In April 1994, Norm Olson founded the Michigan Militia. The state was divided into countywide brigades, and in Calhoun County, Ken Carter was elected commander — mostly because he was on disability, and had plenty of time to make phone calls and run errands during the day, while everyone else was at work.
Eventually, Carter attracted the attention of the ATF, who placed an undercover agent within the group. What happened next is detailed in my story “A Tale of Two Militias.”
According to the federal government, the three men were involved in planning terrorist attacks, including the murder of police officers, throughout Calhoun County. ATF undercover reports, however, indicate that Carter was pretty much alone in making the plans (although whether or not he could even begin to carry them out is up for debate).
When it looked like Carter would be sent away for a considerable amount of time, he flipped on his co-defendants, Randy Graham and Bradford Metcalf. Carter got out of prison in 1998, while Graham and Metcalf are still behind bars.
We're not necessarily fans of armed citizen militias here at Failed State Update, but we're really not fans of locking people up for no reason.
In the following interview, conducted over the CorrLinks inmate email system, Bradford Metcalf talks about his years as a prisoner and how he wound up there in the first place.
FAILED STATE UPDATE: How did you end up in prison?
BRADFORD METCALF: I am in prison because I was involved in a militia. The Clinton administration was getting worried about the proliferation of militia groups, most of which was caused by the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban. Militias always blossom when there is a Democrat "gun banner” in the White House. I can't figure out why they pay no attention to the Republican “gun banners.” Both Bushes were as bad as Clinton and Obama.
My charges started out as simple possession of machine guns. Prosecutors always add as many counts as possible to frighten the victim — I mean defendant — into a plea bargain. Then, as part of the "bargain," all charges but one will be dropped. This was done with my co-defendant Ken Carter so that the maximum he could get was five years, which is what happened. Those of us who go to trial get the full brunt of the law.
I was locked up on March 18, 1998. The 24th anniversary is coming up. I hoped to be released about 24 years ago, but as you can see, it hasn't happened.
When I got to the prison in Terre Haute, one of the old-timer mob guys told me that I shouldn't worry, they will find a reason to let me out after about ten years. That hasn't happened either.
I will get out when God gets good and ready and not before.
Do you consider yourself a political prisoner?
I am absolutely a political prisoner, prosecuted solely because I had a differing opinion from the socialist judicial system (judges, prosecutors, fed agents). One could say that every gun prosecution is political since the federal government has no authority to prosecute federal gun statutes.
[We're not so sure that most lawyers would agree. Check out this PDF on Metcalf’s website to see the reasoning behind this claim. -ed.]
Anyone in here on a drug charge could also be considered a political prisoner because of the feds’ pushing of drug crimes. Consider that the nation needed a constitutional amendment to banish alcohol (the 18th) and another to unbanish it (the 21st). Why was no amendment needed to banish drugs? Don't get the idea that I like the recreational use of drugs but I think that the “drug problem” should be dealt with through treatment, not incarceration.
I met a fellow in the county jail while I was awaiting trial, who had been prosecuted in both the Soviet and American systems. He declared that American prisons were much, much better than Soviet ones. But he also stated that you have a much, much better chance of not going to a Soviet prison because you had more rights in a Soviet courtroom.
The story about the guy from the Soviet Union is amazing. It makes me wonder about who exactly is incarcerated. Is there even a “typical” prisoner, or anything that all prisoners have in common?
One can assume that everyone in the Federal Prison-Industrial Complex has one thing in common. Everyone in federal prison came to the attention of a federal prosecutor. Usually, it is because some idiot got caught doing something really stupid and snitched someone else out to either avoid prosecution or get a lesser charge.
If the feds had to catch criminals through police work, would they ever actually prosecute anybody?
Most prisoners I talk to have been snitched out. Real police work is something that is rarely done by the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives] or the FBI. But I suppose that they feel that leaning on somebody and threatening to prosecute a victim’s — I mean, perpetrator’s — family is police work.
If they were to abide by what congress ordered in the late seventies (reforms pertaining to COINTELPRO) there wouldn't be this wholesale human warehousing.
Why was your group, the North American Militia, under investigation?
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I was totally off the fed's radar until “dum bass” [Ken] Carter started to feel like he was running something. The only thing Carter ever did was bring misery to our group.
His first faux pas was in letting Brendon Blasz, Jeff, and Gary (the “Goof Troop”) into our group. That caught the attention of the feds. Then, in came the informants. Who knows how many more informants there were? We weren't doing anything that a normal person would think was criminal. Unless having opinions is illegal.
Do you think most of the people in prison should be there?
