In spring of 2014, Stephen Dean was at Cliven Bundy's ranch in Nevada during a stand-off. Dozens of militia members—the patriotic type, many well-armed and dressed with the preferred number of cargo pockets for combat—held the line against Bureau of Land Management rangers. The dispute had something to do with cows.
A couple of months later at Dee's Restaurant in Sugar House, over a hamburger, fries and fry sauce, Dean is giddy talking about the encounter. Just imagine: a line of protesters, cowboys and militiamen all on horseback, refusing to obey BLM orders to vacate.
"It's ancient archetypal imagery," Dean says.
- Stephen Dean: “So I’m wondering. …Well, what I did, it was not violent. There was no gun involved. There was no threats, no intimidation. … Why, all of a sudden, are you going to take my right to protect my family, myself, my friends, my property? Why are you going to take that away?”
He is talking about the horse: It's a symbol of the Wild West, he explains, as well a sign of power and strength in American Indian culture.
"You definitely had 'We the People' coming at 'em," says Dean. (Every once in a while, as if it were a patriotic tic, he throws in "We the People" while talking.)
"We didn't want to shoot anybody, but ... I guarantee, if one shot would have popped off ... they would have died. Every one of them would have died," says Dean. It's unclear whether he means the militiamen or the rangers. Probably both.
Dean told a CNN interviewer at the ranch that "tyranny in government" brought him to Nevada, and he was described as a member of the People's United Mobile Armed Services militia. But, unlike other militia members, he wasn't armed. He was there with his didgeridoo.
"I'm hoping you can see the brilliance of the 'armed' part of this," Dean says. "You see, I'm attacking the psyche. ... You want me to blow my didgeridoo into your third eye for half an hour? That'll wake you up."
At one unpredictable moment, he suddenly stands in the diner to show a leather gun holster on his hip, only to pull from it a mobile phone.
He really didn't bring a gun to Bundy's ranch because it is illegal for him to carry a firearm in the United States. And this fact has had life-altering ramifications.
Stephen Dean calls himself Captain Wanderlust on his Facebook page. He is a self-described militia leader, state coordinator of a fringe constitutionalist organization known as the National Liberty Alliance, and a felon.
Every militiaman has a story.
Making of a Militiaman
Growing up, Dean describes himself as just your average Mormon kid. He wasn't very political. He liked adventures, hiking, exploring. He knows Utah "like you wouldn't believe."
Things changed in 1999 as Dean was working at an adventure club when, at age 30, he had unlawful sex with a minor.
"We had consensual sex. For three days in a row. The problem with it was, a 17-year-old can't give consent. ... I'm not trying to downplay it. It was wrong," Dean says.
He sounds like he gets it. Nevertheless, three nights of sex with a minor is three third-degree felonies. Even after he got two charges dropped, he had fines to pay, group therapy to attend, and was placed on the sex-offender registry. His face would come up in a database if his name was searched. He says getting a job with a felony was difficult.
But what really got to him was not being allowed to own a gun or ammunition. Like many good Mormon kids, he grew up in a culture of owning firearms. Suddenly, he found himself one of the millions of felons in the country who cannot bear arms.
"So I'm wondering. ... Well, what I did, it was not violent. There was no gun involved. There was no threats, no intimidation. ... Why, all of a sudden, are you going to take my right to protect my family, myself, my friends, my property? Why are you going to take that away?" says Dean.
It was enough to turn him into a Second Amendment activist.
"It started there," Dean says.
He spent more than a decade on probation, all the time thinking about these kinds of things, growing bitter towards the government. And before his final parole-officer visit, he looked in the mirror, and stuffed two live .22-caliber bullets in the gauged holes of his ears. In his mind, he was using his First Amendment rights to protest not having Second Amendment rights.
When the parole officer saw his ears, he recalls, he was immediately searched and handcuffed. A couple of weeks later, police arrested him at work. He was sentenced to a year and a day in a federal penitentiary.
Federal prisons have a unique culture, Dean explains. For example, when you arrive as a prisoner, you meet with leaders of a gang corresponding to your race. And one of the first questions his newly acquainted white gang members asked him, Dean says, was why he is a felon.
And Dean was suddenly known as a sex offender in federal prison. "You know what that means? They're going to rape you. They're going to kill you," he says.
He says he pleaded, begged, told the gang members to give him just one chance, a little time. He could get a letter from the girl's mother explaining the whole situation. He wasn't a pedophile.
He was in general population for less than a week before he was placed in solitary confinement for his own safety. "This is where they put prisoners who kill cops," says Dean with an incredulous stare.
