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Context of 'March 16, 1999: Freemen Sentenced to Lengthy Jail Terms for Bank Fraud'

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An image of a fraudulent ‘Freeman check’ signed by LeRoy Schweitzer.An image of a fraudulent ‘Freeman check’ signed by LeRoy Schweitzer. [Source: Anti-Defamation League]During this time period, over a dozen Montana anti-government tax resisters—the kernel of what will become the “Montana Freemen” movement (see 1983-1995)—establish themselves, creating what they term “common law courts” in Garfield and Musselshell Counties, and mounting a massive bank fraud scheme. [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]
Beliefs - According to a Washington Post article, the Freemen espouse a number of beliefs that directly contradict federal, state, and local laws. These are:
bullet All forms of organized government are illegitimate and have no right to perform duties routinely assigned to governments, from collecting taxes to requiring automobile licenses.
bullet Thusly, the Freemen can perform a multitude of actions, such as defying foreclosures, issuing arrest warrants, and even putting government officials on “trial.”
bullet They can also act as their own central banks and defraud the government, financial institutions, and area merchants.
Racist 'Christian Identity' Ideology - According to the Montana Human Rights Network and local citizens, most of the Freemen espouse some form of “Christian Identity” religious ideology, which claims that whites are inherently superior to other “inferior” races (see 1960s and After); they also hold radical anti-government views. [Washington Post, 4/1996; Washington Post, 4/9/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] The Anti-Defamation League traces the roots of the Freemen ideology to the the Posse Comitatus movement (see 1969). [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996] They call themselves “Freemen” because, in their view, white Christian males have special “Freemen” citizenship status, while non-whites, non-Christians, and women have second class status or worse. Freemen are above government prosecution and taxation. As US currency has no intrinsic value, any loans taken by Freemen need not be repaid. The US government is run by Jews and therefore has no legitimacy. “Common law” is the rule of the land. [New York Times, 6/15/1996] The Reverend Jerry Walters of Roundup, Montana, will later characterize the Freemen’s beliefs as a “bizarre distortion of the Christianity taught in most churches on Sundays.” (Rodney Skurdal will file a $100 billion lien against Walters after Walters refuses to alter his sermons to reflect Skurdal’s Christian Identity beliefs.) The Post will observe: “American history is littered with examples of how hard economic times produce hard-edged political splinter groups, but the Freemen of Montana are a particularly virulent strain. Their philosophy, a hodgepodge drawn from the Old Testament, the Magna Carta, the anti-tax Posse Comitatus of the 1980s, and a highly selective reading of the Constitution, is laced with racism and talk of a Jewish conspiracy, and puts them at the extreme of the Christian patriot movement.” Steven Gardner of the Coalition for Human Dignity will say: “The Freemen have, in effect, appointed themselves judge, jury and executioner. They are trying to form their own shadow government for a white Christian republic.” [Washington Post, 4/1996; Washington Post, 4/9/1996; Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] “What’s driving them is their biblical and theological agenda,” Walters will say. “Their anti-government conspiracy theories, their anti-tax stance—they’re looking at these things through the lens of Christian Identity.” [Washington Post, 4/9/1996]
Fraudulent Liens - LeRoy Schweitzer and the others concoct a scheme to generate money by filing phony liens against various Montana property owners, or the Montana or US government. The liens have no value; however, once they are created, it takes time for bank computers to recognize them as invalid. During that “window” of time, the liens can be used to generate money transfers from unsuspecting banks. The Freemen file the liens and deposit fake money orders at other banks to be drawn upon the bank listing the lien. The money orders are usually signed by Schweitzer, though Skurdal, Daniel Petersen, and William Stanton (see October 17, 1994) also sign them on occasion. The money orders look quite official, though sometimes they deliberately spell the words “United States” with a lowercase “u.” The Freemen also issue bogus checks labeled “Certified Bankers Check—Controller Warrant,” instead of a bank name, along with account and lien numbers. Many checks are drawn against a non-existent account in a Butte, Montana, branch of the Norwest Bank. The checks state that they are also redeemable at the Office of the US Postmaster. The scheme is, on the whole, quite profitable. The Freemen also sell the money orders, advertising them to their fellow citizens as a quick means of getting out of debt. One distributor explains on a Web site: “LeRoy Schweitzer does have their [sic] own monetary system. When you attend their course on location, they will issue you CHECKS times two (biblical) to pay off all IRS debts and all loans to banks for no charge. They are having success in this area, but it is hard fight [sic].” One Omaha, Nebraska, county treasurer will later explain, “People see these and, if you’re a very unsuspecting person, they really do look authentic.” [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996] Schweitzer, Skurdal, and Petersen are influenced by Roy Schwasinger, described by federal authorities as a right-wing con artist and head of the Colorado extremist group “We the People.” Schwasinger originated the financial schemes that the Freemen run. [New York Times, 6/15/1996]
Appointing Themselves as Legal Officials - The Freemen appoint themselves “justices,” issue “arrest warrants,” and flood local courts and counties with what the Billings Gazette will term “bogus documents.” One of the documents, written by the three Freemen leaders, Skurdal, Schweitzer, and Petersen, is interpreted by local law enforcement officials as a threat. It states: “We the Honorable justices, will not hesitate to use our Lawful force by whatever means necessary to fully support, protect, guarantee, and defend our (common) Law… and… Right of self governing as a free sovereign and independent state.” District Court Judge Peter Rapkoch calls the documents “a bucket of snakes.” In July 1994, one of the Freemen, Skurdal, is prohibited by court order from filing or recording any “frivolous” document with any Montana county clerk of court, clerk and recorder, or the secretary of state (see 1994); Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean A. Turnage calls Skurdal’s filings “not only nonsensical but meritless, frivolous, vexatious, and wasteful of the limited time and resources of this court, of the clerk of this court, and of the various public officials and counsel that are forced to deal with and respond to Mr. Skurdal’s abuse.” Garfield County prosecutor Nick Murnion files misdemeanor charges of impersonating public officials against 13 residents and a felony charge of solicitation of kidnapping against Ralph Clark for a $1 million bounty posted around the county for court officers, the sheriff, and Murnion. Garfield County Sheriff Charles Phipps organizes a posse of about 90 local residents to come to the aid of his outmanned, outgunned three-person department (see January 1994). Murnion eventually files felony criminal syndicalism charges against Freemen members. US Attorney Sherry Matteucci works with local and state officials to share information on anti-government activities. “I think their purpose is to intimidate people and to cause chaos in governmental operations,” she says. [Washington Post, 4/9/1996; Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996; Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: Charles Phipps, Daniel Petersen, Montana Human Rights Network, LeRoy Schweitzer, Jerry Walters, Jean A. Turnage, William Stanton, Anti-Defamation League, Sherry Matteucci, Nick Murnion, Steven Gardner, Posse Comitatus, Peter Rapkoch, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Ralph Clark, Montana Freemen, Roy Schwasinger

