‘Ive had fun shooting rocks at a mile and a quarter away with a telescope. You pick a rock the size of a Volkswagen, and split it. Boom! You know?’
REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D-Calif.): This kind of weapon can blow up a limousine or a helicopter, can take out a vehicle, armored vehicle, maybe even a mile away. It can shoot through seven buildings!
Bob Stewart: Ive had fun shooting rocks at a mile and a quarter away with a telescope. You pick a rock the size of a Volkswagen, and split it. Boom! You know?
The weapon is a modified .50-caliber rifle. Its inventor is Bob Stewart, a 51-year-old father of three and a former high school teacher from Mesa, Arizona. Until federal authorities shut him down, Stewart ran a highly profitable business out of his garage, selling the weapon to militias and gun enthusiasts around the country.
Bob Stewart: We went from, like, about $500,000 a year personal income down to $18,000 a month negative income. Its just about killed my wife.
| Convicted felon and inventor of "The Maadi Griffen," Bob Stewart.||
It all began with Bobs passion for shooting the .50-caliber rifle.
Bob Stewart: We had a shooting club. To join you had to get a one-inch group at 300 yards with any kind of weapon. And, so we went out and bought a Barrett. And it didnt shoot that accurate.
The .50-caliber was originally designed during WWI as an anti-tank weapon. It was later adapted for use as a sniper rifle. The Barrett .50-caliber, used by the U.S. military in Operation Desert Storm, is one of the most popular models available for civilian use. But Bob thought he could improve on the design. So in 1990, he began building his own version of the rifle, while still a high school teacher in Provo, Utah.
Bob Stewart: I applied for a license and got it, and made some rifles for these guys. It wasnt ever intended to be a business, but it just caught on and these guys started shooting really well. And it just got out of hand.
THE MAADI GRIFFIN
A devout Mormon, Bob named his rifle the Maadi-Griffin, in reference to the powerful mythical creature of ancient Egypt often used to symbolize Christs ascension.
Fifty caliber rifles like the one Bob developed use 6-inch long rounds, and can fire at extraordinary ranges with deadly effect.
Representative Henry Waxman of California is one of Congress strongest advocates for applying greater restrictions on .50-caliber rifles. To illustrate the immense power of the weapon for other lawmakers, he commissioned a video from U.S. Marine firearms instructors using Barretts. The study found that the gun will fire a standard .50-caliber bullet 7,450 yards. Thats 75 football fields laid end-to-end.
Rep. Henry Waxman: It can cut through a limousine, and destroy the people in it. I think we oughtta find some kind of way to regulate the sale of these weapons.
‘I dont believe a felon anywhere can be denied the right to have firearms. I dont care if hes a mass murderer, he killed 50,000 people. He still has a right to have a gun.’
The first time Bob Stewart was put out of business was in 1994. He was arrested and convicted for illegally manufacturing and transferring fully-automatic machine guns. Stewarts conviction made it illegal for him to possess any firearm period, a law he violently opposes as being unconstitutional.
Bob Stewart: I dont believe a felon anywhere can be denied the right to have firearms. I dont care if hes a mass murderer, he killed 50,000 people. He still has a right to have a gun. A gun is just a tool.
While Bobs beliefs echo those of the militia movement, he insists he is not a member of any militia group but simply an individual who believes in the rights of gun ownership.
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Bob Stewart: Now I can kill you with this. If I can take that wire and spread it out there and stick it into your ribcage and stick it into your heart and make it fibrillate, I can kill you with a piece of wire. You see what Im saying?
After serving 18 months in a federal prison, Bob returned to his .50-caliber rifle business, this time with a twist. To circumvent the law forbidding convicted felons to own or sell guns, he created a do-it-yourself, mail-order kit, arguing that the kit in itself was not a gun.
| 'The Maadi Griffen,' a homemade version of the .50 caliber, can fire at a range of nearly 7,500 yards.||
The Maadi-Griffin kit has become very popular
among gun buyers for its discount price of under $1,600 compared to the
$8,000 Barrett. The assembled guns also have no serial numbers and buyers
do not have to register the kits with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
Bob Stewart: I talked to the BATF about that, as far as registration, and they said as long as its for your own personal use you do not have to serial number it, you do not have to register it. And we put those instructions right in the book.
