SEATTLE -- Nobody is going to call John Christian Parks a master criminal.
Not him, certainly. Not his attorneys. Not the federal prosecutors who, having won a conviction against the eight-time felon following a jury trial, asked that he spend a decade in prison for gun crimes.
Last spring, U.S. Forest Service police caught Parks and a gaggle of others smoking meth and shooting semi-automatic assault rifles in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Searching the 38-year-old Belfair resident's home weeks later, police found white supremacist materials - flags and patches related to a racist religious movement - and more guns.
Before this run-in, the apex of Parks' criminal career came in 2004 when he dashed out of a King County jail. Handcuffed and facing prison for drug offenses, Parks was free for several hours before he was surrounded by a crowd of concerned citizens and apprehended.
But, criminal mastermind or not, none of Parks' felony convictions posed much of problem when he started buying sophisticated rifles online.
According to federal prosecutors, Parks bought three assault rifles from men reselling guns they'd purchased from licensed gun dealers, including Cabela's. One seller told police he bought the AR-15-style rifle after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Conn. He told investigators he bought the rifle because there would be "none were left in the stores" following the mass slaying.
Sentencing him to eight years in prison Thursday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly said Parks' conduct "illustrates how easy it is for anyone to buy firearms online or on the street," according to a U.S. Attorney's Office statement. Parks remains jailed pending his tranfer to federal prison.
Caught with rifles, drug dealer claims 'gun grab'
Parks' recent troubles began March 30, when an ATV rider told Forest Service police men shooting nearby had been mean to him. The officers went to the clearing where they found Parks, another convict and three others shooting rifles at explosive targets.
A Chevy Yukon and Ford Ranger parked nearby were packed with gun cases and ammunition. Investigators ultimately seized eight guns, including four assault rifles; two of the rifles were found in the Yukon, which was registered to Parks' girlfriend.
Dressed in green BDUs and a camouflage "boonie" hat, Parks dropped a meth pipe after officers handcuffed him. Police seized the weapons - as well as methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia in the vehicles - but ultimately let Parks go.
As a convicted felon, Parks knew gun possession to be on his long list of "no-nos." Nonetheless, in the days after his arrest he left at least three phone messages with Forest Service police asking that they return "our guns" and his tactical vest.
In email sent from federal detention, Parks told a white supremacist minister the incident was an "illegal gun grab." A second convicted felon arrested at the clearing was also prosecuted. Under Department of Corrections supervision at the time, he pleaded guilty and is currently serving a four-year term in federal prison.
While Parks failed to get his guns back, he succeeded in sparking investigators' interest.
Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives searched Parks' Belfair home in late July. Scouring the home, they found manuals for the seized guns as well as a revolver and body armor. They also found sales records detailing how it was that Parks came to own at least three AR-15-style rifles.
Parks bought one of the rifles, a Smith & Wesson, in late January or early February 2013 from a Belfair man who'd purchased it a month before from Bull's Eye Shooter Supply in Puyallup.
The initial buyer told investigators he bought the gun because he believed semiautomatic assault rifles might be banned after the Sandy Hook massacre, during which the gunman used an AR-15-style rifle as well as a handgun.
The man said "he figured he would purchase a rifle before none were left in the stores," an ATF agent said in court papers, recalling an interview with the man. He "had the rifle for a short time, but he said he and his wife needed money, so he put the rifle up for sale on Craigslist."
Parks contacted the man through the post and bought the gun at a Chevron parking lot for about $2,000. The seller described him as "one of those end of the world types of guy," according to the ATF agent, but didn't ask to see his id or attempt any kind of background check.
A few months later, the man sold a second rifle to Parks. He told investigators he again bought a pricey AR-15 - a Bushmaster Firearms International this time, bought at the massive Cabella's sporting goods store in Lacey - but almost immediately realized his family was short on cash and sold it on Craigslist.
Agents searching Parks' home found he'd bought another Smith & Wesson assault rifle from a Virginia man through Gunbroker.com, an online site similar to eBay. Conflating two assumed names in emails to the seller, Parks offered the winning bid and bought the 7.62 mm rifle without verifying his identity.
Having received the rifle in mid-March, Parks thanked the seller for his "patience in dealing with … state laws and formalities" in an anti-Semitic, paranoid email.
"Thank you and Yahweh bless you and the men and woman you work with in uniform," Parks said. "Yahweh protect you all from our enemies abroad and may you all uphold your oath to the constitution to protect it from foreign and DOMESTIC enemies that are trying every day … to bring a communist socialist dictatorship (where) the American is … the sheep to be (led) to the Gulag FEMA camps to have a fate as much of our Russian kinfolk did in the 20th century under the Bolshevik revolution IE:Jewish Zionist revolution=TORTURE and DEATH!
Plans to preach hate
While he now disputes the claim, Parks appears to travel in white supremacist circles and follow its theological offshoot, the Christian Identity movement.
In email sent from federal detention, Parks asked his girlfriend to send him contact information for a prominent Christian Identity pastor. He later emailed the pastor, describing himself as a Christian Identity "adherent" of more than 16 years and said he has proselytized while incarcerated.
Adherents to the Christian Identity theology argue non-white people do not have souls, only whites will be allowed an afterlife and that white power over non-white people is ordained by God. The faith has been adopted by parts of the Neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements in the Pacific Northwest.
Members of the since-dismantled Whidbey Island hate group The Order followed Identity Christianity. Ten members of The Order were prosecuted in the mid-1980s following a crime spree that involved the assassination of a talk radio host, armored car robberies and a counterfeiting scheme.
Writing from federal detention, Parks told the pastor in the email that he'd been punished for spreading his racist faith while locked up. He asked the pastor for a "bible course" so he could educate himself to better do so.
Email correspondence submitted to the court also showed Parks sent a friend to retrieve white supremacist literature from Northwest hate groups' online sites.
In a memo to the court, Parks' attorney noted that no evidence of his client's white power ties was presented to the jury that convicted him. That evidence - photos of the white supremacist flags and writings taken from Parks' home, emails referencing the Aryan Nation and Christian Identity groups - was kept from the jury in an effort to keep Parks from being punished for his beliefs rather than his conduct.
'No intention of complying'
While prosecutors requested a decade-long sentence, Parks, through his attorney, asked for a four-year prison term.
Writing the court, defense attorney Terrence Kellogg noted none of Parks' prior convictions were for violent crimes; his escape attempt aside, Parks has been a drug offender.
Prosecutors contend Parks' behavior showed him to be a dangerous man unwilling to follow the law.
"The combination of his drug dealing convictions, his clear and deliberate attempts to conceal his identity as the purchaser of the charged weapons, and the nature of the firearms themselves demonstrate that Parks has no intention of complying with the law and will likely continue to obtain firearms upon release from incarceration," Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Hobbs said in court papers.
Parks was convicted on one count of unlawful gun possession following a jury trial. An appeal has not yet been filed.
SEATTLE -- Nobody is going to call John Christian Parks a master criminal.