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MOVE traces roots to counterculture era

By STEPHEN J. MORGAN

PHILADELPHIA -- The radical group MOVE, whose last major confrontation with police was in a 1978 shootout in which one officer died, traces its origins to the waning days of the 1960s counterculture era.

MOVE was founded in 1972 by Vincent Leaphart, a black third-grade dropout, and Donald Glassey, a white college teacher with a master's degree in social work.

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In 1973, the pair moved into a twin, Victorian home in Philadelphia's Powelton Villge section, near the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. They began to write a book containing the beliefs of Leaphart, who had changed his name to John Africa.

Early on, the group was known as the Community Action Movement but the name was later shortened to MOVE. The group was, and still is, predominantly black. All its members use the surname Africa.

Under John Africa's direction, MOVE espoused a back-to-nature philosophy, eschewing modern conveniences such as electricity. It opposed the killing of any animals, including the rats seen scurrying around the run-down house in Powelton Village, located about 3 miles from the scene of Monday's gunbattle in West Philadelphia.

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MOVE members refused to use soap or to cut their hair, worn in a braided style known as 'dreadlocks.' Believing that food should be recycled into the earth, they routinely threw garbage on the ground around the house.

Neighbors began complaining about the health hazards posed by MOVE's lifestyle.

Between 1975 and 1978, MOVE had several run-ins with city officials and police. The group fortified the house -- which began to be called a 'compound' or 'headquarters' -- and stockpiled weapons. In May 1977, after a nine-hour confrontation with police, authorities began around-the-clock surveillance of MOVE. Eleven MOVE members were charged with weapons offenses.

In March 1978, police, in a tactic approved by the state Supreme Court, sealed off a four-block area around the house and prevented the group from obtaining food and water. The blockade was designed to force the 11 to surrender.

The 50-day siege ended on May 3, 1978, when MOVE members agreed to lay down their arms and surrender. But, as time passed, they refused to adhere to the agreement. A judge ordered the arrest of 21 of them on contempt charges.

On the morning of Aug. 8, 1978, several hundred police and firefighters converged on the house to enforce the judge's order. Gunshots erupted from the house and officer James Ramp, 52, was mortally wounded. Police returned fire.

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Before the shooting ended, four other officers, four firefighters and one MOVE member were wounded. The same day, the city bulldozed the MOVE house.

'We demonstrated patience and tolerance for their abuses against our community far and beyond what civilized people have a right to expect,' said Mayor Frank Rizzo. 'There is no question that MOVE fired the first shot.'

On Dec. 10, 1979, nine MOVE members went on trial for Ramp's death. They were convicted five months later and sentenced to serve 30 to 300 years in jail.

Three police officers were acquitted of charges they beat a MOVE member, Delbert Orr Africa, following the shootout.

On May 13, 1981, after three years of being a fugitive, John Africa was arrested on federal charges of bombmaking and rioting in Rochester, N.Y. He was later acquitted.

MOVE members began moving into their present home in 1981. In December 1983, they began to barricade the structure and to collect weapons. As in earlier years, they began taunting neighbors by yelling at them through loudspeakers mounted on the house.

Less than two weeks ago, neighbors held a news conference to complain about MOVE. Among other things, they said, the group had erected a steel and wooden bunker on the roof.

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MOVE members have lived elsewhere, such as Richmond, Va., but Philadelphia has always been their home base.

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