But the BATF later determined that Bobs kit was in fact readily assembled into a fully-functioning firearm, and therefore illegal for him to own. In the dawn hours of June 16, 2000, 10 fully-armed ATF agents joined local police in raiding the garage from which Bob ran his business.
Bob Stewart: My little boy hates cops now, because when they came in there and put a gun to them, said put up your hands, he peed his pants, he was so scared. Have I committed one crime with a firearm? Have I killed anybody? Have I robbed anybody? Itd be a different story.
According to Bob, the ATF confiscated over 200 kits, worth $420,000, as well as his computer records and customer lists.
Bob Stewart: They compromise these credit card numbers, dates, signatures, credit card billing addresses. Theyre trying to find out as much information as they can. And this is against the Fourth Amendment.
Today, there are more than 5,000 military-grade .50-caliber weapons in the hands of legal gun owners in the U.S. And it is estimated that there are more than 500 Maadi-Griffin kits unlicensed and impossible to track in circulation.
‘If theres any tanks crawling up my driveway, Im ready.’
Gun dealer, Mesa, AZ
Another gun dealer from Mesa, Jerry Michel, lost his business to an ATF raid just two months after the raid on Bob. Today, hes come to the desert to test out his latest acquisition: a .50-caliber Barrett.
Jerry Michel: Thisll be the first time that I have ever fired this gun. This is one that they brought back from Desert Storm.
(Michel fires the gun from the top of a truck.)
Jerry Michel: That was fun, man. So Iif theres any tanks crawling up my driveway, Im ready.
Jerrys small gun shop, which also served as his home, was raided over violation of a city ordinance failure to procure a pawn license. It has left him bitter and angry at law enforcement agents.
Jerry Michel: I had the best alarm system, I had bars, I had all kinds of trick set-ups in there. I also slept in there with a machine gun hanging on the wall, because I knew at sometime or another, somebody was going to come in there and try to steal my guns. I just didnt figure it was going to be the police. And thats what they done. They came in and they stole my guns.
Bob Stewart: This activity has to stop because its going to lead to slavery.
TAPING THE ATF
This evening, Jerry has been invited to a gathering of gun owners over at Bobs home. And Jerry has a surprise for them. Unbeknownst to the ATF, Jerry had salvaged the surveillance video showing the raid on his shop, broadcast here for the first time.
Jerry Michel: Youll see the whole thing they used to get me outside. OK. OK. Yeah hes a good actor, OK.
ATF agent (on the videotape): The cops just hit a freakin gray Mustang out front.
Jerry Michel (on the video): A cop hit a gray Mustang?
ATF agent (on video): Yeah!
Jerry Michel: I seen this guy in my shop before. I was talking to Don here on the phone. He was on the phone with me when this happened. Now watch coming behind me. Youll see all kinds of see em?
ATF agents (on video) come into the shop with guns cocked: ATF! Police! Anybody inside? Police! Search warrant! Come on out! Uh you wanna secure the video?
(The videotape ends.)
Bob Stewart: Nobody knows youve got that tape?
Jerry Michel: Well, I got 10 friends who have copies.
Another guy: Well, howd you get the tape?
Jerry Michel: I just told you. They broke my VCR
Guy: The ATF didnt take the tape? Oh, they didnt have time to disassemble it themselves
Jerry Michel: Exactly.
OPERATION DUTCH BOY
In fact, the Arizona ATF raids on both Bob and Jerry are part of a larger agenda: Operation Dutch Boy. This effort to root out illegal guns has resulted in over 20 raids in the greater Phoenix area since the summer of 2000. ATF officials refused to comment to MSNBC on the details of the crackdown, but it appears to be having an unintended consequence, galvanizing groups of gun owners who believe they, and their homes, are in the crosshairs of federal agencies.
Jerry Michel: This is not supposed to be happening, guys. This aint supposed to be happening.
Bob Stewart: Congress has no authority over this piece of grass. This little patch of grass. They have zero authority. I didnt give them any.
The groups defiance of federal authority in the name of the Second Amendment echoes the beliefs of the Militia Movement. Bob has become a poster boy for the militias who champion his cause as well as his gun. But Bob disavows any dealings or sympathies with the militias.
Bob Stewart: Theres no need for a militia movement, were not Patriots or militia or anything like that, were just people. I dont really know a lot about whats going on. They say they can do stuff.
