Statement of Viper Team Member Donna Williams at
Her Sentencing Hearing, March 19, 1997
I apologize to the court for reading this. I am very anxious and wouldn't be able to remember all that I want to say by simply talking.
I understand this is my opportunity to tell the court about myself, since otherwise you only know what's in the court papers and pre-sentence report.
I was born in Oklahoma City in 1952, an only child. My parents and I were very close, best friends. My father was a petroleum engineer, my mom a teacher. My dad's job opportunities allowed us to travel extensively abroad and live in South America for six years. My parents loved the outdoors and gave me a great appreciation and love of travel, camping and nature. My dad grew up on a ranch in Texas where carrying firearms was a way of life. He taught me at an early age to respect firearms and he always kept one with him. I cannot remember a time in my life when I have not been around firearms.
We did extensive traveling, camping and backpacking as a family. I have always loved being out in nature and seeking opportunities to hike, camp and explore rural and remote areas.
I moved to Arizona from Wyoming to attend ASU. I helped pay my way working as a banquet waitress evenings after school and weekends. As part of my course of study I worked with physically and mentally handicapped children and did my internship at a facility for juvenile delinquents, keeping them involved in constructive activities during their leisure time.
I received my degree in Therapeutic Recreation. Since that time, I have always been a productive citizen. Not only working for others, but from 1980-82, owned my own business, a retail store where we made custom chrome and glass furniture.
The only time in my adult life I have not worked full-time was after my dad died. I went back to Wyoming to be with my mother who had taken ill. I stayed with her for nine months, I eventually took in part-time bookkeeping to help with finances while I was there.
Prior to my July arrest, my only run-ins with the law were two speeding tickets when I was in my early 20s.
I have always been politically active in mainstream politics. At age 19 I was involved in the local campaign to allow 19-year-old citizens the right to vote. I appeared on TV interviews, collected signatures on city corners. At ASU I was part of the student body president campaign. I have corresponded and called regularly to my Congressman on issues that concerned me. I belonged to "Renewing America", a local forum for city, state and national speakers to discuss current issues.
I was a member of an organization that meets Saturday mornings and has political speakers such as Congressman Shadegg, J.D. Hayworth and others. There's even a tape showing me as a presenter of Congressman Shadegg. During his first term in office, as he is my district representative, I attended many of his town hall meetings and he knows me by name.
I have always acted within the political mainstream environment. I believe that changes should be made within that arena, and I will continue to do so on issues that concern me, even though I can no longer exercise my right to vote.
In the late 1980s I became interested in making survival plans. As I looked around at our country's dwindling ability to handle social and financial ills, drugs, environmental challenges, water shortages, my husband and I began storing all kinds of items, from food to non-electic cooking devices to soap and Kleenex. My mother had shared her experiences of the Great Depression with me, and what hard times it was. I was determined to prepare myself for anything that might happen in the future.
I became involved with survival groups in 1994. My then husband and I attended meetings and on a few occasions, attended shooting events. We never perceived these to be subversive activities, but rather an exercise of our constitutional rights, and a way to learn to protect ourselves if the need arose. After the riots in Los Angeles, I became more concerned about safety of myself and others. Even prior to that time, I kept enough food, water and survival equipment in my camper so that if I needed to leave, I would be able to spend weeks in the mountains or deserts and survive.
In late 1995, my husband took a job in Saudi Arabia. We were having marital problems and I began to find comfort in my friendship with Charles Knight, whom I had met through my husband due to mutual political and social beliefs. Chuck and I were both dealing with unhappy and unfulfilling marriages and sought strength from each other.
Chuck knew Rick Walker and Randy Nelson through another politcal group. They told him that they had formed a rifle team. We expressed interest in learning more and they invited us to one of their outings. In November 1995, Chuck and I drove out to the area where Walker and Nelson and their group were holding a weekend retreat. They had set up a very nice camp. For target practice I shot off a couple of rounds from my shotgun, which I'd never shot before, and Chuck shot from his. We spent about an hour and a half to two hours with them and went back to Phoenix. In December I flew to Spain to meet my husband to see if there was any basis for reconciliation and spent much of December with him in Europe.
Upon returning, Chuck and I resumed our friendship. One of the easier ways for Chuck to get away from the stress at home was by going to the weekly Viper meetings. It also allowed us time to visit. Additionally, he decided we wanted to learn to camp, which I encouraged, as I wanted to camp also. We joined the Viper Team in January.
I was aware that some of the group members were experimenting with explosives. I had never been around explosives before and had no desire to learn about them. I considered it hazardous to my health. Some time later, as I got to know the group more, I felt that if anything they were doing was illegal, it was their responsibility, and as long as I didn't touch it or use it, I was not breaking the law. That was my ignorance.
In late January, at the only camp out I took part in, some members of the group experimented with making explosives and setting them off. It was always my understanding that they were learning to do this to achieve a capability of being able to defend us and survive in the event of some future unknown, unforeseen catastrophe where there was a breakdown in government.
I want to emphasize to the Court that I never had any explosive devices at any time. I have offered to take a polygraph test on several occasions to confirm my statement. I don't care what the government informant or anyone else says. I never made of detonated an explosive device. I held a blasting cap one time, then passed it on. I never ground any ammonium nitrate. I never put any into a container, I never mixed it with anything, I never put fuses in, I never put blasting caps in. I didn't think that I was doing anything wrong.
