Friday, October 2, 2015

Home Grown Terror: Author Peter Klismet's book about the largest manhunt in the West

By Mark Young
Author Peter M. Klismet’s latest book, FBI Diary: Home Grown Terror, reads like a crime-thriller fiction novel. Bullets flying. Stolen vehicles. Camo-clad terrorists. High-speed chases through rural America. One of the greatest manhunts in American western history winding up in some of the most rugged lands this country has to offer. 

Former FBI special agent Klismet writes about this event from the inside—as a participant in a manhunt for three cop-killers that disappeared into an unforgiving wilderness. It began Friday, May 29, 1998 on a warm spring morning on the streets of a small town in southwest Colorado. What started as a traffic stop for a suspected stolen truck became a fight for survival for many officers and an event that shocked the entire region.

Welcome author Klismet to Hook’em and Book’em!

MARK: Pete, thanks for returning to this blog to discuss your latest non-fiction book, FBI Diary: Home Grown Terror. It has been over two years since you wrote a guest blog for us about your first book, FBI Diary: Profile of Evil, and your experiences as a criminal profiler for the bureau. Tell our readers a little about your latest book about home-grown terrorists in Colorado.

PETE: And thank you, Mark, for having me back on your blog, which is one of the best ones around.

In May of 1998, a small cadre of three young, anti-government, paramilitary
extremists were spotted in a stolen water truck by an officer in Cortez, Colorado, and pulled over to the side of the road. One of the men jumped out of the truck with a fully-automatic weapon, peppering the police car and Officer Dale Claxton with round after round of bullets. And then the chase was on. The three men commandeered a flatbed construction truck, and wrought a path of destruction as they were chased by police cars, sheriff’s deputies and state patrolmen. The men put seven police vehicles out of commission and shot two more officers before racing forty miles into the forsaken desert wilderness and canyons near the Four Dorners. It became a national news story, not unlike the recent prison escape in New York State. With over five hundred officers from state, federal and local agencies, as well as Indian Reservation officers, it is still considered the largest manhunt in the history of the modern West. And it is a search which took nearly a decade to conclude.

MARK: I can only imagine what it must have been like trying to work within the confines of a manhunt that encompassed local, state and federal agencies from a three-state area. In the book, I thought you were very forthright about some of the problems that developed between these agencies. How did you manage to get the job done without losing your cool? What were some of the challenges you faced?

PETE: Fortunately, coordinating the search teams was not my responsibility, nor did I have a role in the ground search for the three killers. My job was supporting the investigation, identifying the three men, and working to build a prosecutable case once they were found. Regrettably, that never occurred, which is one of the more compelling parts of the story.
In doing some fairly extensive research for the book, however, I did interview a number of people who were directly involved with or coordinated the search efforts. It has saddened me to see many times over the years how people’s egos can get in the way of getting the job done. There was constant disagreement between numerous agencies, even including the Indian Reservation police. The FBI, the sheriff of a small county in Utah, the National Guard, and even the governor of Colorado, among others, were constantly in disagreement over how the search was to be conducted. Whether or not this contributed to the eventual resolution of the case is not known. But there was more than enough drama to go around, and at times it put the lives of searching officers at risk.

MARK: You write about this tragedy from a unique position. What were the motivating factors prompting you to sit down and relive this experience?

PETE: While I was in Cortez, I vowed to write a book about this case ‘someday.’ I had collected a considerable number of reports, some of which I wrote. I took over thirty pictures, some of which are inside the book. I collected news accounts for over a year. When a cop is killed, it becomes a personal issue for other cops. It took me almost seventeen years to complete the book and to keep the vow I made. I’m glad I did to venerate the memory of Officer Claxton.

MARK: Hindsight is always easier than living in the moment as things are happening all around you. Looking back, what would you have done differently in this manhunt to locate these suspects quicker?

PETE: Other than the bosses constantly being at odds, I don’t know what else we could have done to make the search easier. In hindsight, as you say, it turned out to be an unresolvable search, except for an incident when one of the three fugitives shot at a deputy sheriff and then killed himself. While we didn’t know it at the time, our efforts proved to be meaningless into the final resolution of the case. Let me simply add that it was plain luck, as often seems to happen, that the entire matter was resolved. But it was some very dramatic luck as the book points out.

MARK: Your book raises some interesting insights into possible motives driving these criminals that may have prompted them to commit these acts. Do you think that some of these motivations might reach a broader group of receptive people in light of what has happened to this country over the last seventeen years?

