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Profile: Joe Conley

Joe Conley was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

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