But clearly, Bob knows more than hes telling. A few weeks later he appears on a radio show hosted by former Green Beret and militia leader Bo Gritz.
Bo Gritz: All right, right now weve come together with Robert Stewart out there. Go ahead with Robert.
Bob Stewart: Bo, we have got to arm this country, and I dont mean, this isnt for duck shooting, it isnt for target shooting. You know exactly what I mean, the country needs to be armed, it will be, and we have made arrangements for those people to take over.
Bo Gritz: We can win. We are the reserves
And on June 16, the very day he was raided, Bob was actually expecting a very different guest Ron Gaydosh, the State Commander of the Michigan Militia, a para-military group that greatly concerned authorities after they learned Timothy McVeigh had attended their meetings.
Ron Gaydosh: We were supposed to meet Bob earlier and he didnt show up. We got worried and we went over there, and the ATF was just crawling all over the place.
Bob Stewart: Ron came down here we were trying to sell firearms. We just wanted to expand business.
Ron Gaydosh: I think probably if they would have knew who I was, my face, they probably would have grabbed me right there.
Ron Gaydosh heads up the Wolverines from his home in Adrian, a small town of less than 5,000 in rural southeast Michigan. He works as a maintenance man for a nearby apartment complex, but he spends much of his time at the meeting house out back, coordinating the Wolverines meetings, training sessions and other activities statewide.
‘As far as Im concerned, the .50-calibers are our liberty teeth. Theyre in our hands. We have them in our hands.’
State Commander, Michigan Militia
Tonight, a chapter of the Wolverines meets here behind Ron Gaydoshs house. The centerpiece of the meeting is one of Bob Stewarts Maadi-Griffin .50-caliber rifles.
John: Well, you used to be able to get em from a guy out in Arizona called Bob Stewart, but they put him out of business.
Ron Gaydosh: We couldnt afford to buy a Barrett, where we could buy three Maadi-Griffins for one Barrett.
Several militia members own Maadi-Griffin .50 calibers, rifles that can pierce armor or bullet-resistant glass from up to a mile away.
Ron Gaydosh: As far as Im concerned, the .50-calibers are our liberty teeth. Theyre in our hands. We have them in our hands.
Bob Stewart says he sold over 500 kits nationwide, but Ron wont admit to how many made their way to Michigan. He and the others are convinced that federal agents will track the weapons down from Bobs customer lists and crash through their doors.
Ron Gaydosh: I cant talk numbers with you or anything, but I can tell you, we do have these up here. We know that the kits that we got, they have no way of locating them. They better hope they dont find any. Theyre liable to get em in little pieces.
For federal law enforcement, the challenge is how to separate lawful owners of the Maadi-Griffin even those who espouse anti-government rhetoric from the next Timothy McVeigh.
Tonights meeting features the swearing-in of a new member for the Wolverines.
John: Welcome, brother, you just joined a family. Its more than a membership. Youre a new member of the family.
THE MCVEIGH CONNECTION
The Michigan Militia leapt into Americas awareness after being connected with the bombing at Oklahoma City Timothy McVeigh had attended some of their open meetings. The group believes the bombing was actually set up by the government in order to build popular support for the Anti-Terrorism Act legislation proposed by President Clinton two months before the tragedy. They consider the legislation to be part of a larger conspiracy to disarm the population a common topic at their get-togethers.
‘When the government fears its people, you have freedom, and when people fear its government, you have tyranny.’
State Commander, Michigan Militia
Ron Gaydosh: The Oklahoma City bombing, Randy Weaver out there at Ruby Creek, they all tie together if you chase em down far enough, theyll all tie together. And Waco, of course, theyre the big ones. But there are these small things, like the Bob Stewart thing.
Ron Gaydosh: When the government fears its people, you have freedom, and when people fear its government, you have tyranny. And thats exactly what we have today, tyranny.
Organizations that track extremist groups say that militia membership has declined in the years since Oklahoma City. But they caution that lone wolves like Timothy McVeigh dont necessarily join groups and are impossible to count.
Ron Gaydosh: They say that McVeigh was part of the militia up here, well he wasnt. We have open meetings, just like Alcoholics Anonymous, and McVeigh went to one of them meetings, and thats how they tied him in.
Ron Gaydosh: You know, it happens in any group. You get guys that are loose cannons. I hate to use that word. But some of them will get in, and well find out later what their beliefs are. If theyre out of line with what we go by, we get rid of them right away. We dont fool around with them.
