Richard Wayne Snell (1930–1995)
Richard Wayne Snell—a member of a number of white supremacy groups, including the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSA), which was founded in 1971 in Elijah, Missouri, by polygamist James Ellison—was also reported to be a member of the Aryan Nation. In addition, there are unsubstantiated reports connecting Snell to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh; perhaps not coincidentally, McVeigh’s act of domestic terrorism occurred only hours before Snell’s execution for two murders he had committed in the 1980s.
Richard Wayne Snell was born in Iowa on May 21, 1930, to Charles Edwin Snell and Mary Jane Snell. Snell’s father was a pastor of the Church of Nazarene, and Snell himself trained in the ministry but did not pursue it. Not much is known about his youth, but he became an active participant in a number of extreme right-wing organizations. His involvement appears to have stemmed, at least in part, from a series of interactions Snell had with governmental agencies, with each encounter seemingly fueling his intense anti-government ire. One of his grievances was with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and it was later reported that in 1983, in anger, he had expressed a desire to blow up the Oklahoma City Federal Building as revenge for IRS agents having previously raided his home.
At one point, Snell was involved in a project in which he filmed planes that landed at the Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport in Mena (Polk County). Snell apparently believed that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was using the airport to smuggle drugs and thought that the local and state political forces were involved in covering up the operation. (In fairness, Mena attracted a great deal of national and international attention in the 1980s and 1990s due to its role in an immense drug-smuggling operation and the Iran-Contra Scandal, with the airport at the center of these activities.) On another occasion, he claimed that an Arkansas state trooper, a member of the governor’s security detail, had beaten Snell’s wife, Mary Jo, in an attempt to get her to reveal where Snell was keeping the film footage that he had compiled. (Snell and his wife had three children.)
Much of his activity stemmed from his association with the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord, a paramilitary organization headquartered in the hill country of northern Arkansas. His association with the group led to his being indicted in the late 1980s, along with a dozen other white supremacists, for conspiring to overthrow the government. While he was ultimately acquitted in the 1988 trial, this incident only added to his anti-government animus. Despite his association with various radical right organizations, Snell appeared to be something of an independent operator. While he was recognized as a member of the CSA, he primarily used it as a base of operations for his own autonomous anti-government activities. He was also said to be a member of the Aryan Nation and spent much time in Elohim City, a private community located in Oklahoma and founded by members of the CSA.
Snell was convicted and sentenced to death on a pair of murder charges. On June 30, 1984, Snell fled across state lines into Oklahoma after killing Arkansas state trooper Louis Bryant, an African-American man. A truck driver who had witnessed the shooting followed Snell and contacted the Broken Bow, Oklahoma, police department, which set up a roadblock and engaged in a gun battle with Snell, who was wounded and captured. He was brought back to Arkansas for trial. Meanwhile, following the arrest, a gun connected to an earlier murder was found in Snell’s car. Snell was convicted of the 1984 murder of Bryant, as well as the November 3, 1983, murder of Texarkana (Miller County) pawnshop owner William Stumpp, whom Snell erroneously believed to be Jewish.
After a trial that began in late October of 1984, Snell was convicted of the murder of Trooper Bryant, and a death sentence was handed down on November 1. That same day, prosecutors charged him with the murder of Stumpp. That trial took place the following August and also resulted in a conviction for murder. Snell was again given the death penalty. While Snell never denied the accusations of murder, he nevertheless undertook what became a decade-long effort to overturn the convictions and avoid the death penalty. An appeal in the Stumpp case was heard by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which upheld the conviction and the accompanying sentence. His petition for a writ of habeas corpus was denied by the district court, and that ruling was upheld by Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in January 1994. At a final appearance before the Clemency Board shortly before his execution, Snell showed no remorse and said he would probably kill Trooper Bryant again if the same circumstances were to present themselves.
In addition to the murders for which Snell was convicted, he was also at the center of rumors relating to Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombings of April 19, 1995, the day that Snell was executed. At McVeigh’s trial, his defense attorney, in an effort to cast blame beyond McVeigh and his fellow conspirator, tried to introduce a government memo that called Snell “the driving force” behind a plot that had surfaced in 1983, twelve years earlier, to bomb the same Oklahoma City federal building. There were also reports that, in the days before the Oklahoma City bombing, Snell had predicted that there would be a bombing or explosion on the day of his execution. As he awaited his own execution and watched the news reports of the Oklahoma City bombings, officials who were monitoring his actions prior to the execution said that, while he seemed to smile at the news, he had also noted that it was the second anniversary of the government’s explosive showdown with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, an event that had done much to energize the extreme right wing of the political spectrum, which saw it as the embodiment of the excessive governmental power that they deplored.
Richard Snell was executed on April 19, 1995. As he was taken to his execution, the ever-defiant Snell was reported to have offered a parting bit of advice to Governor Jim Guy Tucker and, in Snell’s words, his “cronies.” “Look over your shoulder,” Snell warned. “Justice is coming.”
For additional information:
Daly, Michael. “His Hatred Survives.” New York Daily News, April 23, 1995. Online at http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/news/hatred-survives-article-1.684214 (accessed January 24, 2020).
“Killer Given April 19 Date With Death.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 10, 1995, p. 2B.
“Snell Executed at Cummins: Last Words at Governor.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 10, 1995, p. 2B.
“Snell Is Found Guilty in Death of Trooper.” Arkansas Gazette, November 2, 1984, pp. 1A, 3A.
“State Trooper Is Shot, Killed Near De Queen.” Arkansas Gazette, July 1, 1984, p. 3A.
“White Supremacist Executed for Murdering 2 in Arkansas.” New York Times, April 21, 1995. Online at http://www.nytimes.com/1995/04/21/us/white-supremacist-executed-for-murdering-2-in-arkansas.html (accessed January 24, 2020).
William H. Pruden III
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