A quick synopsis of chapters 1-3: After a quiet, comic book filled childhood in Zanesville, Ohio, Richard’s life has gone on a downward spiral. He has begun to follow conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and has fixated on his reports of the Bohemian Grove, a private resort for the world’s richest and powerful men. Richard has decided to dress in his superhero persona, the Phantom Patriot, to stage a raid to free victims he’s convinced he’ll find, imprisoned for satanic sacrifice in front of the Bohemian Grove’s Great Owl of Bohemia, a gigantic owl statue. Jones (and McCaslin) believe this owl represents the ancient deity Moloch.
Chapter Four: Burn the Owl
“Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!”—Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems
Energized by the events of September 11, Richard spent the next few months training for his plan to infiltrate the Bohemian Grove. He had three goals going in.
First, he wanted to disrupt any satanic rituals he might encounter and save any victims who were awaiting a fiery death.
He also wanted to create a media whirlwind with the raid that would blow the lid off the Grove and the rituals. Imagine the Phantom Patriot, surrounded by news cameras, relieved sacrifice victims in the background, local law enforcement shoving the nation’s most powerful men, now identified as baby killers, into the back of cop cars. At long last, Richard’s day of triumph!
The third goal, in the case that points one and two didn’t pan out, was to fill the Bohemians with fear by burning their sacred Great Owl of Bohemia to the ground.
Richard chose a January date for his raid rather than the July encampment because he thought it would help him go unnoticed. His reasoning was that only the more hardcore satanic Bohemians would be bunking at the Grove this time of year, instead of the more casual members who were there just to drink and go fishing or birdwatching. Richard took note that some sources list January 20-27 as a period on the satanic calendar marked for “abduction, ceremonial preparation, and holding of a sacrificial victims,” as a commonly circulated listing on the Internet alleges. (This list of “Satanic Holidays” is reprinted on several websites and blogs, although no sources are given.)
Winter in the redwood forest was the perfect time for his mission, Richard reasoned. The Satanists would have their guard down.
Richard’s first step to planning his raid was to brush up on his firearm skills. He took a pistol course at a Thunder Ranch in Texas, then a three-day SCARS (Special Combat Aggressive Reactionary System) seminar in Salt Lake City. After that, he decided he would pack up and move from Austin to Carson City, Nevada. He traded in his RV for a pickup truck.
“Carson City was more or less the closest Nevada city to the Grove,” Richard explains about his destination. “I hadn’t picked a particular date to do the mission, so I needed a place to stay until then. There was also a chance I wouldn’t do it at all and Carson City was a decent place to live.”
During this period, Richard quit communicating with his friends. He kept all of his plans for the Bohemian Grove to himself, fearing that if he talked to anyone about it, he would be incriminating them. With his family gone, and his few friends unaware of his location, he was alone in the world.
Lon had some contact with Richard while he was in Texas, “…but not a lot,” he recalled. He had noticed that Richard had been getting more heavily “into religion and the conspiracy stuff had become more pervasive” over the last couple years, but the conspiracy talk didn’t alarm him.
“I’ve talked to people about conspiracy stuff before, and the thing is, everyone has them, some of the ideas are mainstream and some aren’t. I had a buddy of mine who told me the same corporation that makes Play-Doh makes carpet cleaner and it turns out it’s true! But is that a conspiracy or is it just a smart business move, to make something messy and something to clean it up? When you get into the Illuminati and that stuff, you start to lose me, but it’s hard for me to fault someone who believes that stuff, that’s their truth, I just don’t see it.”
As for losing track of Richard, Lon says it wouldn’t have been unusual for them to not talk for months and had a “when we see each other, we see each other” friendship.
“He didn’t want anyone in on his actions, where he was and what was going on. Probably smartly so, because he probably knew there were a few people who would try to stop him or tip people off that he did that. I’d have to call somebody if I knew he was going to do that, because I couldn’t stand the idea that someone got injured in that process on purpose or by mistake.”
Before he left town, Richard stopped by Alex Jones’s studio to talk to him about the Bohemian Grove. Richard was looking for confirmation of his mission.
