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Context of 'January 1994: Montana Freemen Occupy County Courthouse, Declare Themselves County Government, Threaten to ‘Hang’ Sheriff'

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A poster issued by the Freemen placing a $1 million bounty on the head of Garfield County Attorney Nick Murnion.A poster issued by the Freemen placing a $1 million bounty on the head of Garfield County Attorney Nick Murnion. [Source: Anti-Defamation League]Frustrated at the foreclosure of their farm, the Clark family of Jordan, Montana (see 1980s-1994), takes part in an armed takeover of the local county courthouse. The assault is carried out by a group of Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994), an anti-government, tax-resister group recently joined by members of the Clark family. The Clarks set up their own “common law” court, and join some three dozen Freemen in taking over Garfield County’s courthouse. They hold a meeting declaring themselves the county government. Presiding at the meeting are two of the Freemen founders, Rodney Skurdal and Daniel Petersen (see 1983-1995). Richard Clark is the presiding judge. The “court” charges the real judge, and others whom the Clarks feel have persecuted them, with contempt. Richard Clark tells the 30 people, “We’ve opened our own common law court and we have the law back in the county now.” They even videotape the meeting. Within days, posters appear around Jordan, offering a $1 million bounty for the arrest of the Garfield sheriff, county attorney, and judge. A rather bemused Sheriff Charles Phipps asks one of the Freemen if he would get the bounty if he turned himself in. The Freeman replies he would get the money, he wouldn’t live long enough to enjoy it: he’d be “tried, convicted, and hung.” Phipps’s amusement drains quickly, but he realizes there is little he can do: he has one deputy and a two-cell jail and little more. He realizes that if he intends to force the Clarks off of their farm, he will require outside help. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Daniel Petersen, Charles Phipps, Richard Clark, Montana Freemen, Rodney Owen Skurdal

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A jury convicts Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994) leader LeRoy M. Schweitzer (see 1983-1995) and three of his fellows, Dale Jacobi, Daniel E. Petersen Jr., and Russell D. Landers, for conspiracy and bank fraud (see May 27, 1998 and After). Schweitzer is found guilty on 21 of 30 counts, most involving fake checks and money orders issued by the group. Schweitzer, Petersen, Richard Clark, and Rodney Skurdal are found guilty of two counts of threatening to kill Judge Jack Shanstrom. The defense argued that the Freemen sincerely believed that they were doing what was necessary; defense attorney Anthony Gallagher said during the trial, “These were folks that legitimately believed that their government was no longer their government.” After several days of jury deliberations, District Judge John C. Coughenour declares a mistrial on 63 unresolved counts of the 126 total charges; one of those charges is that all the defendants engaged in an enormous fraud scheme. [Reuters, 7/3/1998; Associated Press, 7/3/1998; Southern Poverty Law Center, 8/1998; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, Dale Jacobi, Daniel Petersen, LeRoy Schweitzer, Richard Clark, Russell Dean Landers, John C. Coughenour, Rodney Owen Skurdal

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Judge John C. Coughenour sentences Montana Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer (see November 18, 1998) to over 22 years in prison, and orders almost $40,000 in restitution, on charges stemming from the Freemen’s expansive bad-check scheme that spread throughout the country (see 1993-1994). Freemen leader Rodney Skurdal receives a 15-year sentence. Another group leader, Daniel Petersen, is sentenced to 15 years and ordered to pay $39,845 in restitution. Former Canadian police officer Dale Jacobi receives 13 years. Richard Clark receives 12 years. William Stanton (see October 17, 1994) receives a three-year sentence. Two of the convicted Freemen’s wives, Agnes Stanton and Cherlyn Petersen, are sentenced to time served and released. Coughenour says of the Freemen’s crimes, “What we are talking about is a calculated and organized program to undermine the banking system of this country and to encourage other, more ignorant people to violate the law.” He says that the Freemen’s sentences should send “a loud and clear message to those who pass this hatred and ugliness around.… Be forewarned, your personal liberty is at stake.” Schweitzer and five other Freemen, continuing to refuse to accept the sovereignty of the court, refuse to attend the sentencing and watch the proceedings from a holding cell. [Seattle Times, 3/17/1998; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: John C. Coughenour, Agnes Bollinger Stanton, Cherlyn Bronson Petersen, Daniel Petersen, LeRoy Schweitzer, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Dale Jacobi, Montana Freemen, Richard Clark, William Stanton

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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