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Context of 'July 20, 1995: Montana Judge Recounts Death Threats, Promises of Violence from Freemen'

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One of a number of semi-official ‘Christian Identity’ logos.One of a number of semi-official ‘Christian Identity’ logos. [Source: KingIdentity (.com)]The “Christian Identity” theology, formerly a fairly benign expression of what is known as “British-Israelism” or “Anglo-Israelism,” begins to spread throughout the US and Canada, particularly on the west coasts of these nations. This belief holds that white Americans and Canadians are the real descendants of the Biblical tribes of Israel. In 2003, author Nicole Nichols, an expert on far-right racist and religious groups in America, will define the concept of “Christian Identity” as practiced by many white supremacist and separatist groups. Christian Identity is not an organization, she will write, but an ideology that many organizations have adopted in some form or fashion. Christian Identity “elevates white supremacy and separatism to a Godly ideal,” she will write, calling it “the ideological fuel that fires much of the activity of the racist far right.” According to Christian Identity theology, Jews are neither the “true Israelites” nor the true “chosen people” of God; instead, Christian Identity proponents claim, Jews are descended from an Asiatic people known as the Khazars, who settled near the Black Sea during the Middle Ages. [Nicole Nichols, 2003; Anti-Defamation League, 2005; Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 5/30/2006] In 2005, the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance will write, “Followers tend to be involved in political movements opposing gun control, equal rights to gays and lesbians, and militia movements,” and quote Michael Barkun, an expert on radical-right groups, as saying, “This virulent racist and anti-Semitic theology… is prevalent among many right-wing extremist groups and has been called the ‘glue’ of the racist right.” [Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 5/30/2006]
Beginnings; 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' - In the 1920s, William J. Cameron, editor of the Dearborn Independent weekly newspaper, popularized the anti-Semitic hoax manuscript called “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which purported to detail the “secret teachings” of Judaism, including the planned takeover of the world’s governments, the subjugation of non-Semitic races, and the bizarre, cannibalistic rituals supposedly practiced by Jews. [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Wesley Swift and 'Mud People' - In the 1940s, a former Methodist minister, Wesley Swift, started his own church, later known as the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. Swift had deep ties to a number of radical right-wing groups including the Ku Klux Klan; Swift and his associates set the stage for the mutation of the Christian Identity into a loosely organized set of virulently anti-Semitic, racist belief systems that will come to be grouped together under the “Christian Identity” rubric. Swift himself taught that only the white race was created in the form of God, while Asian and African races were created from the “beasts of the fields,” and thusly are subhuman creations. In Swift’s version of Genesis, Eve, the wife of the first “true” man Adam, was seduced by The Serpent, who masqeueraded as a white man. Eve bore a son, Cain, who is the actual father of the Jewish people. This reinterpretation, sometimes called the “two-seed” or “seedliner” theory, supports the Christian Identity propensity to demonize Jews, whom Swift and others labeled the “spawn of Satan.” Today’s white Europeans and their American and Canadian descendants, Swift taught, are descended from the “true son” of Adam and Eve, Abel, and are the actual “chosen people” of God. Some Christian Identity adherents go even farther, claiming that subhuman “pre-Adamic” races existed and “spawned” the non-white races of the world, which they label “mud people.” [Nicole Nichols, 2003; Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Permeates Racist, Far-Right Groups - By the 1960s, a new group of Christian Identity leaders emerges to spread the Identity theology through the radical, racist right in America and Canada, popularizing the once-obscure ideology. Most prominent among them are three disciples of Swift: James K. Warner, William Potter Gale, and Richard Butler. Warner, who will move to Louisiana and play a leading role in the fight against civil rights, founds the Christian Defense League and the New Christian Crusade Church. Gale, an early leader of the Christian Defense League and its paramilitary arm, the California Rangers, goes on to found the Posse Comitatus (see 1969), the group that will help bring about the sovereign citizen movement. Gale will later found the Committee of the States and serve as the “chief of staff” of its “unorganized militia.” Butler moves Swift’s Church of Jesus Christ Christian to Idaho and recasts it as the neo-Nazi group Aryan Nations (see Early 1970s). Under the leadership of Butler, Gale, Warner, and others, Christian Identity soon permeates most of the major far-right movements, including the Klan and a racist “skinhead” organization known as the Hammerskins. It also penetrates many extreme anti-government activist groups. The Anti-Defamation League will write, “The resurgence of right-wing extremism in the 1990s following the Ruby Ridge (see August 31, 1992) and Waco standoffs (see April 19, 1993) further spread Identity beliefs.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2005] Nichols will write: “Christian Identity enclaves provide a trail of safe havens for movement activists, stretching from Hayden Lake in northern Idaho (the Aryan Nations stronghold) to Elohim City on the Oklahoma/Arkansas border (see 1973 and After). Many white supremacists on the run from federal authorities have found shelter and support from Christian Identity followers.” Some organizations such as the Montana Militia are headed by Identity adherents, but do not as a group promote the theology. [Nicole Nichols, 2003; Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Bringing Forth the Apocalypse - Many Christian Identity adherents believe that the Biblical Apocalypse—the end of the world as it is currently known and the final ascendancy of select Christians over all others—is coming soon. Unlike some Christians, Identity adherents do not generally believe in the “rapture,” or the ascendancy of “saved” Christians to Heaven before the Apocalypse ensues; instead, Identity followers believe Jesus Christ will return to Earth only after the time of the “Tribulation,” a great battle between good and evil, which will set the stage for the return of Christ and the final transformation of the world. Identity followers believe it is their duty to prepare for the Apocalypse, and some believe it is their duty to help bring it about. They tend to cast the Apocalypse in racial terms—whites vs. nonwhites. Identity adherents believe that worldly institutions will collapse during the “end times,” and therefore tend to distrust such institutions, making Identity theology appealing to anti-government ideologies of groups such as militia, “Patriot,” and sovereign citizens groups. [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
21st Century Identity - In the 21st century, Christian Identity groups are strongest in the Pacific Northwest of America and Canada, and the US Midwest, though Identity churches can be found throughout the US and in other parts of Canada. Identity churches also exist in, among other nations, Ireland, Great Britain, Australia, and South Africa (see June 25, 2003). The Anti-Defamation League will write: “Yet while spread far it is also spread thin. Estimates of the total number of believers in North America vary from a low of 25,000 to a high of 50,000; the true number is probably closer to the low end of the scale. Given this relatively small following, its extensive penetration of the far right is all the more remarkable.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Identity Violence - Identity adherents commit a number of violent acts, often against government and/or financial institutions, in an outsized proportion to their small numbers. In 1983, Identity adherent Gordon Kahl kills two US Marshals who attempt to arrest him on a parole violation, and kills an Arkansas sheriff before finally being gunned down by authorities (see February 13, 1983 and After). The white supremacist terrorist group The Order (see Late September 1983) contains a number of Identity members, including David Tate, who kills a Missouri Highway Patrol officer while attempting to flee to an Identity survivalist compound (see April 15, 1985). During the 1980s, small Identity groups such as The New Order (or The Order II) and the Arizona Patriots commit bombings and armored car robberies. After the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), Identity minister Willie Ray Lampley attempts a number of bombings (see November 9, 1995). In 1996, the Montana Freeman, led by Identity members, “stands off” federal authorities for 81 days (see March 25, 1996). Between 1996 and 1998, Eric Robert Rudolph, who has connections to Identity ministers such as Nord Davis and Dan Gayman, bombs an Atlanta gay bar (see February 21, 1997), several abortion clinics (see October 14, 1998), and the Atlanta Summer Olympics (see July 27, 1996 and After). In 1999, Identity member and former Aryan Nations security guard Buford Furrow goes on a shooting spree at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles (see August 10, 1999). [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]

