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Context of 'Late 1995: Montana Freemen Put Bounty on Head of Montana Militia Founder'

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

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

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

An 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

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

Combat engineering vehicles (CEVs) lined up outside the blazing Branch Davidian compound.Combat engineering vehicles (CEVs) lined up outside the blazing Branch Davidian compound. [Source: PBS]The FBI and local law enforcement officials begin their planned assault on the besieged Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 17-18, 1993), despite indications that the Davidians inside the compound will retaliate either by firing on the gathered law enforcement officials, by torching the main residential building, or perhaps both (see April 18, 1993). [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Warning - At 5:55 a.m., Richard Rogers, the commander of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), orders two combat engineering vehicles (CEVs, unarmed modifications of Bradley fighting vehicles and the primary means for deplying CS “riot control agent” into the main building) deployed to the main building. One minute later, senior negotiator Byron Sage telephones the residence and speaks with Davidian Steve Schneider. At 5:59, Schneider comes to the phone. Sage tells him: “We are in the process of putting tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We will not enter the building.” Schneider replies, “You are going to spray tear gas into the building?” Sage says, “In the building… no, we are not entering the building.” At the conclusion of the conversation, Schneider or another Davidian throws the telephone out of the building. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Minutes later, Schneider slips out, retrieves the phone, and ducks back inside. [Time, 5/3/1993]
Combat Vehicles Begin Deploying Gas, Davidians Open Fire - At 6:02 a.m., the two CEVs begin inserting CS gas into the compound, using spray nozzles attached to booms. The booms punch holes through the exterior walls of the building. The FBI uses unarmed Bradley Fighting Vehicles to deploy “ferret rounds,” military ammunition designed to release CS after penetrating a barricade such as a wall or window. As the CEVs and the Bradleys punch holes into the buildings for the deployment of the gas, Sage makes the following statement over the loudspeakers: “We are in the process of placing tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We are not entering the building. This is not an assault. Do not fire your weapons. If you fire, fire will be returned. Do not shoot. This is not an assault. The gas you smell is a non-lethal tear gas. This gas will temporarily render the building uninhabitable. Exit the residence now and follow instructions. You are not to have anyone in the tower. The [guard] tower is off limits. No one is to be in the tower. Anyone observed to be in the tower will be considered to be an act of aggression [sic] and will be dealt with accordingly. If you come out now, you will not be harmed. Follow all instructions. Come out with your hands up. Carry nothing. Come out of the building and walk up the driveway toward the Double-E Ranch Road. Walk toward the large Red Cross flag. Follow all instructions of the FBI agents in the Bradleys. Follow all instructions. You are under arrest. This standoff is over. We do not want to hurt anyone. Follow all instructions. This is not an assault. Do not fire any weapons. We do not want anyone hurt. Gas will continue to be delivered until everyone is out of the building.” Two minutes later, Davidians begin firing on the vehicles from the windows. The gunfire from the Davidians prompts Rogers and FBI commander Jeffrey Jamar to decide to change tactics; at 6:07 a.m., the assault forces begin deploying all of the gas at once instead of dispersing it in a controlled manner over the course of 48-72 hours as originally envisioned. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; USMC Weapons, 2002] (Jamar will later testify that before the assault even began, he was “99 percent certain” that the FBI would have to escalate its assault because the Davidians would open fire.) [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] As a CEV demolishes the back wall of the gymnasium area of the compound, negotiators broadcast: “David, we are facilitating you leaving the compound by enlarging the door.… Leave the building now.” [Cox News Service, 1/30/2000] Jamar will later explain that the Bradleys do not carry military weaponry. “Of course we had all the firepower removed,” he will say in a 1995 interview. “There were no cannons or anything on them. We used them for transportation. And they’re more than a personnel carrier—they’re a track vehicle. I mean it’s mud, just thick mud there the whole time. And the agents learned how to drive ‘em. But the idea was to protect them as best we could. And we didn’t know—they talked about blowing a 50—did they have rockets? Who knows? Did they have explosives buried in various vicinities? Are they prepared to run out with Molatov cocktails? What’s in their mind?” Jamar is referring to threats made by Koresh and other Davidians to blow up FBI vehicles. As for the CEVs, they are tanks modified for construction and engineering purposes, and are often used as bulldozers. Observers watching the events live on television or later on videotape will sometimes mistake the CEVs for actual tanks, though two M1A1 Abrams tanks are actually on site and take part in the assault. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
