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Context of 'June 26, 1996: Indicted Freemen Disrupt Court Proceedings'

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The Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings, Montana, where the 14 Freemen are arraigned.The Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings, Montana, where the 14 Freemen are arraigned. [Source: Civic Images (.com)]A group of 14 Montana Freemen make their first court appearance after surrending to federal authorities (see June 13, 1996). The 14 Freemen being processed are: Casey Clark, Edwin Clark, Emmett Clark, Ralph Clark, James Hance, John Hance, Steven Hance, Dale Jacobi, Dana Dudley Landers, Russell Dean Landers, Barry Nelson, Cherlyn Petersen, Rodney Skurdal, and Casey Valheimer. The elderly wives of two of the Freemen, Kay Clark and Rosie Clark, face no criminal charges. The Freemen in court are defiant and disruptive. Most of them object to the proceedings and refuse to acknowledge the charges being brought against them. Some of them refuse to acknowledge their names; when Magistrate Robert Holter asks Skurdal his name and explains that he wants to ensure that he is the right person, Skurdal retorts, “I object to your calling me a person, your honor.” Dana Landers responds to a similar question by reciting: “I am a Christian. My flag is red, white, and blue; it’s an American flag. The Holy Scriptures are my law. I’m not familiar with your tribunals.” Each demands their right to “effective counsel,” meaning that they should be able to choose their own lawyers but the court must pay for them. Many object to their names being spelled with all capital letters, as is common in legal briefs. One male Freeman requires physical restraint. Holter refuses to hear their arguments that their own alternative government’s rules must apply over those of the federal legal system. Working through a barrage of shouts, imprecations, and recitations, Holter assigns them lawyers over their objections, and sets arraignment and bond hearings. [CNN, 6/12/1996; New York Times, 6/14/1996; Los Angeles Times, 6/15/1996] New York Times reporter Carey Goldberg writes: “When they appeared in court on Friday, and rejected everything from the American flag to the capital letters in their names, the 14 newly surrendered Freemen laid bare, in word and posture, the central spirit of the anti-government group that held off federal agents for 81 days. It was a culture of collective denial. Each member came from a different set of circumstances, but the freedom they sought was freedom from American reality.… [W]hat united them was the ideological structure they built, in which the debts they owed were nullified, the criminal charges against them were invalid, and their position in society was considered supreme.” [New York Times, 6/15/1996]

Entity Tags: Dale Jacobi, Cherlyn Bronson Petersen, Steven Hance, Casey Clark, Carey Goldberg, Barry Nelson, Rosie Clark, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Russell Dean Landers, Ralph Clark, Emmett Clark, Edwin Clark, Dana Dudley Landers, James Hance, Robert Holter, Montana Freemen, John Hance, Casey Valheimer, Kay Clark

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

As a federal court in Billings, Montana, formally charges nine Montana Freemen with a variety of crimes (see 1993-1994, March 25, 1996, June 13, 1996, and June 14, 1996), the defendants repeatedly interrupt the proceedings with shouts, curses, and threats. They challenge everything from the flag displayed behind the judge to his jurisdiction over the case, refuse to answer questions from the bench and their own lawyers (one demands that his lawyer be jailed), shout a variety of curses and garbled Latin phrases, and denounce “this kangaroo court.” Before the hearing, defendant Dale Jacobi sprained his thumb resisting fingerprinting. Another defendant, Steven Hance, shouts at US Magistrate Richard Anderson after being ejected from the courtroom, “You’re going down, son.” Prosecutor James Seykora asks the court to hold Hance in contempt, and Hance shouts: “Contempt? That’s not a strong enough word.” The Freemen refuse to participate in the hearing; Anderson denies bail for the nine and enters pleas of “not guilty” on their behalf. [Los Angeles Times, 6/26/1996; New York Times, 7/27/1996]

Entity Tags: Steven Hance, Dale Jacobi, Montana Freemen, James Seykora, Richard Anderson

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

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