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Context of 'March 29, 1996: Two Freemen Plead Not Guilty to Charges'

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The Clark ranch.The Clark ranch. [Source: Billings Gazette]The Clark family of Jordan, Montana, led by Ralph Clark and including his brother Emmett, Emmett’s wife Rosie, Ralph’s son Edwin, his nephew Richard, his grandson Casey, and Richard’s wife Kay, begin exhibiting radical anti-government views. The Clarks, who work a 960-acre wheat farm, are not averse to accepting over $700,000 in government assistance, but due to poor planning and overextensions due to land and machinery purchases, they find themselves deeply in debt. In 1981, they stop paying their federal farm loans. By 1995, they owe $1.8 million in missed payments. By that time, the Clarks have begun listening to the tax-resister, anti-government rhetoric of the “Montana Freemen” in Roundup, Montana, some 150 miles away (see 1983-1995 and 1993-1994). Alven Clark, Ralph and Emmett’s brother who refuses to join them in their increasingly extremist views, will later say: “This thing just kept building every time I talked to them. They just listened to these prophets.” After their farm is foreclosed and sold at a sheriff’s auction for $493,000, the Clarks take a central part in one of the Freemen’s first major assaults on the local judiciary (see January 1994). [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996] In 1996, Ralph Clark’s grand-nephew Dean Clark will say: “My grandfather worked hard all his life, but his brother is another story. Ralph Clark has always been into one get-rich-quick scheme after the next. But he hasn’t done any real work. He hasn’t done a damn thing for the past 15 years but drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, and look out the window and daydream.” [New York Times, 6/10/1996]

Entity Tags: Ralph Clark, Dean Clark, Casey Clark, Alven Clark, Edwin Clark, Montana Freemen, Emmett Clark, Rosie Clark, Kay Clark, Richard Clark

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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

The Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994), emboldened by their recent successes in Jordan, Montana (see January 1994 and April 1994), issue “subpoenas” against Montana’s two senators, its state supreme court justices, and the district judge. The next month, in response to an upcoming trial of five Freemen charged with impersonating public officials, they mail letters to 45 prospective jurors that threaten them and their property if they convict the Freemen. Garfield County Attorney Nick Murnion finds an old, rarely used law, “criminal syndicalism,” which defines as a felony the advocacy of violence or terrorism for political purposes, and that was originally used against left-wing labor protesters, to use against the Freemen (see October 17, 1994). The crime carries a 10-year prison sentence. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Nick Murnion, Montana Freemen