The logo of the Posse Comitatus.The logo of the Posse Comitatus. [Source: Underground News Network]The Posse Comitatus, an anti-Semitic, right-wing “Christian Identity” organization (see 1960s and After), is founded by retired dry-cleaning executive Henry L. Beach in Portland, Oregon, who calls his organization the Sherriff’s Posse Comitatus (SPC) or Citizen’s Law Enforcement Research Committee (CLERC). Beach has supported Nazism since the 1930s, and formerly led a neo-Nazi organization called the Silver Shirts (see January 31, 1933). The Posse Comitatus is quickly taken over by William Potter Gale, a retired Army colonel who founded a similar organization called the US Christian Posse Association in Glendale, California, and manages to roll the two groups, and a few other loosely organized entities, into one. The Posse Comitatus dedicates itself to survivalism, vigilantism, and anti-government activities; its bylaws state that no federal or state governmental entity has any legal standing, and only county and town governments are legitimate. Furthermore, the organization believes that the entire federal government is controlled by Jews, and as such has no authority over whites. Beach’s original Posse manual states, “[O]fficials of government who commit criminal acts or who violate their oath of office… shall be removed by the posse to the most populated intersection of streets in the township and, at high noon, be hung by the neck, the body remaining until sundown as an example to those who would subvert the law.” According to a 1986 advisory published by the IRS, “members associated with some of the Posse groups wear tiny gold hangmen’s nooses on their lapels.” Posse members refuse to pay taxes whenever they can get away with it, and ignore laws that they feel cannot be enforced by “the enemy.” Instead, they claim to abide by a “common law,” defined as a set of principles that they themselves create and change at will. The organization begins making inroads into the farm communities of the Northwest and Upper Midwest after federal mismanagement of agricultural policies threatens the livelihood of many area farmers; the Posse tells them, “Farmers are victims of a Jewish-controlled government and banking system, federal taxes are illegal and loans need not be repaid.” Some area farmers embrace the message, and the Posse begins heavily recruiting in Michigan. [Ian Geldard, 2/19/1995; Nicole Nichols, 2003]
Anti-Government, Anti-Tax Ideology - The Posse Comitatus believes that the federal and state governments are inherently illegal and have no authority whatsoever; the highest elected official of the land, it says, is the county sheriff, who can form juries and call out “posses” of citizens to enforce the law as necessary. The movement strongly opposes paying taxes, particularly to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and considers money issued by the Federal Reserve System as illegal. It says that the Constitution’s 16th Amendment, which gave Congress the right to tax citizens’ incomes, was illegally ratified and therefore unconstitutional; moreover, it says, careful examination of federal law tells it that income taxes are entirely voluntary. The Federal Reserve System is, as one Posse publication puts it, “a private monopoly which neither the people nor the states authorized in the Constitution.” The Federal Reserve’s printed money violates the Constitution. Some, but not all, Posse Comitatus members also express racist and separatist views similar to those of Christian Identity believers (see 1960s and After); these members say that the Federal Reserve is controlled by a small cabal of international Jewish bankers who intend to destroy the American economy. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; US Constitution: Sixteenth Amendment, 2011; Anti-Defamation League, 2011] Posse Comitatus members use the threat of violence, and sometimes actual violence, to express their anti-tax and anti-government ideologies (see 1972 and 1974).
Township Movement - The Posse spawns a directly related ideology, the “township movement,” led in part by Utah resident Walt P. Mann. Township advocates advocate setting up small sovereign communities that are answerable only to themselves. The Posse will set up a “constitutional township” on a 1,400-acre plot in Wisconsin and name it “Tigerton Dells,” posting signs that say, “Federal Agents Keep out; Survivors will be Prosecuted.” Tigerton Dells will appoint its own judges and foreign ambassadors before federal authorities seize the property (see 1984).
Movement Spreads throughout Northwest, Plains States - By 1976, an FBI report says that the Posse Comitatus movement will consist of up to 50,000 adherents throughout the Northwest and Great Plains states. The center of the movement is at Tigerton Dells; Posse members there will disrupt local government meetings and assault public officials. The farm crisis of the early 1980s will allow the Posse to begin converting angry, frightened farmers throughout the region. In 1996, the Anti-Defamation League’s Mark Pitcavage will write, “The Posse offered up targets for people to blame: the courts, the money system, the federal government, the Jews.”
Waging Legal Battles - While some Posse members offer violence to law enforcement and public officials (see February 13, 1983 and After), most of their battles with the government take place in court. Posse members most frequently use two common legal strategems: filing frivolous liens on the properties of public officials who oppose or anger them, particularly IRS agents, and flooding the courts with a barrage of legal documents, filings, motions, and appeals. The liens carry no legal weight but sometimes damage the recipients’ credit scores and interfere with the recipients’ ability to buy or sell property. The court documents, often written in arcane, archaic, and contradictory legal language, clog the court system and frustate judges and prosecutors. A related tactic is the establishment of “common law courts,” vigilante courts that often threaten public officials. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]
Inspiration to Other Groups - The Posse Comitatus’s ideology will inspire other anti-government groups, such as the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994).

