Connecticut Survivalist Alliance
Patrick Andrews (AKA Drew Nolan), a former gun store owner, was forced into hiding after he assisted federal agents in the arrest of 12 Phoenix Viper militia members.
Viper Team militia informant risks life to reclaim identity
By Lou Michel
Pappy Andrews wants his identity back. He gave it up more than a decade ago after helping federal agents break up a right-wing militia in Phoenix. Because he had put his life on the line and there were fears the militia or its friends might harm him, the federal government gave him a new identity.
But now, Andrews, 49, is tired of hiding and wants his old life back.
“I’ve done nothing illegal, and I’ve lost more than 13 years. I’m so far below zero that a newly arriving immigrant has more rights than me,” Andrews said. “I walked away from my children in order to keep them safe. The militia movement and its friends have a code for dealing with spies: kill them.”
Patrick “Pappy” Andrews is the name he took while on the run.
He landed in this area a year or two ago, met a local woman and got married. Now, he wants to settle down.
But to do that, he says, he needs the government to fix an inadequate identity it provided to him years ago. Then, he can create a normal life for himself.
The faulty government identity prevents him from voting, registering a car or filing tax returns. Even more upsetting, he says, is the time he lost contact with his three children after he left them behind to protect them from threats he was receiving.
For all of those reasons, he is doing what most people with a death threat hanging over their heads would never consider: He is publicly revisiting his old identity in the hopes of moving on with his life.
Andrews says he feels he has no choice but to go public, because years of desperate letters and phone calls to federal officials have gotten him nowhere. Government documents and old news stories on the operation that fill a folder appear to support his claims.
Yet he acknowledges that going public is a risk, because the dozen Viper Team militia members he helped put behind bars have served their prison terms.
If the government fails him again, he says, he is willing to give up his low-key life here and move on, because “it’s hard to hit a moving target.”
In 1995, the man once known as Drew Nolan was managing a Phoenix gun store, one of the biggest in the Southwest, and was in a position to get acquainted with militia members.
His job brought him into daily contact with all kinds of people, law-abiding citizens and others angry at the federal government for its failures at Waco and Ruby Ridge, where citizens died in mishandled law enforcement operations.
In retaliation, the government suffered a major blow from the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, where Pendleton native Timothy J. McVeigh killed 168 people.
So when agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives asked for Andrews’ help to infiltrate the Viper Team militia, he agreed.
“It was the right thing to do,” he said.
With his help, the agents arrested 12 Vipers and confiscated more than 2,000 pounds of explosives and truckloads of guns and ammunition.
After the arrests, Andrews said, he could have applied for the federal witness protection program but had lost faith in the government.
ATF agents, he said, failed to carry through on a plan to cover his tracks by arresting him with other Vipers and later releasing him on lack of evidence. His real name was also leaked.
“I felt like I was set up to be the fall guy,” Andrews said.
But before Andrews fled in 1996, the government provided him “the beginnings of a new identity” in the form of a legal name change, an Arizona driver’s license and, eventually, $7,500 in reward money, he said.
Loose ends, however, made it difficult to live with the new identity.
He lacked a birth certificate and new Social Security number under the name of Patrick Andrews. Without those key forms of identity, he found himself at a disadvantage in proving who he was, particularly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when laws were strengthened to thwart fake identities.
He says he wants a new Social Security number that includes all of the money he paid in payroll deductions under his old Social Security number since age 14. This would ensure that when he retires, he receives benefits that are rightfully his.
Above everything else, he said, he wants “a non-negotiable apology to my family from the government. My mother just died, and I hadn’t seen my daughter, Maegan, since 1996” — though they were recently reunited.
He explained that when he began his life on the run, he was unable to take his three children because they were from previous marriages and living with their mothers.
And while he has struggled these past 13 years, Andrews says he has taken notice of others involved in the Viper investigation and how well they have fared.
Janet Napolitano, the U.S. attorney in Phoenix at the time, went on to become Arizona’s governor. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Welty, one of the prosecutors, became a superior court judge in Phoenix, and another assistant federal prosecutor found work at the World Court in The Hague. Others received medals for their service.
“I had to leave Phoenix with everything I owned in the back of a truck. I didn’t get a promotion or a pay raise,” Andrews said. “I ended up as someone who does not exist.”
But a deeper look into his past reveals some questions.
He acknowledges once being a member of the Ku Klux Klan. A decade before the Viper probe, he said, he joined the Klan to make a stand against reverse discrimination but later quit “when I realized it was all hate.”
His past also includes employment as a police officer and 6 1/2 years of service in the Air Force before receiving an honorable discharge.
As for his undercover work, he remains passionate, saying, “I helped stop another Oklahoma City.”
Whether the government will respond to his public request for help remains to be seen.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix declined to comment. ATF’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., has asked Andrews to fill out a release form before it will consider commenting on the case.
“He’s not the first person to put his trust in the government and find out that they are unable to deliver on their promises,” said Buffalo defense attorney John J. Molloy, who over the years has represented defendants who depended on the government for identity changes.
Is this supposed to make us feel sorry for him?
Oh, poor baby - you betrayed your friends.
You made your bed, and chose your bedfellows.
Now live with them.