By Lou Michel
Pappy Andrews wants his identity back. He gave it up more than a decade ago after helping federal agents break up a right-wing militia in Phoenix. Because he had put his life on the line and there were fears the militia or its friends might harm him, the federal government gave him a new identity.
But now, Andrews, 49, is tired of hiding and wants his old life back.
“I’ve done nothing illegal, and I’ve lost more than 13 years. I’m so far below zero that a newly arriving immigrant has more rights than me,” Andrews said. “I walked away from my children in order to keep them safe. The militia movement and its friends have a code for dealing with spies: kill them.”
Patrick “Pappy” Andrews is the name he took while on the run.
He landed in this area a year or two ago, met a local woman and got married. Now, he wants to settle down.
But to do that, he says, he needs the government to fix an inadequate identity it provided to him years ago. Then, he can create a normal life for himself.
The faulty government identity prevents him from voting, registering a car or filing tax returns. Even more upsetting, he says, is the time he lost contact with his three children after he left them behind to protect them from threats he was receiving.
For all of those reasons, he is doing what most people with a death threat hanging over their heads would never consider: He is publicly revisiting his old identity in the hopes of moving on with his life.
Andrews says he feels he has no choice but to go public, because years of desperate letters and phone calls to federal officials have gotten him nowhere. Government documents and old news stories on the operation that fill a folder appear to support his claims.
Yet he acknowledges that going public is a risk, because the dozen Viper Team militia members he helped put behind bars have served their prison terms.
If the government fails him again, he says, he is willing to give up his low-key life here and move on, because “it’s hard to hit a moving target.”
In 1995, the man once known as Drew Nolan was managing a Phoenix gun store, one of the biggest in the Southwest, and was in a position to get acquainted with militia members.
His job brought him into daily contact with all kinds of people, law-abiding citizens and others angry at the federal government for its failures at Waco and Ruby Ridge, where citizens died in mishandled law enforcement operations.
In retaliation, the government suffered a major blow from the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, where Pendleton native Timothy J. McVeigh killed 168 people.
So when agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives asked for Andrews’ help to infiltrate the Viper Team militia, he agreed.
“It was the right thing to do,” he said.
With his help, the agents arrested 12 Vipers and confiscated more than 2,000 pounds of explosives and truckloads of guns and ammunition.