Live Free or Die: How Many More Carl
by Vin Suprynowicz
TLE #39: June 26, 1998
TLE #57: October 15, 1999
Also see TLE #57: "Breeding Us a Thousand More Carl Dregas"
"A well-regulated population being
necessary to the security of a police state, the right of the Government to
seize and destroy arms shall not be infringed."
Go where the land meets the water, anywhere
in New England, and you will begin to understand how deeply the region of my
birth lies in bondage to the Cult of the Omnipotent State.
Town and state governments throughout New
England traditionally buy and dump tons of sea sand -- or whatever will pass
for it -- along the shorelines of their municipal beaches and parks. It
doesn't matter whether the shoreline of the lake, river or ocean cove in
question was originally a reeded marshland, naturally filtering away
pollutants while offering pristine habitat to waterfowl and a hundred other
creatures -- the kind of place in which I (for one) would far rather spend my
time communing with nature during that nine months of the year when it's not
"time to turn, so you won't burn."
No matter: what the majority of taxpayers
want is a sandy beach for picnicking and sunbathing (in fact, precious little
"swimming" ever transpires), and that is what they darned well get.
Actually, the institutionalized destruction
goes much deeper than this. "Urban Renewal," in New England, often
includes development of new office complexes and highways on
"unused" or "blighted" land. For 40 years now, the larger
New England cities have bulldozed interstate highways through the "seedy,
decrepit" areas of docks and profitable but low-rent private businesses
which used to line their waterfronts, throwing small business owners on the
dole and erecting their new throughways atop impassable 20-foot concrete
embankments, until two whole generations have grown up within a mile or two of
the ocean or the navigable Connecticut River in Hartford, Springfield, New
Haven or Boston, without so much as seeing the water that gave their cities
birth, except as a distant glitter far below the highway bridge they take to
But let a private citizen try to turn a slice
of his own private, rocky shoreline into a boat dock, a sliver of sandy beach,
or even a well-intentioned but "unpermitted" refuge for turtles and
wood ducks (yes, I know of just such cases, in Connecticut and New Jersey) --
let him try to similarly adjust nature to his needs or wishes -- and suddenly
the state authorities descend like locusts, seizing and destroying the
privately-held turtles, demanding to see all the required permits, showering
liens and injunctions like a freak April snow shower.
What's more, the very populace who blithely
speed along on the shore-destroying freeways, who consider it their civic
right to lie in pure white sand where geese and fox and a hundred other
creatures used to raise their young, cheer with glee as these
"greedy" private "despoilers of nature" are brought low,
for daring to offend against the state-enforced religion of Environmentalism
... on their own property.
How dare such troglodytes tamper with sacred
resources belonging to all the people, doing whatever they please with no more
justification than the fact they happen to hold some bogus "private
Of course, the notion that one need only
"apply for a permit" is nothing but misdirection, equivalent to
telling the Jews as they boarded the trains to the East that they should be
careful to "label your luggage carefully for when you return."
Big commercial developers who make big
campaign contributions may well get some kind of hypocritical
"certificate of environmental compliance" for their plans to pave
and channelize the local waterfront ... requiring yet more government seizure
of private property for another big "flood control project" upstream
... but the little guy faces years of hoop-jumping as his permit applications
are lost, or returned for re-filing on updated forms, before they're finally
At which point, the poor sad sack will learn
to his dismay that it's too late to declare, "Well then, your whole
permitting process is bogus, and I'm going ahead anyway."
At that point, the long-suffering citizen
will be advised by a stern-voiced judge that he waived his right to appeal the
validity of the permitting process when he filed his application (way back in
the days when he was told "That's all there is to it,") thus tacitly
acknowledging the right of the state to either grant or withhold its
permission for the project in question!
Just ask 67-year-old carpenter Carl Drega, of
# # #
Laughed Out of Court
In 1981, 80 feet of the riverbank along
Drega's property collapsed during a rainstorm. Drega decided to dump and pack
enough dirt to repair the erosion damage, restoring his lot along the
Connecticut River to its original size.
