The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord

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The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSA)
DissolvedApril 19, 1985
TypeWhite nationalism, Christian Identity, Survivalism
  • United States
James Dennis Ellison
Kerry Wayne Noble
In Charge of Internal Security
Kent Yates[2]
AffiliationsThe Order

The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSA) was a far-right militant organization dedicated to Christian Identity and survivalism active in the United States during the 1970s and early 1980s. The CSA developed from a Baptist congregation, the Zarephath-Horeb Community Church, which was founded in 1971 in Pontiac, Missouri. Over time, Zarephath-Horeb evolved into an extremist paramilitary organization and it was rechristened the CSA. The group operated a large compound in northern Arkansas called "the Farm". In April 1985, law enforcement officers who were investigating the group for weapons violations and terrorist acts carried out a siege of the compound. After a peaceful resolution, officers arrested and later convicted the CSA's top leaders, and the organization dissolved.


The founder of the CSA was James Ellison, who was jailed in federal prison along with his "high priest" Kerry Noble. Robert G. Millar became one of Ellison's spiritual advisers, and also founded Elohim City. Ellison was mentored by Richard Girnt Butler, founder of the Aryan Nations, and Robert E. Miles, founder of the Mountain Church in Cohoctah, Michigan. Both extreme right-wing leaders taught and practiced the theology of Christian Identity, a belief system the FBI includes on its watch list as an extremist religion. Ellison had close ties to the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nations, based in Hayden Lake, Idaho, and led by 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.[3] Miles had a 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.

The CSA community's Council of Elders was influenced and mentored by many outside sources. The nine-man council deliberated on the spiritual meaning and the direction of CSA activities. Jim Ellison, Kerry Noble, and William Wade were the only known members of the council.[4]


In June 1982, the CSA had an estimated 90 to 120 members, consisting of men, women, and children. In April 1984, the number of members had been reduced to fewer than 70.[5]

Other known members of The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord include:

  • James Rolston[6][7]
  • Steven Scott[8]
  • Nick Kimmett
  • William "Bill" Thomas[9][10]
  • Mitchell L. Rolston (alleged member)[11]
  • Leonard Ginter[12]
  • Richard Wayne Snell (alleged member)
  • Arthur Russell[13]
  • Timothy Wayne Russell[14]
  • Rudy Loewen[14]
  • David Giles[14]
  • Frank Kumnick (alleged member)[15]
  • Randall Rader (former member)[16]
  • Ardie McBrearty (former member)[16]
  • Andrew "Andy" Barnhill[17]: 239 


The CSA believed that doomsday was imminent, and a 224-acre compound in Elijah that they acquired from Campus Crusade became a community for its members.[17]: 68  There they trained their members in paramilitary operations. The group believed in white supremacy and was anti-Semitic. Like other prominent anti-Semitic groups that believed in antisemitic canards, they called the United States government ZOG, short for Zionist Occupied Government. In 1982, the military leader of the group, who ran their "End Time Overcomer Survival" training camps and used the name Randall Rader during his stay at the CSA compound, left the group along with 30 of his followers in a rift with Ellison, following the latter's attempt to take a second wife, and joined the newly forming group The Order in Idaho.[18]: 150–151  The CSA initially professed that the United States government would dissolve due to its corruption, whereas The Order advocated revolution. However, in July 1983, The CSA published a manifesto called A.T.T.A.C.K. (Aryan Tactical Treaty for the Advancement of Christ's Kingdom), which declared war against the government.[19]


CSA assassins monitored the homes of their targets, practiced mock assassinations of these targets with scoped rifles, and practiced attacks in a mock residential training facility known as Silhouette City. The 224 acre property on Bull Shoals Lake in Marion County, Arkansas, that the CSA operated from until the group's collapse in 1985 was purchased by Ellison from the Campus Crusade for Christ in 1976. In 1983, suffering financially, especially after Randall Rader's defection to the Order, the CSA stopped making payments on the mortgage, and on December 20, the bank foreclosed, selling the property back to the Campus Crusade.[18]: 149–151  The group, however, squatted on the land, mounting regular armed patrols to intimidate the local sheriff, who continuously delayed their eviction.[20] 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 an attack was a concrete bunkhouse that housed the communications radios next to the 95-foot (29 m) tower, which 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.

The line infantryman carried a Ruger Mini-14 .223 Remington rifle. As in the early days of the United States Marine Corps, the squads were set up in four-man fire teams. One man in each fire team carried a Heckler and Koch Model 91 rifle in .308 caliber. These had been modified via a technique that the organization sold to "brother groups," converting the rifles to an illegal selective fire weapon (capable of firing either single shots or fully automatic). The Elite "A" Team had black clothing and some fairly sophisticated weapons, such as .22 caliber Ruger target pistols 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 the CSA had obtained 155 Krugerrands, one live light antitank rocket, 94 long guns, 30 handguns, 35 sawed-off shotguns, and machine guns, one heavy machine gun, and a quantity of C-4 explosives.[5]

Within "Silhouette City", the CSA also ran a boot camp-style program known as the End Time Overcomer Survival Training School - which was conducted by Order member Randall Rader. Here, the group trained an estimated 1,500 of like-minded Christian Identity adherents in combat techniques and paramilitary exercises. The facility was festooned with targets crudely caricaturing Blacks, Jews, and police who wore the Star of David in-lieu of badges. Upon completing this training, a newly trained militant would leave to join or start other similar militia groups.[21][22]

The CSA and its paramilitary arm taught basic pistol and rifle use as well as personal home defense, rural and urban warfare, weapons proficiency, general military fieldcraft, Christian martial arts, and natural wilderness survival.[23]

In 1983, CSA member William Thomas accompanying Richard Wayne Snell and Steven Scott attempted to dynamite a natural gas pipeline which crossed the Red River on its way from the Gulf of Mexico to Chicago. This event ran as part of the group's A.T.T.A.C.K. operations. According to Kerry Noble, the group predicted this would result in riots (due to it being in winter). However, the trio was unsuccessful in carrying out the act of terror.[23]

The CSA had links with other radical organizations, including the Aryan Brotherhood, the Mountain Church, and The Order, which were 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.

