TUESDAY, 10 A.M. in the quiet lull following the geriatric early-bird stampede at Shari’s restaurant in Garden Home, a bouncy Mexican waitress is circling the hunched man at the counter like a gnat wearing an apron. Bzzzzzz. Coffee refill. Bzzzzzz. Water refill. Bzzzzzz. Ketchup. Chipper blasts of staccato Spanish choke the airspace behind her.
Sandwiched on his stool between the foreign chatter of the kitchen staff and a clearly disturbed man involved in a deep conversation with his scrambled eggs, 57-year-old ex-Marine William Krause leans heavily into the bar. He is a man apart. Not quite agitated. Not yet fed up. He’s just … tired. Tired of often feeling like the odd man out in the neighborhood he’s spent almost his entire life in.
As the banter from the waitress and the cooks swirls around him like vapor trails, Krause cements his elbow firmly between the syrup dispenser and a saucer of single-serve creamers and begins reeling off a calm, measured diatribe.
“I don’t think illegal aliens deserve health care,” he says, not exactly yelling, but also not bothering to lower his volume for the audience members, who may, themselves, be illegal aliens. “I don’t think they deserve to be here at all. They’re breaking the law. My adopted family were Jewish immigrants, and they had to go to Canada and then come here. They did it the right way.”
There is no white spittle of hate hanging off his rhetoric. Krause—white-haired, fit, and conversational—delivers his diatribe in an almost-sleepy drawl. As his story unspools over breakfast, it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t earned the right to his opinion. “I’m a patriot,” he says nonchalantly. He begins reciting a particularly valorous lineage. His father was killed fighting in Korea. His stepfather was stationed at Pearl Harbor during World War II, and his namesake uncle was a fighter pilot in that war. Krause himself served six years in the US Marines and another five as a machinist on a nuclear submarine. He also spent time as an explosives operator at the Army’s Umatilla Chemical Depot in Hermiston. When his service ended, he volunteered with the state police in the Columbia River Gorge, where he eventually discovered and named Metasequoia Creek. Then came a stint helping with disaster preparedness on the Portland Neighborhood Emergency Team, or NET. (Krause fears a devastating subduction earthquake is inevitable.) Six months ago, he signed up for yet another call of duty: membership in the Oregon State Defense Force, a volunteer squad that backs up the state’s National Guard during emergencies.
“I love my country,” he says. “And I love my state.”
But over the past few years, things have begun to unravel for Krause. A steelworker by trade, he was recently laid off from his job repairing pipe coating. State funding cuts put a stop to his work in the Gorge. He’s now only loosely involved with the NET team due to what he calls mismanagement. And then there is the perilous path he believes the country is on: A socialist in office. Defense being weakened overseas. An erosion of personal liberties. The country his father died for and that he himself has spent his adult life defending is slipping away.
So when a friend on one of Krause’s disaster-preparedness websites told him about a group called the Liberty Guard, a militia group based in Missouri, he signed on. A national “unorganized” (i.e., unofficial) militia, the Liberty Guard shares Krause’s distaste with the current shape of the nation. Plus, the group didn’t seem extreme in its views on race and religion, which was even more appealing to Krause. “There’s a lot of wackos out there, and I’ve dealt with some of them,” he says. “I told the LG I believed in a Creator and not one God, and they said they were cool with that.”
And unlike other groups Krause had been in contact with over the years, the Liberty Guard was doing more than just talking. It had a constitution. A liberty proclamation. A flag. It offered military training. More importantly, unlike militias that tend to clump together regionally, the guard’s membership stretches across the country.
“We believe in the Bill of Rights so much that we are forming defensive forces for secession, if that is what it takes,” says a Liberty Guard spokesman, who wishes to remain anonymous. “We see that we are living in the downfall of the current Republic.”
As the columns of freedom collapse around it, the Liberty Guard has taken the hard-line position to “defend ourselves to the last man, woman, and child.” Read one way, this is benign chest-beating. Read another way, it’s the beginning of a chilling endgame. Of course, it’s not like the group doesn’t have a sense of humor. “I got an e-mail from the Liberty Guard last weekend,” Krause says. “It was titled ‘Customer Service,’ and it had this operator sitting there, and somebody’s calling in and he’s telling them: ‘Press one for English. Press two if you need to learn English.’” Krause stifles his chuckle with another strip of bacon. Another slug of coffee. And a request to our waitress. “Excuse me,” he says in subdued tones. “Can I get some cha-pot -lay?” This last word he sounds out phonetically. “ Gracias.”