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

William L. Stanton, a 64-year-old rancher and self-styled “justice” of a “common law Supreme Court” (see April 23, 1994), is arrested in Billings, Montana, on felony criminal syndicalism charges. The rarely-invoked criminal syndicalism statutes make it a crime to defend, advocate, or set up an organization committed to the use of crime, violence, sabotage, or other unlawful means to bring about a change in the form of government or in industrial ownership or control (see June-July 1994). [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; Encyclopedia.com, 2005; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] Stanton will be convicted, sentenced to 10 years in prison, and fined $10,000 (see February - March 1995).

Entity Tags: William L. Stanton, Montana Freemen

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A jury convicts 10 Montana Freemen on an array of fraud and armed robbery charges (see October 23, 1998). All but one of the Freemen charged with armed robbery are convicted; some of the defendants are acquitted on mail fraud charges. [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen

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

Two Tucson, Arizona, residents, David Vigil and his wife Whitney Starr, are arrested for filing false liens against local officials in Oro Valley. Vigil and Starr describe themselves as “Freemen,” though it is not clear that they are affiliated to the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994 and March 16, 1999). They used Freemen-like legal tactics against local officials when those officials cited a relative of theirs for driving without a license and registration; in retaliation, Vigil and Starr filed false liens against the officials’ property. John Evans of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office says, “That ended up with these people assisting and filing enormous liens against police officers, most of the Oro Valley City Council, [and] the Mayor, alleging that they owed the Starrs millions of dollars.” The liens were eventually dismissed. Authorities believe Vigil and Starr may be part of a larger group. [KOLD-TV, 11/7/2002]