Entity Tags: US Federal Reserve, William Potter Gale, Walt P. Mann, Internal Revenue Service, Posse Comitatus, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Henry L. Beach, Mark Pitcavage, Sherriff’s Posse Comitatus, US Christian Posse Association

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

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 undated photo of LeRoy Schweitzer.An undated photo of LeRoy Schweitzer. [Source: WorldNews]LeRoy Schweitzer, a crop duster in Montana and Idaho, becomes increasingly frustrated and resentful at what he considers interference by the government. Beginning in the mid-1980s, Schweitzer moves toward becoming an anti-government tax resister. He becomes fascinated by the legal ideology of the Posse Comitatus (see 1969), attends numerous Posse meetings, and has some contacts with members of The Order (see Late September 1983). Schweitzer, well-liked by his neighbors and friends, begins to worry them with his increasing extremism. He helps a friend, Bernard Kuennan, mount a legal defense against charges of letting his dog roam unvaccinated, and the two hammer the judge with questions about the differences between “admiralty” and “common law” (see Fall 2010). He defies police officers who stop him for traffic violations. He moves to Montana, where he refuses to get a license to fly his Cessna crop duster, resulting in federal arrest warrants. His refusal to pay federal taxes causes the IRS to seize his plane in November 1992, his Bozeman, Montana home, and other equipment, and sell it all to pay his $389,000 delinquent tax bill, dating back to the 1970s. Thoroughly radicalized, Schweitzer meets Rodney Owen Skurdal, another legal manipulator. Skurdal is an ex-Marine and Posse Comitatus advocate who, during litigation of a worker’s compensation suit in the 1980s, tells the judge that the federal government lacks the authority to print paper money and demands, fruitlessly, to be paid his compensation in gold bullion. One Wyoming newspaper claims that Skurdal’s extremism begins after he suffers a fractured skull in 1983, the source of the compensation claim; Skurdal’s former wife says after the injury that Skurdal refuses to use a Social Security number or driver’s license. Skurdal, like many in the Posse, is an adherent to the virulently racist Christian Identity belief system (see 1960s and After), and in court filings claims non-whites are “beasts,” and Jews “the children of Satan.” Skurdal routinely intertwines Identity, Posse Comitatus, Biblical, and Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) tenets in his court filings (see 1994). In 1993, the IRS seizes his farm near Roundup, Montana, for back taxes; Skurdal continues to occupy the farm and no local official dares to evict him. In late 1994, Skurdal invites Schweitzer to move in with him; they are joined by Daniel Petersen in early 1995. The three become the nucleus of what will become the Montana Freemen. Skurdal’s farm becomes a headquarters for the nascent organization, with computers, fax machines, laser printers, and satellite dishes going round the clock. The inhabitants post a sign on the edge of the property, reading: “Do Not Enter Private Land of the Sovereign.… The right of Personal Liberty is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to every citizen, and any unlawful interference with it may be resisted.” Local authorities want to curb the group, but do not want to risk violence and bloodshed. Musselshell County Sheriff G. Paul Smith says: “These people want to be martyrs. I don’t know how far they are willing to carry that.” Moreover, Smith and his small sheriff’s department are outnammed and outgunned. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: The Order, Bernard Kuennan, Daniel Petersen, Posse Comitatus, G. Paul Smith, Montana Freemen, LeRoy Schweitzer, Rodney Owen Skurdal

