Raised on a North Dakota farm, Kahl was a highly decorated turret gunner during World War II. After the war, "he had a 400-acre (1.6 km2) farm near Heaton, Wells County, North Dakota, [but] bounced around the Texas oilfields in later life as a mechanic and general worker."
In 1967, Kahl wrote a letter to the Internal Revenue Service stating that he would no longer pay taxes to the, in his words, "Synagogue of Satan under the 2nd plank of the Communist Manifesto." During the 1970s, Kahl organized the first Texas chapter of the Posse Comitatus, although he later left the group and was not a member at the time of the 1983 shootouts. In 1976 he appeared on a Texas television program stating that the income tax was illegal and encouraging others not to pay their income taxes.
Criminal conviction and prison
On November 16, 1976, Kahl was charged with willful failure to file Federal income tax returns for the years 1973 and 1974, under 26 U.S.C. § 7203. He was found guilty, and was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of $2,000. Kahl served eight months in prison in 1977. One year of the sentence was suspended, as was the fine, and the court placed Kahl on probation for five years. Kahl appealed his conviction, but the conviction was affirmed in 1978 by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, after Kahl's release from prison on probation.
Activity after prison
Following his parole from prison, Kahl became active in the township movement, an early version of the sovereign citizen movement belief which later became well-known because of the Montana Freemen standoff. This movement sought to form parallel courts and governments purportedly based on English common law, and to withdraw recognition of the U.S. federal government. Township movement supporters as well as the Posse Comitatus attempted to organize among farmers in the American Midwest during the 1980s farm crisis.
Confrontation and shootout near Medina, North Dakota
On February 13, 1983, U.S. Marshals attempted to arrest Kahl as he was leaving a meeting of township supporters in Medina, North Dakota, for violating his parole. In the car with Kahl were his wife Joan, his son Yorivon, and three others who had been at the meeting. According to Scott Faul's testimony, both Gordon Kahl and Yorivon Kahl were armed with Ruger Mini-14 rifles. The conflict began when federal marshals created a road block a few miles north of Medina. When the Kahl party met the marshals at the roadblock, a short but intense shootout ensued. The gun battle left US Marshals Kenneth Muir and Robert Cheshire dead, and US Marshals Jim Hopson, Bradley Kapp, and Steve Schnabel injured. Yorie Kahl was also wounded during the firefight. The Kahl party fired over a dozen rounds during the gunfight, while the marshals only fired 8. Only three US marshals fired their weapons during the confrontation.
There is some debate over who fired first, but the US Marshals Service claims that Yorie Kahl, Gordon Kahl's son, fired the first shot from behind a telephone pole, fatally wounding Cheshire in the chest. Yorie then fired another shot at Kapp but missed. Kapp returned fire with a shotgun, and fired four rounds at Yorie, seriously wounding him. As Kapp turned from the downed Yorie, Gordon fired at least one round through the windshield of Kapp's vehicle, wounding Kapp in the forehead with glass fragments. As Kapp fell behind his car door, Cheshire managed to fire off three rounds from his AR-15, all of which missed. Scott Faul fired at least seven rounds at Kapp and Cheshire's vehicle. One of Faul's shots hit the already wounded Cheshire a second time, and a bullet blew off Kapp's trigger finger. A third shot hit the pavement, and a piece of asphalt struck marshal Hopson in the ear, causing Hopson to suffer permanent brain damage. Wounded and out of ammunition, Kapp retreated to a ditch, but was unable to reload his shotgun due to the wound in his hand. After wounding Kapp, Gordon turned to face US Marshals Kenneth Muir and Steve Schnabel, just as Muir fired off one round from a .38 caliber revolver, which hit the wounded Yorie Kahl once more in the chest. Kahl fired a round from his rifle that ricocheted, striking Schnabel in the leg. Schnabel retreated to the side of the road as Kahl fired a second round at Muir, killing the marshal with a single shot to the chest. The entire firefight lasted about 30 seconds.
Kahl then walked over to Muir's vehicle and confronted the wounded Schnabel, but chose not to kill him. After taking Schnabel's weapons, Kahl walked over to Cheshire's vehicle and killed the dying Cheshire with two shots to the head. Kahl then took the vehicle of a Medina law enforcement officer and, after leaving the wounded Yorie Kahl at a Medina health clinic, fled to Arkansas.
Smithville, Arkansas shootout and death
A tip was received by authorities from the youngest daughter of a property owner, whose land Leonard Ginter and his wife Norma Ginter lived on. Kahl hid in their earth-bermed passive solar home in Smithville, Arkansas. Another shootout ensued on June 3, 1983, in which Kahl and Lawrence County Sheriff Gene Matthews died. After FBI agents and local police arrived at the Ginter home, Sheriff Matthews entered the home along with another agent. As Matthews entered the kitchen, Kahl emerged from behind a refrigerator, and the two men fired almost simultaneously. Kahl fired at least one round, which severely wounded Matthews in the heart, and Matthews fired a single .41 Magnum round from his revolver, which hit Kahl in the head, killing him instantly. After Matthews stumbled out of the house, a SWAT team, unaware that Kahl was dead, began firing thousands of rounds at the house, eventually setting it ablaze. Kahl's burned remains were found the following day. Matthews was taken to the hospital, but died on an operating table critically wounded by the bullet fired from Kahl's Mini-14.