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

Montana Freeman William Stanton is convicted on charges of criminal syndicalism (see June-July 1994 and October 17, 1994). Stanton, an elderly rancher whose property suffered foreclosure in 1993, joined the Freemen after Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer offered him a $3.8 million loan to cover the foreclosure debt (see 1993-1994). The loan was worthless, but instead of reacting angrily to Schweitzer’s fraudulent loan offer, Stanton blamed the local and federal government for his predicament. As an increasingly active Freeman, Stanton has issued fraudulent money orders, offered a $1 million bounty for Garfield County officials (see January 1994), and threatened to hang the Garfield County sheriff from a bridge. Stanton is sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine. The FBI learns that the Freemen might be planning to retaliate against Garfield County Attorney Nick Murnion, who successfully prosecuted Stanton, Murnion’s fellow prosecutor John Bohlman, and the judge who sentenced Stanton, Roy C. Rodeghiero. The FBI informs the local sheriff that the Freemen intend to kidnap the judge, “try” him in their “court,” sentence him to death, and videotape his hanging. In response, Musselshell County puts reserve deputies in the courthouse to protect Rodeghiero and accompany him to and from work. On March 3, a Musselshell County deputy stops two Freemen, Dale Jacobi and Frank Ellena, for driving a pickup truck with no license. The deputy finds both are carrying concealed weapons without permits. A subsequent search finds a hand-drawn map of the town of Jordan, with the office and home of Murnion labeled. The truck contains a plethora of weapons and ammunition (including armor-piercing rounds), 30 sets of plastic-strip handcuffs, $60,000 in gold and silver, $26,000 in cash, duct tape, a video camera, a still camera, and radio telecommunications gear. The deputies are sure they have captured two of the intended kidnappers. That evening, three Freemen walk into the Musselshell County Jail and demand that the deputies on duty give them the items seized from the truck. Two other Freemen wait outside the jail. One deputy notices one of the Freemen concealing a handgun, and the two deputies manage to arrest him without incident. One of the arrested Freemen is John Trochmann, the founder of the Montana Militia (sometimes called the Militia of Montana, or MOM—see January 1, 1994); it is later learned that Trochmann has become something of a Freemen enthusiast. Deputy Orville Jones later says of Trochmann’s presence, “If this isn’t evidence that some type of evil intent was afoot, then I’m not a very good policemen.” Jones is sympathetic with the plight of Stanton and many of the other Freemen, but not of their tactics, saying: “My Grandpa lost his ranch during the Depression.… I go by that ranch every day, and I see the trees my Grandma planted, and I see where my dad was born. And it just tears at my heart. God, I understand them almost to the point that it scares me. But I do not tolerate crimes of violence.” The arrests bear little fruit. The sheriff’s office is bombarded with hundreds of phone calls, most threatening violence. Bohlman receives at least 40 of what he will call “straight-out death threats” against himself and his secretary. Bohlman’s secretary moves her daughter temporarily to Minnesota after one caller threatens the child. Many of the long-distance calls demand Trochmann’s immediate release and are clearly from Montana Militia members, though Montana Militia co-founder Randy Trochmann denies any connections between his group and the Freemen. A judge will throw out most of the charges against Trochmann and the six Freemen, because of irregularities in the search procedures. Ellena and Jacobi jump bail. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Montana Militia, John Bohlman, Frank Ellena, Dale Jacobi, John Trochmann, Montana Freemen, LeRoy Schweitzer, William L. Stanton, Nick Murnion, Orville Jones, Roy C. Rodeghiero, Randy Trochmann

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Rodney Skurdal, the co-founder of the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994), writes a court filing demanding the resignation of Musselshell Count Sheriff G. Paul Smith. In the document, Skurdal writes: “This is a holy war. God’s laws vs. man-made laws.” [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Rodney Owen Skurdal, G. Paul Smith, Montana Freemen

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Vendors and individuals begin questioning the legitimacy of checks passed throughout the Rocky Mountain region and issued by the Norwest Bank of Anaconda-Butte in Montana. Subsequent investigation shows that the checks are phony, and are issued primarily through the auspices of Rodney Skurdal, a member of the anti-government Montana Freemen (see 1983-1995 and 1993-1994). Norwest president Bruce Parker says the checks are “totally without merit or value.” He says the Butte branch of the bank has been “involuntarily involved” since June 1993 with members of the Freemen movement. Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer and others issue false checks and file liens for hundreds of millions of dollars against public officials, private citizens, and journalists. The Freemen claim the money is owed for offenses against their sovereignty. [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: Rodney Owen Skurdal, Bruce Parker, LeRoy Schweitzer, Norwest Bank of Anaconda-Butte, Montana Freemen