Most people I have run into should have done some time. Some should never get out because they are just too stupid or evil to be in society. Some screwed up along the line and should have some time to think about it; just not the draconian sentences they usually receive. I have run into guys who, on their own, have straightened their lives out and are still paying for it.
This is the most unforgiving government on the planet. With the memory of an elephant. Then there are the few that haven't actually done anything. It matters not. The judicial meat grinder must be fed.
What do you do all day?
I get up, freshen up, get a cup of coffee and sit down to read my Bible while I watch the morning news — which has become much more mundane since Trump left office. You must admit, the news was rarely boring with Trump at the microphone.
After that, I will go read something until lunch, unless I can get some exercise outside (which the pandemic has essentially obliterated). After lunch, I may watch some TV or read, or nap. We stand up to get counted at 4:00 p.m. every day, so that sets us up for the evening when I usually read or watch TV.
Most inmates do not bother reading, some being functionally illiterate or too high. Drugs are widespread in prison, regardless of the machinations made to stop them. I quit drugs in 1974 and haven't looked back since. My drug of choice is a book. Most people look for suboxone or K2. Books are better.
You said you went to prison for “possession of machine guns.” Could you be a little more specific? And were the machine guns that you possessed actually illegal?
The whole arrest was based on illegal possession of machine guns. When they raided my house on August 13, 1997, they had a warrant for a single .30 caliber and a single .50 caliber machine gun.
Carter had been running his mouth about how he had a .50 at the top of the driveway, a .30 in a field, and another .30 somewhere else [in case of a raid]. Of course, none of this was true. I possessed parts sets for all the guns, but they were inoperable. They were legal. My parts sets were “decorators” until such time as I would be able to figure out how to make them semi-auto only and add an appropriate side plate.
I bought the parts sets through the mail, without any restriction. This type of parts set is available from certain dealers. They’re inoperable because they come without the requisite right-hand side plate. Trying to fire a Browning-type machinegun without the right-hand side plate is like cutting the right frame rail out of your car and trying to drive. The first pothole you hit would collapse the whole thing.
There were no machine guns at my place, although if I wanted to walk away from this prosecution, I probably could have ratted out some guys I knew who did have them.
Why would you even want a machine gun in the first place?
In the early 1990s, I went with a friend to the legal machine gun shoot at Knob Creek in Kentucky. The displays of weapons were really inspiring. That was when I fell in love with the .50 caliber Browning cartridge. I even bought a single-shot rifle action to fit the cartridge and built that rifle over a period of years. This was stolen by BATF in the raid. I'd invested over $3,000 in it.
Wanting to have a machine gun is like wanting to have a Maserati or a Lear Jet. Nobody really needs one. But boy, are they fun to operate. One gun writer refers to the selector switch on a machine gun as the “giggle switch.”
At Knob Creek, they had a rental facility where you could use a real, live, legal machine gun for a few minutes. They would supply the ammo and gun for a fairly expensive two-to-three minute firing. And most of us walked away with big smiles on our faces, fully satisfied. Knob Creek was what caused me to not need to have a machinegun.
When it comes down to it, most military don't need a machinegun. A civil war could be quite effectively fought with semiautos only, for the most part. There are times in battle, I am told, when it is very useful to use suppressive fire to keep your enemy's heads down, but I never felt the need to have something like that outside of a war.
Have you had Covid? I'm curious about your experience of the pandemic.
I had Covid last year, about this time. My judge could have released me because of the great danger of getting Covid in a prison environment. Due to my weight problem (caused in large part because we have been locked down so much) I was likely to experience problems. The judge was having none of it. After serving 23 years with an almost perfect record, he still decided that getting out eleven years before the sentence ended would be an unacceptable “windfall.” The motion we had filed was called a compassionate release. But for that to happen, there would need to be some kind of compassion.
In fairness, the judge couldn't have known that we weren't the worst thing since Osama bin Laden, because the only information he had was from the prosecutor, which was essentially pulp fiction, used to impress upon a jury about how “dangerous” we were (allegedly).
I had about three weeks of severe nausea, like seasickness. I lost thirty pounds in that period. I received the jab about three weeks after the Covid ended, and another about four weeks after that. My longhauler effects include the inability to mentally focus, balance problems, memory problems; mostly brain function problems. They don't seem to be improving, a year later.
What kind of life do you hope to have when you're released?
My sentence finishes in April of 2032. I don't know if or how I will be able to function in a world I haven't lived in for 34 years. I’ve expected God's intervention for this entire time, but the best I can look forward to is to be sustained. Fortunately, I have had great support from my family. That has meant a lot. I will just have to play it by ear.