House Report: Davidians Would Certainly Consider FBI's Actions an Assault - A 1996 report by a House of Representatives investigative committee (see August 2, 1996) will note that it is almost impossible for the Davidians not to consider themselves under assault, with tank-like vehicles tearing holes in the building, CS being sprayed everywhere, grenade-like projectiles crashing through windows, men in body armor swarming around the compound, and the sounds of what seems like combat all around them. “Most people would consider this to be an attack on them—an ‘assault’ in the simplest terms,” the report will find. “If they then saw other military vehicles approaching, from which projectiles were fired through the windows of their home, most people are even more likely to believe that they were under an assault. If those vehicles then began to tear down their home there would be little doubt that they were being attacked. These events are what the Davidians inside the residence experienced on April 19, yet the FBI did not consider their actions an assault.” Moreover, the FBI did not consider the close-knit, home-centered community the Davidians have long since formed. “Their religious leader led them to believe that one day a group of outsiders, non-believers, most likely in the form of government agents, would come for them,” the report will state. “Indeed, they believed that this destiny had been predicted 2,000 years before in Biblical prophecy. Given this mindset, it can hardly be disputed that the Davidians thought they were under assault at 6 a.m. on April 19.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Monitoring from Washington - At 7:00 a.m., Attorney General Janet Reno and senior Justice Department and FBI officials go to the FBI situation room to monitor the assault. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Buildings Breached - At 7:30 a.m., a CEV breaches the side of one of the main buildings and injects large amounts of tear gas into the interior of the compound. At 7:58 a.m., gas is fired into the second floor of the back-right corner of the building. The FBI asks for more ferret rounds, and by 9:30 a.m., 48 more ferret rounds arrive from Houston. The assault is hampered by the FBI’s dwindling supply of ferret rounds, a CEV with mechanical difficulties, and high winds dispersing the gas. Another CEV enlarges the opening in the center-front of the building, with the idea of providing an escape route for the trapped Davidians. A third CEV breaches the rear of the building, according to a later Justice Department report, “to create openings near the gymnasium.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Clinton Told Assault Progressing Well - At about 11 a.m., Reno briefs President Clinton, tells him that the assault seems to be going well, and leaves for a judicial conference in Baltimore. During this time, a CEV breaches the back side of the compound. At 11:40 a.m., the FBI fires the last of the ferret rounds into the building. At 11:45 a.m., one wall of the compound collapses. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Transcriptionist Escapes - Ruth Riddle, the typist and transcriptionist sent inside the compound by the FBI to help Koresh finish his “Seven Seals” manuscript (see April 18, 1993), escapes the compound before the fire. She brings out a computer disk containing the unfinished manuscript. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Davidians Set Fires throughout Compound - At 12:07 p.m., according to the Justice Department and House reports, the Davidians start “simultaneous fires at three or more different locations within the compound.” An FBI Hostage Rescue Team member reports seeing “a male starting a fire” in the front of the building. Later analyses show that the first fire begins in a second-floor bedroom, the second in the first floor dining room, and the third in the first floor chapel. Evidence also shows that the fires spread according to “accelerant trails,” such as a trail of flammable liquid being poured on the floor. Some of the Davidians’ clothing found in the rubble also shows traces of gasoline, kerosene, Coleman fuel (liquid petroleum, sometimes called “white gas”), and lighter fluid, further suggesting that the Davidians use accelerants to start and spread the fires. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Within eight minutes, the main building is engulfed in flames. One explosion, probably from a propane gas tank, is observed. Later investigation will find a propane tank with its top blown off in the debris. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] After the compound burns to the ground, FBI agent Bob Ricks tells reporters, “David Koresh, we believe, gave the order to commit suicide and they all willingly followed.” [New York Times, 4/20/1993] Some of the Davidians who survive the conflagration later claim that the Davidians did not start the fires, but arson investigators with the Justice Department and the Texas Rangers, as well as an independent investigator, will conclude that Davidians did indeed start the fires in at least three different areas of the main building. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] A 1993 Treasury Department report (see Late September - October 1993) will produce audiotapes of Davidians inside the compound and transcripts of conversations, secured via electronic surveillance, discussing the means of setting the fires. Voices on the tapes and in the transcripts say such things as: “The fuel has to go all around to get started.” “Got to put enough fuel in there.” “So, we only light ‘em as they come in,” or as a slightly different version has it, “So, we only light ‘em as soon as they tell me.” Once the fires begin, high winds and the breaches in the walls cause the flames to almost immediately begin consuming the compound. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] In 1999, Colonel Rodney Rawlings, the senior military liaison to the HRT, will tell reporters that he heard Koresh give the orders to start the fires over FBI surveillance “bugs” (see October 8, 1999). Sage later describes the horror that goes through him and his fellow agents when they realize that the Davidians have torched the compound. He will recall “pleading” with the Davidians to leave the compound, and say: “I can’t express the emotions that goes through you. I had to physically turn around away from the monitor to keep my mind focused on what I was trying to broadcast to those people.” He will recall being horrified by the failure of people to flee the compound. “I fully anticipated those people would come pouring out of there,” he says. “I’d been through CS teargas on numerous occasions [in training exercises]. And I would move heaven and earth to get my kids out of that kind of an environment. And that’s frankly what we were banking on. That at least the parents would remove their children from that kind of situation.” Of Koresh, he will say: “By him intentionally lighting that place afire and consuming the lives of 78 people, including over 20 young children, was just inconceivable to me. In 25 years of law enforcement I’ve never been faced with someone that was capable of doing that.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Six years later, the FBI will admit to releasing two pyrotechnic grenades into the compound, but insists the grenades did not start the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After).
Plea for Release - At 12:12 p.m., Sage calls on Koresh to lead the Davidians to safety. Nine Davidians flee the compound and are arrested [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] , including one woman who leaves, attempts to return to the burning building, and tries unsuccessfully to fight off a federal agent who comes to her aid. [New York Times, 4/20/1993] One of the nine runs out of the building at around 12:28 p.m., indicating that even 21 minutes after the fire, it is possible for some of the inhabitants to make their escape. However, most of the Davidians retreat to areas in the center of the building and do not attempt to get out. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
'Systematic Gunfire' - At 12:25 p.m., FBI agents hear “systematic gunfire” coming from inside of the building; some agents believe that the Davidians are either killing themselves or each other. The House committee investigation later finds that FBI agents hear rapid-fire gunshots coming from the compound; while many of the gunshots are probably caused by exploding ammunition, “other sounds were methodical and evenly-spaced, indicating the deliberate firing of weapons.”
Fire Department Responds; Search for Survivors - At 12:41 p.m., fire trucks and firefighters begin attempting to put out the flames. HRT agents enter tunnels to search for survivors, particularly children. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] No fire trucks are at the scene when the assault begins, and it takes around 25 minutes for the first fire department vehicles to respond to emergency calls from their stations in Waco. Bob Sheehy, mayor of Waco, later says the city fire department “first got a call after the fire had already started.” Ricks explains that fire engines were not brought to the compound earlier for fear that firefighters might have been exposed to gunfire from the compound, and because FBI officials did not expect a fire. “We did not introduce fire to this compound, and it was not our intention that this compound be burned down. I can’t tell you the shock and the horror that all of us felt when we saw those flames coming out of there. It was, ‘Oh, my God, they’re killing themselves.’” [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
Death Toll - In all, 78 Branch Davidians, including over 20 children, two pregnant women, and Koresh himself, die in the fire. Nineteen of the dead are killed by close-range gunshot wounds. Almost all of the others either die from smoke inhalation, burns, or both. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] The number is improperly reported in a number of media sources, and varies from 75 to 81. Even the House committee report does not cite a definitive total. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Some of the FBI negotiators involved in the siege later say that they feel continued negotiations might have saved many, perhaps all, of the lives of those inside the compound. In an interview later in the year, one negotiator tells a reporter, “I’ll always, in my own mind, feel like maybe we could have gotten some more people out.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995] But HRT member Barry Higginbotham, one of the snipers who observes the Davidians throughout the siege, will later state that neither he nor anyone on his team believed the Davidians would ever willingly surrender. Higginbotham will say: “We just felt that if you make them suffer a little more, deny them perhaps a little more food, lighting, power, things like that inside, that would cause more pressure on their leadership inside. And perhaps their leadership would go to Koresh and pressure him to start negotiating in good faith. It was hard to believe that Koresh was ever negotiating in good faith.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] In the hours after the conflagration, Ricks tells reporters: “We had hoped the women would grab their children and flee. That did not occur and they bunkered down the children and allowed them to go up in flames with them.… It was truly an inferno of flames.” Ricks says that authorities receive reports, perhaps from some of the survivors, that the children had been injected with some kind of poison to ease their pain. This claim is never confirmed. [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