Edwin C. Udey, Arthur H. Russell, Leonard Ginter, and Norma Ginter were indicted for harboring and concealing a fugitive, and for conspiracy to do the same. They were convicted of all the charges. The convictions were upheld on appeal. Leonard was convicted and sentenced to a federal prison, while Norma's sentence was suspended. Leonard was released in February 1987.
Leonard and Norma Ginter were each additionally charged with the capital murder of Sheriff Gene Matthews in relation to the federal harboring trial in state court. The capital murder charge was later dropped.
Yorivon Kahl and Scott Faul received prison sentences on charges in connection with the Medina shootout. Joan Kahl was acquitted. Yorivon Kahl is imprisoned at the United States Penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana, and is scheduled for release on February 12, 2023. Scott Faul is imprisoned at the Federal Correctional Institution at Sandstone, Minnesota, and is scheduled for release on February 14, 2023.
A 1991 movie based on these events was called In the Line of Duty: Manhunt in the Dakotas (aka Midnight Murders, and in the Netherlands as In the Line of Duty: The Twilight Murders), starring actor Rod Steiger as Kahl and Michael Gross as the head FBI agent. The events also inspired the making of the documentary film Death & Taxes, which was released in 1993. In Downtown Owl: A Novel, a book by Chuck Klosterman set in North Dakota in 1983 and 1984, the saga of Gordon Kahl is a constant topic of discussion among the residents of the fictional town of Owl, North Dakota.
- Tony Spilde, Changing lives in 30 seconds, Bismarck Tribune
- Don L. Richards, Death and Taxes at the Wayback Machine (archived October 27, 2009) New York FLP News, No. 6, April 1984
- King, Wayne (August 21, 1990). "A Farmer's Fatal Obsession With Jews and Taxes". The New York Times.
- Ghosts Of North Dakota at the Wayback Machine (archived August 28, 2008)
- United States v. Kahl, 583 F.2d 1351, 78-2 U.S. Tax Cas. (CCH) paragr. 9842 (5th Cir. 1978), at .
- Shootout in a Sleepy Hamlet TIME, June 13, 1983.
- Doug Ketcham & Associates, Fargo (701) 237-0275
- Officials Remember Medina Shootout 25 Years Ago Today KFYR-TV, Bismarck, N.D., February 13, 2008.
- The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right (Daniel Levitas) ISBN 0312320418
- James Corcoran, "Bitter Harvest: Gordon Kahl and the Rise of the Posse Comitatus in the Heartland", ISBN 0670815616
- "Wickstrom says Kahl's death will stimulate Posse's growth". The Milwaukee Sentinel. 6 June 1983. p. 12 (part 2).
- Shootout in a Sleepy Hamlet TIME, June 13, 1983
- Wayne King (21 August 1990). "Books of The Times; A Farmer's Fatal Obsession With Jews and Taxes". New York Times.
- United States v. Udey 748 F.2d 1231 (8th Cir. 1984)
- Federal Bureau of Prisons, United States Department of Justice, Leonard G. Ginter, prisoner number 03063-010
- UPI, AROUND THE NATION; Bail Denied for Couple Accused in Fugitive Case New York Times, June 7, 1983
- Ginter v. Stallcup 869 F.2d 384 (8th Cir. 1989)
- Profile: Joan Kahl History Commons
- Federal Bureau of Prisons, United States Department of Justice, Yori Von Kahl, prisoner number 04565-059
- Federal Bureau of Prisons, United States Department of Justice, Scott Faul, prisoner number 04564-059
- Internet Movie Database: In the Line of Duty: Manhunt in the Dakotas
- Death & Taxes
- Corcoran, James (1990). Bitter Harvest: Gordon Kahl and the Posse Comitatus : Murder in the Heartland. Penguin Mass Market. ISBN 978-0-14-009874-7.
- Schnabel, Steve; Graf, Darrell (1999). It's All About Power!: A True and Accurate Account of the Gordon Kahl Shoot-Out With Us Marshals. Mpd. ISBN 978-0-942323-31-3.
- Capstan Turner; A. Jay Lowery (1986). There Was a Man: The Saga of Gordon Kahl. ISBN 978-0-9614465-0-5.
- Death & Taxes (1993 film documentary)
- Anti-Defamation League briefing paper on the Sovereign Citizen Movement
- Minns, Michael (2001). The Underground Lawyer: Millennium Edition. ISBN 978-0-929801-01-8.