Members of a militant group that holds that Texas is still an independent nation fired gunshots and took two people hostage today, describing them as "prisoners of war" who had been captured in retaliation for the arrests of two of the group's followers.
Early this evening, the dirt road leading to what the group calls its embassy, in the remote Davis Mountains of West Texas, was blocked off and at least 20 police and emergency vehicles swarmed around the scene.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said the Federal Bureau of Investigation had also been called to the area, and Officer Lucila Torres, a department spokeswoman at the scene, said, "Hostage negotiations are under way and ongoing."
One hostage was described by his captor as having minor injuries from broken glass, but officials said they could not confirm that.
For months the group, known as the Republic of Texas, has conducted what the Texas Attorney General, Dan Morales, calls "paper terrorism," filing bogus liens and passing tens of thousands of dollars in worthless checks. But though warrants had been issued for the group's leader, Richard L. McLaren, and other members, state and Federal authorities had not tried to arrest them because they hoped to avoid a confrontation like the one with the Branch Davidians near Waco, Tex.
Mr. McLaren said Robert Scheidt, a group member, was detained today in Fort Davis by the Jeff Davis County Sheriff's Department. The department declined to comment. Within minutes, Mr. McLaren's followers, who said they heard of the detention on a police scanner, swooped into the nearby home of Joe Rowe, head of a property owner's association that has been in legal battles with Mr. McLaren for years.
In Austin, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety said 13 state troopers, 2 Texas Rangers and the entire Jeff Davis County Sheriff's Department had surrounded the area around the "embassy." A dispatcher at the sheriff's office referred calls to state officials.
Mr. McLaren, reached by telephone at the embassy, said tonight: "We are at war with the United Nations and all foreign entities. We are not at war with the American people, but we are at war with the Federal agencies which have no jurisdiction here."
At the same time, a call to Mr. Rowe's house was answered by a man who identified himself as Lieut. Richard Keys of the Republic of Texas Defense Forces. He said Mr. Rowe and his wife, M.A., were prisoners of war, held under provisions of the Geneva Convention.
Mr. Rowe was described by Mr. McLaren as a Federal "mole" who had told the sheriff that Mr. Scheidt would leave the property today.
Mr. McLaren, holed up for months in a cabin 15 miles outside Fort Davis, refused to answer a warrant in a case involving bogus liens. He said a peaceful solution to the standoff was possible if Mr. Scheidt and another follower in Austin were released from jail, and if Gov. George W. Bush and state leaders agreed to a referendum on independence for the state's 18 million residents.