In the Bunker - FBI investigators combing the building after the conflagration find an enormous amount of guns and other weaponry inside. Dr. Rodney Crow, the FBI’s chief of identification services and one of the officials who examine the bodies of the Davidians, spends much of his time in the compound’s underground bunker, where many of the bodies are found. Crow later says: “There were weapons everywhere. I don’t remember moving a body that didn’t have a gun melted to it, intertwined with it, between the legs, under the arm, or in close proximity. And I’d say 18 inches to 20 inches would be close proximity.… The women were probably more immersed in the weapons than anyone else, because there was so much weaponry inside the bunker. It was like sea shells on a beach, but they were spent casings and spent bullets. If you had rubber gloves and tried to smooth it away, you’d tear your gloves away from the bullet points that are unexploded, or unspent ammunition. Then as you went through layer after layer, you came upon weapons that were totally burned. Until we got down to the floor, and it was mint condition ammunition there. Ammunition boxes not even singed.” The most powerful weapon Crow finds is a .50-caliber machine gun. Some of the bodies have gunshot wounds. Crow will say: “My theory is there was a lot of euthanasia and mercy killing. That group probably were just about as active as anywhere in the compound, mercifully putting each other out of misery in the last moments.” In total, 33 bodies are found inside the bunker; almost all the women and children found inside the compound are in the bunker. Many are found to have died from suffocation or smoke inhalation (two died from falling debris), but some died from gunshot wounds, and one woman was stabbed to death. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Local medical examiner Nizam Peerwani later says he does not believe the people in the bunker committed suicide, saying: “There has been a lot of speculation if this is a mass suicide or not. And—did they all go there to die? Ah, we don’t really think so. What I feel personally is that they tried to escape. A bunker was perhaps the safest area in the compound.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Sage will say that he knew the children were dead sometime around 12:30 p.m. He recalls terminating the negotiations at that time, “because I didn’t want the loudspeaker bank to interfere with instructions being given on the ground. At that point in time, I walked over to the site in shock, basically. And, uh, the first thing I asked is, ‘Where are the kids?’” He is told, “Nowhere.” Sage will say: “They had not come out. They had been consumed.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Koresh's Fate - Koresh and Schneider are found in a small room the authorities call “the communication room.” Koresh is dead of a single gunshot wound to the forehead. Schneider is dead from a gunshot wound in the mouth. Peerwani later says: “Did David Koresh shoot himself and Schneider shoot himself? Or did Schneider shoot David Koresh and then turn around and shoot himself? Certainly both are possible. We cannot be certain as to what really transpired.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
No Ill Effects from Gas - Peerwani and his colleagues examine the bodies for damage caused by the CS gas used in the assault, and find none. While many of the Davidians were exposed to the gas, according to tissue and blood studies, none inhaled enough of it to cause anything more than short-term discomfort. Concurrently, Peerwani and his colleagues find no damage from the propellant used in the ferret rounds. A fire report later written by Texas-based investigators will call the tear gas operation a failure at dispersing the Davidians. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Medical examinations show that some of the children may well have been overcome by the gas, and rendered unable to escape, but the compound had not been gassed for an hour before the fires began, and CS has a persistence factor of only 10 minutes—in other words, the effects should have worn off by the time the fires broke out. The gas proves ineffective against the adults, because the adult Davidians are equipped with gas masks. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Wrongly Executed Plan - The plan as signed by Reno called on law enforcement forces to deploy tear gas into the compound at stated intervals, then have agents retreat to await evacuees before approaching again. This “passive,” “restrained” approach was to have been followed for up to 72 hours before using assault vehicles to force entry. Instead, the agents wait only 12 minutes before beginning a motorized vehicle assault. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Taking Responsibility - One of the unlikely “heroes” of the debacle is Reno. She signed off on the attack (see April 17-18, 1993), and within hours of the attacks, she holds a televised press conference where she says: “I made the decision. I am accountable . The buck stops here” (see April 19, 1993). She repeats this statement over and over again on national television. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]