You may wonder why I stayed with this group. For the same reason that I keep friends. We all have good and not-so-good qualities. I don't discard friends just because they have different political views or different religions, what I consider a bad habit. I accept them as they are and concentrate on the good things I like about them. The same goes for this group. I didn't like the use of explosives or automatic weapons, but I felt that overall it was in my best interest to belong to a group I felt could protect me and help me survive in any kind of catastrophic eventuality. It also felt great to be able to go camping in the wilds and enjoy my surroundings knowing I was protected from unsavory intruders. I enjoyed the availability of learning to shoot a rifle from a qualified, competent instructor.
I enjoyed guard duty for several reasons. One, it got me away from the group while they were using explosives. Secondly, I got to sit up on a hill overlooking a beautiful expanse of valleys and mountains ranges and enjoy my surroundings. Guard duty was nothing sinister. Any time someone is firing weapons or doing something potentially hazardous, steps should be taken to secure the area to be sure no one inadvertantly or deliberately enters the area and risks harm. That's common sense on a shooting range or anywhere else.
I did not at that time realize or understand that by paying $5.00 dues, part of which went to purchase explosive materials, along with ammo, food, survival equipment, and by participating in guard duty on one campout, that I might be including myself in a conspiracy. I have come to understand from talking to my attorney that since I did do guard duty and pay dues, that it may constitute conspiracy. But that's the most I ever did. Additionally, I want the Court to know that I did not shoot an illegal automatic weapon at any time in my life, much less when I was a part of the Viper Team. I have shot lots of legal guns and only at non-living targets.
I am not saying that I was not a part of the Viper Team. I was. But what I want the Court to understand, is that there was never any intention to harm anyone. There was not a plan. There were times that I did know that people in the group were going to make explosive devices. Interest in that area was diminishing. The main reason that explosives were detonated at the last campout in May (which I didn't attend) was that one of the informants claimed he had not had the opportunity to "play" with the explosives and encouraged Randy to bring out material for him to try and see how it was done.
As the tapes confirm, I did not want to have anything to do with the explosives. People in the group recognized this and, in fact, there were discussions about creating a new portion of the group that would not have anything to do with the explosives or automatic weapons. Chuck Knight and I would be a part of that group. My role was going to be as a medic in the event that there was disaster scenario. I would be responsible for providing medical care to people in our group. There was discussion of using group funds to send me to med. tech training.
On the day I was arrested, I was pulled over and had no idea what was going on. I was told to put my hands above my head and to exit the vehicle. I could not keep my hands up and, at the same time, unbuckle my seatbelt and open the car door. Every time I made a move to do so, I was yelled at to keep my hands up or I would be shot. They finally realized my predicament. At no time did I offer any resistance. My home was not searched.
When ATF agents asked me the names of certain individuals in the group, I wasn't even sure who they were. I knew some members only by nicknames and I knew hardly any last names. These were not people I socialized with. We didn't discuss political preferences or religion at meetings I attended. Our common goal was survival.
Regarding the target tape, I never knew of its existance until a group meeting on June 20, when it came up in conversation. I never saw the tape, didn't know what was on it, but my understanding was that it had been destroyed. The first time I saw it was in my attorney's office some time after my arrest.
I have worked hard all my life and I saved a fair amount of money. I had put a down payment on a house two days before I was arrested. I have had to use all my savings to hire an attorney because I had saved too much in my lifetime to have an attorney appointed for me. I lost my job because of this incident. Upon my release, the press was at my employer's business with cameras before I could get there. He did not want to have his business disrupted by the press.
After my release, I spent the next several months working with my attorney in preparation for the defense. I spent countless hours reviewing and transcribing all of the video and audio tapes, and meeting with my attorney several times a week. By the end of September I set up a new business because I needed to work. I am not the kind of person who sits back. I got a business license and started a vending machine company.
At the end of November I was offered part-time employment by one of my prior employers and I went back to work for them. Additionally, once Chuck and I were allowed to be together, I began doing office work for his company during any time I wasn't at my part-time job. I have been working all three jobs ever since. I want to emphasize to the Court that I have always worked. Even during this time when obviously my mind was preoccupied and I was under great stress, I still felt it necessary to continue to work and take care of myself, try to pay my bills and help Chuck maintain his ability to work and pay bills.
I have pled guilty based upon advise of counsel. I am not a bad person. I have never intended to hurt anyone in my life and I would never hurt anyone in the future. I have never made an explosive or destructive device. I am afraid of the stuff. I have never shot an automatic weapon. I understand that by having pled guilty to this I will never be able to use a weapon again, even though I have grown up having them for protection. Not being able to protect and defend myself is a new fear I will forever carry with me.
I have lost a lot to this experience. I am going to lose my right to vote that I hold very dear. I have lost my right to bear arms. I have lost all of my savings, my home. I may not be able to get health insurance or live in certain areas. I have lost my ability to travel. I am a very private person and my privacy has been taken from me. I have to let people know where I am going at all times. This incident had been a great embarrassment to my mother and my family with whom I am very close. It has placed a great deal of stress on my mother, emotionally and financially. I have watched her physical deterioration over the past eight months, due to the stress of my situation. I want to apologize to her and let her know that I am more than sorry to have caused her so much distress. I never imagined that my actions as a part of the Viper Team would result in this type of action by the government.
I was absolutely amazed that we were considered dangerous in
any way. I want the Court to appreciate that I am extremely sorry. This
has been a very difficult time for me. I will obviously accept whatever
punishment the Court assigns me and I ask the Court for lenience. Thank
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