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Trial Of CSA Leader Under Way

July 16, 1985

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) _ The leader of the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord ordered members of the group to commit crimes for monetary gain and to aid in the collapse of the government, a former CSA elder testified.

The testimony came Monday after a jury was selected for the trial of CSA leader James D. Ellison on racketeering charges. Security was heavy in the federal courtroom, with spectators and parcels screened.

Ellison is accused of using his position as CSA leader to burn the Missouri home of his sister for insurance purposes, to burn a church with a homosexual congregation at Springfield, Mo., to burn a Jewish community center in Bloomington, Ind., and to blow up a natural gas pipeline near Fulton, Ark., in 1983.

Former CSA elders William Thomas and Randall Rader said Ellison preached to the group about the end of society and the need for creating chaos. Thomas said he was in a meeting with other elders and Ellison when Ellison castigated him for not being violent. Thomas said Ellison told him, ″Why don’t you make war like you’re supposed to?″

Thomas, 33, said Ellison’s beliefs led to some of the incidents. He testified that he and other CSA members committed several crimes ″for monetary gain and to aid in the collapse of the government as we now know it.″

Rader, 34, said he joined the CSA when it was a quiet, rural religious commune. Ellison’s preaching, Rader said, caused the commune to become militaristic.

Ellison’s attorney, Neal Kirkpatrick of Fort Smith, told the jury that ″it’s not illegal to have oddball ideas ... if a person wants to worship a tree frog, he has the right to do so under the Constitution ... and there’s nothing, but nothing, that can be done to punish him.″

Kirkpatrick said Rader and Thomas were merely ″jailbirds on parade″ and their only motive for testifying against Ellison was to get out of ″cockroach-infested lockups.″

Rader said in court that he pleaded guilty in Spokane, Wash., recently to a charge of conspiracy to commit racketeering and that he will be sentenced after Ellison’s trial. Thomas, 33, said he is serving a 10-year federal prison sentence for weapons violations and has been sentenced for theft and weapons violations in Missouri. Thomas is charged in the same indictment as Ellison.

Rader said on April 18, 1980, he, Ellison, two of Ellison’s sons, and others went to the Gainesville, Mo., home of Ellison’s sister where Ellison unsuccessfully tried to start a fire inside the vacant house. The group then succeeded in igniting the outside of the house with gasoline.

Thomas said that he, Ellison and others went to the Springfield church after learning about it through the media. He said that while Ellison and others drove around the block, Thomas tried to stuff a gasoline-filled jug into the church’s mail slot. He lit the gasoline that spilled on the front porch and the porch burst into flames.

Thomas said he, CSA member Steve Scott and Richard Wayne Snell, serving a life sentence for killing a state trooper, attached dynamite to the natural gas pipeline near Fulton and then ignited it, rocking but not puncturing the pipeline. Thomas said Snell convinced Ellison that blowing up the pipeline would be a good idea.

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