The greatest opposition to civilian ownership of the .50-caliber sniper rifle lies in the heart of the federal government, Washington, D.C. Foreign dignitaries and high-profile politicians ride in armored limousines and helicopters, not suspecting that neither would be safe from a .50-caliber sniper.
Eljay Bowron: The more destructive the weapon, the more seductive it is to people that have that particular interest.
Eljay Bowron has made a career out of protecting others. He is currently vice-president at Vance International, an elite executive security agency. His particular expertise is quite valuable in helping the company to train their security agents: Eljay Bowron was the director of the U.S. Secret Service under several presidents.
‘The .50-caliber presents some very unique challenges in that regard. You can do a lot of damage by accident, just pointing in the right direction.’
Former Dir., U.S. Secret Service
Eljay Bowron: The Secret Service has to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. They go about their business as though there is someone out there with a .50-caliber weapon that you dont want to have a .50-caliber weapon.
Eljay Bowron: The .50-caliber presents some very unique challenges in that regard. You can do a lot of damage by accident, just pointing in the right direction. And that may be good enough for some people.
The range and power of the fifty-caliber greatly escalates the potential threat in Eljays worst-case scenario: a rogue operator committing what he calls a leaderless act of terrorism.
Eljay Bowron: Its a term that is used to describe people that subscribe to the rhetoric of an organization and take it upon themselves to act on that rhetoric because they dont believe the group is acting rapidly enough.
Eljay Bowron: The actions of Mr. McVeigh in conjunction with Oklahoma City to a large extent express his endorsement of rhetoric and taking action that wasnt being taken by large groups, and that he and maybe a small one or two other people undertook on their own.
Eljay is not as concerned by the militias as he is by potential leaderless acts of terrorism, given the militias loose organization of disaffected gun owners.
Eljay Bowron: They talk about the government doing this and doing that and sometimes that results in those people going off to undertake some action that the group probably wouldnt agree with.
Tom Diaz: When you see this rhetoric and then you realize that these tools are becoming increasingly and easily available, that gives us pause.
Tom Diaz is the author of One Shot, One Kill, a report issued by the Violence Policy Center that specifically focuses on the sniper cultures latest darling the .50-caliber. To Diazs thinking, the long, straight streets of Washington are the perfect stalking ground for a determined terrorist. And he uses detailed maps to illustrate his point.
Tom Diaz: I made these little circles which will demonstrate just exactly what does that mean in a city like Washington.
The smallest circle represents a 1,000-yard range, over a half mile, which is what the NRA magazine American Rifleman calls a do-able shot by a moderately trained marksman using a .50-caliber.
Tom Diaz: Ill put it right in the center of the Capitol because now were not just talking about the west front, but were talking about all of this area here and there are some really straight lines. There are all sorts of places, if you wanted to let your imagination run wild.
The larger circle is nearly a mile in radius. It represents what Tom calls Gulf War range 1,750 yards, the range at which trained Marine snipers and special forces engaged the enemy in Iraq.
Tom Diaz: If you put this Gulf range there, youre looking up a lot of major avenues.
As part of his report, Diaz has spent a lot of time thinking like a sniper. And his awareness of the city has changed.
Diaz: No matter where you walk around in an urban environment, if you let your minds eye see these buildings as canyons, or as hills or mountains, it changes your perspective in terms of thinking about something like applying a sniper rifle.
The assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan outside the Hilton Hotel caused the famous facility to seriously upgrade its protection services. But the upgrade will do no good against a terrorist armed with a long-range .50-caliber sniper rifle like the Maadi-Griffin.
‘Nobody thought they were going to blow up the U.S.S. Cole, nobody thought they were going to blow up Oklahoma City.’
Violence Policy Center
Diaz: Its a little harder to check somebody in the window of that farthest building that you see up there. Virtually any building you can see from here and from this point right here in the middle of the street is within the thousand-yard circle. That is the problem of the .50-caliber.
Diazs report on the .50-caliber was circulated throughout Washington to create awareness of the problem before something happens.
Diaz: Nobody thought they were going to blow up the [U.S.S.] Cole, nobody thought they were going to blow up Oklahoma City. We say they should be registered. We should know whos got these guns.
Continue to Part Two: A battle in Battle Creek