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A typical ‘LeRoy check,’ issued on a fraudulent lien.A typical ‘LeRoy check,’ issued on a fraudulent lien. [Source: Anti-Defamation League]Montana Freemen leaders LeRoy Schweitzer, Rodney Skurdal (see 1993-1994 and May 1995), and others leave Skurdal’s Roundup, Montana, log cabin at night (see 1983-1995) in an armed convoy, and “occupy” the foreclosed ranch of Freeman Ralph Clark (see 1980s-1994) north of Jordan, Montana. The group renames the ranch “Justus Township.” Skurdal and the Freemen had named Skurdal’s two-story cabin and his 20 acres of land “Redemption Township.” In the ensuing months, people from around the area come to the ranch to take “classes” on their common law theories and check-kiting schemes, learning of the classes through ads in militia newsletters and displayed at gun shows. Federal authorities, fearing violence (see April 19, 1993), decide not to hinder the occupation. The “township” has its own laws, court, and officials; Clark is the “marshal” of Justus, and others serve on its court. [Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996; Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; New York Times, 5/29/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] The “classes” teach what the Southern Poverty Law Center will call a “peculiar combination of common law ideology and break-the-bank schemes.” The Freemen accept pupils in groups of 25, charging varying fees per participant. “We are the new Federal Reserve,” Schweitzer tells one group. “We are competing with the Federal Reserve—and we have every authority to do it.” Many people who try to put the Freemen’s teachings into practice, such as common law ideologue Ron Griesacker, will claim to have attended “a school of learning” with Schweitzer before setting up “common law courts” in Kansas. Griesacker will be charged with fraud and conspiracy, as will others who attempt to set up “common law courts.” The Freemen teachings will continue to propagate for years, and banks across the region will be plagued with “Freemen checks” [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/1998] , which locals call “LeRoy checks.” (Most area businesses have learned to demand cash-only payments from known Freemen.) One favorite trick is to issue a fake check to pay for merchandise, write the check for much more than the cost of the merchandise, then demand immediate cash refunds of the difference. A template letter included in a seminar packet reads in part, “You will be billed monthly for the principal, plus 18 percent per year for the balance due if you refuse to send refund.” Paul Dinsmore, a local radio station host who will say he attends “about a dozen” seminars, will comment: “They have set up a complete mirror image of the banking system. It’s a scheme for them to live high on the hog.” One Montana government official calls the Freemen scheme “paper terrorism.” [New York Times, 5/29/1996] Skurdal will be incensed when federal authorities auction his cabin and property for his failure to pay back taxes. [Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996]

Entity Tags: Rodney Owen Skurdal, Ronald Griesacker, Montana Freemen, LeRoy Schweitzer, Southern Poverty Law Center, Ralph Clark, Paul Dinsmore

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

October 2, 1995: Freemen Rob ABC News Crew

A group of armed Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994) take $66,000 worth of camera equipment from an ABC News crew filming a segment at the Freemen’s “Justus Township” (see September 28, 1995 and After). [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: ABC News, Montana Freemen

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The sheet with the lyrics to the ‘Song of Peace,’ stained with Rabin’s blood.The sheet with the lyrics to the ‘Song of Peace,’ stained with Rabin’s blood. [Source: Knesset]Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated at a rally in Tel Aviv. Over 100,000 people have gathered in Kings of Israel Square to support Rabin and the Oslo peace process (see September 13, 1993 and October 6, 1995). The rally is designed to be light-hearted, in contrast with the angry, combative rallies staged by radical conservatives to oppose the peace agreements (see October 1995). Rabin gives a short radio interview before leaving the stage at the rally, and tells listeners, “People have their personal security but they do not have doubts that the path of peace should be pursued.” Rabin’s wife Leah is asked if her husband is wearing a bulletproof vest. “Have you gone crazy?” she replies. “What are we, in Africa?… I don’t understand the ideas you journalists have.” Meanwhile, law student Yigal Amir (see September 13, 1993 and October 6, 1995) is sitting on a concrete flower planter in the parking lot. A guard notices Amir and whispers into his microphone, “For God’s sake. What’s that dark guy doing down there? Is he one of us?” When Rabin walks by Amir to go to his car, Amir pulls out a gun and fires three shots. Two hollow-point bullets strike Rabin in the chest, severing major arteries and destroying his spinal cord. The third strikes Rabin’s bodyguard in the arm. “It’s nothing!” Amir shouts. “It’s just a joke! Blanks, blanks!” Police seize Amir; the wounded bodyguard rushes Rabin to the hospital, where he is pronounced dead 90 minutes later. When the police inform Amir that Rabin has died, he tells them, “Do your work. I’ve done mine.” Turning to an officer, he adds, “Get some wine and cakes. Let’s have a toast.” Someone later goes through Rabin’s pockets and finds a bloodied piece of paper with the lyrics to a popular tune, “The Song of Peace,” copied on it. Rabin had joined in singing the song at the rally. Author Craig Unger later writes that aside from the personal tragedy of the assassination, “In part because of his legacy as a great Israeli military commander, no one in Israel was, or ever could be, a more forceful figure than Rabin in promoting the peace process. As a result, his murder was a devastating blow to the Oslo principle, the principle of land for peace.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 141-143; Knesset Homepage, 2008]

