For seven years, Seattle artists and audiences unwittingly supported a coterie of paranoid racists who managed the Odd Fellows Temple on Capitol Hill. In 1995, Matthew Richter, then performance editor of The Stranger, went undercover to find out who they were and what they were up to. By the time this story was published, on August 16, 1995, Richter had received multiple death threats and traveled with a bodyguard. This is the first article in what became a three-part series. —Eds.

For over 85 years, the Odd Fellows Temple, Anchor Lodge #221, has stood atop Capitol Hill at Pine and 11th. Since its dedication on June 3, 1909, the building has housed four generations of Odd Fellows, men who celebrate fraternity and community through “three of the greatest and most needed principles by which to live—Friendship, Love and Truth.” The building is old, solid, and enormous; a warm, inviting place to step into out of a rainy night to see some Shakespeare or performance art.

In the last 25 years, the building has housed much of the artistic renaissance whose epicenter is Capitol Hill. COCA, Freehold Theater, Seattle Mime Theater, And/Or, and 911 Media Arts Center, as well as scores of visual artists and left-leaning political groups; all have flourished within the Anchor’s walls.

Six years ago, the Odd Fellows Anchor Lodge #221 was on the chopping block. The few remaining Odd Fellows were in their 70s, and had been trying to sell the building for more than a year. They no longer had the energy or the time to keep it alive. It was then, in 1989, that the Anchor Lodge was passed on to a fifth generation and another type of renaissance led by a self-admitted convicted felon, a State Populist Party Chairman, and a self-proclaimed free sovereign. Capitol Hill may be harboring a den of anti-Semitism, radical anti-government sentiment, racism, and paranoia.

These men are in our backyard. They are the landlords to the arts on Capitol Hill. They are paid by Seattle artists and audiences, the users of the Odd Fellows Temple. For the past six weeks, I have been gathering information inside the Odd Fellows organization, following a trail that started months ago.

My initial interest in the Anchor Lodge was sparked when I heard of a group of young men who had taken over the building, not by buying it but by becoming Odd Fellows. I was impressed by their ingenuity. Instead of ponying up a few million dollars and buying the building, they paid themselves, housed themselves, and gave themselves control of one of the most sought-after pieces of real estate on the Hill just by agreeing to the stewardship of a 180-year-old fraternal order.

The building houses three Great Halls, two of which had proscenium theater arches built into them when the building was constructed, all of which have been used as theaters at one time or another. Smaller halls are also used as theaters, and the studios on the top floor are rented by visual artists, independent film producers, and musicians. For years the Odd Fellows were fairly inert landlords. You paid your rent and got your space. With the arrival of the new, younger Odd Fellows came a new way of doing business.

“They’re creepy, I don’t like dealing with them at all,” says a former tenant. “It’s like all the grown-ups went away. It’s a parody.” Stories of shoddy management abound in the building. One woman, scheduled to teach a movement class in the Grand Ballroom, was, at the last minute, moved into the unfinished cement basement. Another choreographer is considering small claims court as recourse for a deposit that never came back. One theater was kicked out of a space they had been in for 15 years and forced into a small office. Others had to leave outright. The heat in the building is intermittent at best. Amplified rock shows are routinely booked next to dance concerts. Groups who reserve space are left waiting in the halls, locked out of rooms they had supposedly paid for. But sloppy building management is only the beginning.

June 11: I decide to attempt to join the Odd Fellows under an alias: Matt Richards, 27-year-old cabinetmaker from Tampa, Florida. I’m in town for six months, trying to decide whether to relocate to the Northwest permanently. I’m working as an office temp, looking for a job woodworking. One day, my story goes, I noticed an ad in Men’s Magazine for Odd Fellowship and decided to give the Anchor Lodge a call. I’m invited to a potluck barbecue to see how I might “fit in with the guys.”

As Matt Richards, I show up for the Wednesday afternoon barbecue on the back porch of the Odd Fellows building. Soon I am surrounded by men whose brotherhood I am supposedly seeking. The love these men have for one another is obvious. Each new arrival is greeted with long, strong hugs and salutations of “brother.” In the kitchen, a delicious salad is being put together, and everyone is pitching in—getting plates ready, firing up the barbecue, finding silverware, passing around beers. I am embarrassed, having shown up empty-handed to my first potluck, but the food is shared without a second thought.

