Armed to the teeth: The Craig Belknap Story

From The Oregonian, October 21, 1993 – not available online.

Ten years ago, Craig M. Belknap had one enduring obsession: a college student he stalked for years in and around Spokane.

Today, people who know him say Belknap’s obsession is fascism, Nazism and guns.

He has amassed a notable arsenal of weapons and ammunition in Portland even though he doesn’t hold a job and is a former Washington state mental patient with a history of harassment.

Belknap also has been linked to Aryan Nations, a militaristic white supremacist group based in Idaho.

“He’s said the only person he really admired was Hitler,” said his mother, Nita Belknap, “It just made me cringe to hear it. I tried to talk him out of it but there is no talking him out when he makes his mind up. At least I can’t do it.”

Belknap, 35, is awaiting trial in Clackamas County Jail on misdemeanor weapons and trespassing charges. He came to local police attention Sept. 23 in a Clackamas Town Center parking lot, where he had just bought a bulletproof vest from an unidentified man.

Deputies found several weapons on Belknap, including a loaded and cocked .22 caliber Magnum derringer and other handguns.

His case raises several questions:

    *How did he obtain the guns? Authorities won’t say. There are, however, state and federal laws aimed at preventing someone with a history of mental problems from buying firearms from legitimate dealers.

    *What was he planning to do with the weapons? There is little indication of his plans, although an apparent suicide note was found in a search of his apartment.

    *Why did Clackamas County authorities release Belknap after initially arresting him and seizing several weapons? The district attorney’s office says it is standard procedure to cite someone, release him and take the case to a grand jury for indictment. They did keep the seized weapons.

They also say they did not know until later about his mental history and did not know until he was indicted and rearrested that he had numerous other firearms in his apartment. They apparently also did not know that Belknap had reportedly made threats against Portland Mayor Vera Katz.

Belknap left the Clackamas County Jail the day after his arrest and returned to his downtown Portland apartment, just blocks from City Hall.

Belknap’s bail was raised from $100,000 to $500,000 because officials felt he posed a potential threat to the community. His case also has pricked the interest of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents, the Portland Police Bureau, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Belknap did not reply to requests for interviews, and his attorney, Charles Moore, declined comment.

After Belknap’s second arrest, authorities found more weapons, ammunition and some anti-Semitic literature in his Portland apartment, along with a letter of warning to a local television station and the suicide note.

Authorities believe Belknap may have more weapons in a downtown storage locker. They say they have not sought a search warrant because neither the locker nor its contents were linked to any crimes.

That was before Clackamas County deputy district attorney Jerry Seeberger asked for a court order to have the state of Washington turn over Belknap’s mental records.

State and federal laws restrict people diagnosed with mental disorders from buying or possessing firearms. It is also against the law to sell or give firearms to a person diagnosed with mental disorders.

Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents are tracing the weapons. “At this point,” said ATF unit supervisor John McMahon, “We don’t know how he came to obtain those weapons.”

Authorities won’t discuss Belknap’s mental records, but Belknap’s mother remembers vividly the times her son was in and out of Washington state mental hospitals.

“Initially, it was this girl that he fell in love with,” she recalled. “He went on her wagon for a couple of years. He was in love with her, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with him. She was scared.”

In fact, the college student was terrified. In 1982, Belknap was sent to Eastern State Hospital after four years of stalking the student.

He had spotted her when they were both students at Gonzaga University in Spokane. He followed her everywhere. He wrote hundreds of letters and called the student’s family home more than 27 times a day. The young woman had never even spoken to him.

Many of the letters Belknap sent to the young woman were intimidating and obscene. In one letter, he wrote about having her in the back seat of his car, her face covered with razor slits.

When he finally landed in jail for refusing to leave her house, he told a newspaper reporter that he was inflicting “noble terror” on his victim.

At one point, authorities moved Belknap from Eastern State Hospital to Western State Hospital to put more distance between him and the student, whom his mother said he continued to harass.

Nita Belknap, who still lives in Tacoma where she raised her son, said that the obsession lasted until 1990.

In 1986, Belknap was committed again to Western State Hospital in Washington. Doctors diagnosed Craig Belknap as suffering from bipolar manic depression and paranoid schizophrenia, his mother said.

In 1987, Belknap applied for a concealed weapons permit but authorities turned him down because he had a history of mental instability.

He was living in Tacoma in 1988 but made frequent trips to Seattle. Seattle police reported they had contact with Belknap five times that year, all harassment complaints.

The complaints involved claims of harassment at a bank, a university, two television stations and a government office, Seattle police reported.

That same year, according to Tacoma Police spokesman Wally Mason, Belknap was spotted recruiting enrollment for the Aryan Nations at Seattle’s Bumbershoot festival.

Mason said that Tacoma police considered Belknap an affiliate of the Aryan Nations. Police also considered him mentally unstable and dangerous, Mason said.

For the past 1 1/2 years, Belknap rented a studio apartment in downtown Portland. The apartment complex is federally subsidized housing for low-income elderly, handicapped and disabled residents.

Even though his mother says he has never held a job, Belknap was able to afford occasional tickets to the Performing Arts Center. One day, employees said, Belknap demanded a refund for a production of Romeo and Juliet when he learned that Juliet was played by a black woman.

He was always polite and placid and never appeared threatening.

“He usually spouted pretty standard white supremacist stuff,” said Jan Powell, art director for the Tygres Heart Shakespeare Company.

Employees of the theater company and the Performing Arts Center said racist and anti-Semitic literature would sometimes appear stuffed under doors and in brochure boxes.

Belknap is facing four counts of unlawful possession of a weapon, two counts of carrying a concealed weapon, one count of carrying a concealed weapon and one count of trespass with a firearm. His jury trial in Clackamas County District Court starts Thursday.

No other state charges have been filed against Belknap. Seeberger, the prosecutor, says Oregon’s statute is flawed because it restricts only people committed to Oregon mental institutions from owning guns. It does not deal with people committed in other states.

Belknap was born in Tacoma in 1958. He was educated in Tacoma Catholic schools and was considered very bright. He graduated with honors from Gonzaga University in 1981 with a degree in English.

His father, Chet Belknap, was found dead in a Tacoma hotel in 1982 from alcohol and prescription drug overdoses. He was physically abusive to his family, but as Craig Belnap grew to adulthood, Chet Belknap began to fear his son, Nita Belknap said.

Nita Belknap, who watched her son grow up, watched him lose perspective, watched him turn against Jews, doesn’t want to see him as a danger to anyone.

“I don’t think he is, personally,” she said. “I can’t believe, in knowing my son, that he could be that kind of person… I may be all wrong, but that’s my gut instinct.”