A state conservation officer, Sergeant Eric
Stohl, claimed to have spotted the project from the river while passing the
Drega property on a fish-stocking operation. (The river's natural ecology
harbored huge runs of shad and Atlantic salmon, as well as native pike,
pickerel, and brook trout. So most New England states -- these devoted
acolytes of environmental purity -- now routinely stock bass, and brown and
rainbow trout, none of which is native and few of which survive long enough to
The state hauled Drega into court, attempting
to block his tiny "project."
This was piled atop earlier actions by the
town of Columbia, some dating back more than 20 years, and starting when the
town hauled Drega into court and threatened him with liens, judgments and
(ultimately) property seizure over a "zoning violation" which was
comprised of his failure to finish a house covered with tarpaper within a
time-frame which the town considered reasonable, former selectman Kenneth
Parkhurst told the Boston Globe.
Drega tried for years to fight the
authorities on their own terms, in court. Needless to say, as a quasi-literate
product of the government schools, and no lawyer, his filings became a
laughing stock both in the courts and in the newspapers to which he sent
copies, begging for help.
"The dispute, punctuated by years of
hearings and court orders, became an obsession for Drega," wrote
reporters Matthew Brelis and Kathleen Burge in an Aug. 20 follow-up in the
Boston Globe. Drega "filed personal lawsuits against the state officials
involved and contacted newspapers, including the Globe, imploring them to
write about the injustice being done to him."
In court in 1995, the Globe reports that
Drega explained, "The reason I'm like this on this case, when I started
my project 10 years ago I was issued permits and everything I needed. When I
reapplied 10 years later, that's when Eric Stohl came in and the Wetlands
Board had absolutely no records ... I am liable for everything that's done
there. In the New Hampshire Wetlands Board, if it's not done according to the
plan, they can take it out. And if I don't have the money to take it out,
they'll take it out. And if I can't pay for it, they'll take my
I sort the incoming letters-to-the-editor for
a major metropolitan newspaper. The receipt of such sheafs of heartfelt,
illiterate pleadings from folks at their wits' end (child custody leads the
list, though property rights also feature prominently), pleading for help from
someone, has become an almost daily occurrence.
Since such tirades are too long, rambling,
and "not of general public interest" to run as letters, I diligently
forward them to the city desk, in hopes an editor there may occasionally
assign a reporter to check them out.
They never do ... unless the author shoots
somebody, at which point there ensues a mad scramble through the wastebaskets.
In newsrooms around the country, the running
joke when a large number of such missives or phone calls come in on the same
day is that "It must be a full moon."
Reporters cover the bureaucracy. The
bureaucracy is adept at putting out its version of events in
reasonable-sounding, easy-to-quote form. Those who can't get with the program
are generally ridiculed by reporters as "gadflies,"
"malcontents," and (more recently) "black helicopter conspiracy
nuts." Their rambling, disjointed stories don't tend to fit well into the
standard 12 inches.
By 1995, it was obvious that Carl Drega was
running out of patience. Town selectman Vickie Bunnell, 42 (since appointed a
part-time state judge) accompanied a town tax assessor to Drega's property in
a dispute over an assessment. Drega fired shots into the air to drive them
(In New England, special property tax
assessments are common, and especially cruel to old folks. The courts have
ruled that if the town decides to run a municipal water or sewer line along a
street fronting one's property, the property owner can be assessed the amount
by which the town figures the property's value has been enhanced -- usually in
the thousands of dollars -- even if the property owner has a perfectly good
well and septic system, and opts not to tie into the new municipal lines.
Failure to pay can eventually lead to eviction and auction.)
Carl Drega could see what was coming. He
couldn't have been ignorant of the government tactics used to ambush and
murder harmless civilians at Waco and Ruby Ridge. He bought a $575 AR-15 --
the legal, semi-auto version of the standard military M-16 -- in a gun store
in Waltham, Massachusetts, a state with some of the most restrictive gun laws
in America. He also began equipping his property with early-warning electronic
noise and motion detectors against the inevitable government assault.
# # #
Too Light a Round
But they didn't come for Carl Drega at home.
On Tuesday Aug. 19, at about 2:30 on a warm summer afternoon, New Hampshire
State Troopers Leslie Lord, 45 (a former police chief of nearby Pittsburg) and
Scott Phillips, 32, arrested Drega in the parking lot of LaPerle's IGA
supermarket in neighboring Colebrook, N.H.
