Who's Afraid of Elohim City?

by Lee Roy Chapman and Joshua Kline —

Originally published in the April 15th, 2012 edition of This Land.


Bad men are drawn to the City of God. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls it the meeting ground for America’s most sinister extremists. Many Oklahomans regard it as the most dangerous and mysterious place in the state.

For 30-plus years, a small, isolated community in Northeastern Oklahoma has been the subject of endless scrutiny. Law enforcement agencies and conspiracy theorists insist that Elohim City is a breeding ground for neo-Nazis and anti-government militias hell-bent on overthrowing the “Zionist Occupied Government” (ZOG) of the United States. The most damning accusation suggests Elohim City played a central role in the planning and execution of the Oklahoma City bombing.

When asked if she’d ever had the chance to visit Elohim, a woman with the Stilwell Democrat Journal deadpanned, “No, we like to breathe."

* * *

“I find them to be quite upstanding citizens of my community,” says Adair County Sheriff Austin Young.

A sharp, stern man with a military presence, Young has the towering, no-bullshit persona of a Clint Eastwood character. His white hair is neatly cropped, his eyes maintain contact, and rarely blink.

“What I read in the papers, I never experienced that with them,” he says.

Young says that, as game warden of Sequoyah County (just south of Adair) in the early ‘80s, he once received a report of poaching that ultimately led him to Elohim City, where the suspect resided. As he approached the entrance of the community, he was met by Elohim City founder Robert Millar and several armed guards. Young politely told Millar that the weapons made him a little nervous.

“Robert said to me, ‘Well, you have a firearm, don’t you think that makes us nervous,’ ” the Sheriff remembers. “So I unholstered my weapon and placed it in my vehicle. And then he sent the armed guards away.”

This encounter began a 30-year rapport between Young and Elohim City. Young ran for sheriff in the mid‘90s, when neo-Nazis, a German Nationalist, the Midwest bank robbers, and Timothy McVeigh were supposedly frequenting the compound.

“I campaigned in all parts of the county, including Elohim, and as far as I know, they supported me,” Young says.

Shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing, a rumor spread that members of Elohim were planning a terrorist attack in Stilwell during the town’s annual strawberry festival. Young called and asked him point-blank if the rumor was true. Millar answered, “Of course not. We would never do that.” The strawberry festival went off without incident.

After offering his opinions (“they’re not violent, not resistant, not how the media paints them”), Young suggests we go straight to the horse’s mouth.

He dials up John Millar, pastor and de facto leader of Elohim, and son of the community’s late founder. When Millar picks up, he explains that he has a couple of journalists from Tulsa who wish to visit Elohim. But instead of waiting for Millar to respond, Young offers the receiver to us.

“You’re not interested in repeating all those lies that were told about us?” Millar asks. And then he invites us for a visit.

* * *

Stephen Jones is a towering figure in Oklahoma’s legal community. Over his 46-year career as a defense attorney, the Enid native has represented a slew of high-profile pariahs and controversial characters, including anarchist Abbie Hoffman, serial killer Bobby Wayne Collins, suspected SLA radical Harawese Moore [1] and, most recently, indicted Tulsa Police Officer Jeff Henderson. But it was his work as Timothy McVeigh’s court-appointed defender for which he’s best remembered.

“When the Oklahoma City bombing happened, it didn’t surprise me at all,” Jones tells us one Saturday afternoon in his Enid office. “I was shocked that it was Oklahoma City. But that somebody would blow up a building and kill a lot of federal employees? That wasn’t a surprise at all. I had sensed for some period of time that there was a significant alienation of people in the Great Plains. There was a genuine hatred of the federal government, a hatred of the Clintons. I had not seen anything like it since I worked for the republican state committee in Texas when the Kennedys were in office in the early ‘60s.”

Jones believes that this anti-government sentiment reached a tipping point on April 19, 1993, when ATF and FBI agents assaulted another eccentric religious community: the Branch-Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. When the siege was over, 81 men, women, and children were dead.

“You have the primitive evangelical community,” Jones says. “And the defining moment for a lot of those people—and this narrows down to Elohim City—was the assault on the Branch-Davidians … Tim McVeigh told me that he sat in a Bradley tank; he knew what those tanks could do. And those images of that tank punching holes in that building, for several million people, probably more than 10 million people, that was a Biblical prophecy come true.”

McVeigh watched closely, first on television and then in person, as the nightmare at Waco unfolded. This proved to be his breaking point. Disturbed by what he witnessed, McVeigh began to plot his own revenge on behalf of the Branch-Davidians. Two years later, his vengeance became a reality when 168 people, including 19 children, died in the Oklahoma City bombing.

It’s well documented that Jones did not buy the government’s conclusion (re-enforced by McVeigh himself) that McVeigh conceived and executed the bombing almost entirely alone, with only the most minimal assistance from Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier. Jones believes the government was desperate for swift, quantifiable justice and chose to focus only on developing an airtight case against McVeigh and Nichols rather than fog the issue of their guilt by fully exploring the possibility of a broader conspiracy. Jones does not believe the evidence against Elohim City provides a sufficient answer.

“There is no smoking gun that shows the involvement of any of the people in Elohim City,” he says. “There is certainly, in two or three instances, against the backdrop of this, a pretty convincing case that some people in Elohim City may have been involved.”

For the man who spent years studying every tiny pebble of the mountainous evidence, Elohim City is just another “what if?” scenario, doomed to float in the ether, a question mark whose answer is forever unknowable.

He agrees, though, that Adair County is a poetic fit for the community.

“Throughout the history of (Eastern Oklahoma), there has been more chicanery, isolationism, parochialism, xenophobic attitudes, distrust of outsiders, ‘We settle things our way,’ ” he explains. “So Elohim City, yes, is comfortably located. Very comfortably. Historically, it blends in.”

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