The first brother I meet is Mark, an intense but affable guy in his 30s. His long blond hair is pulled back into a ponytail, and his blue eyes stab through you. He tells me, upon hearing that I just moved from Tampa, that he’s just returned from Orlando, where he was attending the Preparedness Expo.

The Preparedness Expo is an event geared toward survivalists and the far right. It features an aisle for Nazi paraphernalia and propaganda, as well as anti-Semitic speakers such as ex–Green Beret Colonel Bo Gritz and Jack McLamb. Firearm and weapon-related booths abound at the Expo. In any case, Mark says he had a great time there. The next Preparedness Expo is scheduled for Seattle in September, at the Seattle Center. I know this because it’s advertised in the August Odd Fellows newsletter.

Mark also tells me that he is a free sovereign. When I ask him what that means, he talks about the way free sovereigns aren’t slaves, because they don’t pay taxes. Mark doesn’t consider himself to be under the jurisdiction of the federal government. To this end, he claims, he travels under a fake passport, with a fake driver’s license, and with fake plates on his car (designed to look like dealer plates from the Beautiful British West Indies). He tells me he has reinvented his life under an alias, and is a citizen of the world, identifying himself with a World Service Authority Passport. He says he has opened a bank account with this passport, although he still can’t get into a bar with it. He tells me how all cash is actually counterfeit, as it is printed by the unconstitutional Federal Reserve. Mark is treasurer of the Anchor Lodge.

Mark also runs a new-age preventative medicine company out of his basement. With the aid of ozone generators, vitamins, and other supplemental nutrients, he claims he has stopped his biological clock, and for a price he can do the same for you. In all fairness, I should say that at 34 he really doesn’t look a day over 30. Dying, according to him, is something he doesn’t have to worry about. Mark says he is immortal.

Next I am introduced to Steve. Steve is a tall guy with a strong physique, an almost-military buzz-cut, and dark eyes. He is an intimidating guy. Two women who rent theater space from the Odd Fellows feel his misogyny is so extreme that they have found men in their organizations to deal with him directly. He tells me he sits at his desk in the building, overlooking Broadway, with a pair of binoculars, to get a better look at the women walking by. He, too, claims to be a sovereign citizen, operating under an alias. He maintains he also has British West Indies license plates, a World Service Authority passport, and a fake driver’s license. He, too, admits to having problems getting into bars. He says he likes to wear his nine-millimeter pistol on his belt, and has a soft spot for Cuban cigars. He is the Vice Grand of the Anchor Lodge.

Jim was the first of this new wave of Odd Fellows to join the order. He seems to be the spiritual leader of the group and is also, according to Steve, a sovereign. Jim is the president of the Odd Fellows Temple board. He also serves as Vice President on the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, as is president of the Pike/Pine Association, an organization that is bent on “improving” the neighborhood and chasing out drug dealers. Ironic, given that Jim has served time in the past for cocaine trafficking.

Eventually I am introduced to Bruce. He puts together the Anchor newsletter, which includes “Preparedness News.” In this section we find the ad for the Preparedness Expo and, under the section title “Resources,” a prominent listing for The Survival Center—which is, among other things, a clearinghouse for anti-Semitic literature. Bruce “Armament” Bruce is the Noble Grand of the Lodge.

A man named Harry shows up at the barbecue. He is a squat, heavy man in his 50s with red, wiry hair and a bushy mustache. His skin is milky white. He breathes heavily while eating. Harry is, in addition to his responsibilities as an Odd Fellow, the chairman of the Washington Sate Populist Party. The Populist Party is an offshoot of the Liberty Lobby, described as “the best-funded anti-Semitic group in the United States” by the Anti-Defamation League, and as “the most influential outlet for anti-Semitism and far-right conspiracy theories in the United States” by the Coalition for Human Dignity. The party ran Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke for president in 1988, and in 1992 ran far-right anti-Semite and Colonel Bo Gritz for the White House.