Entity Tags: Bob Ricks, Bob Sheehy, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Barry Higginbotham, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Janet Reno, Jeffrey Jamar, Byron Sage, US Department of Justice, Nizam Peerwani, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Richard Rogers, Rodney Rawlings, Rodney Crow, Ruth Riddle, Texas Rangers, Steve Schneider

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

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

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

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

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

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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

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

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Montana Freemen, engaged in a standoff with federal and state authorities (see March 25, 1996), post a press release on the gate of their compound for authorities and media members to read. It declares the “independence” of “Justus Township” (see September 28, 1995 and After) and reads in part, “It should be further made known to all Men that this republic, Justus Township, Montana state, united States of America, so affirmed in Law is NOT that de facto fiction, the corporation, incorporated in London, England in the year of Yeshua, the Christ, eighteen hundred seventy-one, A.D., the United States, a corporation, so defined as their own Title 28 U.S.C. 3005 (A)(15).” [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

In its escalating pressure against the besieged Montana Freemen (see March 25, 1996), the FBI shuts off the electricity to the Freemen’s compound. [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] The Freemen have at least one generator, so they are not entirely without electricity; it is possible that they could go for months without outside power. If the power shutdown elicts no response, the FBI has other options it can implement, including moving agents incrementally closer to the main buildings, disrupting the Freemen’s satellite feeds and other communications, and even blocking their access to outside food sources such as fish ponds and storage buildings. “In effect, we could shut them off from the world,” says one official, who adds that the steps would be put into effect gradually in the hope that any one of them might lead to negotiations. Officials say any escalation would have to be gradual to ensure that the situation does not escalate out of control. They say they have no plans to raid the compound at this time. FBI Director Louis Freeh is monitoring the standoff very closely, officials say, and has mediated discussions and disputes between his aides and his field commanders. [New York Times, 6/5/1996; Associated Press, 6/10/1996]
Dissenting Viewpoints on Efficacy of Power Shutdown - The next day, retired FBI agent Joe Conley tells PBS news anchor Jim Lehrer that he thinks the power shutdown is “basically going to send a signal. In and of itself, turning off the electricity isn’t going to prompt these people to come directly to the negotiating table, but it is telling them that the FBI is there, law enforcement is there, and law enforcement is not going to go away.” Freelance writer and reporter Lawrence Myers disagrees with Conley about the efficacy of shutting down the Freemen’s power, saying: “They, first of all, don’t recognize the jurisdictional authority of the people who have them surrounded. Second of all, as I recall looking into this, I flew up there last year to talk with these people and look into it, and the fact is that in the late 1980s, the electricity was shut off on the Clark ranch (see September 28, 1995 and After) for three years. Nobody came out. Nobody moved away.” State Senator Charles Duke (R-CO), who has come off a series of frustrating negotiations with the Freemen (see May 15-21, 1996), says while he believes the electricity shutdown will have a “helpful long-term” effect, the Freemen are not a unified whole: “Had it just been up to the Clarks, this would have been over sometime ago, I believe. But what you’ve got there are some destabilizing factors, such as Russ Landers, Dale Jacobi, and Rod Skurdal,” he says, and those men are influencing the others to stay put in defiance of the FBI. “[T]hose are the three main destabilizing factors, and my recommendation to the FBI when I left is that those three somehow be isolated from the remainder of the farm, if necessary by force. And I think the rest of the farm would capitulate. I have seen people who are prepared to die for their beliefs, and these people don’t strike me as that type of person.”
Senator: FBI Showing Admirable Restraint - In a sidebar to the conversation about the power shutdown, Duke tells Lehrer that he admires the FBI’s restraint in handling the Freemen. “I think they have been lenient deliberately,” he says. “That’s really to the FBI’s credit—not to say they will always do this, but they’re at least doing that in this case. I think it’s more going out of their way, even over-correcting, if necessary, in order to make sure that the constitutional rights of these people is observed, and an example of how far the FBI was willing to go is they were willing to step aside if these people on the Clark ranch would simply walk across the cattle guard, the FBI would step aside and let the county sheriff process this, these people or the Montana State Police, or the Montana state legislature.” Myers agrees, noting that Attorney General Janet Reno said if given the chance to redo the FBI siege in Waco, Texas, which resulted in the deaths of almost 80 Branch Davidians (see April 19, 1993), “she’d do a lot of things differently. Well, this is the opportunity to demonstrate what type of patience they’re willing to show with American citizens. I think they’re doing fine so far and I know it’s problematic.… I think [Duke] and I and Mr. Conley can agree, this is a very unique, very difficult, and incredibly complicated negotiating situation here.” [PBS, 6/4/1996]

