Booby traps were waiting Saturday morning when court-ordered wrecking crews came to level a field of 20-some old trailers on the property of E.H. Hennis.
But the traps were of the prank variety rather than the death-and-destruction kind envisioned from a man who has compared his arsenal of ammonium nitrate to that of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.Ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel were components of the bomb that destroyed a federal building and killed 168 people in Oklahoma City in 1995.
Saturday's booby traps were about 10 flour-based smoke bombs, set to go off when the doors to the trailers opened. And the two bombs police tried to detonate would not go off.
The demolition, which was expected to continue through today, marks the climax to a year-long property rights battle between Hennis and Guilford County elected and zoning officials. Superior Court Judge Henry Frye Jr. ordered Hennis to jail Wednesday after he was a no-show at a contempt of court hearing. He has refused since August to obey court orders to remove the eyesore trailers. He may be released this week.
Around the corner on Groomtown Road, safe from the bulldozers, the villains of Hennis' conservative world-view hang in effigy around his brick home, next to billboards trumpeting his opinions. Some recent additions: a sister he is feuding with, and Bill Clinton with his pants around his ankles.
Last-ditch attempts were made to avert what many see as the saddest potential consequence of the standoff for Hennis.
Between his $48,770 fine for contempt of court and a $10,000 to $20,000 bill from the wrecking company, neighbors worry Hennis, at 75, may not be able to hold onto his home.
One county official whose figure has yet to appear with a rope around its neck in Hennis' display, Sheriff B.J. Barnes, says he has a special relationship with the man at the center of the controversy. They've known each other since 1972.
``I think we actually have a friendship,' he said Saturday. The judge allowed Barnes one last try Wednesday to convince Hennis to go along with removing the trailers before sealing his huge fine in writing. Hennis wouldn't budge.
``As I told him the other night, 'Sometimes you get a little hard-headed and you make it difficult for us to help you help yourself,' ' Barnes said.
The sheriff revisited Hennis in jail Friday night to see if he could learn what surprises the former Greensboro Ku Klux Klan leader and Army detonation engineer had in store for wrecking crews the next morning. Hennis had shown reporters a 6,000-pound supply of ammonium nitrate earlier in the week; when Barnes came with a search warrant Wednesday, it was gone.
``If something blows up, it's not my fault because I'm in jail,' Hennis told Barnes at his arrest. Noting Hennis' care in avoiding charges of making threats, the sheriff said Saturday, ``He's a master of the innuendo and going to the fine line.'
Friday, Hennis confided that he'd only rigged up mixtures of flour, paper and paint primer in 18-inch pipes.
They would blow up when someone opened the door and ``scare the bejeezus out of you,' Barnes said, but nothing worse. Most seemed to be duds. Police kept one for training purposes.
Steam shovels bit into the tops of trailers Saturday, pulling away jaws full of wood and twisted metal, carpeting and insulation. They packed the mess into waiting dump trucks.
Neighbors gathered on their lawns to watch with mixed emotions. It was good to see the trailers finally taken away. Hennis had certainly been given enough chances to cooperate.
But he's also a good neighbor and a clean-living, upstanding man who doesn't deserve to be financially rubbed-out, neighbors said. Hennis built his own house and has always offered his skills for free repairs, they said.
Tragic as the catastrophe looks, however, Barnes insists Hennis is doing what is most important to him: making a statement, not backing down. ``We're all dancing to his tune and he's sitting up in jail. He loves it.'
Workers with D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. are sure Hennis isn't done fighting. ``They're going to give him the bill for doing all this work when he gets out and this whole thing is going to start again,' Tommy Coleman said.