will never forget the letter he received in early 2000. It was from
John Joe Gray, a suspect in a felony assault case, offering a
not-so-subtle warning to the area’s chief criminal investigator: He had
no intention of answering charges that he had attacked a state trooper.
Pictured: An unidentified person living at the
John Gray compound in Trinidad, Texas, walks toward the main gate with a
side-arm on his right hip.
“What he said was this: ‘If y’all come to get me, bring body bags,’ ” said Thomas, now a local justice of the peace.
remembers the message clearly, not because of its unvarnished threat,
but because — after 12 years — Gray, who doesn’t acknowledge the
authority of any government, continues to dare police to come and get
Sequestered on a 50-acre, wooded compound in East Texas
since jumping bail more than a decade ago, Gray and his clan have
effectively outlasted the administrations of four local sheriffs, all of
whom have decided that John Joe’s arrest is not worth the risk of a
“The risk of loss of life on both ends is far too great,” said Anderson County
District Attorney Doug Lowe, who first sought to prosecute Gray for the
alleged Christmas Eve 1999 assault of Texas Trooper Jim Cleland. “I
believed it then; I still feel that way.”
The stalemate, perhaps the longest-running standoff in the U.S. between law enforcement and a fugitive living in plain sight, is also emblematic of what the FBI
believes is a troubling re-emergence of an anti-government movement
that vaulted to notoriety in 1995. Then, one of its disaffected
sympathizers, Timothy McVeigh—
angered by the government’s botched 1993 raid of the Branch Davidian
compound in Waco, Texas — detonated a truck bomb outside the Oklahoma City federal building, killing 168 people in what was at the time the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
the past three years, there has been growing concern over activities of
so-called “sovereign citizens,” who like the Grays and many of their
anti-government predecessors “claim to exist beyond the realm of
government authority,” according to a January FBI bulletin to state and
local law enforcement officials warning of the potential for violence.