It was in 1992, while running the Gritz campaign in Washington, that Harry was found guilty in King County of fourth-degree assault for stabbing a man three times in the chest and once in the ear. Harry claims that the man showed up at his door already stabbed. He refers to Klan cross-burnings as “a Christian practice,” and his Wednesday morning cable-access television show, Truths and Revelations, routinely features Holocaust denials, Christian Identity speakers, and ultra-right conspiracy theorists. Harry identifies himself as a member of the Christian Identity, a sect that, among other things, believes that blacks, Jews, and darker-skinned peoples are genetically deficient. Identity speakers refer to blacks as “mud people,” and African Americans, according to Harry, should not be Christians. They are “better suited to be Muslims.”

Of the Hitler worship rampant in his party, Harry has said, in an interview with David Newman for The Stranger, “Adolf Hitler’s regime, you might look at it as a necessary—I don’t want to say evil… it’s a necessary circumstance.” Harry is very open about his anti-Semitism and racism. He also held the post of Noble Grand—the highest position in the Odd Fellows lodge—last year, and still writes a column for the Anchor newsletter. In a recent column he prophetically warned his readers: “The Officer of Glory must love discriminately but fully, though ever vigilant against the Stranger slipping past the sentries.”

At the first barbecue most of the talk centers around the “retreat” the lodge just took to a cave in Idaho for an initiation ritual. I hear stories of the beauty of the desert, the wacky antics of men camping, and the power of ritual bonding with your fellow man. We also discuss sovereignty, and how only slaves pay taxes. Jim talks about how nice it would be not to have to live in a city; that is one of his dreams, to have somewhere out of the city, where you don’t have to worry about people around you all the time. The group could have this place in the city, and another place they could all get away to.

I walk away from the barbecue and out into the bustle of Broadway. Students are lying on the grass and reading outside Seattle Central. To them, the building is still invisible, just another wall of bricks across from a park.

June 18: This Wednesday I remember to bring some bratwurst. Steve and Jim are late, so Mark and I spend some time talking. He invites me to a lecture series that the Odd Fellows are sponsoring at the end of the month by Keith Anderson, the man behind a group called The Ark. Mark claims Keith is the man from whom you can purchase your own Beautiful British West Indies license plates and a driver’s license. Steve tells me these are the best plates money can buy. They talk about how Anderson will allow you on his Ark and teach you to become a fully sovereign citizen, with packages starting as low as $1,200. According to Mark, all you have to do is break your contract with the federal government—a contract we all enter into upon receipt of a social security number. You give your social security number back to the government, saying, in effect, “Thanks very much, but I won’t be needing this. I don’t want to take advantage of any of your services, and I don’t want to pay for something I’m not going to use.”

Jim and Steve finally show up. Jim walks in wearing his California Highway Patrol cap and carrying three or four big three-ring binders under his arm. He and Steve have been out at Keith’s place all day, working out the details of some project that they don’t reveal to me. Now that they have arrived the barbecue gets into full swing. Jim kicks off his shoes and settles in to read the paper. The paper he’s reading is called The Spotlight. I had noticed copies of it lying around the room. Mark tells me if I really want to know what’s going on in the world, The Spotlight is where I should look. Jim says the paper is the straight dope. I ask if I could look through a copy, and he hands me his.

The Spotlight is published out of Washington, D.C. by the Liberty Lobby, the same group that started the Populist Party. It is, cover to cover, an indictment of Israel, the “International Zionist Movement,” the “World Zionist Organization,” the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds, and the rest of the “international bankers” (long an anti-Semitic code word for Jews). Some past headlines include: “Famous ‘Gas Chamber Victims’ Living Well,” “Israel Murders Americans,” and “Skinheads: They’re Young, They’re Wild and They’re Standing Up for America.” The issue Jim hands me contains an “exposé” about Israeli bribes of U.S. congressmen, numerous references to the “Israeli-American government,” and a rave review of Mel Gibson’s “pro-patriot” movie Braveheart. The paper has attacked gay rights and the welfare system, and its classified section is rife with ads for Nazi paraphernalia, gun silencers, and instructions for manufacturing fake identification. Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh used Spotlight classifieds in 1993 to sell a “military-style anti-tank launcher,” under the Brazil-inspired alias “T. Tuttle.”

As I leave the building for the cool night air of Capitol Hill, I can hear two different theater groups rehearsing upstairs. A poster catches my eye as I walk out the main entrance; written across it is a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “We must learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish as fools.”