Entity Tags: Craig Unger, Yigal Amir, Yitzhak Rabin, Leah Rabin

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The reaction among various militia and anti-government groups to the standoff between the FBI and the Montana Freemen (see March 25, 1996) is mixed. Some militia and “common law” (see Fall 2010) organizations issue statements in favor of the Freemen, warning that the FBI will cause another bloody debacle similar to those experienced at Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992), and Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). Some predict that the Freemen standoff is the first step in a federal clampdown on the “patriot” movement, and call themselves ready for violence and even civil war. Other militia organizations are more cautious. The Tri-States Militia, a loose confederation of several militia organizations (see October 1995 and After), issues a press release criticizing the Freemen and saying they find it “insulting and offensive that people who call themselves members of the patriot community have combined their ‘patriotic’ activities with a clear attempt to defraud banking institutions and individual citizens through the use of phoney [sic] and/or money orders coupled with force and threats.” The Tri-States and other militia groups contrast the Freemen with their own, presumably “constitutional,” militias. (Later it is learned that the FBI had contacted a number of militia groups before they moved against the Freemen, apparently in an attempt to forestall any rash actions on the parts of the militias.)
Montana Militia Reactions - The Montana Militia (sometimes called the Militia of Montana, or MOM—see January 1, 1994) is cautious, perhaps attempting to ascertain where public opinion is before taking a stand. MOM founders John and Randy Trochmann say the group has sent representatives to the scene to “monitor” the situation and talk to Freeman Dale Jacobi, who used to run a business near MOM’s Nixon, Montana, headquarters. The group issues a press release asking other militias to “stand down” and not come to Montana. John Trochmann even says: “I think the FBI has been handling it very patiently. I admire them for their patience. And they’ve had a tremendous amount of pressure from the public (see March 1996 and March 25, 1996), from the local law enforcement (see November 1995), and from their superiors in the FBI and the Justice Department. I think they’re caught between a rock and a hard place, and they’re doing the only thing they can do.” Other MOM members are less cautious. Militiaman Steve McNeil announces that he is leading a militia caravan to Jordan, Montana, in support of the Freemen; he is later arrested at the courtroom where two of the Freemen are being arraigned (see March 26, 1996) for violating his probation. Had McNeil managed to bring an actual caravan, he may have found himself in conflict with a cordon of some 30 local ranchers who have grouped together to stand up to any such militia operations. Local farmer Cecil Weeding later explains: “The militias will just pump more hot air into the Freemen and make it worse. There will be a clash if they get here. This country is sick and tired of that thing up there, and wants to get it over.”
