Sep 17, 2002

Philly Radicals Fortifying House

The Associated Press
September 17, 2002

Philadelphia -- Members of the radical group MOVE have begun boarding up windows and fortifying their house, perhaps preparing to defy a court order over the custody of a child.

The back-to-nature group and police have engaged in two deadly clashes in the past 25 years, including one in which police dropped a bomb on a MOVE house, starting a fire that spread through a neighborhood.

The current conflict is the result of a Common Pleas Court order issued this summer that authorized visitation rights for the father of 6-year-old Zachary Africa, whose mother is a MOVE member. The name MOVE does not stand for anything.

MOVE members said the father, John Gilbride, was physically and emotionally abusive to Zachary, who lives in the group's West Philadelphia house.

"This government knows how we feel about our children,'' said Ramona Africa, a MOVE leader. "This situation now, it's very critical.''

Gilbride, a former MOVE member, has an unpublished phone number and could not be reached for comment Tuesday. In the past, his attorneys have said the abuse allegations were fabricated.

The first and third floor windows of the group's stone house were boarded up Monday and members were cutting up boards to cover other windows. Other residents were carrying food inside.

Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson said police would not initiate a confrontation.

MOVE has had a turbulent history with the city.

Neighbors had complained for years that members of MOVE - a cult whose members adopted the surname Africa, ate raw food, espoused equality with animals and preached against technology - shouted from bullhorns late into the night, were confrontational and unsanitary, and jogged on people's roofs.

When police tried to serve warrants on May 14, 1985, MOVE members opened fire. In response, a police helicopter dropped explosives on a bunker atop the MOVE house, igniting a fire that destroyed 39 houses on one street and 22 on an adjacent street. Five children and six adults in the MOVE house died.

Another conflict took place at a fortified house in a different West Philadelphia neighborhood in 1978. A police officer was killed when police tried to evict the group and nine MOVE members were convicted of murder.