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Terry Nichols, a white supremacist member of the so-called “Patriot Movement” (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990 and February 1992), renounces his US citizenship via a “nonresident alien” declaration to the Evergreen, Michigan, Township Clerk. “[T]here is total corruption in the entire political system,” Nichols says; “the entire political system from the local government on up thru and including the President of the United States, George Bush.” He adds: “I no longer am a citizen of the corrupt political corporate state of Michigan and the United States of America.… I follow the common laws, not the Uniform Commercial Codes, Michigan Statutes, etc., that are all colorable laws.… I lawfully, squarely challenge the fraudulent usurping octopus of jurisdiction/authority that does not apply to me. It is therefore now mandatory for… the so-called IRS, for example, to prove its jurisdiction.” He calls himself “a nonresident alien, non-foreigner, stranger to the current state of the forum.” Many will later detect language similar to that used by the Posse Comitatus movement (see 1969). Nichols has already sent his bank a letter revoking his signature on a credit card application, in an attempt to avoid paying $14,000 in credit card debt (another source will say Nichols owes closer to $40,000), writing in part: “I came across some information and in researching it further I have found that your credit, money, and contracts are all based upon fraud, etc., as stated in my revocation document.” The bank wins a lawsuit to compel Nichols to pay his debt; Nichols attempts to pay the debt with a fraudulent “Certified Fractional Reserve Check,” a scheme somewhat similar to the fraudulent checks advocated by the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994), which the bank refuses to accept. During the court proceedings, Nichols, ordinarily an unusually quiet and shy man, repeatedly defies judicial orders to, among other things, come to the front of the courtroom, and at one point tells the judge, “I’m… a layman, a natural person, a freedom of common-law citizen under threat and duress and to challenge the jurisdiction of this court.” Circuit Judge Donald A. Teeple will later recall: “He was hollering in a loud voice. I informed him that if he didn’t keep quiet, I’d send him to jail. Then he decided to come around the rail” and participate quietly in the hearing. [New York Times, 4/23/1995; New York Times, 5/28/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; New York Times, 12/24/1997; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001; Nicole Nichols, 2003; Nicole Nichols, 2003] Both Terry Nichols and his brother James (see December 22 or 23, 1988) routinely stamp their paper money with the words “Discharged Without Prejudice,” a phrase indicating they do not accept its validity. The money-stamping is popular among Posse Comitatus members (see 1969) as they claim money not backed by gold lacks credibility. They also refuse to buy license plates for their vehicles or register them. James Nichols will also renounce his citizenship sometime later [Nicole Nichols, 2003; Nicole Nichols, 2003] , telling local courthouse officials that he is “no longer one of your citizens or a resident of your de facto government.” In mid-1992, Nichols will spend several days in jail for refusing to recognize a court’s authority to make him pay child support; after those days in a cell, he will agree to the court’s mandate. [New York Times, 4/24/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 109] Nichols will later be convicted for his role in the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and December 23, 1997).

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, James Nichols, Posse Comitatus, Donald A. Teeple, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

White supremacist Randy Weaver surrenders after an 11-day standoff with federal authorities at his cabin on Ruby Ridge, Idaho. The standoff cost the lives of Weaver’s wife and son, and a US marshal. The incident, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, will “galvanize… many on the radical right.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]

Entity Tags: Randy Weaver, Southern Poverty Law Center

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

January 1, 1994: Montana Militia Inaugurated

John Trochmann in 2001.John Trochmann in 2001. [Source: NPR]The first official citizen militia in the US in modern times, the Militia of Montana, is officially inaugurated. The Montana Militia is led by John Trochmann, a white supremacist and supporter of Ruby Ridge survivor Randy Weaver (see August 31, 1992). [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]

Entity Tags: Montana Militia, John Trochmann

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Over 800 people gather in Kalispell, Montana, to listen to an address by Montana Militia leader John Trochmann (see January 1, 1994). The gathering exemplifies the growing strength of the militia movement. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]

Entity Tags: Montana Militia, John Trochmann

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

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

Musselshell County Attorney John Bohlman, frustrated at his and his fellow authorities’ failures to stem the flouting of the law by various area Montana Freemen (see June-July 1994 and February - March 1995), writes a letter to President Clinton pleading for federal assistance in curbing the heavily armed Freemen (see 1993-1994). “[P]ersonally, I believe we will have a confrontation that ends in gunfire before the end of the year,” Bohlman writes. Many area residents, who have grown more and more disgusted with the Freemen’s actions, believe that the FBI is likely conducting surveillance of the group, but no direct actions are taken. Local reporters believe the federal government’s refusal to act is due to what they call “Weaver Fever,” the backlash caused by the bloody standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992 (see August 31, 1992). [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, John Bohlman, Montana Freemen, Federal Bureau of Investigation

