MAXWELL:  Driven by anger, he makes some sense

5/28/1995 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Sounds of rebellion still echo among the hills of this settlement of 700 people that is flanked by famous names such as Appomattox, Sailor’s Creek, Petersburg. The strongest voice here today is that of Robert T. Robinson, a 62-year-old retired merchant seaman, who is running for sheriff of Lunenburg County against the incumbent Wesley “Pee Wee” Adams.

I wanted to meet Robinson, an angry white man whom many locals call the “Lunatic of Lunenburg County.” Ten minutes into our interview, I realized that a deep sense of right and wrong guides him, that some of his ideas, far from being crazy, make perfect sense.

His initial mission was to organize an armed citizens militia to protect, among other things, the constitutional rights of the county’s approximately 12,000 residents from the encroachments of indifferent and often hostile government agencies.

But the Oklahoma City bombing and the ugly specter of paramilitary groups justifying the human carnage in the Alfred P. Murrah Building made Robinson abandon the militia idea. “I support the goals of militias, but I don’t want to be around any nuts or crackpots,” he says, “I’m not interested in making bombs or killing kids.”

In campaign literature and speeches, Robinson now proposes a 200-member “auxiliary” police force. Each volunteer will be armed with an assault weapon, and he will ask every law-abiding citizen to carry a weapon.

He believes that citizens should be directly involved in their government and that an auxiliary force is one of the best ways to accomplish this objective. His reasoning is simple: “Auxiliary police know the people. They’re interested in what’s going on in the families, in the churches. They’re the eyes and ears of the police. They’re the community’s conscience, the bedrock.”

Robinson, who wears fatigues every day, earns his living growing tomatoes on a 140-acre farm he calls “God’s Pocket.” He is also an authority on ticks and publishes a brochure on the vermin. Some people say that this expertise alone qualifies him for sheriff.

On the practical side, he says that crime, police ineptitude and political corruption mainly drew him into the sheriff’s race. He has been robbed four times, losing hundreds of gallons of gasoline and diesel, tools and farm implements. None of the robberies was solved, he says. He was encouraged to run also because the sheriff’s wife was selected as the county’s commissioner of revenue. The potential for corruption in this arrangement is too great for him to ignore.

At first, he did not take himself or the election seriously. Having collected enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, however, he changed his attitude.

If he becomes sheriff, Robinson says he will reorganize the six-man department. Instead of working on weekdays when few crimes occur, officers will work nights and weekends when crime is high. The people’s safety will come first.

Deputies will not run errands for judges or other politicians, write tickets or perform other duties involving revenue collection. The auxiliary will handle such duties. Deputies will spend their time preventing crime and catching crooks. They will be required to know constitutional law and investigative techniques that improve prosecution. Currently, he says, the department’s incompetence lets too many hoods go free.

But his vision of America goes well beyond Lunenburg County. He believes that the nation has lost the values that undergird American life. The middle class, white and black people, is the repository of these values.

“The people who will defend our rights are the middle class,” he says. “The rich and the poor don’t have middle-class values. They don’t get up in the morning. They don’t work. They aren’t dependable. They’re not honest. They don’t stay and defend their families. They all find excuses to avoid war. The rich go to college. The poor take off some damned place or find some medical reason. So, it’s the middle class the Founding Fathers were thinking about. It’s the middle class that they wanted to bear arms. Middle-class men made the first revolution and put out their blood for that revolution.”

As with many other disaffected Americans _ especially white men _ we are meeting for the first time as a result of the Oklahoma City bombing, Robinson is outraged that the so-called monied elite, driven by greed and egoism, has betrayed the country.

“I’m appalled that those with the finest educations, who had all of the advantages, are destroying this great nation,” he says. “We’re talking about the finest lawyers. They’re stealing from us. Look at the savings and loans scandal. Our smartest people did this.

“Our brightest politicians are intentionally shipping our best jobs out of the country. Former generals, admirals, CIA agents, former congressmen and senators, people on the trade commission are working for Japan. They’re making millions selling our high-priced jobs. I can’t stand it! They’re selling the Defense Department $5 wrenches for $500. They’re destroying our great nation.”

Robinson does not believe that he will win the election. But he does believe that his core message will sink into the people’s consciousness. In time, he says, enough people will become as fed up as he is with the status quo.

“Maybe then they will be ready to help people like me take back our great country. I can’t take it anymore!”

As I drove away from “God’s Pocket,” I sensed that I would hear of this angry man again. In my rearview mirror, I could see him checking signatures on the petition that would qualify him to run against “Pee Wee” Adams.

Bill Maxwell is an editorial writer and columnist for the Times.