ST. MARIES, Idaho — A group of survivalists wants to build a giant walled fortress in the woods of the Idaho Panhandle, a medieval-style city where residents would be required to own weapons and stand ready to defend the compound if society collapses.
The proposal is called the Citadel and has created a buzz among folks in this remote logging town 70 miles southeast of Spokane, Wash. The project would more than double the population of Benewah County, home to 9,000 souls.
Locals have many questions, but organizers so far are pointing only to a website billing the Citadel as "A Community of Liberty."
"There is no leader," Christian Kerodin, a convicted felon who is a promoter of the project, wrote in a brief email to The Associated Press. "There is a significant group of equals involved ... each bringing their own professional skills and life experiences to the group.
"It is very much a `grass-roots' endeavor,'" Kerodin wrote, declining to provide any additional details.
Such communities are hardly new, especially in northern Idaho, which has long been a magnet for those looking to shun mainstream society because of its isolation, wide-open spaces and lack of racial diversity. For three decades, the Aryan Nations operated a compound about an hour north of here before the group went bankrupt and the land was sold.
Then came another community known as "Almost Heaven," founded in 1994 by Green Beret-turned-"patriot" movement leader Bo Gritz for those wanting a refuge from urban ills and Y2K concerns. That project crumbled when large numbers of buyers failed to move to the development, located 100 miles to the south.
The number of so-called patriot groups has grown since President Barack Obama was first elected, and the renewed debate over gun control is further deepening resentment of the federal government among such factions, said Mark Potok, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC tracks such groups.
Nevertheless, Potok noted, plans for these sorts of communities rarely come to fruition.
"The people behind the Citadel are like 12-year-old boys talking about the tree house, or the secret underground city, they're going to build some day," he said.
The website shows drawings of a stone fortress with room inside for up to 7,000 families. The compound would include houses, schools, a hotel and a firearms factory and museum. The gun factory, the website said, would manufacture semi-automatic pistols and AR-15 rifles – which would be illegal if Congress reinstated the 1994 ban on assault weapons.
As Talking Points Memo reports, however, III Arms, the name of the proposed firearms company, announced this month that the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms had approved their request to manufacture guns:
“In this afternoon’s mail, III Arms Company received a little note from the ATF saying: ‘Thanks for your interest, please start building firearms,’” Jim Miller, the company’s president, wrote on the company’s blog last Thursday. “Yup. The III Arms Company now possesses our ‘Manufacturer of Firearms Other Than Destructive Devices’ License, otherwise known as an 07FFL, and we can legally manufacture and assemble your firearms. Oh yeah, happy days!”
Applicants for the community must pay a $208 fee, and the website claims several hundred people already have applied to live in the Citadel.
The site also warns that not all would be comfortable at the development:
"Marxists, Socialists, Liberals and Establishment Republicans will likely find that life in our community is incompatible with their existing ideology and preferred lifestyles."
No construction has begun. Kerodin filed papers with the Idaho Secretary of State in November for a company called Citadel Land Development. III Arms LLC also has purchased 20 acres of land in Benewah County, the county auditor said.
The Citadel website said those 20 acres would serve as an administrative site from which to build the entire 2,000- to 3,000-acre compound.
Kerodin, who declined requests for a telephone interview, was convicted in 2004 of federal extortion charges and illegal possession of a firearm in a case in which he posed as a counterterrorism expert and attempted to coerce shopping mall owners in the Washington, D.C., area to hire him to improve security, according to court documents. He served 30 months in federal prison.
While the conviction makes it illegal for Kerodin to possess a firearm, residents of the Citadel would be required to own guns and to pledge to train together and use them if the compound were attacked. Residents would also be required to stock enough food and water to last a year.
In St. Maries, a logging community of 2,600 people that is the Benewah County seat, townspeople had plenty of questions about the proposed development.
"This is Podunk, Idaho," said resident Wanda Wemhoff. "What are they defending themselves against?"
Gary Davis, owner of a quilt shop, worried about the type of people who would be drawn to such a community. "Nobody benefits from having a closed society move into their midst," he said.
But County Commissioner Bud McCall was less concerned, calling the Citadel little more than a "pie in the sky thing." "As far as I know," he said, "it hasn't gone anywhere."