Entity Tags: Louis J. Freeh, Montana Freemen, Russell Dean Landers, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Lawrence Myers, Jim Lehrer, Dale Jacobi, Charles Duke, Janet Reno, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joe Conley

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

June 13, 1996: Freemen Surrender Peacefully

A distant shot of the Freemen compound. Reporters were not given much access to the area, and photographs of the area and the participants in the standoff are limited.A distant shot of the Freemen compound. Reporters were not given much access to the area, and photographs of the area and the participants in the standoff are limited. [Source: CNN]The besieged Montana Freemen (see March 25, 1996) surrender peacefully to federal authorities. Officials credit Freemen leader Edwin Clark (see June 11, 1996) with playing a key role in negotiating the surrender. [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] The New York Times writes that the siege ends “so peacefully that the surrender [does] not even disturb the cows grazing at the group’s remote Montana ranch.” Local postal carrier and rancher Ruth Coulter exclaims after the surrender: “My God, it’s finally over! And nobody got killed! Wonderful. Wonderful!” [New York Times, 6/14/1996]
16 Freemen Surrender - CNN identifies 16 people still inside the compound: Ralph Clark (see 1980s-1994), the elderly leader of the Clark family and one of the group’s leaders; Clark’s wife Kay; Clark’s brother Emmett Clark, the actual former owner of the 960-acre wheat farm occupied by the Freemen and dubbed “Justus Township” (see September 28, 1995 and After); Emmett Clark’s wife Rosie; Ralph Clark’s son Edwin; Edwin Clark’s son Casey Clark; Rodney Skurdal, a founder of the group (see 1983-1995); Russell Dean Landers, one of the leaders of the group and a member of a North Carolina anti-government, anti-tax group called “Civil Rights Task Force”; Dana Dudley Landers, Landers’s common-law wife, a fugitive from federal and state charges, and a member of the “Civil Rights Task Force”; Dale Jacobi, a former Canadian policemen; Steven Hance, who faces state charges from North Carolina; Hance’s sons John Hance and James Hance; Cherlyn Petersen, the wife of arrested Freemen member Daniel Petersen; Casey Valheimer; and Barry Nelson, who with another man entered the ranch after eluding blockades (see March 25 - April 1, 1996). [CNN, 6/12/1996] The surrender is peaceful; the Freemen drive to the ranch gates in cars, trucks, and a Winnebago motor home. They gather in a quiet circle for a final prayer. Then Edwin Clark approaches an agent and shakes hands. Finally, in pairs escorted by Clark, they surrender to waiting agents, who ease them into passenger vans. Clark is the last one to enter custody. Fourteen of the Freemen are taken to the Yellowstone County jail in Billings, 175 miles away from Jordan. Two, Kay Clark and Rosie Clark, face no charges and are not jailed, though the FBI says they will not be allowed to return to the compound. After hearing of the surrender, President Clinton tells guests at a state dinner, “We will all say a little prayer tonight for this peaceful settlement.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/14/1996]
