Texas secessionists vow not to surrender; SWAT team inches closer
FORT DAVIS, Texas (AP) _ Armed members of a group demanding independence for Texas issued a defiant statement in response to claims by authorities that talks were making progress: They had no plans to surrender.
Two miles from the group’s remote sprawling community, a 15-member state SWAT team watched and waited early today, joining at least 75 state and federal law-enforcement agents for the third day of the standoff.
Late Monday, officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety turned away an attorney who said he was hired by Richard McLaren, the self-styled ``ambassador″ of one faction of the Republic of Texas secessionist group.
``This is my client and I just want to talk to him,″ Houston attorney Terry O’Rourke said. ``I want to get him out alive.″
The DPS told him he could meet with authorities later this morning.
Negotiations with the Republic group were cordial, with topics ranging from political philosophy to the weather, DPS spokesman Mike Cox said.
``Some degree of progress has been made,″ he said, refusing to elaborate. ``I think there’s some optimism.″
But within hours of that statement, McLaren issued his own, interpreting the FBI proposals as demands for surrender _ a move his group was not prepared to make.
``Mr. McLaren states that they have no intention of surrendering _ they’re only interested in getting the foreign agents off of Texas soil,″ the statement read.
Asked if McLaren’s hiring of a lawyer meant a surrender was imminent, O’Rourke said: ``He can’t win a battle with guns in the mountains with the FBI and the Texas Rangers.″ He added, however, that Republic members were ``well-armed″ and prepared to fight.
About 10 Republic members were believed to be entrenched in the rugged 6,000-acre Davis Mountains Resort community, located 175 miles southeast of El Paso. However, The New York Times reported today that state officials said they did not know the exact number and could not rule out the possibility that there were children at the ``embassy,″ McLaren’s ramshackle trailer in the development.
Authorities believed group members were hiding out in or around the trailer.
As many as 80 residents of the area were urged to leave, but no one was considered to be in danger.
Six Republic members were charged with engaging in organized criminal activity, a first-degree felony. Cox said three were also charged with aggravated kidnapping for Sunday’s hostage-taking that led to the standoff.
Members held Joe and Margarate Ann Rowe hostage for 12 hours, demanding the release of two jailed comrades and a referendum on Texas independence.
Mrs. Rowe said she and her husband believed the attackers were willing to kill them.
``It wasn’t an empty threat. If somebody will come shooting in your door, they mean it,″ Mrs. Rowe said at a medical center in Alpine, where her husband was in stable condition with shrapnel wounds to his shoulder.
The attack followed months of conflict between McLaren and Rowe, head of the community’s property owners’ association.
Earlier Monday, the Rowes were exchanged for Robert Scheidt, identified as the Republic’s ``captain of the embassy guard″ who was arrested Sunday on weapons violations. He has since joined the three people who took the Rowes hostage.
The group also demanded the release from jail of Jo Ann Canady Turner, but she remained in custody after her arrest in Austin last week on two contempt charges.
Republic members contend they are the legitimate government of Texas, which they say was illegally annexed as a state in 1845. They have filed millions of dollars in bogus liens against Texans and public officials.
The group, founded in December 1995, has split into at least three factions, two of which now disavow McLaren. ``It appears that Richard McLaren and those acting with him have gone completely off the deep end,″ said one Web site posting made by a rival Republic faction.
McLaren has threatened to resist any attempt to arrest him and compared his situation to deadly government standoffs near Waco and at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
``These boys are asking for a total military assault,″ he said in an interview with The Associated Press earlier this year. ``Our defense forces will fire because we would consider it an invasion.″