'Operation Certain Venture' - Former MOM leader Norm Olson, perhaps looking for a way to re-enter the limelight after his recent disgrace (see Summer 1996 - June 1997), tells reporters that the FBI is seeking a way to massacre the Freemen with the complicity of the local and national media, and calls on militia organizations to converge on Montana. He even releases his plans for “Operation Certain Venture,” an unarmed convoy of food, mail, and other supplies (including what he calls “women’s necessities”) that he says will help prevent an FBI slaughter. April 19, the day of the Branch Davidian conflagration and the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), might be a good day to set forth, Olson suggests. Olson is joined by the Alabama-based Gadsden Minutemen, led by Jeff Randall; Randall issues a plea for “dedicated volunteers,” but notes that “arrest is possible, and the FBI could very well decide to shoot unarmed civilians.” Mike Kemp, founder of the Minutemen, promises “there won’t be another Waco unanswered. They are pushing us to a confrontation. If the shooting starts, it could get very ugly, very quickly.” Kemp says the entire issue is over a few debts, and says the situation can easily be handled in civil court. On CBS’s Face the Nation, Olson says that if Jordan “is going to be the place where the second American revolution finally culminates in war, then it’s good for a battlefield commander to be there to look at the logistics, to look at the needs, and to find out exactly what the situation is on the ground.”
Other Opinions - Lawyer Gerry Spence, who represented Randy Weaver after the Ruby Ridge debacle, compliments the FBI on its restraint. “Patriot” leader James “Bo” Gritz, who helped negotiate Weaver’s surrender, implies that he is available to help negotiate a surrender for the Freemen as well, warning that “the longer these people stay within those walls, the more determined they get,” and even condoning the use of armed force against them if necessary. Samuel Sherwood of Idaho’s United States Militia Association calls the Freemen charlatans and rogues, and tells a reporter: “We’ve told everybody to stay away. These people aren’t what they are purporting to be. They are not the innocent victims of oppression.” Some members of Gritz’s “patriot” commune in Kediah, Idaho, a subgroup calling themselves the “Freemen Patriots,” go against their leader and issue claims of support for the Freemen, adding that the FBI standoff is a trap to capture more “patriots” and claiming that US Special Forces units have already been deployed at the scene. Some of the “Freemen Patriots” announce plans to hold a protest rally in Lewistown, Montana, on April 1 to support the Freemen, and ask all supporters to come sporting white ribbons. “We support the God-given right of our Freemen Brothers at Jordan, Montana, to be heard in a righteous constitutional court of law,” they proclaim. However, on April 1, only a few people actually show up. Lewistown police officer Bob Long describes the scene as “five or six guys out there at a RV park south of town. Right now, there are more newspeople in town than Freemen.” One extremist militia member, Bradley Glover, urges an array of violence to be mounted on behalf of the Freemen, but gets little reaction (see Late March 1996).
Twos and Threes - However, a small number of militia members attempt to visit the compound, usually traveling in groups of two or three. Some are allowed to visit the Freemen, but most are turned away, particularly if they are armed. If they are carrying fuel, groceries, firearms, or ammunition, these supplies are confiscated. Oklahoma militia leader and fugitive Stewart Waterhouse, with another militia member, Barry Nelson, breaks through a roadblock and drives into the ranch to join the Freemen. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Stewart Waterhouse, Norman (“Norm”) Olson, Samuel Sherwood, Steve McNeil, Tri-States Militia, Montana Militia, Randy Trochmann, Mike Kemp, Dale Jacobi, Cecil Weeding, Bradley Glover, Bob Long, Barry Nelson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Montana Freemen, John Trochmann, Gadsden Minutemen, James (“Bo”) Gritz, Jeff Randall, Freemen Patriots, Gerry Spence

