Cops to conservative talk: You're off the air
Oct. 5, 2009
A conservative talk radio station has been forced off the air after years of wresting with the state and the courts over property rights, shut down by a reported 30 armed police officers who barged into the station in the middle of the owner's radio show and showed him the door.
John Stokes is the owner of KGEZ-radio, a station whose headquarters sit on 6.5 acres and whose towers sit on a 160-acre easement of farmland in rural Kalispell, Mont. According to Stokes, KGEZ is America's oldest independently owned radio station, on air since 1927.
But nine years ago, the Montana Department of Transportation decided it wanted to expand nearby U.S. Highway 93 … right through the middle of the radio station.
Stokes, a former real estate agent for 25 years, valued the cost of destroying his business with the new roadway at $2.5 million, but the state, he says, only offered him $100,000 in order to bulldoze it.
Now, after years of fighting both the state and private interests over the land his station sits on, Stokes is battling in bankruptcy court. And even though at least $3.8 million of his debt is from a questionable, defamation lawsuit still in appeals, the court has come to collect.
Last week, armed deputies from the sheriff's office entered the station, evicted Stokes and turned off the power. Except for its website's online presence, KGEZ is off the air.
Stokes told WND he believes the deluge of lawsuits and judgments is linked both to the content of his broadcasting – for Stokes has blasted big government, environmentalism and illegal immigration, among other sensitive issues – and to local government run amok.
"This is America's oldest station, we're an independent voice, and they're trying to silence us and put me in jail," Stokes said. "They want me to go away."
WND's Joseph Farah, whose radio program once broadcast on KGEZ, sees a bigger picture in Stokes' fight to keep his station:
"By hook or by crook, it seems, government at all levels – local, state and federal – have no respect for property rights nor freedom of speech and the press," Farah said. "What happened to KGEZ should be a wakeup call that we are all in a titanic battle for freedom – and right now we are losing the battle."
Stokes has earned a "fiery" reputation, particularly after burning a huge, wooden, green swastika on Earth Day in 2001, a year after he purchased the station.
Stokes explained that highly financed environmentalists were enforcing "fascist" restrictions and killing local business interests, inciting him and others to refer to them as the "Green Nazis." He burned the swastika – "a vile symbol," he told WND – to protest the environmentalists' actions.
"I didn't put mayflowers on it; I burned the d--- thing," he told WND, "in defiance of it."
In January of that same year, the Montana D.O.T. sought to wipe out the station for its highway. Court battle No. 1 began, and is still in appeals to this day.
Shortly thereafter, the farmer that owned the property KGEZ sits on – with a perpetual easement in place since 1949 allowing KGEZ to construct and maintain its towers – sued to have the easement lifted. Stokes claims the D.O.T. offered the farmer more money for the land without the easement, an essential "bribe" to generate the new lawsuit.
Then another, private developer offered the farmer even more money, purchased the land and convinced a judge to remove the easement from 130 of the 160 acres, limiting KGEZ and its two towers to the remaining 30 acres. Yet another lawsuit began.
In the course of the newest lawsuit, Stokes contended in court that the developers of the land had obtained a residential loan rate to finance a commercial construction, an act of bank fraud. But when he repeated that charge on air, the developers sued Stokes for defamation and an award of $3.8 million.
Though Stokes lost the defamation suit, the amount, he contends, is in violation of Montana law, and Stokes has since appealed it.
Nonetheless, local officials began collection on the debt, which pushed Stokes into bankruptcy court.
Stokes claims his attorney, however, misfiled his financial reports in the Chapter 11 proceedings, so Stokes filed amended reports admitting his debts and showing even greater available assets.
The office of U.S. trustee, however, took double action against Stokes over the misreported assets, converting the case to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy – where assets can be liquidated to pay creditors – and filing perjury charges against Stokes.
Now, Stokes sits without an attorney (his bankruptcy lawyer quit), without a radio station and facing an Oct. 8 court date that may result in him going to jail.
"I just really need help from any source right now," Stokes told WND. "I need an appellate lawyer. I need a constitutional lawyer. I mean, we're in trouble."
Stokes' listeners gathered outside the station the day the sheriff's deputies shut it down, and some have vowed to gather around Stokes now.
"This radio station was the voice for everybody to hear what's really going on," David Dupont told the Flathead Beacon. "It's really a shame."
The newspaper reports Dupont and the other listeners said Stokes talked about "the issues the mainstream media won't, like the gradual encroachment of individual freedoms by the federal government in the form of health care overhaul legislation, and a perceived effort by the government to force everyone to carry ID cards, among other things."
"We will perform rallies ourselves to get the donations we need, because we need this radio station," Dupont added. "John Stokes needs to be back on the air."