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

Judge Martha A. Bethel, a municipal judge in western Montana, writes of her experiences with the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994). She characterizes them as one of several “hate groups” that operate in Montana alongside the Montana Militia (see January 1, 1994 and February - March 1995) and others, and says the Freemen are little more than “terrorists.” She writes that in January 1995, a “Freeman” appeared in her court on charges related to outstanding traffic tickets. He refused to cooperate with the court proceedings, she writes, and said he was “not in any way bound by the laws of Montana.” In March, he filed legal documents asserting that Bethel had violated her oath of office. The documents, she writes, “recounted a hearing held before ‘justices’ of a ‘common law’ court, one of a number of tribunals created in Montana recently by the fringe groups that claim they have jurisdiction over our district and local courts. The ‘Ravalli County Court, Common Law Venue, Supreme Court, Country of Montana’ demanded that I dismiss the charges within 10 days or a warrant would be issued for my arrest. On the same day, the documents were filed in several other courts as well.” Subsequently, Bethel writes, she was threatened with kidnapping and trial before the “common law court,” and promised she would be sentenced for “treason.” One telephone caller told her, “Don’t come to Darby tonight for court tonight, or you won’t be leaving.” Other court officials were threatened: “[S]omeone threatened to shoot a justice of the peace in the head. A deputy county attorney was warned that his home would be burned and that he would be shot in the back. Our district judge heard threats, to his face, that he would be hanged in the city park.” An unknown person followed Bethel home after one night court session, and shortly thereafter someone called her to tell her that the Freemen knew where she lived. Bethel has received dozens of threatening phone calls as well as calls “from concerned citizens warning me of what they heard would happen to me or my home.” Callers have threatened to “riddle [her] home with gunfire.” She has received instructions from the police on how to hide from armed assailants, and once was advised to leave the county after police learned of a planned attack on her house. Recently, a federal law enforcement agency informed her that a contract for her murder had been issued, probably by someone involved with the Freemen. Bethel has twice sent her three pre-teenaged children to live with their father for a week to keep them safe. She says she and many of her fellow court officials and citizens “share a sinking feeling of helplessness” that little is being done to address the situation (see April 1995). “I used to enjoy hearing the deer, bears, and other animals move about at night without a second thought, other than expressing thanks for the beautiful place in which I live,” Bethel writes. “Now, when I hear deer giving their warning calls, or when I hear animals moving through the brush in the woods, I worry if an intruder is frightening them.” She concludes: “This has been a living nightmare. As judges, we all expect to deal with disgruntled people who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. But who in their right mind would choose to serve their community when the community becomes defenseless in the face of such terrorism?” [New York Times, 7/20/1995]

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, Martha A. Bethel

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

M. Elizabeth Broderick, a Palmdale, California, resident, becomes one of the biggest perpetrators of the Montana Freemen’s fraudulent “lien schemes” (see 1993-1994). Broderick, who was convicted of running a pyramid scheme in Colorado, attends a seminar at the Freemen’s “Justus Township” (see September 28, 1995 and After). She begins holding her own seminars in California, where she teaches the Freemen’s methods of distributing bogus checks and issuing fraudulent liens. Her seminars, which cost $125 to attend, regularly draw over 300 participants, and she employs 30 staffers. One supporter tells a reporter that her schemes are “based on common law and God’s laws. A sheriff in full dress uniform came in and said everything was true.” Federal officials later claim that Broderick has written more than $30 million worth of fraudulent checks; later still, the figure is revised upward to over $100 million. Broderick regularly sports a button that reads “Lien Queen,” and tells her students that her checks are accepted around 50 percent of the time. In early 1996, she tells a reporter that her liens caused Orange County, California, to go into bankruptcy. She estimates that she has some $1.18 billion in liens against California; she allows her seminar participants to write checks on those liens. She also has liens on the federal government. “Many, many mortgages, many, many car loans have been paid off,” she tells one reporter. “And I’m proud to say that it works as long as the feds don’t get in the way. That’s the only problem.” [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996] In 1997, Broderick will be convicted of multiple felonies and sentenced to 16 years in prison (see March 1997).

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, M. Elizabeth Broderick

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 US Marshals sell the foreclosed Montana ranch of farmer Ralph Clark for the Farmers Home Administration (FHA). Clark’s ranch has been occupied by the anti-government Freemen (see 1993-1994) and declared an independent “township” (see September 28, 1995 and After). The Freemen choose not to leave the ranch, though it now belongs to a local farmer. [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: US Marshals, Montana Freemen, Ralph Clark

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Two Montana county attorneys, Garfield County Attorney Nick Murnion and Musselshell County Attorney John Bohlman (see February - March 1995), testify before Congress on the havoc being wrought in their area by the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994, January 1994, April 23, 1994, and June-July 1994). Murnion says of the Freemen: “I believe this group has declared war on our form of government. They are in open insurrection.” [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: John Bohlman, Nick Murnion, Montana Freemen

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Montana Freemen, increasingly isolated in their “Justus Township” hideaway (see September 28, 1995 and After), become disenchanted with their former friends, the Montana Militia (sometimes called the Militia of Montana, or MOM—see January 1, 1994). They even put a bounty on the head of Montana Militia founder John Trochmann (see February - March 1995). The Militia later says that the Freemen leaders are not entirely stable. “We’ve pretty much washed our hands of them,” MOM leader Randy Trochmann will say. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: John Trochmann, Montana Militia, Randy Trochmann, Montana Freemen

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Armed Freemen (see 1993-1994) beat and kidnap an Associated Press reporter and photographer on a county road outside “Justus Township” (see September 28, 1995 and After). Before permitting the two to leave, the Freemen search their vehicle and seize the photographer’s film. [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, Associated Press

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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