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Daniel Petersen and LeRoy Schweitzer.Daniel Petersen and LeRoy Schweitzer. [Source: Associated Press]The day after the FBI besieges the Montana Freemen compound (see March 25, 1996), federal indictments are unsealed charging Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer, along with Freeman Daniel E. Petersen Jr. and others, with conspiracy, mail and bank fraud, armed robbery, and threats against federal officials (see January 1994, June-July 1994, February - March 1995, May 1995, and September 28, 1995 and After). [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] Schweitzer was arrested after passing a fraudulent check to an undercover FBI agent. According to the indictment, Schweitzer gave an FBI agent a fake “comptroller’s warrant” for $3 million, in return for the profits made by selling imports bought with the $3 million. Had the scheme gone as planned, Schweitzer could have netted $1 million in cash from the operation. Lavon Hanson is charged with facilitating Schweitzer’s scheme. Some of the indictments have been pending for a long time; some of them apply to Freemen currently involved in the standoff with the FBI. Schweitzer, Petersen, Rodney Skurdal, Richard Clark, and Emmett Clark are charged with conspiracy to impede government function and threatening to assault, kidnap, and murder a judge and other government officials. The same five, along with John McGuire, Cherlyn Bronson Petersen, Agnes Bollinger Stanton, William Stanton (see October 17, 1994), Ebert Stanton, Ralph Clark (see 1980s-1994), and Dale Jacobi are charged with 51 counts of conspiracy to defraud and to obtain money through false pretenses, and interfering with commerce (see October 2, 1995). McGuire is in custody in another state; Stanton is behind bars. Ken Toole of the Montana Human Rights Network says of Schweitzer and the Freemen: “They have essentially drawn a line in the sand with law enforcement who have tried to enforce those laws. They have threatened local law enforcement and other public officials.” Addressing accusations that the FBI is harassing Schweitzer and his fellows for their beliefs, Toole says the indictments are “clearly a matter of what they have done, not what they believe.” [CNN, 3/28/1996; Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996] The arraignment hearing does not go well. Schweitzer and Petersen scream down the judge and other members of the court, shouting that the court has no jurisdiction over them and they will not listen to court officers. They demand a change of venue to “Justus,” and yell about “admiralty law” vs. “common law” and the fringed flag voiding any civil jurisdiction (see Fall 2010). The judge sends Schweitzer and Petersen into another room, and completes the arraignment without their participation, giving them written copies of the arraignment. Author Mark Pitcavage later notes that every court appearance by the Freemen is an opportunity for guerrilla theater. Soldier of Fortune writer Jim Pate later observes that their fanaticism is like a holy war (see April 1995). “Their political philosophy is based on their religious philosophy. And in that respect, they are very similar to the young man who was just convicted of murdering the prime minister of Israel (see November 4, 1995). They’re similar in the depth of their convictions to Hamas.” Musselshell County Attorney John Bohlman (see February - March 1995), learning of the FBI arrests, moves himself and his family from their Roundup, Montana, home, fearing Freemen retaliation; CB scanners pick up reports that the Freemen intend to come into Roundup and kill people, though none actually do. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Ebert Stanton, Richard Clark, Daniel Petersen, William Stanton, Cherlyn Bronson Petersen, Agnes Bollinger Stanton, Ralph Clark, Montana Freemen, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Dale Jacobi, Jim Pate, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Emmett Clark, Mark Pitcavage, LeRoy Schweitzer, John Bohlman, Ken Toole, John McGuire, Lavon T. Hanson

