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Context of 'May 31, 1996: FBI Brings Armored Vehicles, Helicopter to Freemen Siege'

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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

The FBI, attempting to escalate pressure on the besieged Montana Freemen (see March 25, 1996) to surrender and exit their compound, brings three armored vehicles and a helicopter to a staging area outside Jordan, Montana. Officials say they may be needed to make rescues or to occupy part of the Freemen compound, and insist they have no plans to raid the compound. The three armored vehicles are stationed anywhere from two to four miles away from the compound. The helicopter is positioned for takeoff 35 miles away. Indications are that the Freemen are keeping three young girls inside the compound as “insurance” that the FBI does not raid the compound. [Los Angeles Times, 6/3/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Montana Freemen

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A flurry of talks between FBI negotiators, outside parties, and the holed-up Montana Freemen (see March 25, 1996) signals that the 80-day standoff is about to conclude. Yesterday, LeRoy Schweitzer, the jailed leader of the Freemen, gave his blessing for a surrender (see June 11, 1996). A 16-year-old girl, Ashley Landers (whom federal authorities say is legally named Amanda Michele Kendricks), voluntarily leaves the compound; a local prosecutor says she will be taken into state custody. She was the last child left inside the compound. Karl Ohs, a Montana legislator acting as a mediator between the FBI and the Freemen (see April 17, 1996), arrives in nearby Jordan, Montana, to help conclude the final surrender negotiations. Agents in flak jackets dismantle the tent-like shelter at the compound’s entrance, used for meetings between Freemen and negotiators, and other agents drive three passenger vans to a nearby church, apparently in preparation for the Freemen’s surrender and departure. The FBI wins the cooperation of neighboring farmer Dean Clark, who tries to begin planting on 2,300 acres adjacent to the Freemen ranch; he agrees to delay planting for a day. [Associated Press, 6/13/1996; New York Times, 6/13/1996] The next day, the Freemen surrender peacefully (see June 13, 1996).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ashley Landers, Dean Clark, Karl Ohs, LeRoy Schweitzer, Montana Freemen

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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