FBI Director 'Obviously Relieved' - FBI Director Louis Freeh, described by the Los Angeles Times as “obviously relieved,” says the FBI “put patience above the risk of bloodshed” to end the standoff. He says the bureau “made no deals to drop or lessen the federal charges” against any of the Freemen in order to precipitate the surrender. Of critics who called for quicker and perhaps more “tactical” solutions, Freeh says: “I understand their impatience. But it was essential that we followed our established crisis management procedures.” He says the standoff proves the worth of the new crisis response plans implemented after the tragedies in Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992), and Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). This time, the bureau used “a fundamentally different approach” that “may not always work, but it worked here.” Giving negotiators more influence during the standoff did cause some “disagreements” and “friction” within the FBI, Freeh acknowledges, but it was the right decision to make. Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick says “[t]he tactical option was always on the table.” Freeh notes that as the standoff wore on, the Freemen gained a certain level of reluctant trust in the bureau. “We never broke a promise to them,” he says, and “we told them before things happened,” such as cutting off electrical power (see June 3, 1996). [Los Angeles Times, 6/15/1996]
Outreach to Rightist Figures, Low-Key Techniques Brought Successful Resolution - FBI agents credit help they received from militia members in helping to resolve the standoff, along with the new, more low-key techniques of handling such confrontations now being used by the bureau. “Overall, our approach was to find a balance between negotiations and other lawful means,” says FBI agent Ron VanVranken, who took part in the final settlement negotiations. “We recognized it would be prudent and beneficial to use the services of third-party intermediaries and to be constantly soliciting the advice of outside experts.” Freeh says he was supportive of the decision to use third-party negotiators who hold similar anti-government views to those of the Freemen: “I think that, given all the other cumulative steps over the last 81 days, that that helped persuade the remaining subjects to finally come out of the compound.” The Los Angeles Times says that the FBI’s strategy of reaching out to far-right figures may have had an added benefit of creating dissension among rightist groups (see March 25 - April 1, 1996) and avoiding a “united front” of opposition that might have helped strengthen the Freemen’s resolve to continue holding out. “It was probably a wise move that the Freemen came out, as opposed to being burned out or shot,” says Clay Douglas, publisher of the far-right Free American newspaper and a leading member of the “Patriot” movement. “And it’s an election year, so the FBI had to be good.” However, the FBI’s decision to use “Patriot” negotiators “was pretty smart on their part. It has divided a lot of patriots. A lot of people thought they were being traitors for going in and trying to talk them out. Some people side with the Freemen. Some people side with the ‘Patriot’ leaders. So it’s just another small part of how the government keeps America divided. It’s called gradualism. They keep gradually encroaching on our freedoms.” The FBI brought in militia leaders James “Bo” Gritz and Jack McLamb (see April 27, 1996), Colorado State Senator Charles Duke, a rightist sympathizer (see May 15-21, 1996), and white supremacist lawyer Kirk Lyons (see June 11, 1996); even though most of their attempts at negotiations failed, it served to build a “bridge” between the FBI and the Freemen. Another technique was to promote Edwin Clark, the Freeman the FBI considered the most likely to leave the compound, as a leader in the absence of arrested Freemen LeRoy Schweitzer and Daniel Petersen (see March 25, 1996). The final element was the introduction of Lyons, who was contacted three weeks ago by FBI agents and asked for a plan to negotiate with the Freemen. Lyons’s colleague Neill Payne says somewhat incredulously, “It is to Director Freeh’s credit that he was broad-minded enough to go along with a crazy scheme like ours.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/15/1996]