They called it "the SHU." And he stayed there for around nine months, getting only one hour per day to walk around in an outdoor cage.
Placing an inmate in "involuntary protective custody" is a common practice in prisons across the country. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2011, more than 80,000 inmates had been placed in solitary confinement, a large number of those for protective custody.
But, even while in solitary, Dean says, he still had to deal with the other inmates. When they passed, he claims, the guards would let them kick the steel door, the sound reverberating off the concrete walls of his cell. They would keep him awake. They would shout, "pedophile" and "child molester."
"I'm sitting there braiding parts of my bed sheet, not even conscious to what the fuck I'm doing. ... Like, your mind starts to play tricks on you. You start looking at your veins, you know—your mind's weird when you want to check out, when it's so painful, when it hurts so much. You're so alone. You haven't seen the sun for five months," he says, now with anger in his eyes.
He took some solace in reading. Friends sent him things printed from the Internet—"patriot stuff."
And when he got out in November 2011, he was ready for the revolution; that idiosyncratic type of revolution favored by the Old Right and followers of Alex Jones. Not only was he ready—he wanted to participate. He wanted to be on the front. Like at Bundy's ranch.
"Because if it wasn't me, who? And if not now, when?" says Dean, sounding very patriotic indeed.
Vote Dean for Sheriff
Stephen Dean doesn't look like a typical militia member. He looks like he might be going to the annual hippie Rainbow Gathering (that he said he wanted to attend) rather than running firing drills in the desert.
It's unclear how many recruits are in the People's United Mobile Armed Services. When asked, Dean merely points to the group's Facebook page, which has a little more than 200 "likes." Also, Dean—under the name "Captain Wanderlust"—appears to be the only one posting to the page.
Anyway, patriot groups are thriving in the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center recorded more than 1,000 groups in 2013, including 240 militias, organized to oppose the so-called New World Order. Today, acronyms are cheap.
Back at Dee's Restaurant, Dean explains how he decided in 2014 to run for sheriff in Millard County. (While not allowed to carry a firearm, a felon can be sheriff in Utah).
"That's mostly just to rock the boat," Dean says about his write-in candidacy. Although he does plan to campaign—to "stir things up," to "get my message out."
His message? That catch-all charge of corruption: corruption of the police, the prosecutors and the politicians. But especially corruption at the local level, he explains—and, most especially, corruption in the town of Delta, Utah (population 3,500).
When asked for an example of this corruption, he doesn't hesitate. As he jumps into the story, the listener gets the feeling he's told it many times before.
He talks about that time in Delta when cops pulled over his friend, who was driving Dean's van at the time, on suspicion of a suspended driver's license. Now, how did this cop know his friend had a suspended license, Dean wonders, which his friend indeed had.
"They took him to jail. Why not just write him another ticket?" Dean says.
Dean figures the police took his friend to jail because they wanted to search Dean's van, and they wanted to search the van because Dean had been posting militia fliers outside of grocery stores.
His flier reads in part: "A public notice to the citizens of Utah from the People's United Mobile Armed Services: What can We the People do when our public officials, police, prosecutors and judges violate the Constitution and purge their oath of office? We the People create a grand jury to hold them accountable. ..."
The yellow sheet of paper named Dean as "Chief Captain" of the militia and provided his phone number. The "grand jury" to which the flier refers is the means by which a group named the National Liberty Alliance (NLA) and its supporters hope to counter what they see as unconstitutional laws and prosecution in the country.
A brief introduction to NLA common-law grand juries: "Common law" refers to law created by custom and precedent rather than statutes. It comes from the English legal system. A grand jury judges the validity of an accusation before one is sent to trial and prosecuted. What the NLA wants, and what Dean advocates, is the creation of common-law grand juries to override laws they see as unconstitutional, as well as to punish those enforcing them.
They want to create "We the People" courts and use public courtrooms for the trials. "'We the People' paid for those freakin' buildings," Dean says.
They have sent affidavits, stamped by NLA officials, spelling out these demands, to all 94 U.S. District Courts.
Dean explains that the only constitutionally compliant court is a common-law court. And a major maxim of this law is that prosecution requires an injured party. Safe to assume, NLA's version of a common-law court would not prosecute some forms of statutory rape or bullet jewelry. He believes it would have saved him. And he believes it will give him restitution.
- If a peaceful revolution doesn’t work, Dean says, “it will come down to what happened at Bundy’s ranch … but shots being fired.” (Photo of Cliven Bundy at a July 2014 forum in Mesa, Ariz.)
Dean thinks the militia and grand-jury calls caught the authorities' eye. Or maybe he was coming off as a meth dealer.
