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Context of 'April 1994: Freeman Defies Court Order, Arrest Warrant'

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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

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

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

Montana Freemen member Ralph Clark (see 1980s-1994 and 1993-1994) is issued an order to appear in court to face charges of solicitation of kidnapping, based on his threats to kidnap and “hang” Garfield County Sheriff Charles Phipps (see January 1994). Clark refuses to appear. Phipps, who has only one deputy while Clark has a heavily armed group of family members and fellow Freemen, is unable to compel Clark to appear. Phipps issues a warrant for Clark’s arrest, but has no way to enforce it. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Charles Phipps, Ralph Clark, Montana Freemen

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A group of Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994) file a $50 million lawsuit against Governor Marc Racicot (R-MT) and Garfield County Sheriff Charles Phipps (see April 1994), alleging violation of their civil rights. The claims are signed by William L. Stanton as the “honorable justice” of a “common law Supreme Court.” [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: Charles Phipps, Montana Freemen, William L. Stanton, Marc Racicot

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

A New York Times editorial warns that the conviction and death sentence of domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh (see June 11-13, 1997) has done nothing to stem what it calls “the violence of the militias that inspired him.” The editorial warns: “The militias are different from anything that preceded them because they gather not to take out their rage on Communists or minorities, but to wage war against a government they consider treasonous. In recent years militia groups have assaulted, harassed, and threatened scores of government officials. It is difficult for most Americans to take seriously a group of people whose targets include America’s county clerks and whose members hold that manufacturers’ labels on the backs of road signs actually point the way to the nearest concentration camp. But militia ideology has already provoked the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), the worst act of terrorism ever to take place on American soil. Since that act the militias have continued to grow, and the possibility of more terrorism is undimmed.” Some American communities, the editorial observes, “can no longer enforce their land, tax, and weapons laws, unwilling to risk that an employee might be attacked by militia members” (see January 1994 and April 1994). Firefighters fear taking helicopters over land owned by some militia members, because they worry they will be shot down. Militia officials have filed phony liens against local officials in at least 23 states (see 1993-1994). The editorial states: “The militias are a particularly insidious strain of the American viruses of paranoia and violence. They echo the white supremacy of the Ku Klux Klan and the conspiracy theories and gun obsessions of the John Birch Society. They draw on the American icon of the man who wants to be left alone to live by his creed, taking ideas and leaders from the rural Posse Comitatus movement that reached its peak during the farm crisis of the 1980s (see 1969).… [W]ith the end of the cold war, it may be that conspiracy theories once obsessed with Communism turned inward toward the American government. The militias, most of which operate in small, autonomous groups, now also have the Internet to propagate theories and plans.” The McVeigh case has invigorated many hardcore militia groups, many of whom insist the bombing was carried out by the government to discredit the militia movement and to justify its intention to implement martial law and tyranny. Many mainstream groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) welcome militia members and echo many militias’ ideologies and beliefs. And some lawmakers, such as Representative Helen Chenoweth (R-ID), are openly sympathetic to the militias (see February 15, 1995 and May 2, 1995). The editorial concludes with praise for the federal government’s peaceful resolution of the Montana Freemen standoff (see June 13, 1996), stating: “The Freemen standoff also showed the importance of public condemnation of violence. The Freemen found little support in surrounding communities. While militia forces thrive on government attacks, they cannot withstand the disdain of their neighbors. The militias are so widespread because they ostensibly draw on ideas strongly rooted in American history. But even citizens with sympathy for those ideas need to distinguish between their peaceful and their violent expression.” [New York Times, 6/14/1997] The editorial echoes concerns recently expressed by Times columnist Frank Rich (see June 5, 1997).

Entity Tags: National Rifle Association, Frank Rich, Helen P. Chenoweth, Montana Freemen, Timothy James McVeigh, New York Times

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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