A Eureka, Montana, arms dealer, Cajun James, currently suing Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer (see 1993-1994) and other Freemen discloses that in February 1995 Schweitzer tried to buy $1.4 million in military-style weapons and equipment, including 200 .50-caliber rifles, 200,000 rounds of ammunition, 200 bulletproof vests, and 200 sets of binoculars. The Freemen’s money order bounced and the arms were never delivered. The FBI seized the check Schweitzer wrote and informed James it was fraudulent. James says the check looked so authentic that his bank had set up a new savings account for him and credited him with the money after reviewing the check. “It says ‘Certified Money Order,’ has the name and address of the ba[n]k on it and a notary signature,” James says. “By looking at it, there is no reason to think it is fraudulent. It was good enough to fool my bank.” The account number on the check was traced to the US District Court in Butte, Montana, and was active between 1990 and 1994, when it was shut down because Freemen were writing counterfeit checks on it. [Washington Post, 4/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Cajun James, LeRoy Schweitzer, Montana Freemen

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Two armed Freemen man a patrol outpost on their besieged ranch. The US flag is flown upside down to indicate distress.Two armed Freemen man a patrol outpost on their besieged ranch. The US flag is flown upside down to indicate distress. [Source: Idaho Observer]Undercover FBI agents arrest the leader of the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994), LeRoy Schweitzer, and two of his colleagues, Daniel E. Petersen Jr. and Lavon T. Hanson, on the “Justus Township” ranch (see September 28, 1995 and After). Schweitzer and Peterson go out in the early morning to inspect the site of a ham radio antenna they were having set up to facilitate communications; the site is on the ranch, but some distance from the main compound. The two are responding to a request from the chief of the installation crew to inspect the antenna. When they arrive, they learn that the installation crew is actually composed of FBI agents. Though Schweitzer and Petersen are heavily armed, they do not resist arrest. Hanson is also arrested without incident. Federal agents then surround the ranch with over 100 agents. Six Freemen voluntarily leave the compound; 20 or more heavily armed Freemen remain inside the ranch, along with several children, and a standoff between the Freemen and the FBI begins. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] A lawyer who visited a Freemen residence in the fall of 1995 recalls seeing guns such as AR-15 assault rifles, shotguns, and hunting rifles in every corner, and gas masks hanging from the doors. Authorities believe that the Freemen ensconsced in the ranch house have those weapons and more besides. [Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996]
Tactics Very Different from Ruby Ridge, Waco - US Attorney Sherry Matteucci says that federal authorities are seeking eight other people who are not in custody in the Freeman case, including Rodney Skurdal, who has been at large since a warrant for his arrest was issued in March 1995. Skurdal is the de facto leader of the Freemen holed up inside the ranch. The FBI says it is going to great lengths to ensure that this standoff does not end badly, as previous confrontations have in Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992), and Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). “The FBI has gone to great pains to ensure that there is no armed confrontation, no siege, no armed perimeter, and no use of military assault-type tactics or equipment,” says Attorney General Janet Reno. “The FBI is trying to negotiate a peaceful solution.” The FBI says the confrontation is not a “siege,” as two of the three roads leading out of the Freeman compound are not blocked. Matteucci says authorities believe there are women and children among the besieged Freemen, but will not speculate as to the Freemen’s numbers or composition. FBI Director Louis Freeh decides at the outset not to use overt military tactics, as was done at both Ruby Ridge and Waco. Agents and law enforcement officials on the scene do not wear camouflage or black uniforms, but civilian clothes, and no armored personnel carriers are brought in. The FBI’s quasi-military Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) is heavily supplemented by trained negotiators and “profilers.” Instead of snipers, the FBI installs video surveillance cameras on a microwave tower leading into the farm, as well as extensive audio surveillance equipment. No perimeter is established, only roads leading into the ranch are blocked, and many people are allowed to drive in and out of the farm after being stopped and questioned by FBI or law enforcement agents. (Days after the arrests, the Freemen themselves will block the county road in front of their farm with a barbed wire barricade.) The HRT does not manage the standoff, as it did in Waco; instead, the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group is in charge. The FBI agent in charge is Robert “Bear” Bryant, an assistant FBI director who in 1988 participated in the Marion, Utah, siege of a group of armed religious zealots that ended peacefully. Local police block media access to the farm, allegedly fearing violence against journalists. The FBI and the various law enforcement agencies establish an operations center at the Jordan county fairgrounds, with vehicles, command post trailers, and even an airstrip. The FBI sets up a dedicated telephone line into the farm for family members, and cuts the other phone lines. Jim Pate of Soldier of Fortune magazine, who met the Freemen leaders last year, warns that the confrontation could easily become violent. Lynn Davis of the Montana Human Rights Network agrees. “They haven’t shot anybody, but they’ve held people at gunpoint,” she says. “They’ve threatened. I’ve had two calls in the past week threatening my life, my children. Phone calls to both my home and office.” [CNN, 3/28/1996; Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996; Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]
'Sad, Middle-Aged Men' - Nick Murnion, the Garfield County attorney and a lifelong resident of Jordan, says of the Freemen, “It’s like they’re brainwashed.” The Freemen represent maybe one percent of the town, Murnion says, but “they are causing misery for the whole county.” A Jordan resident who asks to remain anonymous says: “We’re tore up about it. A lot of us have family out there.” She says that the Freemen have rejected everyone who does not share their beliefs, even family members. “If we’re not with them, we’re against them,” she says. [Washington Post, 4/1996] Matthew Sisler, the lawyer who visited the Freemen last year, has a somewhat different view. When he saw the group of heavily armed men, he says he did not fear them: “What we saw was a bunch of sad, middle-aged men who had lost their homes, who had not paid loans back or taxes, and wanted someone to blame.” [Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996]