("Arrest" comes from the French
word for "stop." Whenever agents of the state brace a citizen, stop
him, and demand to see his papers, he has been "arrested," no matter
whether he has been "read his rights," no matter what niceties the
court may apply to the various steps of the process.)
Why was Carl Drega arrested that day? New
Hampshire Attorney General Phillip McLaughlin pulls out his best weasel words,
reporting the troopers had stopped Drega's pickup because of a
"perception of defects." Earlier wire accounts reported they were
preparing to ticket him for having "rust holes in the bed of his pickup
But Carl Drega had had enough. He walked back
to Trooper Lord's cruiser and shot the uniformed government agent seven times.
Then he shot Trooper Philips, as the brave officer attempted to run away. Both
Drega then commandeered Lord's cruiser and
drove to the office of former selectman -- now lawyer and part-time Judge --
Vickie Bunnell. Bunnell reportedly carried a handgun in her purse out of fear
of Drega. But if so, she evidently had no well-thought-out plan to use it.
Bunnell ran out the back door. Drega calmly walked to the rear of the building
and shot her in the back from a range of about 30 feet. Bunnell died.
Dennis Joos, 50, editor of the local
Colebrook News and Sentinel, worked in the office next door. Unarmed, he ran
out and tackled Drega. Drega walked about 15 feet with Joos still clutching
him around the legs, advising the editor to "Mind your own (expletive)
business," according to reporter Claire Knapper of the local weekly. Joos
did not let go. Drega shot Joos in the spine. He died.
Drega then drove across the state line to
Bloomfield, Vt., where he fired at New Hampshire Fish and Game Warden Wayne
Saunders, sending his car off the road. Saunders was struck on the badge and
in the arm, but his injuries were not considered life-threatening.
Police from various agencies soon spotted the
abandoned police cruiser Drega had been driving ... still in Vermont. As they
approached the vehicle, they began taking fire from a nearby hilltop where
Drega had positioned himself, apparently still armed with the AR-15 and about
150 rounds of ammunition. Although he managed to wound two more New Hampshire
state troopers and a U.S. Border Patrol agent before he himself was killed by
police gunfire, none of those injuries were life-threatening, either.
(Those preparing to defend themselves against
assaults by armed government agents on their own property should take note
that these failures do not appear attributable to Drega's marksmanship --
after all, he scored plenty of hits -- but rather to his dependence on the
now-military-standard .223 cartridge, which has nowhere near the stopping
power of the previous NATO standard .308, or the even earlier U.S. standard
30.06. Some states won't even allow deer to be hunted with the .223, due to
its low likelihood of producing a "clean kill" with one hit.)
# # #
Fertilizer and Tractor Fuel
Immediately, the demonization of Carl Drega
began. A neighbor told the Globe about seeing a police cruiser pull up to the
Drega house at 2:50 p.m., and leave at 3:10 p.m., minutes before smoke began
to pour from the house. Ignoring the likelihood that a uniformed officer might
have been sent to see if Drega had gone home, "Authorities believe the
fire was set by Drega," the Globe reported on Aug. 20, thereafter
reporting as a matter of established fact that Drega burned down his own home.
Isn't it funny how they always do that?
Searching the barn and the remaining property
later that week, "Authorities found 450 pounds of ammonium nitrate, the
substance used in the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings, as well
as cans of diesel fuel," came the breathless Aug. 31 report by Boston
Globe reporter Royal Ford.
Trenches on the property held PVC pipe
carrying wires to remote noise and motion detectors. No remote booby-traps
were discovered, though the barn and a hillside bunker contained ammunition,
parts for AK-47s and the AR-15, "and a few boxes of silver dollars,"
as well as "homemade blasting caps, guns, night scopes, a bullet-proof
helmet (sic) and books on bombs and booby traps," as well as "the
makings of 86 pipe bombs."
"The makings," eh? I wonder how
many wholesale hardware outlets in this country currently stock "the
makings" of 860 pipe bombs? Or 8,600?
The FBI was johnny on the spot, of course,
helping New Hampshire State Police Sgt. John McMaster search the three-story
barn, with its "concrete bunkers" containing not only ammunition,
but also "canned food, soda, and a refrigerator."
(I wonder if my basement would suddenly
become a "concrete bunker" if I had a run-in with the law? How about
But it was the 400 pounds of ammonium nitrate
(the estimate kept dropping during the week) and the 61 gallons of diesel fuel
in five-gallon containers that gave authorities the willies.