“I met him at the public access studio where he did his show in Austin. I felt I should meet this guy before I went to the Grove,” Richard wrote to me. “We discussed the Grove in general, but I didn’t say anything about going there. If I got arrested, I didn’t want him charged with conspiracy. At one point, he excused himself from the conversation, but he said he would be right back. At the time, I thought that AJ thought I might be an undercover fed. I decided to leave, before he got back. Now I suspect he was calling his ‘handlers’ to report me.” (Note: Of course, another explanation might be that he had to go to the restroom or something.)
On his way to Carson City, Richard had a nerve-racking moment. While approaching the Hoover Dam, he noticed that traffic had crawled to a stop and that the Highway Patrol was doing a vehicle check. His mind wandered to the back of his truck, where he had a container with his recently purchased arsenal—two guns, a ninja sword, a smoke bomb launcher, two crossbows, and lots of ammunition. All of this had been legally acquired, but how to explain the Phantom Patriot costume? And what was with this roadblock? Richard felt a panic. Was this set up for him? But the Highway Patrol simply looked at his driver’s license and waved him on. Richard passed the Hoover Dam and carried on to Carson City and found an apartment to rent.
On January 19, 2002, Richard decided it was time.
“I spent my last ‘free day’ watching Mel Gibson’s The Patriot on VHS,” Richard says. Later, when questioned by detectives on who his role models were, Richard would tell him he had two: his mother and Mel Gibson, because of his roles in The Patriot and Braveheart.
After that, he did an equipment check, loaded up his pickup truck and drove from Carson City up to the Bohemian Grove.
Richard entered the Grove late that night wearing his Phantom Patriot costume with a Kevlar vest underneath. He was armed with a Crossfire MK-1 (a 5.56 rifle/12 gauge shotgun hybrid), a .45 caliber semi-automatic Glock pistol, a ninja sword and a Kabar knife. In his backpack he carried over 100 rounds of ammunition, and a fireworks mortar tube and smoke bombs. In his truck, which he parked on a road outside the Grove, were two crossbows and a billy club.
Later, while he was in prison, Richard documented his life-changing night and day inside the Grove by writing and illustrating a full-color, three-part autobiographical comic book detailing his raid titled Phantom Patriot: The Skeleton in America’s Closet.
Richard’s artwork could certainly be defined as “outsider art.” However, his scrutiny of thousands of comic books have given him a tight working knowledge of how a comic book storyline works. His style is outsider art meets How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, the classic instruction book young comic artists have turned to for guidance since the late 1970s. His page layout is well organized, but there is something weird about his artwork. His characters have eerie oval bug eyes with giant luminous irises and almost always are frozen in looks of anger, shock, or confusion captured in a toothy half circle frown. Things like hair strands and leaves on trees are oddly symmetrical.
In the original version of the comic, drawn while Richard was still a Christian, the panels are jam-packed with Bible verses—one page lists eight different verses as a footnote. Other panels incorporate Bible verses drawn as part of the landscape, as if created by an overzealous editorial cartoonist. One panel, for example, has 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 (in a nutshell: God is just and will give trouble to those who trouble you) floating inside of a grey storm cloud.
The first panel of Part Two of the comic, “Confrontation,” shows Richard clad as the Phantom Patriot sneaking through the redwood forest, holding his giant rifle and shining a flashlight on the path ahead of him. He has a thought bubble emanating from his head, which contains a line from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden: “I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately!”
Richard explains his heavy arsenal in the comic:
Despite being heavily armed, it wasn’t my intention to simply kill any Bohemians I might encounter. Many of them probably deserved to die for their various crimes, but that was God’s decision, not mine. The weapons were for my own protection, in case I was attacked by the Grove’s security forces; who I assumed would shoot me on sight, or worse. There was also a slim chance that I might actually catch the Bohemians in their criminal activity. If I could make a citizen’s arrest, without firing a shot, all the better.
[Block quote ends]
Richard wandered around the giant redwoods until a path led him into the outskirts of the camp.
“For the next two hours I explored the apparently empty grove, as my hopes of interrupting any occult rituals began to fade,” a caption box in his comic explains. The illustration below the caption shows the Phantom Patriot looking in disgust at his weakening flashlight.
