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PATCON and the Investigation of a “Sovereign Order”

Last month’s Foreign Policy has an interesting article by J.M Berger on PATCON, an FBI investigation from the early 90s:

Starting in April 1991, three FBI agents posed as members of an invented racist militia group called the Veterans Aryan Movement. According to their cover story, VAM members robbed armored cars, using the proceeds to buy weapons and support racist extremism… Code-named PATCON, for “Patriot-conspiracy,” the investigation would last more than two years, crossing state and organizational lines in search of intelligence on the so-called Patriot movement, the label applied to a wildly diverse collection of racist, ultra-libertarian, right-wing and/or pro-gun activists and extremists who, over the years, have found common cause in their suspicion and fear of the federal government.

Berger discovered PATCON as the result of a Freedom of Information request in 2007; he has also published a fuller account through the New America Foundation. Despite PATCON investigators making links with a number of individuals, Timothy McVeigh “apparently flew under the radar”, and no arrests ever resulted from PATCON’s activity.

Specifically, Berger discusses how in the 1980s the FBI had became interested in “The Order”, a right-wing and racist group inspired by a fictitious organisation of the same name in the Turner Diaries. In 1992, the investigation included a focus on John L. Grady, “a doctor and an outspoken opponent of abortion” based in Benton, Tennessee:

Grady was head of a dues-paying organization called the American Pistol and Rifle Association (APRA), based at his Benton compound, which included a church, a firing range, and a handful of additional buildings, including a residence.

From the same location, Grady led the “Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem,” or simply the Order of St. John, a fraternal organization with a “prophetic mission” that claimed to trace its roots to a Roman Catholic religious order from the Middle Ages…

It should be noted that the “Sovereign Order” is distinct both from the group called “The Order” and from other organisations using the “St John of Jerusalem” name (see below).

…An informant reported that Grady claimed “to have been a founding member of The Order”… In turn, several members of The Order had been members of APRA. (In a 2012 interview, Grady denied being a member of The Order).

…In meetings between Grady and  [Civilian Materiel Assistance] members earlier in  1992, discussions were held about creating six-man terrorist cells that would carry out “acts of violence” including attacks on “microwave, radio, telephone, electric and TV towers and then nuclear power plants,” FBI reports said. Assassinations would be carried out against “Congressional leaders, Jewish leaders and neighborhood leaders of black gangs.”

…Excerpts from several FBI documents containing these allegations were e-mailed to Grady, who responded in a telephone interview. “Every statement that you’ve shown me is false,” Grady said. He disputed the contention in FBI documents that the Order of St. John and the APRA were linked except by virtue of his role in each and denied that the groups were white supremacist in nature and that they were aligned with CMA.

Berger’s account includes details of an APRA convention in the wake of Ruby Ridge at Grady’s compound in 1992, where several speeches were videotaped:

On the third day of the conference, Grady took the stage to introduce Bo Gritz, pausing to praise [Thomas] Posey for his efforts with Civilian Materiel Assistance in support of the Nicaraguan Contras.

On the final night of the conference, Grady rose to speak,  immediately following a speech laden with racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic themes by John Rakus of the National Justice Foundation, whom Grady introduced as an APRA member and a member of the group’s national advisory board. In steady tones, Grady described the coming “chastisement” of America by God, while carefully invoking the shadow of violence without explicitly calling for action. He told the rapt crowd that they should hope for the opportunity to “die as martyrs” and urged them to prepare for death.

…Whether misremembered or misconstrued, the FBI report portrayed Grady’s speech as a clear call to violence when in reality it was carefully worded to avoid incriminating language.

Berger is concerned that “aggressive infiltrations can even reinforce extremist narratives that claim the government targets communities because of their fundamental identities rather than in pursuit of illegal activities”, and that “the ripple effects of perceived overreach can also make it more difficult for otherwise friendly community partners to encourage cooperation with law enforcement.” He notes that this is today applicable to the infiltration of Muslim groups – a subject which I discussed (with reference to the USA and other countries) here.

Excursus: Background to Grady’s OSJ

There are a number of groups that use the name of the “Order of St John”, the best-known and largest of which is the mainstream Roman Catholic group called the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM). The order’s history was disrupted 1798 when Napoleon invaded Malta and the Russian Tsar became the organisation’s Grand Master; Catholic control of SMOM was reasserted a few years later, but competing groups began to appear elsewhere, including eventually in the USA. One such group was incorporated by a certain Charles Pichel in 1956, which he linked to a dormant US group from 1908. His order was based in Shickshinny, PA, and is often referenced as the “Shickshinny Knights of Malta”.

