Enemy at gate? Not in this case
In a one-sided standoff, a fugitive has holed up on his land for 11 years — but lawmen don't seem to care
, FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM
Published 05:30 a.m., Sunday, May 22, 2011
John Joe Gray's teen granddaughter, Jessica, a revolver on her hip, stands ready near the gate to his property. Photo: Joyce Marshall, McClatchy-Tribune News Service / HC
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John Joe Gray, a "free-standing man" and fugitive from the law, is locked and loaded for the coming apocalypse or authorities - whichever
shows up first.
"It's coming," he says. "It's time this country knows God is coming."
A rifle is slung across his back and a gun belt around his waist holds a revolver and extra cartridges. A knife is strapped to the other side of his lean torso. A battered felt hat frames a deeply lined face and bushy beard.
Dangling from a nearby tree, a hangman's noose strangles a weathered sign that sums up his stance: "Solution to tyranny."
Warily covering Gray's flanks are two of his six children, sons Jonathan, 39, and Timothy, 33. The dark-bearded, fit and tanned brothers are as well-armed as their 62-year-old father.
Ten feet behind her brothers and father, long-haired Ruth Gray, 31, stands solemn and silent. She, too, is armed to the teeth.
Next to her is teenager Jessica Gray, "who is old enough," according to her father, Jonathan. She has on a cowboy hat that the wind keeps blowing off, a long denim skirt, a sequined denim vest and cowboy boots. She's packing a pistol and binoculars.
Law is ignoring him
This is one stubborn side of what has been called America's longest-running standoff with law enforcement.
But it's been a single-sided siege. Henderson County authorities have pointedly ignored the would-be war.
For more than 11 years, John Joe Gray and his country clan have been holed up inside their own private prison, a 47-acre strip of Trinity River bottomland about 100 miles southeast of Fort Worth in Henderson County.
They've scraped out a harsh life here ever since Gray was bailed out of jail in January 2000 after he was charged with assaulting a state trooper on Christmas Eve 1999.
During a traffic stop, Gray and the driver of the car told two Department of Public Safety troopers that they were armed. When ordered to get out, the driver did but Gray wouldn't budge.
One trooper pushed Gray out, and he then lunged for the other officer's sidearm. Gray bit the trooper as they struggled for control of the weapon, according to investigators.
An Anderson County grand jury indicted him on two felony counts - assaulting a public servant and taking a peace officer's weapon.
"We're here because two highway patrolmen lied about what happened," Gray said last week. "Land of the free and home of the brave? That's a bunch of bull."
He has refused to be taken alive and in a long-ago letter to authorities, the family warned officials to "bring extra body bags," if they come for him. Authorities kept tabs on the compound for months but haven't maintained an active presence for years.
"We fear no man," John Joe Gray maintains. "We believe in an eye for an eye and a bullet for a bullet."
But nobody's storming the gate.
Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt, who is the fourth lawman in the post since 2000, says, like his predecessors, that he's not willing to risk a gun battle just to arrest Gray.
"John Joe Gray is not worth it. Ten of him is not worth going up there and getting one of my young deputies killed," he said.
Living off the land
The hardscrabble compound has no phone, no refrigeration, no power.
Contact with the outside world is through a handful of "supporters" and via shortwave radio, John Joe Gray said.
Drinking water comes from springs, and Gray and his sons say they subsist by growing beans, potatoes, corn, squash, tomatoes and peppers on fields they plow with donkeys. They can vegetables and dry meat to get through the year, they said.
They also raise goats and chickens and catch catfish, carp and drum from the Trinity and hunt deer on the wooded property. Friends bring them staples they can't produce themselves. Last year, they harvested their first crop of peaches.
One supporter, who frequently visits the farm, said eight children are inside the compound. The kids are armed at an early age, she said. They are equally adept at reciting the Constitution or Scripture.
"It's sort of Wild West. It's what a traditional American family looked like 100 years ago," said Dolores McCarter of Arlington, who says she once worked for Homeland Security and now operates a small nonprofit called Dee's House that helps battered women and children.
"John is standing as a free man. He loves his family. They are prepared to live out their lives there," McCarter said. "Some people pity them and they ... pity us."