According to a report conducted by the California Department of Justice, The Pagans Motorcycle Club provided the CSA with training in booby trap devices and survival techniques in return for weapons and ammunition.[24][non-primary source needed]

In 1983, the CSA declared war on the US government, starting with a failed arson attempt on the Springfield Metropolitan Community Church. Things began to go downhill for the organization not soon after when Richard Snell, an alleged member, 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 same gun, the serial number of which had been removed by the CSA armorer, Kent Yates. The killing of the gun store owner was just a part of a massive campaign of property theft the CSA had launched to offset the loss of income from their training camps. Using their proximity to the state border, the CSA hoped that committing crimes in Missouri and crossing the border back into Arkansas would conceal their activities.[18]: 151  Yates 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 to seek ways to infiltrate the CSA compound and stop the organization. Its agents 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 it had an "inside man" in the CSA.


On 16 April 1985, the FBI obtained a search warrant for the CSA compound.[5]

Beginning on 19 April 1985, the FBI and the ATF, led by the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), 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 FBI and ATF agents took advantage of Pontiac being a common destination for anglers by pretending to be fishermen and registering at different motels near the various fishing destinations.[25] On the morning of 19 April, they moved in and surrounded the CSA compound, putting some of their agents 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 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 agents were outside and willing to negotiate his surrender and the emptying of the compound. Ellison emerged later. FBI agents had expected that he would not go down without a firefight, but the FBI negotiators convinced him that the CSA would certainly lose if they had one. Interviewed on March 9, 1993, by KXAS-5 News, during the Waco standoff, Kerry Noble asserted that the CSA was expecting to be relieved by both other far-right groups and acts of gods. When neither manifested, group morale and willingness to resist were severely affected.[26] FBI negotiators convinced Ellison 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. They allowed the individual into the compound, and the FBI instructed him to call in every 30 minutes to report on how negotiations were going.[5]

U.S. Attorney Asa Hutchinson, who later successfully prosecuted Ellison and other leaders of the CSA, put on an FBI flak jacket and entered the compound to join the negotiations, leading to a peaceful conclusion to the armed stand-off. After several calls requesting more time, early on the morning of the fourth day of the siege, Arkansas State Police entered the compound and escorted out the remaining members without further bloodshed. Women and children had earlier been evacuated to nearby motels.


Ellison and most of his leadership were charged in federal court with illegal weapons possession and racketeering. In September 1985, Ellison, Kerry Noble, and four other CSA members (Gary Stone, Timothy Russell, Rudy Loewen, and David Giles) were sentenced to lengthy federal prison terms. A seventh CSA member, Stephen Scott, pleaded guilty in an Arkansas federal court to charges he dynamited a natural gas pipeline near Fulton, Arkansas in 1983, and was also sent to prison. Ex-CSA member Kent Yates also pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to make and transfer automatic weapons silencers.[27]

Ellison faced the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison after he was convicted on federal racketeering and weapons charges. However, Ellison was released in 1987 after agreeing to testify against the leader and six senior members of the Aryan Nations. All seven men were arrested and indicted on charges of sedition. The jury found all the defendants not guilty on all charges. Upon his release from federal prison, Ellison moved to Elohim City.

Richard Wayne Snell, the man who shot and killed the police officer and a pawn shop owner, was sentenced to death by lethal injection, which was carried out on 19 April 1995, the same day as the Oklahoma City bombing.

Possible ties to the Oklahoma City bombing[edit]

There are several claims that the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was tied to the "New Day" teachings of Elohim City. No proof, however, has been established. Elohim City was assembled to gather "prophets of the New Day". Leader Robert G. Millar envisioned himself to be the "Shepherd of Shepherds" traveling to numerous alternative 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 callings 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 a sawmill.[28]

Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted and executed for perpetrating the Oklahoma City bombing, had no association with the CSA and had just enlisted in the U.S Army when the CSA compound was besieged and broken up. The Oklahoma City bombing occurred exactly on the 10th anniversary of the start of the siege of the CSA compound in 1985. The most plausible link is the fact that Richard Wayne Snell, who was executed on the day of the Oklahoma City 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. However, McVeigh has stated that he chose the date of 19 April to coincide with the violent end of the Waco siege exactly two years prior. McVeigh had traveled to and visited Waco during the 51-day siege and cited it and 1992 Ruby Ridge events as his primary motivation for carrying out the bombing.

The single incident in which the CSA was involved, 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 regarding 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 Building.[28]

The death knell of the CSA was its 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 a member of the Posse Comitatus, by federal agents at CSA member, Leonard Ginter's home (called 'The Bunker', due to its construction from concrete covered with earth). Ellison revered Kahl as a hero. Like McVeigh, Kahl was a decorated American soldier; Kahl earned a Silver Star in the Korean War, and McVeigh earned a Bronze Star in the first Gulf War – Desert Storm.[28]


In 2013, Kerry Noble appeared on the Investigation Discovery show Dangerous Persuasions talking about his time with the group. He was also interviewed for an episode of Brainwashed on the Slice Network in Canada and discussed his time with the CSA.

The Discovery Channel crime series The FBI Files' sixth season featured an episode whose topic was the CSA. The episode reveals the details of the federal investigation into the group, the 1985 siege, and the aftermath. The episode originally aired 10 December 2002.[25]


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