The Strange Saga Of A Militia Leader Arrested For Extorting His Own Members

James Russell Bolton Jr., aka Alessio Don De Grande
Illustration/Facebook

The leader of a right-wing militia known as the Stevens County Assembly will soon travel from West Virginia to Washington State — in law enforcement custody, accused of posing as a member of a Mexican drug cartel and extorting his fellow militiamen, according to a colorful set of court documents obtained by TPM.

The Bluefield, West Virginia Daily Telegraph reported Thursday that James Russell Bolton Jr. waived his right to an extradition hearing earlier in the day, after being arrested Monday at his parents’ home in Princeton, West Virginia. Stevens County, Washington Superior Court Judge Jessica Reeves signed off on an arrest warrant for Bolton on April 22, listing five counts of extortion in the first degree and a count of attempted theft in the first degree.

“It came about quite quickly,” Sgt. A.P. Christian of the West Virginia State Police told the paper Wednesday. “He was the leader of some sort of sovereign citizen’s group. The federal government called and asked for our assistance.”

Christian said law enforcement monitored Bolton’s parents’ house in Princeton until they confirmed he was there, and then “conducted a night-time entry into the residence” to arrest him.

Attorney Natalie Hager represented Bolton in court Thursday morning in West Virginia, the Daily Telegraph reported. It’s unclear if Bolton, who ran a losing write-in campaign for Stevens County sheriff in 2010, has an attorney representing him in Washington. TPM attempted unsuccessfully Thursday to reach Bolton’s parents at their Princeton residence.

Court records from Stevens County, Washington obtained by TPM reveal that the militia leader orchestrated an almost Coen brothers-esque string of alleged crimes before he was caught.

As the Spokesman-Review first reported last week, authorities allege Bolton extorted fellow Stevens County Assembly members using written threats. According to court documents, beginning in late February several militia members found identical letters near their homes threatening physical harm and demanding sums ranging from $10,000 to $250,000.

“The author of the letters claimed to be an organization from outside of the United States and insinuated that it was likely from [a] Mexican cartel,” Detective Travis Frizzell observed later.

The threatening letters were signed by “Alessio Don De Grande” — Bolton’s alleged pseudonym of choice.

Undersheriff Loren Erdman wrote in one report: “The author eludes [sic] to being part of a criminal enterprise or gang.”

Naturally, an archived version of Stevens County Assembly’s website flagged by several news outlets shows Bolton’s obsession with drug cartels.

“Both Spokane and Stevens County have seen a surge in drug-related activity over the past few years and has been exasperated by the Spokane City Council adoption of the Sanctuary City status, welcoming illegals and Islamics with open arms,” Bolton wrote in a post dated May 20, 2015.

“How much can a people tolerate?” he mused in 2014. “Border infiltrations to include armed militants, murders & assassinations by cartel pros, shrinking job markets, rising food & medical cost, a growing military police state, pay raises for our elected, Islamic beheadings in the US, and now Ebola.”

After authorities realized that every extortion victim in the rural northeastern Washington community was connected to the same militia, they slowly zeroed in on Bolton.

In an interview with Undersheriff Erdman on March 19, Bolton claimed he’d received death threats too, but wasn’t concerned about them because “it is common in his work.” Bolton also said another militia member, Timothy Schwantz, might have been angry enough to make the threats because he wasn’t allowed to speak at a recent meeting. (Schwantz, apparently unaware of Bolton’s attempt to shift blame, told investigators a few hours later “that he would get over it soon and he and Bolton would be getting along again.”)

Bolton then told the undersheriff about his military accomplishments and bragged that he “currently trains members of the Stevens County Assembly in hand to hand combat.” 

“I was advised numerous times of Bolton’s military background,” the officer wrote of his interview with Bolton.

Nine days later, Bolton claimed he’d been receiving threatening emails, but said his computer had been hacked and was unusable. He told investigators he was taking the computer to Spokane to be repaired and wasn’t heard from again by police.

Soon after, on March 31, Bolton allegedly tried to kill a fellow militia member at his home by shoving him down a flight of stairs onto a concrete floor, which resulted in a large cut on his head that bled “profusely,” and then attempting to wrap a plastic bag around his face.

After ceasing his attempt to kill the man, fellow Stevens County Assembly member Mark Etchieson, Bolton allegedly claimed his wife Kim had been kidnapped, and that her kidnappers were demanding $100,000.

Etchieson told police that he agreed in the moment to help Bolton with the money, promising $100,000, “the majority of his life savings,” which he scrounged together in part by selling his stock portfolio.

After Etchieson heard from Bolton that the kidnappers had released Bolton’s wife — yet, per Bolton, were still demanding money — Etchieson “began to question the validity of Bolton’s story.”

In an April 2 email from Bolton that Etchieson later showed police, Bolton described being “rough[ed] up a little” by his wife’s supposed captors, who he referred to as “3 perps.”

“They released K, but await the transaction to solidify the deal,” he wrote, adding: “We are witnessing the end of the US as we have known it. I am so proud of you and will always respect your gracious disposition. WE ARE NOT FINISHED MY FRIEND!”

In a subsequent email to all militia members, Bolton wrote that the group would no longer be holding their monthly meeting in the town of Chewelah, population 2,600.

“WA state is being overrun by socialist/liberals and there doesn’t seem to be any organized force to stop them,” he explained, adding: “I am not deterred, just relocated.”

Still, if there’s one thing Bolton apparently trained his devoted militia underlings to do, it’s fight back.

Case in point: Tony Donnelly, who on Feb. 26 found a threatening letter on his girlfriend Gayle Collins’ gate, failed to follow his extorter’s advice to put the demanded money in the mailbox. Instead, Donnelly “set up a hidden camera and put a letter with purple powder in his mailbox in an attempt to catch the suspect.” The substance, Donnelly later told authorities, was “stain theft detection powder.”

Donnelly also provided authorities a grainy video and a picture of a white SUV driving away from the scene, one that authorities later determined looked “very similar” to Bolton’s.

Before his alleged transformation into a serial extortionist, James Russell Bolton was just another small-town militia leader promoting a worldview rooted in the suspicion of big government, “globalism” and non-white people.

A Vimeo account that appears to be associated with Stevens County Assembly describes the militia as “a lawful independent body politic of Stevens County communities, under compact, of like minded individuals to assume our responsibility in restoring our great Republic and to support and uphold the laws of our State and National constitutions.”

Articles on Stevens County Assembly’s now-defunct website run the right-wing gamut, from “Socialism in America” to a letter to the editor bemoaning “the rapid institution of mosques all over America.”

According to a March 2017 copy of the page stored on the Internet Archive, one article is just a few words long. “Critical Analysis: Develop Critical Thinking,” its headline says. “Text coming soon.”

Read the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office’s version of events below:

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