Published June 21, 2007
PLAINFIELD, N.H. – To avoid serving prison sentences for tax evasion, Ed Brown and his wife, Elaine, have locked themselves off from the world on their own terms.
From behind the 8-inch concrete walls of their 110-acre hilltop compound, the couple taunt police and SWAT teams and play to reporters and government-haters with references to past standoffs that turned deadly. Residents want the Browns' circus to end before their small Connecticut River town becomes the next Ruby Ridge or Waco.
The Browns raised the specter of the first case, the 1992 shootout at an Idaho property called Ruby Ridge, by holding a news conference Monday with Randy Weaver, whose wife and child were killed there along with a deputy U.S. marshal.
Ed Brown warned authorities they wouldn't take him alive: "We either walk out of here free or we die."
The Browns were sentenced in abstentia to 63-month prison sentences in April, after being convicted of conspiring to evade taxes on nearly $1.9 million in Elaine Brown's income and of plotting to disguise large financial transactions.
Though they have refused to leave the compound, U.S. Marshal Stephen Monier insists he has no plans to raid it to make them serve their time and will instead seek a peaceful surrender.
Expert observers praise the authorities' hands-off approach, but patience is wearing thin for Plainfield's 2,400 residents. Town selectmen recently asked Monier to stop the influx of militiamen and other anti-government groups to the Browns' home and to bring the couple to justice.
"While we understand and support efforts to achieve a quiet resolution to this matter, the longer the Browns remain at large the better the chance, in our view, that our local police force will be involved in an incident with them or their group of supporters," the letter reads. "In short, we believe that it is time that definitive action be taken."
It's a sentiment echoed throughout the town.
"The people of Plainfield feel the whole thing has been mismanaged from the get-go," says Stephen Taylor, a Plainfield native who is state agriculture commissioner. "He's got this band of loonies up there right now. There's this constant traffic and helicopters overhead and everything. Goddamn crazies."
The town south of bustling Lebanon has a "live-and-let-live" reputation that no one wants linked to the Browns, Taylor said.
"Everybody feels a tiny bit of embarrassment. This is what we're going to be known for?" Taylor said. "We don't want to be known for this."
The Browns' home on an isolated dirt roads includes a turret that offers a 360-degree view of the property and a driveway that is sometimes barricaded with SUVs.
Ed Brown, a retired exterminator, and his wife, a dentist, have bragged that the compound is self-sufficient and capable of running entirely on solar, wind and geothermal energies.
While saying repeatedly that he has no interest in harming the Browns or their supporters, Monier has not said what he does plan to do.
He says the massive law enforcement turnout on June 7, complete with roadblocks and planes, was for surveillance of the compound while agents seized the Lebanon building that housed Elaine Brown's dental practice.
But Ed Brown and many town residents believe it was a botched raid that apparently had to be called off when someone walking a dog stumbled onto federal agents in camouflage near the home.
"We were much better off before the federal government tried to take him into custody and it didn't go well," fumed town administrator Steve Halleran. "The fervor had died down. That was one of the things we were hoping, that people would go on to other things. But that's all by the wayside."
Weaver's news conference with the couple only added to local frustrations.
"That must've been a first. We've never really seen convicted felons just be able to hold press conferences," Halleran said. "There has to be a restriction of access to and from their property. If people can continue to visit them, to bring them supplies, with diesel fuel and food, they can stay there for a long time."
Brown neighbor David Grobe, a former patient of Elaine Brown, just wants the dirt road to be silent again. He said satellite news trucks parked at a softball field for Monday's news conference at the same time residents wanted to play.
"This used to be a very quiet street," he said.
Sitting in lawn chairs around the Browns' long gravel driveway, the couple's supporters rail against Freemasons, the Illuminati, the Federal Reserve, the Vatican and the mainstream media.
Some defend the Browns' claim — repeatedly rejected by courts — that no law authorizes the federal income tax and that the 1913 constitutional amendment permitting it was never properly ratified.
"The income tax can take more than the Mafia can with a machine gun. Believe me," said Alfred Liseo of Meriden, Conn.
"The Mafia doesn't have popular support," interrupted Bill Walker. "The government has support of millions of ignorant people who have the wool pulled over their eyes. They think they need to pay. They don't."