He says he had made friends with local Delta kids who come to the hot springs where Dean holds a small artist gathering called the Pantheion [sic] Festival. The kids had a house—what Dean describes as a meth house when he first arrived—that they dreamed of turning into a hostel for the festival, once the meth was under control. And there Dean was, coming and going, in his white van.
"I don't know if you're familiar with meth," he says, "but apparently, it's quite powerful. ... I won't go there. ... I prefer the natural medicines."
The police found marijuana in Dean's van. But to Dean, that is "sacramental herb." True story: He is a card-carrying member of the Okleveuha Native American Church. He says he was using his medicine man knowledge to get the Delta kids off hard drugs.
"Sometimes ... an Ayahuasca ceremony can totally reboot your system ... or a huge hit of DMT can just like—Boom!—just shut off the computer and power it back up again," Dean explains. He has the thousand-yard stare of someone who has seen things.
The president and principal medicine chief of the Okleveuha Native American Church, Man Found Standing, provided a detailed letter to the court in Dean's defense:
"As a medicine man, all of the plants, herbs, essential oils, minerals, animals, and so forth that are used by Stephen Dean in traditional Native American Ceremonies fall under the protection of Native American Free Exercise of Religion Act (AFERA), Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and other acts of Congress pertaining to Native American Religion, Pre-Eminent Treaty and the U.S. Constitution."
Dean later sued prosecutors of the town of Delta for $150,000, citing religious discrimination (the case was thrown out June 16, 2015).
After the cops found Dean's "sacramental herb," Dean felt the corruption of the police and legal system beginning to stack up. First, Dean sees the requirement of a driver's license when the driver is not using his vehicle for commerce restricts his freedom of travel (there is a small movement in the United States, including Dean, who believe that requiring a driver's license for noncommercial vehicles is unconstitutional).
- Stephen Dean: “When the dollar does crash, … we need to be able to barter.”
Then, when his van was searched without a warrant referring to the specific drugs that the cops hoped to find, Dean believed it violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches.
Finally, by confiscating his medicine-man card and his marijuana sacrament, Dean said prosecutors infringed on his First Amendment freedom of religion.
He later attended a meeting in Delta where candidates were introduced for the upcoming election. Unsure of his intentions, he waited until the end of the meeting, stood up and asked the date for the election. He was still mad about what had happened to him: spending more than $500 to get his van out of the impound lot and losing his medicine-man card. He told the room he was going to run for sheriff. Dean says Millard County Sheriff Robert Dekker, who happened to be in the room, offered to get him the application.
"I say, 'OK, and while you're at it, while you're getting me that application to become sheriff ... why don't you get my medicine-man credentials out of evidence and give them back to me?'" Dean says.
The clerk for the Millard County court, Marki Rowley, said she recalled him standing up in the meeting and announcing his run. But she said he never filed the paperwork. The NLA message boards still refer to him as running for "Common Law Sheriff" in Utah.
Later that summer in 2014, Dean is outside a Salt Lake City building he says is his studio. When he is not busy with militia-type activity, he makes art and music. He builds things like a greenhouse fueled by a hot spring. He raises chickens and goats.
"When the dollar does crash, ...we need to be able to barter," he says.
The building looks to be boarded up, and he says something about a slumlord owning it, but doesn't go further. He sits on a chair by the door and starts to explain why Salt Lake City chief prosecutor Padma Veeru-Collings is "impersonating a public servant."
He refers to a scuffle that he had with a friend near Liberty Park. The cops were called as he was packing up his van to leave for the drum circle.
A cop was "asking us for ID, so I asked him for his ID," says Dean.
Dean was charged with disorderly conduct—which is how he developed his interest in the Salt Lake City prosecutor. He went to the City Recorder's office, and asked for Veeru-Collings' oath of office but came away empty-handed.
It's true: The City Recorder's office, where oaths of office are usually kept, for some reason does not have anything on file for Veeru-Collings. According to a records clerk/technician, in her 22 years at the recorders office, such things have occasionally happened: "Sometimes, they just don't send them to us," she says.
In a phone call, Veeru-Collings verified that she had, in fact, taken the oath of office.
- Dean accused Judge Dale A. Kimball, above, of violating his constitutional rights when Dean was convicted of carrying ammunition while a felon.
Still, Dean is impassioned, believing such things invalidate the charges he is fighting. Convinced the misplaced document somehow has greater importance beyond a mere bureaucratic filing error, Dean says, "So, actually, Padma Veeru-Collings has been impersonating a public servant, the chief prosecutor of Salt Lake City Justice Court for one year, three months and seven days. Since she was hired. ... That alone could make all of the prosecutions under her for that length of time null and void."
