The Covenant

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The Covenant

ALTERNATE NAME: Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord

LEADER: James Ellison





The Covenant, also known as the Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord (CSA), is a racist, religious, ultra-conservative Christian Identity survivalist group that was founded by James Ellison in 1978. Prior to founding the CSA, Ellison ran a Christian Identity retreat center on his 250-acre property in a town called Elijah, Arkansas, located near the Missouri-Arkansas border. Ellison professed to have had a vision in 1978, in which he "saw" a race war about to overtake the United States. At that point, Ellison decided to turn his former retreat into a paramilitary survivalist training camp dedicated to the ideology of white supremacy and to the principles of Christian Identity.

As an extension of the white supremacist philosophy, the CSA purported to be particularly opposed to Judaism, and promoted acts of anti-Semitism. The group was also opposed to the political underpinnings of the United States, and vowed to overthrow the government. The CSA's first stated objective was the elimination of government workers, beginning with federal agents. Between 1983 and 1985, the CSA committed several violent acts, including an arson attack on a church in Missouri, the firebombing of a synagogue in Indiana, and an attempted bombing of a Chicago gas pipeline. On April 19, 1985, approximately 200 federal officers surrounded the compound in Elijah, and ordered the roughly one hundred residents to surrender. A four-day standoff and negotiations ensued, and the compound eventually surrendered without bloodshed. After the compound was emptied of inhabitants and searched, a significant arsenal was recovered.


James Ellison was a fundamentalist minister from San Antonio, Texas. He reported that he had a religious vision in 1971 in which he was instructed to go to Arkansas to "establish a refuge and take people in." In 1976, he bought 224 acres of land in order to establish his own community. The property had an independent water supply, and was able to generate its own electrical power.

Ellison was a strong proponent of the Christian Identity Movement and ran a religious retreat on his property until he had a vision of an impending race war in 1978. He then founded the Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord, and turned his retreat into a white supremacist, survivalist, Christian Identity paramilitary survivalist training center. Over time, the compound grew to be a "home" for the CSA, with about a hundred full-time residents. The philosophies of the CSA included an overarching belief in Jewish inferiority and encouragement of strongly anti-Semitic behavior, and a professed need to overthrow the United States government by any and all necessary means. The group vowed to begin to carry out this objective by eliminating anyone involved in the workings of the government, particularly federal agents and law enforcement personnel.

The group supported itself by encouraging theft, as well as by selling homemade machine guns, silencers, and explosives at gun shows, which also served as their primary recruiting area. They sought out gun enthusiasts as potential CSA members, and invited them to participate in the Covenant's Endtime Overcomer Survival Training School, whose curriculum contained paramilitary training in the use of various weapons, techniques of urban warfare, wilderness survival, and "Christian" martial arts.

In addition to the manufacture of weapons, explosives, and ammunition, the members of the Covenant wrote and self-published a journal and an assortment of books. The group also developed a book list devoted to racist, white supremacist, anti-Semitic, and survivalist treatises.

Based on the vision by Ellison in late 1978, the members of the CSA believed that the United States was approaching a total economic collapse, which would initiate widespread famine, rioting, and an all-out race war. In an effort to prepare for the coming apocalyptic event, the group stockpiled weapons, munitions, food, and wilderness survival gear. One of the group's leaders, Kerry Noble, stated "We are Christian survivalists who believe in preparing for the ultimate holocaust." The Covenant's publicly disseminated literature advertised that it would "build an Ark for God's people during the coming tribulations" and that "the coming war is a step towards God's government." In an effort to prepare financially for the coming apocalypse, the Covenant members began to steal from department stores, and to commit acts of arson for pay.

In July 1983, a white supremacist leadership (Aryan Nations Congress) meeting was attended by James Ellison, Richard Butler (Aryan Nations leader and head of the Identity Christian Church of Jesus Christ Christian in Hayden Lake, Idaho), Louis Beam (ambassador-at-large for the Aryan Nations), and Robert Miles (leader of the Mountain Church in Cohoctah, Michigan and former grand dragon of the Michigan Knights of the Ku Klux Klan), among others. The group created a manifesto for the destruction and overthrow of the United States government—referred to by the group as the "Zionist-Occupied Government" (ZOG), and developed a plan for the inception of a separate Aryan Nation in the United States. The group planned to implement an elaborate computer linkage system for facilitating communication among the right-wing extremist groups (including the Covenant). The Aryan Nations Congress developed a detailed strategy for carrying out their political and ideological aims, which included the assassination of government employees, federal officials, and practitioners of Judaism, destruction of public utilities (gas, electrical, and water systems), and bombing of federal office buildings. Among the federal buildings listed as a target was the Alfred E. Murrah building, eventually attacked by Timothy McVeigh in April 1995. It was anticipated that these acts of terrorism would set the stage for the revolution that would result in ultimate white power and supremacy in the United States.