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Indicted Montana Freemen Daniel Petersen and LeRoy Schweitzer, who have previously attempted to disrupt court proceedings with shouts, curses, and specious legal wrangling (see March 26, 1996), remain quiet in the court while Judge Richard Anderson reads the indictment to them. However, when asked to enter a plea, Petersen shouts at Anderson that he wants “you to be an honest person and the rest of these perverts to be honest people.” Petersen is taken to a holding cell to watch the proceedings; Anderson enters “not guilty” pleas on their behalf. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Daniel Petersen, Richard Anderson, Montana Freemen, LeRoy Schweitzer

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Indicted Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer (see March 26, 1996) declares himself on a hunger strike, and is remanded to a federal detention center in Springfield, Missouri, that handles sick prisoners, so his health can be monitored. Both Schweitzer and his colleague Daniel Petersen refuse to bathe or change their clothes. In the following days, Schweitzer will abandon his hunger strike. Petersen will issue a barrage of legal documents, including “writs of mandamus” demanding his immediate release and charges to be dropped. He will threaten US Attorney Sherry Matteucci with imprisonment and a $1,000/day fine if she does not let him go. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Daniel Petersen, Sherry Matteucci, Montana Freemen, LeRoy Schweitzer

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The New York Times publishes an overview of the ongoing criminal trials of the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994, March 25, 1996, June 13, 1996, and March 16, 1998 and After), and calls the proceedings “an absurdist drama that could be called Alice in Wonderland on the Yellowstone River.” Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer, indicted for multiple counts of civil fraud and threatening federal officials (see March 26, 1996), recently announced himself as “Supreme Court Justice LeRoy Michael” in a court hearing, and told the judge: “Supreme court is in session. You are removed from the bench under impeachment.” Most of the Freemen are refusing to cooperate with either the court officials or their own defense lawyers; some of them had to be compelled to give fingerprints and be photographed for booking. Defendant Daniel Petersen, indicted along with Schweitzer and a third Freeman, Rodney Skurdal, disrupted a recent proceeding by shouting that the “Supreme Court of Yellowstone County” was now in session, and yelled at the judge and prosecution, “I’m charging all of you with misprison of treason and misprison of felony.” Defendant Steven Hance (see June 14, 1996) told one judge, “I am above the Constitution,” called the judge “an outlaw,” and informed him, “You are out of order.” Hance’s two sons, James Hance and John Hance, answered their indictments by belching at the judge; James Hance told the judge: “You’re going to be impeached. How are you going to feel about that?” and his brother added: “You’d better start obeying the law, sir. You’re incompetent.” Another defendant, Dale Jacobi, accused the judge of holding “blood sacrifices.” During a North Carolina trial of one Freeman, Russell Landers, the judge at that trial ordered Landers—defending himself—to cease his rambling opening statement, threw him out of the courtroom, and had him watch his trial by closed-circuit television; in his turn, Landers claimed he was being held hostage by a foreign power and accused the judge of wearing a black robe to disguise his real identity as “a Roman tribunal.” One judge, Charles Lovell, recently said that Schweitzer has “no business in the courtroom unless he is chained and taped,” and banned him from the courtroom. The defendants are routinely expelled from the courtroom for their antics. They call themselves “white Christian men” who are, by definition, “sovereign American naturals” and therefore not subject to United States laws and courts. They hold that their system of “common law” (see Fall 2010) places them above the “ordinary” American judicial system. The judges have uniformly ignored the Freemen’s arcane legal claims, which the New York Times calls “a salad of the Uniform Commercial Code, the Magna Carta, biblical admonitions, and meaningless Latin phrases.” Lovell called Schweitzer’s legal defense “nonsensical” and added, “This is preposterous, absolutely preposterous—it has no more bearing in law than an ounce of sand.” The Montana Supreme Court threw out 37 pages of Freemen court documents as “nonsensical filings,” and another judge called a Freeman’s legal arguments “bunkum.” While similar trials of right-wing militia figures have drawn numerous protesters agitating on behalf of the defendants, the Freemen are drawing a vanishingly small number of supporters; “sympathizers are rare, and protest placards have not been seen in more than nine months,” the Times observes. [New York Times, 3/25/1997]

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, Dale Jacobi, Charles C. Lovell, James Hance, LeRoy Schweitzer, Montana Supreme Court, New York Times, Steven Hance, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Russell Dean Landers, John Hance

