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One injured in separatist standoff

Texas standoff logo

'Republic of Texas' holds two hostages

April 27, 1997
Web posted at: 11:22 p.m. EDT (0322 GMT)

In this story:

FORT DAVIS, Texas (CNN) -- Law enforcement officials surrounded members of a militant Texas separatist group Sunday after they seized two neighbors as hostages.

The standoff occurred in a remote area near Fort Davis, Texas, where members of the Republic of Texas separatist group seized the hostages as retaliation for the arrest of two group members. The group believes Texas should be an independent nation, and its leader Richard McLaren has been wanted since December on charges of avoiding a federal contempt citation.

Richard McLaren

The hostages were taken after the arrest of the Republic's so-called chief of security, Bob Sheidt, early on Sunday. McLaren called that arrest a "kidnapping," and the impetus for taking Joe Rowe and his wife, M.A. Rowe, as hostages.

The Rowes are the group's neighbors, and they lead an area homeowners' association. McLaren has feuded with the Rowes and has called them "federal moles."

The armed separatists stormed the Rowe's home at about noon Sunday, firing gunshots, authorities said. Rowe was injured by broken shards of glass during the assault, but declined to be exchanged for a volunteer firefighter who offered to replace him, a man identifying himself as White Eagle, a chief aide to McLaren told WOAI radio in San Antonio.

Earlier Sunday McLaren had claimed to have exchanged Rowe for a volunteer.

Map of Texas

"They're in Mr. Rowe's house and being well taken care of," McLaren said from his headquarters about 15 miles away from the site of the standoff.

Republic leaders said they would hand over the two hostages in exchange for the release of Scheidt and another Republic member who was recently arrested on contempt charges. They have also threatened violence if their nearby headquarters is attacked.

"We want them to ... agree to a referendum to allow Texans to vote on the independence issue," McLaren said from his group's headquarters in a remote, mountainous area 75 miles north of the Mexico border.icon(264K/23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

'Declaration of war'

Since the standoff began at noon, 13 state troopers, two Texas Rangers and the entire Jeff Davis County sheriff's department had surrounded the Rowe's house, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Mike Cox told CNN. FBI agents were also joining the scene, he added.

McLaren said he also was angered by the arrest in Austin last Tuesday of group member Jo Ann Canady Turner on two contempt charges, stemming from a lien she filed against a moving company that stored her possessions after she was evicted. She was still in custody Sunday.

"When they arrested her, they enacted a declaration of war," he said.

Equipped with computers, fax machines and guns, McLaren and less than 20 followers have exiled themselves in a former firehouse at this vacation resort that's home to about 70 full-time residents. They've renounced their U.S. citizenship and tried to lay claim to trillions of dollars in state assets.

The movement contends that the annexation of Texas as a state in 1845 was illegal, that Texas should remain an independent nation, and that the group's leaders constitute the legitimate government of the independent nation of Texas.

Bogus liens and warrants

U.S. District Judge Lucius Bunton III ordered McLaren's arrest after he failed to appear in his courtroom in nearby Pecos December 19. Bunton had warned the Republic and its representatives to quit filing bogus liens against property owners in Texas.

Since 1995, the movement has "ordered" Gov. George W. Bush to leave office, formed its own "defense forces" and asked county sheriffs to go to work for them.

Last July, while the state tried unsuccessfully to stop McLaren from filing bogus liens and fake arrest warrants, the separatist attempted to take over the state capitol. Such incidents have lead the state to now consider McLaren and his followers a threat.

"They could resort to violence (and have) to be taken seriously," Texas Deputy Attorney General Peter Haskall said.

The Republic claims tens of thousands of followers, but the group has been hit with internal divisions. McLaren and his faction split from a rival group earlier this year.

Another group seeking Texas independence and calling itself Republic of Texas expelled McLaren..

"It appears Richard McLaren and those acting with him have gone completely off the deep end," the rival faction said in a statement on the Internet Sunday.

Officials probe cyberspace

Republic of Texas web page

Texas officials have been combing the Internet for information about the group. McLaren's Republic site depicts the United Nations symbol with a red slash through it and offers an organizational chart of Texas government.

Ten Texas Internet providers received subpoenas in early April asking them to hand over electronic mail and other documents pertaining to their customers who happen to be Republic members.

"This organization has a history of violating the law and a history of paper terrorism," said Ron Susek, a spokesman for Texas attorney general.

"It is associated with some militias. It would be irresponsible for us not to pay close attention to their activities and their main way of communication with each other is through the Internet."

 
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