I think we can all agree that our rights to privacy have shrunk considerably since 1998, and the reach of government has grown beyond anything we could have imagined. People who might not otherwise think about living off the grid, for example, might have reconsidered their opinions based upon recent national trends. Certainly this broader group of citizens would not applaud what these three criminals did in Colorado, but they might share the frustration and fear that our government has overstepped its bounds. What are your thoughts?

PETE: Actually, these three had something of a fan club, and there were many people in the area with anti-government feelings who would have gladly helped them escape if possible. Since it was a national story and got major news coverage from all the large media outlets, people of a similar ilk around the country express their approval in many ways. I’d have to say these three men, like Timothy McVeigh, felt the government was far too oppressive and perhaps they believed they were the leading edge of a revolution they thought would follow. 

A lot of these anti-government sentiments started back in the 1980’s with the Farm  Crisis in the USA. However, one could also argue it started much earlies, and that the Civil Rights Movement in the 50’s and 60’s contributed, as certainly did the Vietnam War. We have more than a few issues facing our country right now, and it will be interesting to see which one surfaces as the next threat to the country.

MARK: How would you classify your three suspects—Jason McVean, Robert Mason, and Monte Pilon? Do they fit in the category of domestic terrorists, or did their anti-government rhetoric just lend them self-aggrandizing justification to commit common criminal acts of robbery and theft for personal gain?

PETE: That’s really a good question because we tend to ascribe ‘mastermind’ status to some of our criminal, most of whom are anything but. In this case, we have one leader and two bonehead followers—but all of them were equally violent. Toward the end of the book, I analyze all of the different theories as to ‘why’ they did what they did. While we’ll never know, my analysis brought the facts down to one common denominator—committing a robbery of large scale. I think I make a case for this, and I still don’t think I can be talked out of it.

MARK: What have you been up to in your writing career since your last contact with us here on Hook’em and Book’em?

PETE: In between this book and FBI Diary: Profiles of Evil, I published another book entitled FBI Animal House. This one chronicles some of the madcap adventures of my class at the FBI Academy, has plenty of funny stories of our antics, and truly exposes the fact that FBI agents are really people, just like everyone else.

MARK: Can you share with us any books that you might be working on for future release?

PETE: After several meetings with myself, I have started writing a bok with a rather unique, and hopefully ‘catchy title’—Sleeping With Torpedoes.” Before I ever went into law enforcement, I was part of the crew of an old, World War II diesel/electric sub marine. We had plenty of ‘adventures,’ and two interesting tours off the coast of Vietnam during the war. It’s something of a memoir, as are all my books, but really only amounts to a four-year slice of what has turned out to be a fairly interesting life.

MARK: Where can people go to find out more about your writing, or to buy your books?

PETE: Probably the best way is to check my website, which is Criminal Profiling Associates. I get quite a few ‘hits’ and referrals to assit law enforcement agencies with unsolved cases on the site. But I also try to keep my readers not only posted on what I’ve been up to lately, but profiles of all my books. It’s a good website, I think, mainly because my wife designed it!

MARK: Any other thoughts or comments you would like to make before we part ways?

PETE: You know, I’ve been thinking about this lately. There is something about the concept of ‘retiring’ I simply don’t get. You hear a lot of retired people say how busy they are, but I think a lot of it is less than true. Maybe busy sitting around and watching the daily soap operas. I truly am never out of something to do. In the last week, for example I spoke before a group of about 200, and a second group of 50. We took a bunch of books with us and sold the majority. I’m constantly doing that type of thing to promote my books, and I do a fair job of keeping my publishers happy. Plus, I’m trying to work on my fourth book, and have several others in mind. I am also an on-air consultant to CNN, MSNBC, and couple of local television stations, newspapers in Colorado, and even Canada’s version of CNN, Canadian TV. When something big happens, I am often called and appear on anyone of the outlets. I‘d like to get out and play some golf, but I have a hard time doing it. I doubt I’ll ever truly retire until I find myself on the south end of the grass. But as I tell Miss Nancy, I have way too much stuff left to do to die!

MARK: Again, thanks for joining us, Pete. Best wishes on the success of your latest book.


Peter M. Klismet served his country with two tours in Vietnam on submarines. Following military service, he earned a college degree, then worked for the Ventura Police Department in Southern California. While there, he attended graduate school, earning two master’s degrees. He was offered and accepted an appointment as a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In a twenty-year career with the FBI, the author was highly-decorated, served with distinction in three field offices, and received numerous awards and recognition from the FBI. Klismet was selected to be one of the original ‘profilers’ for the FBI, perhaps the FBI’s most famed unit. Before his retirement, he was named the 1999 National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.

Following his retirement, he accepted a position as an Associate Professor and Department Chair of a college Criminal Justice program. Having now retired from that, Pete and his wife, Nancy, live in Colorado Springs, Colorado.