A purported historical overview on a website run by Grady’s group (he’s now the “Emeritus Grand Master”) discusses Pichel’s political associations from the 1930s – take a deep breath:

….Paul Winter, OSJ, long time associate of Grand Chancellor Pichel and former KKK leader from New York and Philadelphia, was involved with the American Nationalists. In 1933, Pichel contacted Germany through Hitlers’s friend Putzi Hanfstaengel in an effort to become the German Chancellor’s personal representative in the United States.

This account goes on to claim that in the 1960s the order’s anti-communism brought it establishment support:

The SOSJ membership roles during this time included Generals Lemuel Shepherd, Pedro Del Valle, George Stratemeyer, Charles Willoughby, Ralph Smith, Terry Morrison, Bonner Fellers, Admirals Charles Cooke, RL Porter, Herbert Howard, Richard Black, Francis Spellman and Prince Michel Sturdza of Romania, Congressman Larry MacDonald and Senator John Ashcroft. Well known leaders of the American intelligence community accepted various positions in the SOSJ.

In 1986, the Covert Action Information Bulletin (1) speculated that these intelligence links might be connected to the order’s decision to recognise “controversial defector Michael Goleniewski to be Aleksei Romanoff, heir to the Russian Imperial House of Romanoff.”

According to information on the St John of Jerusalem Research Web Site, Pichel’s group received the endorsement of a Tridentine Catholic priest, Fr James F Wathen:

Fr. Wathen had gained a very keen layman who supported the tridentine Catholic cause – John Grady. In 1982, following the loss of Pichel and other Leaders in the Shickshinny Order, who had been close to Fr. Wathen and John Grady, Grady sought to create what would have been essentially an autonomous branch of the Shickshinny Order, by way of a license to use the Corporation’s trademark… Although this was refused, Grady continued independently and in 1991 the breach was complete by Grady being elected the “75th Grand Master” and starting yet another self-styled Order.

A trademark dispute followed. According to a 1997 Opinion by the United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit:

The defendant, John L. Grady, joined the Order in 1979 after having started the “American Christian Church and Order,” which he hoped would become a legal affiliate of the Order. In 1982 Grady proposed to Salvatore T. Messineo, the President of the Corporation and Lieutenant Grand Master of the Order, that the Corporation issue a license for Grady’s organization to use its trademark. Messineo denied the request because of Dr. Grady’s alleged participation in para-military and white supremacist groups, and the Corporation’s board of directors expelled Grady from the Order in 1983. Despite his expulsion, the defendant continued to use the trademark, name, and other symbols of the Corporation and Order on, among other things, his letterhead and a newsletter that he published. He also claims to have represented the Order in such activities as signing a “Treaty of Amity” with a person alleged to be the exiled president of Poland…

This “exiled president of Poland” is not named, but was perhaps Count Juliusz Nowina Sokolnicki, who died in Colchester, UK, in 2009 (as I blogged here).

Michael Cuneo’s book The Smoke of Satan: Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism (1999) includes information, supplied by Grady, that “currently based in Benton, Tennessee, the organization operates about fifty chapels (or traditionalist Mass centrers) and three elementary schools across the country” (p. 196). According to Grady’s site, there are also links with Joseph Mar Thomas, Bishop of Bathery in the Syro Malankara Catholic Church.

Another group, which I have discussed on this blog a number of times, is the “Knights Hospitallers of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta, the Ecumenical Order”; this organisation is of interest to me because some influential US Christian Right figures (in particular, Rick Joyner and Jerry Boykin) are involved. This group lists the following Grand Masters:

Grand Duke Alexander of Russia Grand Master Russian 1913-1933
Crolian Edelen de Burgh Grand Master American 1960-1973
Prince Roberto Paterno Grand Master Italian 1974-1993

These names also appear on the Grady OSJ site, and Edelen de Burgh and Paterno were both associated with Pichel.   However, Grady’s OSJ states that Paterno stepped down in 1983, not 1993, and the period from 1934 to 1966 (mostly missing in the above) is filled by some other names. According to the Research Website, Paterno also split from the Pichel order. The Ecumenical Order and Grady’s group thus have shared origins, although different characters; the Ecumenical Order does not have the kind of “Patriot” links which Grady has fostered, and it appears to operate on a larger scale.

(Hat tip to a reader)

(1) ‘Knights of Darkness: The sovereign Military Order of Malta’, in Covert Action Information Bulletin, 25, Winter 1986, pp. 27-38.