By Joshua Melvin
BRISBANE -- There's a number of reasons the cache of 145 pounds of explosives discovered in a Brisbane home in early October were troubling -- one of them is the background of the man police say put them there.
William Harrell, 46, has links to extreme, anti-government ideas and movements, including the infamous sovereign citizens whose adherents have killed six law enforcement officers since 2000, according to an expert on the group and Harrell's ex-girlfriend. Police, though, have declined to directly associate him with any extremist groups.
Harrell, who is due back in San Mateo County Superior Court on Nov. 8, has pleaded not guilty to possessing a stash of commercial explosives powerful enough to flatten the house they were in.
When reached by phone, Harrell's father said his son is not part of the group. He added the younger Harrell is guilty of nothing worse than listening to a radio program host who critics call a right-wing conspiracy theorist.
But a national expert on sovereign citizens said paperwork William Harrell lodged in 2010 is evidence he is a follower of the ideology, which declares federal, state and local governments operate illegally.
According to records, Harrell made a Uniform Commercial Code filing in Kentucky which lists him as a debtor to himself. J.J. MacNab said sovereigns make these obscure filings because they believe it allows them to lay claim to a secret government bank account that belongs to them.
MacNab said it's hokum, but added that is no indication sovereigns are dummies or wackos. She has been studying them since the 1990s and wrote a publication on sovereigns for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremists.
"Something has happened in their lives that turned off a common sense switch," said MacNab. "They are not stupid or pathetic, nave or poor."
The FBI considers sovereigns a domestic terrorist movement because of their willingness to engage in violence. An early follower of the ideology was Terry Nichols, a convicted accomplice in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.
MacNab estimated in 2010 there were at least 100,000 sovereigns across the country. The FBI says the decades-old movement is a loose network of individuals with no established leadership.
Sovereigns manifest their beliefs in a variety of ways including making their own license plates, driver's licenses, filing frivolous lawsuits or refusing to pay taxes. When confronted on their law breaking, some sovereigns have turned violent.
But local law enforcement authorities have said they don't have any evidence thus far that connects Harrell to the movement.
"We are aware he has filed documents with connections to this ideology," Brisbane police Cmdr. Robert Meisner said. "But that is not evidence he is part of a particular group."
Harrell's ex-girlfriend, who tipped authorities to the closet containing the explosives after an Oct. 1 fight, said he had at least begun paperwork to become a sovereign. She passed her knowledge to police the night of the surreal and terrifying discovery in the home she also shared with her two children. The ex-girlfriend, who recently obtained a restraining order against Harrell, said she had no idea the explosives were there, let alone their source or intended purpose.
Walter Bruce Harrell of Montara says the worst his son's done is listen to the Alex Jones Show. The Anti-Defamation League has called the program an anti-government outlet for conspiracy theories. The league says Jones argued the 9/11 attacks were an inside job and President Barack Obama is a "Trojan Horse" manufactured "to pacify the people."
"My son listens to him," said the elder Harrell. "That is as much as there is to those allegations. Most of what is being written is false."
Harrell added his son had the explosives for a legitimate reason, but said he could not elaborate because of the ongoing criminal case.
Attempts to reach William Harrell were unsuccessful. He's out of jail on a $500,000 bail bond his mother told authorities was secured with $50,000 in proceeds from the sale of a gold bar, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.
The ex-girlfriend said that not long after Harrell's arrest his father asked her about the location of hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold. She said she knew nothing about it.
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.