Almost 100 New York City employees, including some police and corrections officials (see March 17, 1998), are arrested for using common law “untaxing” kits to evade taxes (see September 28, 1995 and After). According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “[t]he case underscores how far such ideology has spread.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]

Entity Tags: Southern Poverty Law Center

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

The jury trial of Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer (see March 25, 1996) and 11 other Freemen begins in the Billings, Montana, district court, amid tight security. (Three others charged in the indictment have already pled guilty.) The Freemen are charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, bank and wire fraud (see May 1995), filing false IRS claims, interstate transportation of stolen property, threatening federal officials, armed robbery of news crews (see October 2, 1995 and February 8, 1996), and firearms violations (see March 14, 1996). Prosecutors give their opening arguments, and tell the jury that the case against the anti-government group centers on fraud and not politics. Lead prosecutor James Seykora says that the Freemen issued over 4,000 fraudulent checks worth a total of $18 billion; while most were rejected, the Freemen garnered $1.8 million in illicit payments from the checks. The checks—called at various times certified money orders, certified banker checks, comptroller warrants, or lien drafts—were drawn on a Norwest Bank account that never held over $116. “This is a fraud of truly epic proportions, a fraud fueled by hatred and motivated by greed,” Seykora says. “They bought some computers, they bought some fancy paper and sat down and made their own checks, their own money.” Authorities in Utah, California, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, and elsewhere have uncovered similar schemes and linked the fraud rings to Schweitzer. Overall, authorities say phony money orders worth $20 million were disseminated as part of the fraud, which they liken to a variation of the Bank of Sark scam of the 1970s. Defense lawyers argue that the Freemen sincerely believed their checks had value, an argument challenged by prosecutors’ assertions that the Freemen did not themselves honor such checks if anyone tried to pay them for the seminars the Freemen provided (see September 28, 1995 and After), nor did they use them to pay telephone or electric bills. In previous Freemen trials, followers, not leaders, have appeared (see March 31, 1998); Ken Toole of the Montana Human Rights Network says: “Now, you have the real leadership on trial. These are the hard-core ideologues.” Judge John C. Coughenour presides over the trial. Two of the defendants, Schweitzer and Rodney Skurdal, have issued “arrest warrants” for Coughenour, charging him with a string of alleged crimes including “perjury, contempt of court, sedition, and treason.” Defendant Daniel Petersen has informed Coughenour that he has filed a $956 million claim against him. The defendants have largely shunned their court-appointed lawyers. Skurdal’s lawyer, Gregory Jackson, has twice asked to withdraw from the case, noting that Skurdal has sued him for libel and slander, and calls him “a servant of Satan” and “dumb, stupid, and lazy.” Today Jackson tells the court that Skurdal is “a gung-ho patriot, a gung-ho Marine.” Security at the courtroom and other federal buildings in Billings, the site of the trial, is high, with many of the security precautions adopted during the Oklahoma City bombing trial (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) in place here as well. Nine of the 12 defendants have refused to come to court, and monitor the proceedings over closed-circuit television in a Yellowstone County Jail holding cell two miles away. [Washington Post, 4/1996; New York Times, 5/29/1998; Southern Poverty Law Center, 8/1998; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] Two of the Freemen in the holding cell even refuse to dress, and watch the proceedings in their underwear. [New York Times, 5/27/1996] One of the Freemen who pled guilty, Dana Dudley Landers, has agreed to testify against her former colleagues. She pled guilty to interstate transportation of stolen goods, mostly vehicles and office equipment purchased in North Carolina with worthless Freemen checks and brought to Montana. Prosecutors say the vehicles were to have been used by the Freemen in kidnapping public officials for “trials” before a Freemen tribunal. Another Freeman, Emmett Clark, has pled guilty to threatening to kidnap and murder a federal judge, but has not agreed to testify against his former fellows. [New York Times, 5/27/1996; Associated Press, 5/27/1998]

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

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