June 26: Mark and Jim let me take a copy of The Spotlight home for a week to look through it, and I bring it back with me this Wednesday. I ask if I can buy the paper anywhere in town. Steve laughs and tells me that I can’t find it on a newsstand, although later Jim directs me to Steve’s Broadway News, where I find The Spotlight tucked away on a corner shelf.

Steve and I talk about how now that I am educated (apparently by reading The Spotlight) I must find a course of action that suits me. I ask him what my next step should be, and he tells me I should pursue my sovereignty. We discuss the lies of the corporate government, who’s pulling the strings, and how I should remove myself from the system. According to Steve there are other groups out there, besides The Ark, through which one can get license plates, driver’s licenses, and the like.

The related groups that I know of—such as Embassy of Heaven [see David Newman’s article, “Paradise for Tax Evaders,” The Stranger, June 28, 1995], The Paul Revere Club, The Arizona Patriots, The Order, The Committee of States, The Christian Patriots Defense League, and various state militias (the most widely known, after Oklahoma City, being the Michigan Militia)—all have qualifications for exactly who can be a “free sovereign.” White and Christian seem to be two qualifications most groups share. Many of the groups have ties to the Christian Identity movement (of which Harry is a part). One group, The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSA), believes their mission is “to build an Ark for God’s people during the coming tribulations.” They describe “the coming war as a step towards God’s government.”

There is some sort of commotion back at the barbecue. Mark has just arrived, bringing with him some bad news. Apparently the police were waiting for him at his home earlier in the day, and when he arrived they questioned him about his plates and license. Mark appeared mad, but also excited. He said he had taken the next large step in confronting the system. Unfortunately, Mark says, the police just don’t understand. They need to be educated. He tried to educate them that afternoon, but when they threatened to arrest him for driving without a license he acknowledged that class was dismissed and came to the Lodge.

The consensus among the group is that Mark has to talk to Keith. Later, back in the kitchen, Steve and Jim and I are discussing Mark’s situation. This, Steve reasons, is what happens when you start a war. He and Jim lock eyes, laugh, and do a half high five/half handshake.

June 31: Saturday’s lecture series by Keith Anderson was called off at the last minute, with little explanation. It is to be rescheduled for sometime in September. Nevertheless, this Monday Steve and I are at the courthouse to support Mark for his day in court. Mark is in the waiting room, poring over a document called the Fully Informed Jury Handbook. The handbook is designed to teach patriots the perversions of our legal justice system. It teaches that juries should have the right not only to interpret laws but to change them as well. Mark is here not to go in front of a judge, but to demand a jury trial, as is his right. The Fully Informed Jury Handbook, among other things, belies its own racist bias by stating that several Constitutional Amendments, including the one that freed the slaves, were never legally ratified, and should not be upheld.

Mark goes before the court, requests a trial, and is granted one. We retire to the beer garden of an upscale, relaxing Belltown bar for a few beers. It is here that things start to turn a little ugly. Earlier in the day I had been asking Steve about his nine-millimeter. Now I am asking Mark about Anderson and his group, The Ark. Steve, after we’ve all had a few beers, perks up, and asks me who the fuck I am. I don’t know what to say. Steve leans in over the table. He wants to know who I really am, and why I’m asking so many questions. He feels the group doesn’t really know anything about me.

“Steve, my name is Matt Richards. I moved here three months ago from Tampa, Florida. I’m a woodworker. I work as an office temp—”

He tells me he doesn’t want to hear it, he doesn’t trust me.

I am consoled by the fact that my boss is shadowing me, sitting one block away on his motorcycle. I consider signaling for him. I look up, only to realize that he has gotten bored and gone into a restaurant for something to eat. We’ve been sitting having beers for almost an hour. Steve and I lock eyes, and hold what I like to call a “guy stare” for quite a while. Finally I break the silence.

“Well, if you don’t trust me it’s probably because I don’t trust you. I give out my trust slowly, and that’s just how I operate.”

