advocated for staunch opposition to what he termed "global government" and the "New World Order", called for an end to all foreign aid, and proposed the abolition of the federal income tax and the Federal Reserve System. During the campaign, Gritz openly declared the United States to be a "Christian Nation", asserting that the country's legal statutes "should reflect unashamed acceptance of Almighty God and His Laws." He received 106,152 votes nationwide, constituting 0.14 percent of the popular vote. In Utah, he received 3.84 percent of the vote and in Idaho he received 2.13 percent of the vote. In Duchesne County and Oneida County, Idaho, his support exceeded ten percent, while in Franklin County, Idaho, Gritz received over twelve percent of the votes, falling just 23 votes short of pushing Bill Clinton into fourth place – a feat not achieved by a major party nominee in any county nationwide since 1916. As part of his campaign, Gritz proposed an idea to pay off the National debt by minting a coin at the Treasury and sending it to the Federal Reserve, a concept that predates the 2012 trillion-dollar coin idea. Among other proposals, the "Bill of Gritz" called for the complete closure of the border with Mexico, and the dissolution of the Federal Reserve.
Religious and militia affiliations
In 1984, Gritz and his wife Claudia joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Amid allegations of infidelity, Gritz's stake president declined to renew his temple recommend until Gritz provided proof of federal income tax payment. Consequently, Gritz resigned from the LDS Church. In 1999, Gritz and his then fourth wife Judy Kirsch became associated with the Church of Israel, a group with origins in the Latter Day Saint movement that later became involved with the Christian Identity movement. Gritz himself, too, became an adherent of what the SPLC described as a "relatively mild version" of Christian Identity; he has since distanced himself from the movement.
In 1994, Gritz, former Arizona State Senator Jerry Gillespie, and other partners established a 200-acre survivalist community and paramilitary training center in Kamiah, Idaho, called Almost Heaven. Gritz left Almost Heaven in late 1998 after a suicide attempt. Almost Heaven was falling apart already before his departure, in part due to conflicts with local authorities and residents as well as between Gritz and an internal radical faction; the community was near defunct by 2003. Influenced by the Church of Israel's ideology, Gritz then relocated to Nevada and rebranded his Center for Action as the Fellowship of Eternal Warriors, a group of "warrior-priests" opposing what Gritz defined as the forces of evil.
Gritz has used his influence within the Christian Patriot movement to mediate between legal authorities and far-right activists. In 1992, he mediated during the Ruby Ridge crisis involving fellow Special Forces veteran Randy Weaver. In 1996, Gritz unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate an end to the standoff involving the Montana Freemen, an anti-government White separatist militia group. After unsuccessful negotiations, Gritz left in frustration, predicting that the FBI would arrest the Freemen.
In 1998, Gritz led an unsuccessful search for the Centennial Olympic Park bomber, Eric Rudolph, with the aim of persuading him to surrender to law enforcement. In 2005, he became an active protester in the Terri Schiavo case. On 19 March 2005, following the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube, Gritz was arrested for trespassing after attempting to enter the hospice where she was residing. Starting in 2014, Gritz hosted a radio show on Americanvoiceradio.com titled Freedom Call.
Gritz has authored three books. His first, A Nation Betrayed, published in 1989, contains allegations of drug trafficking and a POW coverup, based on his interview with Khun Sa. His second book, Called To Serve, published in 1992, expands on the previous book, covering a wide range of conspiracy theories, including the assassination of John F. Kennedy and allegations of a conspiracy to establish a new world order. His third book, My Brother's Keeper, was published in 2003.
In fiction and documentaries
The character of John "Hannibal" Smith from the 1980s television series The A-Team was loosely based on Gritz, as were some of Chuck Norris' film characters. Gritz also reportedly partially inspired several other characters, including Colonel Kurtz in the 1978 film Apocalypse Now, and John Rambo, the protagonist of the Rambo franchise. Gritz played the character of Lt. Col. Steel, a highly fictionalized version of himself, in the 1990 film Rescue Force.
Gritz was portrayed by Bob Gunton in the 1996 television film The Siege at Ruby Ridge (Ruby Ridge: An American Tragedy), and by Vic Browder in the first episode of the 2018 television miniseries WACO. In 1983, actor William Shatner purchased the entertainment rights to Gritz's life story.
Gritz's community, Almost Heaven, was featured in the episode "Survivalists" of Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends in 1998. The 2017 documentary Erase and Forget saw filmmaker Andrea Luka Zimmerman follow Gritz for over a decade, including re-enactments of scenes from his life.
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