Separatist group digs in after trading hostages for jailed member
FORT DAVIS, Texas (AP) _ Authorities reported ``some degree of progress″ Monday night in their negotiations to end a standoff with armed members of a group demanding a referendum on independence for Texas.
However, Richard McLaren, the self-styled ``ambassador″ of one faction of the separatist group called the Republic of Texas, issued a statement late into the night saying that FBI proposals amounted to demands that his group surrender.
``(But) 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.
Earlier, a state SWAT team was within 2 miles of the separatist group. State and federal officers ringed the mountainous Davis Mountains Resort community as the standoff continued into a second night.
``Some degree of progress has been made,″ said Mike Cox, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety. ``I think there’s some optimism.″
Earlier in the day, the group released two hostages in exchange for a jailed comrade.
Authorities were negotiating with McLaren, who said in a news release that discussions were taking place at his ``embassy,″ a trailer in the development.
``He continues to invoke the laws of the Republic of Texas. He wants the United Nations,″ Cox said earlier in the day. Republic members have told negotiators that ``they will defend their sovereign soil.″
Cox said six Republic members were charged Monday night with engaging in organized criminal activity, a first-degree felony. Three were also charged with aggravated kidnapping in connection with the hostage-taking, Cox said.
Authorities believed the group members were all in or around the ``embassy″ but did not know how many group members were there. One of the released hostages, Joe Rowe, estimated there were 10 Republic members, including McLaren.
Authorities urged other residents of the sprawling, remote community to leave the area. But ``No one else is considered in harm’s way,″ Cox said.
The confrontation started Sunday when two men and a woman wearing military-style fatigues fired assault rifles at the front door of Joe and Margaret Ann Rowe and took them hostage.
They were held for 12 hours while their captors demanded the release of two followers who had been arrested. Early Monday, they exchanged the Rowes for Robert Jonathan Scheidt, identified as ``captain of the embassy guard″ of the Republic of Texas.
Scheidt, released on his own recognizance, initially didn’t want to take part in the swap, said Presidio County Judge Jake Brisbin, who spent Sunday talking with Scheidt at a jail in Marfa.
``I suggested to him that there are a few times in people’s lives that they can step up and do the right thing,″ Brisbin said. ``He said he couldn’t do that.″
About 20 minutes later, the judge said Scheidt changed his mind. ``He did not want any harm to come to the Rowes,″ Brisbin said.
Brisbin said he sensed that Scheidt was happy not to be involved in the siege, especially the hostage-taking.
``I think that he had ... the feeling that he had gotten into something that was much much bigger than they intended it to be,″ the judge said.
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.
Scheidt joined the three people who took the Rowes hostage.
After the exchange, the armed group left the Rowes’ home and authorities didn’t know where they were within the forested, mountainous development of widely separated homes. Reporters were being kept several miles from the entrance to the community, about 175 miles southeast of El Paso.
The attack followed months of conflict between Rowe, head of the remote community’s property owners’ association, and McLaren.
The group’s members contend they are the legitimate government of Texas, which they say was illegally annexed as a state in 1845. Texas was an independent republic from 1836 to 1845.
McLaren’s news release called on Texans to push for a referendum to decide whether they want to become an independent nation.
``I hope this unfortunate incident will be used to reach more people as to what their Constitution is about, what their government officials are doing and about human rights.″
He has compared his situation to the deadly government standoffs at Waco and Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
``These boys are asking for a total military assault,″ McLaren said in an interview earlier this year with The Associated Press. ``Our defense forces will fire because we would consider it an invasion.″
Members have waged what legislators term ``paper terrorism″ by filing bogus liens against Texans and public officials.
For months, bodyguards have protected McLaren as he holed up in the Davis Mountains while deputies waited to serve outstanding warrants, one stemming from a burglary charge, another from his failure to appear for a federal court hearing. Authorities have said the warrants were not a top priority.
``He’s a nut,″ Jeff Davis County Sheriff Steve Bailey said earlier this year. ``He’s a nothing.″
Scheidt was arrested Sunday morning after Sheriff Steve Bailey clocked him speeding outside the subdivision and found several weapons in his vehicle, including an automatic rifle, Cox said.
The group also demanded the release of Jo Ann Canady Turner, arrested in Austin last week on two contempt charges. She remained in custody Monday.
Those charged Monday with organized criminal activity were McLaren, Scheidt, Robert Otto, who calls himself ``White Eagle,″ Richard Keyes, Karen Paulson and her husband Greg Paulson. Keyes and the Paulsons also face two counts each of aggravated kidnapping in connection with the hostage-taking, Cox said.