The tension relaxes a little, and I mention that I’ve got to get back to Capitol Hill before long. Steve offers me a ride, and I have no good reason to say no. On the drive back, I can feel my palms sweating and a knot forming in my stomach. Steve drops me off, uneventfully, on Broadway. We shake hands formally and say good-bye. Within two days, before the Wednesday barbecue, my cover is blown by a former Anchor Odd Fellow who, while critical of the group’s politics, took a vow to protect his brothers from any perceived danger. At the Stranger offices on Wednesday we increase our security.

Fraternal orders worldwide are watching their numbers dwindle. At the peak of their popularity in this country, almost 50 percent of American men were members of some order or other, be it the Freemasons, the Shriners, the Knights of Pythias, or the Odd Fellows. But these orders missed recruiting a critical generation, and as a result their membership is firmly in its 70s and dying off far faster than anyone is joining. Most people’s exposure to fraternal orders ends with Fred Flintstone’s Water Buffaloes and their Grand Poobah. Taking a “vow of secrecy” when they enter the order, the Odd Fellows swear they’ll protect each other from betrayers; in this way the lodges present unique opportunities for separatist groups such as the one I infiltrated.

Traditionally, and currently in other lodges, the Odd Fellows support their community through social service programs and events housed in the lodge. The Ballard Lodge sponsors programs for children affected by HIV and abused children. Elsewhere in Washington State, lodges provide care for the elderly, run an Eye Bank, and have contributed $10,000 to an arthritis foundation and $5,000 to forest fire relief.

The Anchor Lodge, however, offers no social services to the community. “Social services are something with which we’re experimenting right now,” says Steve, in an interview conducted after my cover was blown. “We’re trying to create a couple of programs to bring what little assistance we can offer to single parents or elderly folks within a five-block radius of the lodge. This is brand new.”

Steve speaks about how financially strapped the lodge is. The lodge can, however, afford to pay a “private management company” to manage the building. They’re called Good Stewards and, thus far, I have been unable to identify their existence as a registered business. But the Good Stewards apparently have at least one local employee—Steve. One tenant claimed that Steve gets paid $900 a month for picking up cigarette butts in a nonsmoking building. Other Odd Fellows are paid by the Lodge as well. Of this, Steve says, “Odd Fellows are hired to do the work around here according to need. We’ve had up to 12 people who are Odd Fellows contracted at one time.” Contracted, the tenants say, for half-completing shoddy work, when they respond to the building’s needs at all.

In a similar interview, conducted after Matt Richards was known to be Matt Richter, Jim defended the group as neither racist nor anti-Semitic. “‘Friendship, Love and Truth’ is our motto, and as a group we don’t get into politics or religion. Now, as for each one of us individually, we don’t give up our rights to political or religious views.” On the subject of Israel and the U.S. government he says, “It’s a well-known fact that Congress is heavily influenced by the Israeli lobby. Now there’s not much I can do about Israel or Washington, D.C. But I can do something about my neighborhood.” He adds, “I am not anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish. Far from it. Are you a Jew, Matt?”

Capitol Hill’s Odd Fellows are perfectly entitled to do whatever they like, within the law. They can go to Preparedness Expos, resist the government, disseminate the propaganda of hate, stare at women through binoculars, and go shooting all they like. Harry is perfectly within his rights to go on television and speak about the threat of “the monstrous Jewish politicians.” They are guaranteed these rights by a government they don’t even recognize as valid. Yet these beliefs are not consistent with the philosophy of the Odd Fellows organization, and with the beliefs of most of the building’s tenants.

What can be done? I spoke with Mike Murray, the Washington Grand Master, the highest-ranking Odd Fellow in the state, about The Order and the Anchor Lodge. “If we had concrete information about them, something hard and fast, then I would pull their charter. We would take them out of their positions and replace them with people who truly upheld the ideals of the Odd Fellowship.” He acknowledges that he has heard “rumors as wild as gun-running in the building,” but has yet to find any concrete proof.

Whether the Anchor Odd Fellows are just a bunch of misguided small-time losers or part of something larger remains to be seen. But now that their existence is known, we as a community must ask ourselves some difficult questions about integrity. Can artists, in good conscience, continue to stage work under the Odd Fellows’ roof, work that often indicts the very values these men embrace? Can audiences continue to attend events in the hall, knowing their money isn’t just “supporting the arts,” but lining the pockets of the Anchor Odd Fellows as well?

David Newman contributed research to this story.