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) provides a lexicon for some of the terminology used by a variety of “sovereignists” and other anti-government organizations. The SPLC writes, “Adherents of the ‘sovereign citizens’ movement and of sovereign financial scams like ‘redemption’ are known for their bizarre use of language and Byzantine belief system.” Some of this terminology has been adapted for use by more widely known (if barely organized and rather fluidly constructed) groups such as the “birthers,” who have gone from questioning President Obama’s status as a US citizen (see August 1, 2008 and After, October 8-10, 2008, and November 10, 2008) to pushing for Constitutional amendments designed to curtail citizenship rights for the children of immigrants and non-citizens; “tenthers,” who construe the Tenth Amendment to mean that states are not bound by federal laws; and others. The SPLC provides the following terms and definitions:
bullet 14th Amendment citizen “Sovereign citizens describe 14th Amendment citizens as subject to federal and state governments, unlike themselves. Because the amendment gave citizenship to freed slaves, a racist variant of sovereign citizen theory holds that blacks are subject to the governments and that being white is a prerequisite to being a sovereign citizen. Others claim all state citizens were converted by the constitutional amendment to ‘Federal Citizens,’ who can only be freed by a process known as ‘asseveration.’”
bullet Accepted for value “When a sovereign receives a bill from the IRS, a bank, or even the cable company, under a twisted reading of the Uniform Commercial Code, he believes he can simply write ‘Accepted for Value’ on that bill and it will be paid by his secret Treasury Direct Account, set up by the government when he was born.”
bullet Admiralty law/common law “According to sovereign beliefs, there are two types of law: common law and admiralty law. Since the US went off the gold standard in 1933, sovereigns say, no one has been able to pay a debt with ‘real’ money, and therefore the country has been operating under commercial law, which sovereigns equate with admiralty law, the law of the seas. Thus, they argue, completely speciously, that Americans have been deprived of their original common law, under which the government can only impose regulations on citizens with their consent, since 1933.”
bullet Bill of Exchange “A fake check used to access the funds in the secret Treasury account supposedly set up by the government to monetize the value of each citizen’s life at birth.”
bullet Birth certificate “This form establishes each person’s corporate shell, a kind of evil doppelgänger that is attached to every flesh-and-blood baby. That shell is then supposedly sold by the government as a security to foreign investors to enrich Federal Reserve bankers. The proof that the certificate has secret meaning is found in the use of all capital letters, bond paper, and a seal and/or watermark—all of which are thought to reflect admiralty law.”
bullet Citizen/citizen “In the 18th century colonies, nouns were usually capitalized, although the practice was going out of style by the time of the Revolution. Based on that, sovereigns see secret meaning in the use or non-use of capitalized letters. For example, a ‘citizen’ is a sovereign citizen imbued with all natural rights, whereas a ‘Citizen’ is a 14th Amendment citizen subject to the rules and regulations of government.”
bullet Common law court “Pseudo-legal courts set up to hear matters concerning sovereign citizens, sometimes also called ‘freemen’ (see 1993-1994). They have been used to put enemies on trial for such offenses as treason, rule on matters of interest to sovereigns and, frequently, to formalize citizens’ declarations of sovereignty, a process often known as asseveration.”
bullet Flag fringe “Based on the fact that Navy flags and many other military flags have gold fringe, sovereigns believe the presence of fringe on flags in federal courts isn’t just decorative, but rather proof that the nation is under admiralty law.”
bullet Form 1099-OID “Although the IRS uses this form for zero-coupon bonds and collateralized bonds, sovereigns believe that the 1099-OID gives them access to the money in the secret Treasury Direct Account that the government funded at their birth.”
bullet Name in all capital letters “JOHN ROBERT DOE, for instance, signifies the corporate shell of a person, as opposed to the flesh-and-blood person.”
bullet Name punctuation “John-Robert: Doe signifies a flesh-and-blood person named John-Robert of the family Doe, as opposed to a punctuation-free name, JOHN ROBERT DOE, which refers to the corporate shell of a person.”
bullet Negative averment “The trick, used by many sovereigns, of twisting all statements into the form of a question in order to shift the burden of truth to the opponent.”
bullet Red ink “In some states, bonds are canceled using red ink. Sovereigns therefore sign many legal documents and correspondence in red ink to signify that they are canceling the bond attached to their birth certificate or corporate self. Others believe the color of the ink represents the blood of the flesh-and-blood person.”
bullet Redemption “The phony legal process sovereigns use to separate a person’s flesh-and-blood body from their mythical corporate shell. Since only the corporate shell is subject to taxes, traffic laws, and license requirements, the ability to separate the two is the key to liberating people from such requirements. An added bonus is that the newly freed sovereign can then write checks, or ‘bills of exchange,’ on the account the government has set up to monetize the person’s life and earnings.”
bullet Strawman “The label assigned to the corporate shell in the redemption process. This corporate shell is attached to a baby at birth when a birth certificate is typed out using all capital letters and a Social Security number is applied for.”
bullet Sui juris “Many sovereigns add this Latin phrase, meaning ‘of one’s own right,’ to their flesh-and-blood names on legal documents to signify that they are reserving all the rights to which a free man is entitled.”
bullet Treasury Direct Account “When a baby is born, sovereigns believe that the government funds a secret Treasury account in that baby’s corporate shell name, based on that person’s future earnings. This account can be accessed by writing special checks to pay taxes, mortgage balances, and other debts. Sovereigns variously believe the account’s value is between $600,000 and $20 million.”
bullet Truth language “A complex and bizarre set of language rules designed to mimic the secret language of the law. All sentences must start with the preposition ‘for,’ have a minimum of 13 words, and use more nouns than verbs. Punctuation rules are just as complex.”
bullet UCC-1 Statement “When a sovereign successfully separates his flesh-and-blood body from his corporate shell in the redemption process, the flesh-and-blood body then can file a UCC-1 statement against their corporate self in order to preserve the value of that corporate self’s Treasury Direct Account for their own use. Since most jurisdictions are getting wise to sovereigns’ UCC games, sovereigns often must shop jurisdictions until they find one willing to file the statement without question.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 9/2010]

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, Southern Poverty Law Center

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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