"Realizing the he had walked into the
most dangerous private arsenal he had ever seen, McMaster began climbing the
stairs to the second floor," reported Brian MacQuarrie and Judy Rakowsky
of the Boston Globe on Aug. 22. "Halfway up, (State Trooper Jack) Meaney
shouted for him to stop: he had just picked up a bomb-making manual opened to
a chapter on how to booby-trap stairs ...
"The large stores of dangerous
materials, combined with the discovery of three instruction manuals on
explosives and booby traps, helped persuade N.H. authorities that they should
destroy the barn with a controlled burn and explosion," which they
"Some federal agents initially
questioned the plan to destroy the huge cache of evidence that may have shown
whether Drega had links to militia groups or criminals," the Globe also
breathlessly reports, though the paper at least had the decency to note no
such affiliations were ever established.
(One wonders whether the newspaper would have
given equal play to someone lamenting that they thus lost the chance to search
for hypothetical links between Drega and the Irish Republic Army, Drega and
the Ted Kennedy campaign staff, or Drega and the Buddhist nuns who laundered
campaign contributions for Al Gore.)
Ammonium nitrate is, of course, a common
fertilizer, sold in 50-pound bags to anyone who wants it -- no questions asked
-- in garden stores in all 50 states.
Farmers all over the nation store more than
60 gallons of diesel fuel at a time, and even know how to combine the diesel
fuel with the ammonium nitrate to make a relatively weak explosive, useful in
blowing up tree stumps. Purchase of blasting caps for this purpose is also
perfectly legal. If this and a few hundred rounds of military surplus ammo
constituted "the most dangerous private arsenal" the head of the New
Hampshire state police bomb squad had ever seen, he must not get out much.
Anyway, the buildings are all burned to the
ground now -- just like at Waco -- and the newspaper reporters -- trained to
just report the facts and never express opinions -- had ruled within days that
Carl Drega was "diabolical and paranoid."
The remaining question is, did government
agents Vickie Bunnell, Leslie Lord, and Scott Phillips deserve to die? Did
Carl Drega pick the right time and place to say "That's as many of my
rights as you're going to take; it stops right here?"
Or is that the right question? The problem
with the question is that the oppressor state and its ant-like agents are both
devious and clever: except when faced with overt resistance and a chance to
make an example of some social outcasts on TV, they rarely send black-clad
agents to pour out of cattle trailers in our front yards, guns ablaze.
No, they generally see to it that our
chemical castration is so gradual that there can never be a majority consensus
that this is finally the right time to respond in force. In this death of a
thousand cuts we're always confronted with some harmless old functionary who
obviously loves his grandkids, some pleasant young bureaucrat who doubtless
loves her cat and bakes cookies for her co-workers and smilingly assures us
she's "just doing her job" as she requests our Social Security
number here ... our thumbprint there ... the signed permission slip from your
kid's elementary school principal for possessing a gun within a quarter-mile
of the school ... and a urine sample, please, if you'll just follow the matron
into the little room ...
"Those are the rules," after all.
"Everybody has to do it; I just do what they tell me; if you don't like
it you can write your congressman."
When ... when is it finally the right moment
to respond, "I'll tell you what; why don't you take this steel-cored
round of .223 to my congressman? In fact, take him a whole handful, and tell
him to have a nice day ... when you see him in hell!"?
Carl Drega decided the day to finally say
that, was the day they came to arrest him on the private property of a
supermarket parking lot, supposedly for having rust holes in the bed of his
Does anyone believe that's really why they
stopped Carl Drega?
# # #
Lots More Coming
I am not -- repeat, not -- advising anyone to
go forth and start shooting cops and bureaucrats. To start with, one's own
life expectancy at that point grows quite short, limiting one's options to
continue fighting for freedom on other fronts. Most of us -- unlike Carl Drega
-- also have families to think of.
Third, there may be other solutions. Just as
much of the farmland near Rome sat vacant by the fall of the Roman Empire --
it simply proved cheaper to move on than to endure the confiscatory Roman
taxes -- so do James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg predict in their new
Sovereign Individual, that internet encryption may allow many to
spirit their hard-earned assets beyond the reach of this newer, oppressive
slave state, making "the tax man in search of someone to audit" the
laughing stock of the 21st century.
