FLINT CITY, Ala. -- The jungles of Nicaragua and the deserts of Arizona are both a long way from north Alabama, the home of a shadowy paramilitary outfit that operates on a shoestring but flexes its anti-communist muscles in faraway places.
Civilian Materiel Assistance, organized three years ago by Thomas Vincent Posey, a wholesale grocer in Decatur, Ala., has provided military supplies and know-how to anti-communists in Central America, including government forces in El Salvador and Nicaraguan rebels.
CMA even lost two volunteers who were killed in 1984 when their medical evacuation helicopter was shot down near the Nicaraguan border with Honduras.
Their latest exercise came along the U.S.-Mexican border in Arizona, where armed CMA patrols recently hit the headlines when armed volunteers rounded up a group of illegal aliens, turning them over to the immigration service. The CMA, which has no police or governmental authority, also said it was patrolling for drug smugglers.
CMA claims 5,000 members in all 50 states, many of them veterans of Vietnam, and says it collects 'nickel-and-dime' donations to fund its stated mission: to stop communists and other undesirables who assault the political and geographical sanctity of the United States.
'I describe the CMA as American citizens ... stopping communism by the best way they know how and that's getting up and doing something,' Posey said in an interview at his middle-class home in Flint City, a small residential community south of Decatur.
'It's time for Americans to stand up and fight for what they believe in,' said Posey, 40, a balding ex-Marine.
Posey said CMA has many friends among conservatives in the federal government and he portrays its members as straight-arrow adventurers whose only compensation is the opportunity to help fight commulism.
The original name was Civilian Military Assistance but the middle word was recently changed to 'Materiel' to stress the group's donations of cash and supplies -- CMA says it has raised $35,000 cash and another $4 million in supplies -- to anti-communists. The group wanted to avoid any connection to actual combat, said Posey, who does not quite confront accusations that CMA is a platoon of mercenaries.
'A mercenary gets paid,' said Posey. 'Do I look like I get paid?'
However, dark clouds hover over CMA.
The group is trailed by hints of shadowy connections, ranging from the CIA to the Ku Klux Klan, and members have been charged with an assortment of Latin American mischief, including gun running, drug smuggling and assassination plots.
Investigators for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., uncovered allegations from former Nicaraguan contras who said Posey helped with an assassination plot in 1985 against Lewis Tambs, who then was U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica and now serves as ambassador to Colombia.
According to Ron Rosenblith, a Kerry aide, Posey allegedly plotted the assassination uith Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, a major Contra fund-raiser, and John Hull, an American who owns a large ranch in Costa Rica that is alleged to be used as a refueling point for drugs and guns smuggled by Contras. Also implicated by the Kerry probe was Adolfo Calero, who heads the U.S-backed Contra group called the FDN (Nicaraguan Democratic Force).
In addition, a $23.8-million lawsuit filed by two journalists and the Christic Institute, a liberal public interest law firm in Washington, names Posey as one of 30 defendants, along with two former CIA officials, Calero and Singlaub.
The suit, filed in May, alleges Posey plotted to kill former Contra leader Eden Pastora in late 1984. The alleged plot to kill Pastora was unsuccessful. A bomb set at a news conference in Nicaragua in 1984 killed eight people, but Pastora escaped unharmed. The suit also alleges Posey participated in a plot to bomb the U.S. embassy in Costa Rica in 1985. This plot, the suit said, never reached fruition.
Also, the FBI revealed in 1984 that CMA was under investigation for violation of the Neutrality Act in connection with arms being furnished to the Contras. However, CMA was never prosecuted.
Posey denies all of the charges. He said the lawsuit 'has the makings of a C-rated movie' and attacked his accusers as 'communists.'
'We don't believe in terrorism in any fashion,' Posey said.
Posey has known Calero since he started CMA.
Posey said he knows Singlaub and Hull only from occasional meetings and works for neither. However, CMA provided the security at the 1985 annual meeting of the World Anti-Communist League, of which Singlaub is chairman, according to The Resource Center in Albuquerque, N.M., a non-profit organization that questions U.S. actions in Central America.
Posey denied any connection with the CIA, but watchdog organizations that have looked into CMA say there are strong indications of a link.
'There is a strong suspicion that some of the money is coming clandestinely from the CIA or the military in this country,' said Beth Sims, of The Resource Center. 'But in terms of concrete evidence, we don't have that.'