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Context of 'March 14, 1996: Freemen Attempted to Buy $1.4 Million in Weapons, Arms Dealer Says'

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The Montana Freemen (see September 28, 1995 and After), seemingly unrestrained by local laws (see January 1994, June-July 1994, February - March 1995, May 1995, September 28, 1995 and After, and October 2, 1995), publish a “public notice” in local newspapers announcing their intention to take control of a huge swath of land in northeastern Montana, including land owned by private citizens, the State of Montana, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). They announce that anyone trespassing on their land will be “arrested” and punished. The people of Jordan, Montana, and the nearby areas are outraged. “So if Dad was out feeding his cows,” says the son of a rancher who leases grazing land from the state, “to them he’d be trespassing on their so-called land, and they’d take him to their court. And from there your imagination could run rampant.… Maybe they wouldn’t do anything, but who knows. Dad was really upset; up until that time, all their threats had been against government officials. Now they were disrupting our lives.” County voters, enraged by local, state, and federal inaction against the Freemen, schedule a meeting to discuss their own actions against the Freemen, including cutting the telephone lines to the Freemen ranch and blockading the county roads leading to their compound. In apparent response, Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer holds a meeting (videotaped and later shown in court) outlining their own plan to kidnap government officials, perhaps a preemptive strike against the local citizenry. Schweitzer says: “We’ll travel in units of about 10 outfits, four men to an outfit, most of them with automatic weapons, whatever else we got—shotguns, you name it.… We’re going to have a standing order: Anyone obstructing justice, the order is shoot to kill.” Afterwards, many speculate that the FBI, likely conducting surveillance against the Freemen for months and aware of the escalating conflict, decides the time is right to move against the Freemen (see March 25, 1996). [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, Federal Bureau of Investigation, LeRoy Schweitzer

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A Eureka, Montana, arms dealer, Cajun James, currently suing Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer (see 1993-1994) and other Freemen discloses that in February 1995 Schweitzer tried to buy $1.4 million in military-style weapons and equipment, including 200 .50-caliber rifles, 200,000 rounds of ammunition, 200 bulletproof vests, and 200 sets of binoculars. The Freemen’s money order bounced and the arms were never delivered. The FBI seized the check Schweitzer wrote and informed James it was fraudulent. James says the check looked so authentic that his bank had set up a new savings account for him and credited him with the money after reviewing the check. “It says ‘Certified Money Order,’ has the name and address of the ba[n]k on it and a notary signature,” James says. “By looking at it, there is no reason to think it is fraudulent. It was good enough to fool my bank.” The account number on the check was traced to the US District Court in Butte, Montana, and was active between 1990 and 1994, when it was shut down because Freemen were writing counterfeit checks on it. [Washington Post, 4/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Cajun James, LeRoy Schweitzer, Montana Freemen

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The FBI brings a Montana Freemen member (see March 25, 1996), Edwin Clark, to Billings, Montana, to discuss terms of the Freemen’s surrender with jailed Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer, who gives his “blessing” for a surrender. Clark will emerge as the Freemen’s primary negotiator, and will be credited by federal officials with helping bring the standoff to a peaceful end (see June 13, 1996). A source tells the Associated Press: “Edwin had to become at peace with LeRoy about it [a surrender]. He didn’t want to go forward without checking with LeRoy first.” The source adds: “They’ve pretty much agreed it won’t be a gun battle. I’m extremely hopeful at this point. It’s an extremely positive sign.” The deal is conceived of and brokered by Kirk Lyons, an attorney famous for representing Aryan Nations members (see Early 1970s and 1981 and After) and other right-wing extremists in court. The FBI was not sanguine about letting Clark meet with Schweitzer in the Billings prison. Neill Payne, who works with Lyons in the CAUSE Foundation, a white supremacist legal organization, will later recall that an FBI agent initially responded to the plan by saying: “Let me get this straight. You want us to take a man who is technically under arrest, fly him in an FBI plane to a jail we hope to see him incarcerated in, bring him home, and then put him under siege again? Is that what you’re asking?” The FBI eventually agreed to the plan, though it was worried that Schweitzer might advise his colleagues to continue the standoff. The deal almost backfires when, after bringing Clark back to the ranch, the Freemen spot large tractors in neighboring fields and become instantly suspicious of an FBI trick. “Seeing those tractors was like waving a red flag at a bull,” Payne will later say. “Our guys were incredulous, and the Freemen were acting like an ants’ nest that got kicked over. They got their guns and they manned their sentry posts.” But Lyons and the FBI manage to calm the Freemen’s fears. [Associated Press, 6/12/1996; Associated Press, 6/13/1996; Los Angeles Times, 6/15/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: LeRoy Schweitzer, CAUSE Foundation, Edwin Clark, Kirk Lyons, Montana Freemen, Neill Payne, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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