"Null and void" is more patois from the NLA. It means "unconstitutional."
These are foreign courts, Dean says of the courts in which he continues to find himself. War courts. Admiralty maritime law courts without jurisdiction.
"That's why the oath of office is so important. When they take the oath now, it brings them back ... under the Constitution," he says.
But this "Padma thing" is minor compared to Judge Dale A. Kimball, he continues.
- “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”—The Second Amendment
Dean says he found himself in the chambers of Judge Kimball, federal judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, holding an affidavit requiring Kimball's presence at a citizen common-law grand jury. He was amazed he had made it through security, cell phone and all, simply telling court workers he had documents to deliver.
The affidavit, created by Dean, accused Kimball of violating Dean's constitutional rights when he was convicted of carrying ammunition while a felon. Judge Kimball wasn't present at the time of Dean's visit, and he had no idea Dean was in his chambers, says Dean. (The federal courthouse has since moved to a new building with tighter security.)
Dean made his way through a door of the judge's chambers to the courtroom where he thought Kimball was presiding. When he interrupted the hearing and announced he had something to give Kimball, he was swarmed by marshals, and a judge was evacuated from the courtroom. Dean says he later just mailed the documents.
Judge Kimball relayed through his court clerk that he had no recollection of the incident.
In early April 2014, Eugene Richardson, described as a fellow patriot by Dean, sent similar documents by certified mail notifying a judge of St. George's 5th District Court of Utah about his constitutional transgressions and declaring Richardson's intent to form a grand jury.
A few weeks later, Richardson received a response from Brent Johnson, general council on behalf of the administrative office of the court. It read, in part:
"You seem to be operating under the assumption that anyone can form a grand jury. This assumption is incorrect and leads to the conclusion that you believe this country can be operated through chaos and anarchy. ... If you establish a competing system, based on your disagreement with elected leaders, then another group of citizens could disagree with your states and establish their own competing system, leading to anarchy as numerous competing groups are established."
The letter ended with Johnson welcoming Richardson to contact him and discuss the issue. Richardson responded with a five-page letter quoting Thomas Jefferson, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, David Hume and Lysander Spooner.
Say what you will, NLA supporters know their 19th century philosophers. Dean writes a Benjamin Franklin quote on a piece of paper toward the end of the interview: "Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."
Making of a Militiaman: Part II
So much in the modern patriot or common-law or constitutionalist movement is abstract. The meetings and YouTube videos describe esoteric interpretations of the law: The government will, any day now, take our guns. Martial law will, any day now, be instated. Those orchestrating formation of the "New World Order" are always hidden.
But Stephen Dean is a real person. He faces real consequences. His suffering at the hand of the government, mostly brought on by his own actions or defiance, is real. For those keeping track; he is a convicted sex offender with subsequent convictions for firearm and drug possession. And it's not over yet for him.
There was an alert made on the National Liberty Alliance website at the end of March 2015: "Emergency! Emergency! Emergency! Re: Steven [sic] Dean, NLA Utah leader & member arrested ... please do flood the jail with phone calls demanding Steven Dean's immediate release."
The post provided Dean's booking number and various phone numbers for the jail. The rumor was that it was an FBI sting. Agents had befriended Dean and tricked him into target shooting. At least some of that is true, according to court documents.
Dean was arrested for unlawful transport of firearms, including a shotgun and an assault rifle. The evidence the U.S. government was planning to present to the court included audio recordings dating back to September 2014, video labeled "footage of field shooting," and FBI reports. It's likely he was being monitored by federal agents for nearly a year.
After spending a few months in federal prison, Dean was released on parole on June 16, according to court documents. One condition of his parole is that he may not associate with any groups who want to overthrow the United States.
Last year, Dean talked about how his political work at this point was peaceful.
"This is the peaceful revolution. This can work. The common-law grand juries in every county. Not just Utah, but the entire country," he said.
He seemed eccentric, nonthreatening and genuinely hopeful—although it didn't take much prodding to have him spell out what might happen if government officials across the country do not, in fact, show up for extrajudicial court hearings.
"If this doesn't work, it will come down to what happened at Bundy's ranch ... but shots being fired," he said.
He said that, someday, he would have his firearms back, when enough people are there to back him up on it. There just aren't enough right now. And, he said, he didn't want to be put back in that hole. The next time he goes in, who knows who he will be when he comes out.
"I want peaceful revolution ... but if it can't be peaceful, I will arm myself with a firearm. I will shoot back after being fired upon. I won't shoot first," he said.