“Way to go ‘Rambo,’” says the self-deprecating superhero. “You have plenty of ammo, but no extra batteries.” Now completely in the dark, with the moon covered in clouds and the branches of the towering redwoods, Richard decided he was at risk of getting hopelessly lost, so he sought cover to hide out until sunrise. He found a nearby cabin and kicked in the door. The comic gives a sound effect of CRASH! as Richard storms the cabin.
“I don’t remember what camp it was in. I tried to sleep, but it was fairly cold, so I mostly laid awake until first light.”
As the sun rose, Richard ventured back into the Grove, and after wandering down a path, he soon found himself face-to-face at last with his great enemy “Moloch,” the Great Owl of Bohemia. It sat there ominously, staring blankly as the rising sun reflected off the lagoon in front of it.
“The Owl looked just like it did in Alex Jones’s video, except a lot crappier. You’d think a bunch of billionaires would spring for something a little more elaborate,” Richard says.
Up until this point Richard had thought that the Great Owl of Bohemia was carved out of a giant redwood tree and had hoped to light it on fire and destroy it. But to his disappointment, he found it was fashioned out of concrete. The statue is actually hollow on the inside. It’s wired for electrical use and a door in the back opens up the hollow body, which serves as a storage shed, holding the Dull Care effigies and other props for the Cremation of Care ceremony.
“I wish I had brought a sledgehammer so I could have at least knocked down the altar,” Richard told me. Discouraged, he decided instead to leave a message as a warning—a piece of paper featuring his Phantom Patriot logo, a circle and slash through a Bohemian owl logo and the Bible verse Leviticus 18:21 – “You shall not give any of your offspring to offer them to Moloch, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.” Richard would have this piece of paper returned to him about a decade later by Lon, neatly sealed in an evidence bag.
With no satanic rituals upended and no burning owl statue before him, Richard’s mission began to go off the charts.
“I hadn’t traveled halfway across the country just to walk out of the Bohemian Grove without causing some real damage,” he said. He broke into a nearby banquet hall, the one where Bohemians gather for a dinner before the Cremation of Care. After making sure the building was empty, he found a bottle of degreaser. A comic panel shows him pouring a comically large bottle of the chemical onto a table.
“I splashed some around the office and kitchen, then lit it,” the caption reads and as the Phantom Patriot looks back at the flames, a thought balloon drifts over his head. “That should be enough to put the fear of God in these perverts!”
Here is the next sound effect in the comic: B-B-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z!
That’s the sound of the building’s fire alarm blaring, triggered as sprinklers extinguished the flames. This spot could have been where Richard’s story ends. He wasn’t sure if he should fight or flee.
“I briefly considered making my ‘last stand’ against Bohemian security and the eventual SWAT team right there,” Richard says in the comic. “However, it dawned on me that if I were caught on the property, the corrupt local authorities might simply kill me and cover up the entire incident.” Alerted by the fire alarm, a Bohemian Grove maintenance worker initially spotted Richard, and a security guard responded.
From a written statement by a Bohemian Grove security guard Fred Yeger: “I observed an intruder hiding behind a tree, watching the Grovekeeper’s house. I notified the front gate guard and gave a description of the intruder while following him. Intruder was armed and approaching the front gate. Intruder was extremely confident. Once he saw me on the phone to 911, he swung around to the right in full view, aiming and clutching his weapon. In a surprise move, he raised his left hand and waved to me, while proceeding to walk confidently down the road.”
Richard had spotted Yeger’s phone and thought it might have been gun. After waving him off, he made it through the front gate, but found he had a bigger problem.
“I saw the local fire marshal speeding up the road in his pickup truck. However, once he got a look at me, he turned around and headed back the other direction.”
“He doesn’t like my looks,” the cartoon version ponders.
Several minutes later, Richard reached the main road and could see his truck, but he had a major barrier—two police cruisers were parked on an angle blocking the road in front of it. Richard took cover behind a tree.