Entity Tags: Nick Murnion, Sherry Matteucci, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Robert (“Bear”) Bryant, Matthew Sisler, Montana Freemen, Louis J. Freeh, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Critical Incident Response Group, Daniel Petersen, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lynn Davis, Jim Pate, LeRoy Schweitzer, Lavon T. Hanson, Janet Reno

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

Four Montana legislators meet with four Freemen in “Justus Township,” currently besieged by FBI agents (see March 25, 1996), to discuss ending the standoff. The four are Democrats Joe Quilici and John Johnson, and Republicans Karl Ohs and Dick Knox. The eight meet in a mobile home near the main ranch house for several meetings over two days. The negotiations produce no tangible results. Two days later, Quilici characterizes the situation as “very, very volatile,” and says, “Right now, I can’t be optimistic.” The Freemen continue to insist on their own government and their own grand jury. Garfield County prosecutor Nick Murnion, who has dealt extensively with the Freemen (see 1993-1994 and November 1995), advocates a firmer approach, saying, “The only way negotiating works is if you apply pressure from a position of strength, and they are not doing that.” Instead, the FBI allows Ohs to promise the Freemen a “mechanism whereby their story could be heard.” Jim Pate, a Soldier of Fortune magazine reporter who has managed to visit the Freemen in their compound during the siege, reports that negotiations have failed, that the Freemen are unwilling to meet with any federal government officials, and that they are content to wait for a long time. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: Joe Quilici, Dick Knox, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jim Pate, Karl Ohs, Nick Murnion, Montana Freemen, John Johnson

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Michael Barkun, a Syracuse University professor and expert on the “Christian Identity” ideology (see 1960s and After) espoused by the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994), says the low-key methodologies the FBI is using in its standoff with the Freemen (see March 25, 1996) is the proper approach. Barkun says: “They’ve done precisely what they should be doing with a group of this kind, namely being very careful not to act in a way that confirms the group’s beliefs. That suggests that some very important lessons have been learned.” Barkun is referencing the aggressive methods used by the FBI during its siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, that ended in a fiery conflagration that killed most of the Davidians (see April 19, 1993). [Washington Post, 4/9/1996]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, Montana Freemen, Michael Barkun, Federal Bureau of Investigation

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

A cache of explosives stored in a tree near Yuba City, California, explodes. Police arrest Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994) supporter William Robert Goehler in conjunction with the blast. Investigators looking into the explosion later arrest two of Goehler’s associates, one of them a militia leader, after finding 500 pounds of petrogel explosives—enough to level three city blocks—in a motor home parked outside their residence. Six others are later arrested on related charges. Goehler, who has previously been convicted of rape, burglary, and assault, will be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. An associate will be sentenced to three years. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]

Entity Tags: William Robert Goehler

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

Six Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994, March 25, 1996, and June 13, 1996) are tried in a district court in Billings, Montana, accused of being accessories to helping fugitives avoid arrest during the FBI siege of the Freemen compound. Four Freemen will be ejected from the courtroom for being disruptive during the trial; the four attempt to derail the proceedings by cursing and screaming. All six Freemen have refused to participate in their defense, rejected their court-appointed counsels, and refused to dress themselves for the trial. “It’s a difficult trial to get prepared for,” says Lisa Swanson, who represents defendant James Hance. “He won’t talk to me. The only way he would talk with me is if I would denounce my membership in the American Bar Association.” Three are dragged in and out of the courtroom after refusing to walk, and one is transported in a wheelchair. As they are taken into the courtroom, they yell “non-assumptus,” their term for their claim that the judge has no authority over them. Another defendant, Steven Hance, yells at the presiding judge, “Let the record show I’m placing you under arrest,” and curses him. Hance then knocks over a chair and tries to knock over a computer monitor. A third defendant, James Hance, curses the US Attorney prosecuting the case, Sherry Matteucci. [New York Times, 3/16/1998; Los Angeles Times, 4/1/1998; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] Five of the defendants will be convicted (see March 31, 1998).

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, James Hance, Lisa Swanson, Sherry Matteucci, Steven Hance

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Five Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994, March 25, 1996, and June 13, 1996) are convicted of serving as accessories to helping other Freemen escape arrest during the 81-day standoff (see March 16, 1998 and After). Steven Hance and his two sons, James and John Hance, are convicted of being accessories and for being fugitives in possession of firearms. Barry Nelson, who joined the Freemen during the standoff (see March 25 - April 1, 1996), is convicted of being an accessory. Elwin Ward is acquitted of accessory charges, but found guilty of submitting a false claim to the Internal Revenue Service. Edwin Clark is acquitted of all charges. [New York Times, 4/1/1998; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] The Hances and Nelson will receive lengthy jail sentences (see June 6, 1998).