Entity Tags: David Vigil, Whitney Starr, Montana Freemen, John Evans

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Ervin Elbert Hurlbert and Donald Little are arrested while trying to impersonate “Montana marshals” in order to facilitate the escape of Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994) leader LeRoy Schweitzer (see 1983-1995) from a federal prison in Edgefield, South Carolina. Schweitzer is serving a 22-year sentence for a variety of crimes relating to bank and check fraud (see July 3-8, 1998 and March 16, 1999). Both Hurlbert and Little are arraigned for attempting to aid a prisoner’s escape; Hurlbert is also charged with impersonating a law enforcement officer. The two enter the lobby of the Edgefield prison, identify themselves to a prison official as “Montana marshals,” and tell the official that they are there to take custody of Schweitzer. They give the official documents to “prove” their assertion, including a writ demanding that the warden relinquish custody of Schweitzer to “Marshal Ervin Elbert clan of Hurlbert.” One of the documents reads, “United States of America Special appointed Marshal Ervin Elbert: clan of Hurlbert shall assume full responsibility for the custody of the Justice/Petitioner,” meaning Schweitzer. The documents state that Schweitzer is “volunteering to return to the Country of Montana.” The documents are signed by Schweitzer and three former Edgefield inmates. Instead of releasing Schweitzer, prison officials notify local law enforcement, and sheriff’s deputies arrest Hurlbert and Little. FBI agent Deborah DeVito tries to interview Little, but he refuses to answer questions and instead repeats the claim that he is a “process server, noncombatant.” Little also tells DeVito that he is not a United States citizen but an “American National Citizen” and a foreigner from the “Country of Montana.” Hurlbert waives his legal rights, but refuses to sign a waiver form, telling DeVito that he owns his name and will not sign anything. Hurlbert says Schweitzer sent him the documents. He also tells DeVito that the codes of the “Country of Montana permit the establishment of their own Supreme Court and Justices.” Hurlbert says he had no intention of using violence, but admits to having a pistol in his vehicle. He says the gun is registered in the “Country of Montana.” [Associated Press, 3/25/2003]

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, Deborah DeVito, Donald Little, LeRoy Schweitzer, Ervin Elbert Hurlbert

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Montana Freemen leader Daniel Petersen (see 1983-1995), convicted of multiple counts of bank fraud involving false liens and bogus checks (see March 16, 1999), is sentenced to over seven additional years in prison for filing false liens from his Minnesota jail cell. Petersen is sentenced under a 2008 law making it a felony to retaliate against any government officer by filing false liens; his is the first time the law has actually been used. Minnesota US Attorney B. Todd Jones says in a statement: “Over the years, Petersen and his accomplices have repeatedly broken the law in an effort to enrich themselves. Those who have tried to stop them, including members of law enforcement and the judiciary, have been singled out for retaliation.… This prosecution, hopefully, will impress on Petersen and others that, regardless of their beliefs, they will be prosecuted if they break the law, and their attempts at retaliation or intimidation will not succeed.” Petersen filed false liens against three judges, including District Judge John C. Coughenour, who presided over his trial, and two Texas federal judges. He invented a company he claimed held assets, including a $100 trillion default judgment against the United States, and sold “shares” in the company to fellow inmates and others. The shares were supposedly backed by “redemption certificates” Petersen said could be redeemed as soon as he collected on the judgment he said was owed to him by the government. Peterson concocted the scheme after former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declined to respond to his demand for $100 trillion, plus $1 billion per day in interest, for unlawfully confining him. Peterson also filed liens against real property owned by the three judges, offered bounties for the arrest of the judges, and offered rewards to anyone who brought the three to Minnesota to answer his liens. Prosecutors said Petersen ignored repeated warnings while in custody that his actions were unlawful. [Billings Gazette, 4/8/2010]

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, B. Todd Jones, Daniel Petersen, Madeleine Albright, John C. Coughenour

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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