From a police report: “Man with a gun call, Bohemian Grove. I stopped my vehicle by a blue pickup truck that was parked on the side of the roadway. Since there were no residencies adjacent to the location of the truck, I considered that it might be involved in the incident. The subject’s position was approximately ten yards to the rear of the truck and in a loud voice I repeatedly ordered the subject from his place of concealment to the roadway. Subject was out of my view except for a small portion of his shoulder and head that I’d occasionally come from behind the tree. I could also see the condensation of the subject’s breath from behind the tree.”
Back up arrived, for a total of four responding officers, ducked behind their cruisers. They continued to yell for him to drop his weapon and come out in the open.
Richard was facing the most critical decision of his life—should he engage or should he surrender? Two of the officers began to close in on his position, moving from behind their squad to a giant redwood tree stump for cover.
“I had to make a decision now!” Richard says in the comic. “If the SWAT team from Santa Rosa or Sonoma rushed all the way up here on a Sunday morning, I was certain they wouldn’t go home without my dead body.” After “a few tense minutes,” Richard decided to make his move.
“I decided to test the cop’s integrity by stepping out into the road with my rifle pointed down, but still at the ready. If they shot at me, I could probably take a few hits to my Kevlar vest and still return fire.”
Police report: “Subject finally walked from his position, still carrying the rifle. When the subject came into view, I could see he was wearing a blue paramilitary uniform, a belt with what appeared to be a sidearm, I could see he was carrying an assault rifle with a high capacity banana-style magazine. Subject was wearing a full latex mask, the character of the mask was a skeleton skull. The subject slowly walked to the center of the road when he stopped, his rifle at a low ready, with the rifle held in both hands. He stood facing me, not responding or communicating, looking at the positions of the four officers on the team. He remained this stance for approximately four minutes in defiance of my repeated commands to put the rifle on the ground.”
Richard took a deep breath, his breath’s condensation pouring out of the mask in the January air. He stood in the middle of the small country road. The morning breeze flowed gently. He stared at the police cars, their lights flashing silently in front of him. His breathing was shallow and filled his skull mask, which stared and grinned silently at the officers. He stood with his feet spread in a ready stance.
“A couple more minutes passed until finally one of the officers asked me what I wanted. To my surprise, I detected a waver of fear in his voice. In fact, all four cops seemed visibly shaken by my appearance.”
It shouldn’t have been a surprise. Sonoma County is a relatively peaceful place, and up until now the biggest threat to the Grove had been a few nosey journalists. The Sunday edition of the Sonoma County Press-Democrat was being delivered in the quiet of the morning during the same time Richard was having a standoff with the police. The big front page story, “Dejected Raiders left out in the cold,” was about the Oakland Raiders losing a playoff game to the New England Patriots. Weather predicted a potentially gloomy day: high 56, low 30, chance of rain. Other front page stories focused on a new poet laureate and a dance troupe, a new pension plan, an update on the unfolding Enron scandal.
An armed gunman in a skeleton mask was definitely out of place.
“We’ve had protestors and stuff at the Bohemian Grove, but I’ve been here 24 years and I’ve never seen—and I don’t think any of us will ever again see—a guy dressed like that come here in our careers,” Sheriff’s Lieutenant Bruce Rochester told the San Francisco Chronicle shortly after the raid. “Nobody’s laughing. The deputies were scared and we’re all still scratching our heads.”
While he stood there in the road, Richard’s mind wandered back to his empty apartment in Carson City. He had left little behind—his comic books and a collection of photos of himself posing in various superhero costumes over the years. On the kitchen table, he had left a last will and testament. He named his friend Lon as executor of his estate and went into detail on why he had chosen to invade the Bohemian Grove. Next to the will was an autographed picture of a beautiful young country music star, Chely Wright, whom Richard had met the year before. He was in love with her. Attached to the picture was a note with a Bible verse Richard had handwritten—Mark 8:36, “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and loses his own soul?”
Now, the police car lights flashed in front of him. The giant, ancient redwood trees towered over the scene on both sides of the road.
“I wasn’t really scared. I was prepared to die for the cause,” Richard wrote to me. “This’ll sound stupid, but at that moment I wondered, what would Chely Wright think of me?”