Entity Tags: Elwin Ward, Barry Nelson, Edwin Clark, James Hance, John Hance, Steven Hance, Montana Freemen

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The cover of ‘False Prophets.’The cover of ‘False Prophets.’ [Source: Amazon (.com)]Dale Jakes and his wife Connie Jakes release a new book, False Prophets, that details their experiences as FBI informants who infiltrated the Montana Freemen for 14 months in 1995 and early 1996 (see 1993-1994). The Jakes write that they collected enormous amounts of information for the FBI. Dale Jakes was welcomed by the Freemen because of his knowledge of explosives, and Connie Jakes became the group’s unofficial office manager. They left the group shortly before the March 1996 standoff between the Freemen and law enforcement authorities (see March 25, 1996). The two also collected information on dozens of other extremist groups that the Freemen were in contact with, including many who came to visit the Freemen and take what Dale Jakes calls “basic hate courses” in ideology and financial fraud (see September 28, 1995 and After). The Jakes say that the FBI delayed attempts to arrest the Freemen leaders to give the Jakes the chance to collect more data. A former sheriff’s deputy for the area confirms that the two did work for the FBI. Dale Jakes says that one of the more worrisome moments came when a group of Freemen assaulted an ABC News crew and chased them off the property (see October 2, 1995). “Unknown to the film crew, four high-powered rifles with scopes were trained on the driver and his passenger,” Jakes says. “In the cabin, a debate raged among the Freemen leaders as to whether or not to ‘shoot them.’” [Associated Press, 5/12/1998]

Entity Tags: Connie Jakes, ABC News, Dale Jakes, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Montana Freemen

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Garfield County, Montana, prosecutor Nick Murnion receives the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for enforcing the law despite death threats from the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994). Murnion receives the award from the Kennedy family at the JFK Library in Boston. [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: Nick Murnion, Montana Freemen

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Four members of the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994) are forcibly wheeled into court in wheelchairs after refusing to come to court under their own power, and are sentenced to prison for their part in the group’s standoff with the FBI (see March 25, 1996 and March 31, 1998). US District Judge John C. Coughenour sentences Steven Hance to 78 months in jail. Hance interrupts the proceedings with shouts that he is not a US citizen and not subject to the jurisdiction of the court. Barry Nelson receives 71 months. John Hance receives 63 months. James Hance receives 67 months. Fellow Freeman Elwin Ward, who does not resist being brought to court, is released for time served. [Associated Press, 6/6/1998]

Entity Tags: John Hance, Barry Nelson, Elwin Ward, John C. Coughenour, Montana Freemen, Steven Hance, James Hance

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A jury convicts Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994) leader LeRoy M. Schweitzer (see 1983-1995) and three of his fellows, Dale Jacobi, Daniel E. Petersen Jr., and Russell D. Landers, for conspiracy and bank fraud (see May 27, 1998 and After). Schweitzer is found guilty on 21 of 30 counts, most involving fake checks and money orders issued by the group. Schweitzer, Petersen, Richard Clark, and Rodney Skurdal are found guilty of two counts of threatening to kill Judge Jack Shanstrom. The defense argued that the Freemen sincerely believed that they were doing what was necessary; defense attorney Anthony Gallagher said during the trial, “These were folks that legitimately believed that their government was no longer their government.” After several days of jury deliberations, District Judge John C. Coughenour declares a mistrial on 63 unresolved counts of the 126 total charges; one of those charges is that all the defendants engaged in an enormous fraud scheme. [Reuters, 7/3/1998; Associated Press, 7/3/1998; Southern Poverty Law Center, 8/1998; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, Dale Jacobi, Daniel Petersen, LeRoy Schweitzer, Richard Clark, Russell Dean Landers, John C. Coughenour, Rodney Owen Skurdal

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A federal judge sentences three members of the anti-government Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994, May 27, 1998 and After, and July 3-8, 1998) to jail. Russell Landers, who told the court that it had no jurisdiction over him, receives over 11 years in prison for conspiracy, bank fraud, threatening a federal judge, and being a fugitive in possession of a firearm. Emmett Clark, who is ill, is sentenced to time served plus three years’ probation; he pled guilty to threatening to kidnap and murder Montana federal judge Jack Shanstrom. Dana Dudley, Landers’s wife, pled guilty to interstate transportation and is sentenced to time served plus another 21 months in prison. When the sentencing hearing begins, Landers interjects, “This is now the supreme court of Justus Township, Russell Dean presiding.” Landers is referring to “Justus Township,” the ranch formerly occupied by the Freemen (see September 28, 1995 and After). When Judge John Coughenour attempts to proceed, Landers says: “Bailiff, remove me. I have no part in the United States, no part in these proceedings.” He repeats his contention and sits quietly for the remainder of the hearing. [New York Times, 11/8/1998]

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, Dana Dudley Landers, Jack Shanstrom, Emmett Clark, Russell Dean Landers, John C. Coughenour

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

Tennessee and North Carolina white separatist and “common law” ideologue Peter Stern is charged with conspiring to defraud tax authorities with fake checks from the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994). Stern, who owes more than $96,000 in back taxes, is one of hundreds of “common law” proponents facing similar charges around the nation. Stern’s first attorney, Gerald Aurillo, forces a mistrial in the first court proceeding when he breaks down into a hysterical sobbing fit in the courtroom; Stern fires Aurillo and represents himself. A jury in Asheville, North Carolina, convicts Stern after only three hours of deliberations of fraud and attempting to pay off debts and back taxes with “Freemen” checks. Stern is also convicted of conspiracy, obstructing the Internal Revenue Service, and threatening to kidnap two federal judges, after he threatened the judges with letters informing them they would be “arrested” by “marshals” of his Franklin, Tennessee-based common-law “court” if they didn’t free another activist who was in prison. Stern faces 40 years or more in sentencing. Stern’s defense is that he thought the Freemen checks were legitimate financial instruments and that he had no intent to defraud anyone. Well-known attorney John Zwerling will handle Stern’s appeal, saying that he believes Stern was found “guilty by association” because of his connection with the Freemen. [Deseret News, 7/21/2000; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001; Franklin Press, 7/11/2001]

Entity Tags: Peter Stern, Gerald Aurillo, John Zwerling

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

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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