After 15 Years, the Longest, Weirdest Armed Standoff in America is Over

Illustration for article titled After 15 Years, the Longest, Weirdest Armed Standoff in America is Over

While a bunch of aggrieved men in camo gear continue to sulk in a bird sanctuary in Oregon, the longest-running standoff in American history has quietly come to an end in Texas. John Joe Gray has been holed up on his ranch for 15 years after assaulting a state trooper and then refusing to return to court. Someone finally notified Gray that the charges against him were dismissed more than a year ago.


As WFAA reports, Gray was arrested in 1999 for biting a state trooper during a traffic stop and getting into a “scuffle” with him. He was charged with assaulting a public servant, and, rather than make his court date, he barricaded himself at his ranch in Henderson County, near the town of Trinidad, and threatened to kill any sheriff’s deputies who might come to fetch him. From WFAA:

“If they come out after us, bring extra body bags. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword,” Gray told ABC News in a 2000 interview.

Since the felony charge in 1999, Gray has never left his 47-acres along the banks of the Trinity River between Tool and Trinidad, Texas.

Instead, Gray, his children, grandchildren, and friends patrol their property with pistols and rifles and refuse to let strangers inside.

National Geographic said it took a crew two years to earn the family’s trust recently.

“We’ve never shot no one yet,” Gray told Nat Geo. “But they know, if they come on us, they’ll be surprised what’s going to happen to them.”

The family hung a number of signs on their fences: “Disobedience to tyranny is obedience to God!” and “The god of Freemasonry ISN’T the God of the Bible,” as well as “Vaccination equals annihilation.” (What any of that had to do with assaulting a public servant was unclear.)

Illustration for article titled After 15 Years, the Longest, Weirdest Armed Standoff in America is Over

In 2000, the Dallas Observer’s Carlton Stowers wrote about Gray’s former son-in-law Keith Tarkington, whose two toddler sons disappeared into the ranch along with his ex-wife. Gray, Tarkington told the Observer, was the member of the Embassy of Heaven, a Christian separatist group based mainly in Oregon who have a lot of similarities to the “sovereign citizen” movement. They make their own driver’s licenses and passports and generally try to avoid what they call “worldly government.” The Embassy says on their website that Gray denies being a member.

But, Stowers writes, Tarkington remembers Gray edging into separatist territory around 1995, shortly after he and Gray’s daughter were married:

That, he recalls, would change six or eight months after he and Lisa married. That was when the “brainwashing” began. Not only did John Joe Gray’s Embassy of Heaven religious rantings grow in volume, but he also suddenly threw himself aggressively into the activities of the Texas Constitutional Militia, began to dress in fatigues and camouflage clothing, and constantly added to an arsenal of weapons he kept in his home. He started referring to himself as “Colonel Gray” and traveled to the Big Bend area to sign on with the Republic of Texas movement.


The Henderson County Sheriff’s Department wisely chose not to wade into an armed confrontation with Gray; Tarkington won a court order granting him custody of his sons, but was unable to execute it for the same reasons.

And there the matter rested, for 15 long years. At one point early in the conflict, none other than Chuck Norris offered to help Gray with his legal expenses:

The Gray family did periodically accept media visitors, including Nightline in 2010. The family told the camera crew they had no electricity or running water and raised their own livestock; they also said Tarkington’s children were “no longer there,” with Nightline saying they’re believed to have been taken with their mother to live somewhere else with fellow Gray supporters.


WFAA reports that the outgoing Henderson County District Attorney dismissed the charges against Gray in December 2014, as he was leaving office. But no one notified Gray or the sheriff’s department until this week. Now, theoretically anyway, Gray is free to leave his ranch, although somehow it seems unlikely that he will.

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John Joe Gray during his Nightline interview. Screengrab via Mike Hanson/YouTube. Photo of the Gray ranch via AP Images.