Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord

The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord (CSA) was a militia-style organization predominantly located in northern Arkansas, southern Missouri, and western Oklahoma. This organization was loosely affiliated with other white supremacist organizations within the United States, such as the Aryan Nations, The Order, and the Militia of Montana. Between 1976 and 1985, the CSA was involved in various illegal activities such as weapons procurement, counterfeiting, arson, robbery, homicide, and terrorist threats.

The CSA was founded by Texas minister James Ellison in 1971 near Elijah, Missouri. In 1976, Ellison purchased a 220-acre farm near Bull Shoals Lake about two miles from the Marion County town of Oakland (approximately seven miles southwest of Pontiac, Missouri), in order to establish a CSA compound known as Zarephath-Horeb. The CSA was true to its ideological rhetoric when selecting the name of their compound: Mount Horeb was the mountain to which Moses moved the Hebrews during the Exodus from Egypt, and Zarephath is listed in the Bible as the city to which God ordered Elijah to move in order to undergo a crucible for his faith. This isolated portion of the state was suitable for Ellison’s intentions because it is demographically concentrated with a predominantly white population, is secluded in rural terrain that makes monitoring by law enforcement agencies difficult, and is positioned on the border between two states, complicating jurisdictional responsibilities. The CSA was one of many militias that supported the American Christian Patriot Movement. Followers of this ideology support hostility against any form of government above the county level, vilify Jews and non-whites as children of Satan, obsess about achieving religious and racial purification of the United States, believe in a conspiracy theory that regards Jewish leaders as controlling important financial and media positions within the U.S., and advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government.

By 1978, Ellison had transformed his farm into a guerrilla training camp, complete with firing ranges, stockpiles of supplies, and accommodations for hundreds of followers. During this period, Ellison explained the CSA mission as establishing an “Ark for God’s people” for the coming race war. Ellison viewed “God’s people” as white Christians. In 1982, at the height of the CSA’s activities, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) suspected that it had just over 100 active members.

In 1984, CSA member Richard W. Snell was stopped near De Queen (Sevier County) by Trooper Louis Bryant of the Arkansas State Police. During the traffic stop, Snell fatally shot Bryant and eventually was charged with capital murder and sent to prison. Snell was also suspected in the 1981 murder of a Jewish pawnshop owner in Texarkana (Miller County).

On April 21, 1985, after years of complaints by local citizens and informants, federal agents from the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, as well as assorted state and local agencies, surrounded Zarephath-Horeb. After a three-day standoff, law enforcement officers entered the compound. This raid involved more than 300 law enforcement officers and resulted in the seizure of weapons, ammunition, explosives, gold, and thirty gallons of potassium cyanide. The CSA intended to use the potassium cyanide to poison the water supply of several large cities in order to expedite the coming of the second Messiah.

During the raid of Zarephath-Horeb, federal authorities obtained evidence supporting additional indictments on key members of the CSA. In these indictments, Ellison was charged with conspiring to overthrow the U.S. government. Although Ellison was not convicted of sedition, he was convicted of various illegal weapons charges and violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute. After a conviction and sentence of twenty years in prison, Ellison negotiated a reduced sentence by testifying against key leaders of the Aryan Nations of Idaho. The case against Ellison and other members of the CSA was prosecuted by Asa Hutchinson, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas during this period. Hutchinson later served as a third district congressman from Arkansas, as well as in executive positions within the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, before becoming governor of Arkansas.

Since the raid on Zarephath-Horeb in 1985, activity by the CSA became almost non-existent. Richard W. Snell was executed by lethal injection on April 19, 1995, twelve hours after white supremacist Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb destroying the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Many suspected that McVeigh selected April 19 as the day of his attack because of Snell’s execution and the anniversary date of the 1993 federal raid at the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas—an event that has become a central theme in anti-government rhetoric.

For additional information:
Barkun, Michael. Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Coppola, Vincent. Dragons of God: A Journey through Far-Right America. Atlanta: Longstreet Press, 1996. Online at (accessed October 2, 2023).

Haddigan, Michael. “Twisted 15-Year Path of CSA Winds to End as Leaders Convicted.” Arkansas Gazette. September 8, 1985, pp. 1B, 3B.

Levitas, Daniel. The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2002.

Noble, Kerry. Tabernacle of Hate: Seduction into Right-Wing Extremism. 2nd ed. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2010.

Stock, Catherine. Rural Radicals: From Bacon’s Rebellion to the Oklahoma City Bombing. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.

Van Zandt, Clint, and Clint Paisner. Facing Down Evil: Life on the Edge as an FBI Hostage Negotiator. New York: Putnam, 2006.

Wilson, Michael W., and Natalie Zimmerman, eds. A Kingdom at Any Cost: Right-Wing Visions of Apocalypse in America. Little Rock: Parkhurst Brothers, Inc., 2009.

Jonathan Ford
Arkansas Army National Guard


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