And finally, such a course invites obvious
risks of mistaken identity, collateral damage to relatively innocent
bystanders (witness newspaperman Coos), and an end to due process ... a
concept for which I still harbor some respect, even if our government
oppressors do not.
What I do know is, in little more than 30
years, we have gone from a nation where the "quiet enjoyment" of
one's private property was a sacred right, to a day when the so-called
property "owner" faces a hovering hoard of taxmen and regulators
threatening to lien, foreclose, and "go to auction" at the first
sign of private defiance of their collective will ... a relationship between
government and private property rights which my dictionary defines as
Carl Drega tried to fight them, for years, on
their own terms and in their own courts. We know how far that got him.
What I do know is that this is why the
tyrants are moving so quickly to take away our guns. Because they know in
their hearts that if they continue the way they've been going, boxing
Americans into smaller and smaller corners, leaving us no freedom to decide
how to raise and school and discipline our kids, no freedom to purchase (or do
without) the medical care we want on the open market, no freedom to withdraw
$2,500 from our own bank accounts (let alone move it out of the country)
without federal permission, no freedom even to arrange the dirt and trees on
our own property to please ourselves ... if they keep going down this road,
there are going to be a lot more Carl Dregas, hundreds of them, thousands of
them, fed up and not taking it any more, a lot more pools of blood drawing
flies in the municipal parking lots, a lot more self-righteous government
weasels who were "only doing their jobs" twitching their
death-dances in the warm afternoon sun ... and soon.
When is it the right time to say,
"Enough, no more. On this spot I stand, and fight, and die"? When
they're stacking our luggage and loading us on the box cars? A fat lot of good
it will do us, then.
Mr. Jefferson declared for us that
"whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is
the Right of the People, to alter or abolish it."
Was Mr. Jefferson only saying we have a right
to vote in a new crop of statist politicians every couple of years, as the
pro-government extremists will insist?
No. The Declaration fearlessly declared that
the Minutemen of Lexington and Concord had been right to shoot down Redcoats
who were "only doing their jobs" in Massachusetts the year before.
And it put the nations of the world on notice that Gen. Washington was
planning to shoot himself a whole lot more.
"You must be kidding!" come the
outraged cries. "This guy shot a fleeing woman in the back."
Oh, pardon me. Did Judge Bunnell propose to
fight a straightforward duel with Mr. Drega, one on one, mano a mano, to
determine who should have a right to decide whether he could build a tarpaper
shack on his own property?
Of course not. The top bureaucrats generally
manage to be sipping lemonade on the porch when the process they put in motion
"reaches its final conclusion," with padlocks and police tape and
furniture on the sidewalk ... or the incinerated resister buried in the ashes.
Go watch "Escape
from Sobibor". When the Jewish concentration camp inmates finally
start to kill their German oppressors, tell me how long you spend worrying
that they "didn't give the poor, jackbooted fellows a fair, sporting
Each and every one of us must decide for him-
or herself when the day has come to stand fast, raise our weapons to our
shoulders, and (quoting President Jefferson, this time) water the tree of
liberty with the blood of patriots, and of tyrants. Give up the right to make
that decision, and we become nothing better than the beasts in the field,
waiting to be milked until we can give no more, and then shuffling off without
objection, heads bowed, to the soap factory.
Carl Drega was a resident of New Hampshire.
On the day Carl Drega decided was a good day to die -- on the day they towed
it away -- the license plates on his rusty pickup still bore the New Hampshire
state motto: "Live Free or Die."
Carl Drega was different from most of us, all
right. He believed it still meant something.
Vin Suprynowicz is one of the
most articulate spokesmen serving on the front lines of the Freedom Movement we
have. Vin's timely and well written articles are syndicated in newspapers all
around the country, and they circulate around the world freely on the Internet
and in Libertarian publications. He is the author of Send
in the Waco Killers, the book that tells the details the media failed to
tell in plain English. The best way to get Vin is to subscribe directly to the
e-mail distribution list for his column. Send a request to email@example.com
with "subscribe" in the subject line.
It is an honor to host this man's work, and we
encourage you to visit his site and read his book. To read other articles by Vin
on this site, click here.
You can also see his full archives at these two sites: