Gunfire In The Hills: Militia Trained on W.Va. Farm
CHURCHVILLE, W.Va. (AP) _ The sound of gunfire at a remote farm echoed through the countryside as the West Virginia Mountaineer Militia shot targets and trained to survive in the wilderness.
Far-away neighbors and the retired Army medic who allowed the militia to use his property weren’t exactly sure of the group’s plans but were shocked to hear the accusations: Militia members planned to bomb three federal buildings in the state.
John Woofter, who owns the 400-acre farm near this town in north-central West Virginia, said the militia’s commanding general, Floyd ``Ray″ Looker, was a ``super patriot and religious person.″
``I can’t imagine a person like that wanting to participate in a scheme that would kill innocent people,″ Woofter said Monday. ``It’s a strange contradiction here.″
Looker and six other men were arrested Friday and charged with conspiring to blow up the three buildings, including an FBI complex near Clarksburg. Authorities have not identified the other targets.
Woofter gave the militia permission to use his Lewis County farm for free after a 1995 meeting at a restaurant with Looker, a Vietnam veteran.
Training consisted of rappelling, survival techniques and target shooting, said Woofter, who lives on the farm with his wife. Some of the militia members dressed in uniforms, others wore civilian clothes.
``They were sort of like George Washington’s army. They were pretty rag-tag,″ said Woofter, adding that during his casual observations of the training he never heard talk of violence.
Militia members did have long-winded discussions of constitutional rights, executive orders and a return to common law, he said.
Woofter, who has not been charged, said he sympathized with Looker’s concerns about the Constitution but decided against joining the militia, which used the farm on six to eight weekends last year.
During one meeting _ two months after the Oklahoma City bombing _ 26 county militia commanders from West Virginia and Pennsylvania gathered, and Looker discussed bombing the federal buildings, authorities said.
Woofter’s closest neighbor, the Rev. Roger Brown, pastor of Grace Baptist Temple, said he heard gunfire and saw vehicles driving down the one-lane road toward the farm.
``If they were truly planning what they say they were planning, then I think we ought to be thankful they were caught,″ Brown said. ``I guess you never know your neighbor.″
Woofter said he warned militia members against using or storing explosives on the farm and knows nothing about an explosion on his property described in an FBI affidavit.
One of the suspects, Fred Moore _ identified as an explosives expert _ demonstrated how to make bombs at the farm, with one mixture he concocted leaving a 2-foot-wide crater, according to the affidavit.
The men were arrested with help from an informant who secretly recorded members conspiring to destroy the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division complex in Clarksburg, about 80 miles south of Pittsburgh.
At least one militia member, the informant said, believed the complex contained a clandestine operation that might be a command center when the government turned against the people under the ``new world order,″ according to court documents. The complex, which opened last year, houses fingerprint records.
Woofter said he does not believe the accusations. Looker called him from jail Saturday night to say he had been set up.
``My gut feeling is he didn’t do this,″ Woofter said.