PLAINFIELD, N.H. – The fugitive couple had been waiting on their porch for nearly eight months for law enforcement officials to make their move. “The word is ‘poised,’ ” Ed Brown said recently, handgun wedged in his jeans, AK-47 assault rifle behind the door, as he stared at a yard of cut grass and bags of explosives hanging from trees. His wife, Elaine, kept her pistol inside a pouch with her reading glasses.

A retired exterminator and a dentist in their 60s, the Browns don’t believe the federal government has authority to tax income. In January, after a decade of not paying tax on nearly $1.9 million in earnings, they were convicted of tax-related criminal charges, and four months later, they were sentenced in absentia to 63 months in prison.

Refusing to surrender, they barricaded themselves in their estate in this New Hampshire town of 2,200 in February, warning that any attempt to arrest them would end in bloodshed. They claimed they could sustain themselves indefinitely from solar and wind electricity generators, after federal agents cut their power and phone lines.

But late Thursday night, U.S. marshals posing as supporters entered the Browns’ property and arrested them on their porch without incident. “They invited us in, and we escorted them out,” U.S. Marshal Stephen Monier told the Associated Press.

At a news conference, Monier said officials found booby traps in the woods on the 100-plus-acre property and weapons, ammunition and homemade bombs inside and outside the house. He said more charges are likely.

It was hardly surprising for the Browns to have considered the agents to be supporters. Through daily radio broadcasts and Internet postings, the couple had become a cause celebre for tax protesters, a disparate movement that claims federal taxes are fraudulent. “Show me the law and I’ll pay the tax,” Ed Brown, who was involved in a “patriot” militia in the 1990s, said in an interview several days before his arrest. “Don’t show me the law and I’m not going to give you a dime. What part of that don’t you understand?” Wearily, he wife added: “The only way to leave here is free, or dead.”

The Browns repeatedly compared their situation to the confrontations at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992, and Waco, Texas, a year later. Those events, which ended in bloodshed, prompted the Justice Department to adapt its approach to prolonged sieges of this type, emphasizing patience. Recently, the couple held a news conference with Randy Weaver, whose wife and son were fatally shot in the Ruby Ridge siege.

Before Thursday’s arrest, Monier had “ratcheted up” pressure on the couple. Two weeks ago, simultaneous raids took place on the homes of Brown supporters across the country. Federal authorities charged four men with various counts of aiding and abetting the Browns.

They include Cirino Gonzalez, 30, of Alice, Texas, who fell out with Ed Brown some months ago; the couple’s blogger, Daniel Riley, 40, of Cohoes, N.Y.; and a friend, Robert Wolffe, 50, of Randolph, Vt.

The fourth, Jason Gerhard, 22, a recent Army recruit from Brookhaven, N.Y., who was arrested at his basic training camp in Missouri, faces the most charges — found guilty of all felony counts, he could be sentenced to a maximum of 125 years.

The Browns dismissed the charges against their associates as lies. But unsealed court documents hinted at preparations for battle that Ed Brown has long boasted about. Along with groceries and fishing line, they state, some of the defendants sneaked Tannerite, an explosive, onto the property, as well as fire extinguishers and firearms powerful enough to pierce body armor.

The arsenal described in the indictments seems to conflict with the middle-class life the Browns tried to lead. During the summer, the Browns had dinner parties and fundraisers in their yard, hosting an array of supporters, from nearby families and spiritual gurus to hardcore militia members.

But in June, the festival atmosphere was interrupted when the property was surrounded by SWAT teams, bomb disposal units and heavily armed police, while U.S. marshals seized Elaine Brown’s dental practice.

Recently, as they waited for authorities to make a move, Ed Brown attended to plants in the yard, while Elaine baked a pie and arranged surgical tools for the ad hoc dental practice she set up in her living room.

Cut off from the rest of the world, the Browns said they expected help to come. The couple’s ordeal would likely be over by the spring, said Ed Brown, when a “warrior class” will rise up against the “Zionist Freemasons” who, he said, have infiltrated the echelons of power and control the world.

During his conspiratorial soliloquies, Brown would occasionally lose his temper and raise the specter of all-out war. He warned that if he and his wife were killed, retribution would be enacted against journalists, judges and law enforcement officials on a secret list. Monier said that by making such threats the couple “turned this into more than just a tax case.”

Increasingly alone and with their supply chain drying up, in quieter moments the Browns were candid about their frustrating predicament. “See. They should have let us slip into oblivion,” Ed Brown said recently. “I guess they didn’t believe our resolve.”

Turning to his wife, the resolve seemed to dissipate. “What can I do?” he asked. “I’m trapped. I got my back against the wall.”

AP-NY-10-05-07 1358EDT


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