After the Congress meeting, the Covenant escalated its terrorist activities, and, in November 1983, admitted to detonating an explosive device along a natural gas pipeline that supplied much of the midwestern United States. Later that same month, the group reported detonating an explosive device on an electrical transmission line at Fort Smith, Arkansas.

The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, already investigating the group, stepped up its surveillance through the use of informants. One such informant was Randall Rader, a former deputy of the Covenant, who had shifted over to The Order. The informant gave the FBI some information related to the murder of a woman, through the use of a foot-long knife, by a CSA member. This was consonant with a body that had been found several months earlier, but for whom no suspect had been identified. The informant also told the FBI that the CSA was stockpiling specific types of weapons, booby-trapping the perimeter of the compound, and engaging in paramilitary training activities, among other things.

On April 15, 1985, a Missouri state trooper pulled over a van driven by an Order member named David Tate during a routine traffic patrol. When the trooper called in the license plate number, he discovered that Tate was a neo-Nazi who had a federal arrest warrant out for firearms-related charges. As the trooper approached Tate's vehicle, the suspect rolled out, opened fire on the trooper with a submachine gun, killed him, and left the scene. State police from Missouri and Arkansas, along with FBI SWAT team members, carried out an intensive six-day manhunt for Tate, during which time they learned that he had been en route to the CSA compound, where a number of other members of The Order had also sought refuge. The FBI obtained a warrant to search the Covenant's compound. On April 20, 1985, the FBI and approximately 200 law enforcement officers approached the compound, resulting in a standoff between authorities and CSA members. After some days of negotiations, the Covenant members surrendered and left the compound with no ensuing violence. After it had been completely evacuated, the compound was searched, resulting in the location of landmines encircling the perimeter, large numbers of illegal weapons and munitions, including twenty-three hand grenades, an Army light antitank weapon, fifteen automatic rifles, and an equal number of silencers, along with the framework for an armored car (under construction). They also discovered some thirty gallons of cyanide; it had been intended as a means of poisoning the city supply for an unspecified location.

Later in 1985, CSA members were charged, and convicted, of the August 1983 arsons of the Metropolitan Community Church in Springfield, Missouri, and the Bloomington, Indiana, Jewish Community Center. At the same time, they were charged with the November 1983 bombing of a natural gas pipeline near Fulton, Arkansas. During the trial for these terrorist acts, it was uncovered that the Covenant had also planned to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma City through the use of rocket launchers.

In 1986, Ellison became a federal informant, and began providing authorities with information regarding the activities of other extremist groups with which he had previously been allied. As a result, in 1988, the United States accused fourteen of the participants at the July 1983 Aryan Nations Congress of sedition. The jury felt that Ellison was not a plausible witness, as he stood to significantly benefit if his testimony resulted in convictions, and the government failed to win the case. In 1988, Ellison successfully petitioned for a reduced sentence, and his term was reduced to five years.

Richard Snell, Ellison's closest associate in the plot to bomb the Murrah building, was tried for the 1983 murders of a Texarkana, Arkansas, pawnbroker (he had believed that the businessman was Jewish) and an Arkansas state trooper (the officer was African American). He was convicted and sentenced to death. While on death row, he was reported to have made numerous comments that there would be some sort of explosion on the day of his execution. He was executed by means of a lethal injection on April 19, 1995, within twelve hours of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.


James Ellison had a vision in which he was told to go to Arkansas to establish a refuge.
Ellison bought the property that was to house the Covenant.
Ellison has another vision, in which he sees an impending race war. He founds the Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord in this same year.
Aryan Nations Congress meeting.
As a result of the Aryan Nations Congress meeting, the most violent members of each member group are recruited to form The Order, whose mission is to finance the coming war.
CSA attempts to blow up a natural gas pipeline supplying the Midwest region of the United States.
CSA detonates a device attempting to destroy an electrical transmission line in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms engage in progressively more intense investigation and surveillance of CSA activities.
A state trooper pulls over a van driven by David Tate, a member of The Order en route to the CSA compound. Tate fatally wounds the officer, sparking a massive SWAT team search for Tate. Ultimately, this provides a catalyst for the FBI to obtain a warrant to search the CSA compound.
The FBI surrounds the compound and instructs the CSA to surrender. Several days of negotiation resulted in a peaceful surrender of the compound's inhabitants.
Members of the CSA are charged with, and convicted of, numerous acts of terrorism.
The U.S. government charged fourteen of the participants in the Aryan Nations Congress with sedition. Ellison becomes a federal informant for the case, which is unsuccessfully litigated.
Ellison completes his parole and moves to Elohim City, another armed camp, where he marries the granddaughter of Pastor Millar, the head of the compound. Richard Snell, former close associate of Ellison, is executed by means of a lethal injection on the day that the Murrah Building was bombed.


The Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord was a Christian Identity religious fundamentalist white supremacist group whose goal was the overthrow of the U.S. government and the establishment of a separatist Aryan nation. They planned to wage a race war in the country, believing that the economy was about to collapse. The group prepared by engaging in paramilitary and survivalist training, creating and acquiring large quantities of illegal weapons and ammunition, and creating a veritable fortress within the CSA compound. The leadership of the CSA met with the upper echelons of allied Aryan Nations groups in July 1983, and devised an elaborate plan of attack that was to result in the crippling and overthrow of the ZOG, and establishment of a new order. Between 1983 and 1985, the group engaged in numerous acts of terrorism. In April 1985, the compound was successfully raided by federal and state authorities, resulting in the surrender of CSA members and the closure of the compound. The "Honor Guard" of the CSA was arrested, charged, pled guilty to, and was convicted of terrorist activities. Ellison turned federal informant not long after he began serving his prison sentence, and was able to have his time significantly reduced. He completed his parole in 1995, moved to another armed compound, and married the granddaughter of the leader of Elohim City (the compound). Since the closure of the compound in 1985, along with the convictions of the CSA members who had been the power behind the organization, the Covenant has not publicly claimed any terrorist acts.


The CSA was a Christian Identity extremist group, which is made up of religious right-wing reactionaries. They believe that there were two separate "creations," one for the white Aryan races—British, Germanic-Teutonic, and Scandinavian ancestry—and one for the Jewish race. They believe that Jesus was sent to save the Aryans, and that the Jewish peoples are actually the result of a union between Eve and the serpent (Satan) in the garden of Eden; they are therefore considered to be antichrist peoples. Covenant members believe that the Bible gives them proof of this assertion in Chapter 8 of the Gospel of Saint John. They also assert that non-white peoples lie on the evolutionary continuum about halfway between apes and humans; they are not evil like the Jewish peoples are believed to be, they are simply subhuman.

Identity Christianity is the dominant religion of the ultra-conservative radical right and the white supremacist factions in the United States, and has been gaining in popularity since the last quarter of the twentieth century. It is historically determined to have originated during the seventeenth century in Western Europe.

Identity Christians believe that the human societies are corrupt and that an apocalypse is imminent. The aftermath of the apocalypse will result in the beginning of a new age, peopled by a chosen few who are selected by God to survive the "Endtime" for which the members of the CSA were training.

The Covenant also believes that the American form of government is fatally corrupt and is guilty of robbing citizens of their fundamental rights, hence their desire to overthrow the government, which, as it is bound by secular law, is not relevant to those who believe in the "Divine Order."


The Covenant was a racist, ultra-conservative, right-wing reactionary, white supremacist, Identity Christian religious extremist group, formed by former minister James Ellison in 1978 after he claimed to have a series of visions about the coming apocalypse. The group was allied with other Aryan Nations groups, and made a pact with them to create the conditions that were believed to catalyze the toppling of the U.S. government and the hastening of a race war in America. It was expected that this would result in the creation of a separatist Aryan nation within the country. The CSA prepared for these events by the creation of a compound dedicated to preparation and carrying out of the planned terrorist activities.

Between 1983 and 1985, the CSA committed many illegal and violent terrorist acts, while engaging in paramilitary training and preparations for survival of the Endtime. The violence and paramilitary activities, including weapons stockpiling, of the group attracted the attention of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and an investigation ensued. The murder of a state trooper by an Order member in 1985 galvanized an intensive manhunt resulting in the several-day standoff at the compound between federal and local law enforcement authorities and CSA members. In the end, the CSA members left without bloodshed, the compound was searched, weapons and munitions were seized, and the group was effectively crippled by the resultant trials, convictions, and prison sentences of the membership.



Tucker, Jonathan, editor. Toxic Terror: Assessing Terrorist Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons (BCSIA Studies in International Security). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press: Bantam, 2000.

Web sites

The Nizkor Project. "Paranoia as Patriotism: Far-Right Influences on the Militia Movement. Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord." 〈〉 (accessed October 3, 2005).

MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base. "Group Profile—Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord (CSA)." 〈〉 (accessed October 3, 2005).

Domestic Terrorist Group Profiles—MILNET. "Sword and Arm of the Lord (SAL)." 〈〉 (accessed October 3, 2005).

Steven Alan Hassan's Freedom of Mind Center. "About Kerry Noble." 〈〉 (accessed October 3, 2005).


Aryan Nations

Ku Klux Klan

Order, The