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Profile: LeRoy Schweitzer

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LeRoy Schweitzer was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

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

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

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

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

The Montana Freemen (see September 28, 1995 and After), seemingly unrestrained by local laws (see January 1994, June-July 1994, February - March 1995, May 1995, September 28, 1995 and After, and October 2, 1995), publish a “public notice” in local newspapers announcing their intention to take control of a huge swath of land in northeastern Montana, including land owned by private citizens, the State of Montana, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). They announce that anyone trespassing on their land will be “arrested” and punished. The people of Jordan, Montana, and the nearby areas are outraged. “So if Dad was out feeding his cows,” says the son of a rancher who leases grazing land from the state, “to them he’d be trespassing on their so-called land, and they’d take him to their court. And from there your imagination could run rampant.… Maybe they wouldn’t do anything, but who knows. Dad was really upset; up until that time, all their threats had been against government officials. Now they were disrupting our lives.” County voters, enraged by local, state, and federal inaction against the Freemen, schedule a meeting to discuss their own actions against the Freemen, including cutting the telephone lines to the Freemen ranch and blockading the county roads leading to their compound. In apparent response, Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer holds a meeting (videotaped and later shown in court) outlining their own plan to kidnap government officials, perhaps a preemptive strike against the local citizenry. Schweitzer says: “We’ll travel in units of about 10 outfits, four men to an outfit, most of them with automatic weapons, whatever else we got—shotguns, you name it.… We’re going to have a standing order: Anyone obstructing justice, the order is shoot to kill.” Afterwards, many speculate that the FBI, likely conducting surveillance against the Freemen for months and aware of the escalating conflict, decides the time is right to move against the Freemen (see March 25, 1996). [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

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

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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

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

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Residents of the area around Jordan, Montana, where three Montana Freemen were arrested and the remaining Freemen are trapped inside their compound (see March 25, 1996), react with gratitude towards the FBI and anger towards the Freemen. A local bank hangs a sign reading: “Goodbye, LeRoy. Hello, FBI” (referring to arrested Freeman LeRoy Schweitzer). A resident, K.L. Bliss, recalls that he used to farm near the Clark family, who are active members of the Freemen (see 1980s-1994), and says that “everybody had planted by June—but [Ralph Clark] had weeds this high. He’s never made a bank payment since 1981, he’s never paid taxes since 1981—and he’s whining about the government.” Local farmer Tom Wilson says of the Freemen: “These guys haven’t had a job for quite a while. We drive by their place and never see them doing anything. They’re just sitting around dreaming up trouble.” One local resident, unidentified by the Associated Press, shouts: “I want to see blood! I’ve lived with this for two years, and it’s ruining my life. I want it over.” Ranch hand Terry Kastner calls the Freemen “brainwashed,” and wishes “they [the FBI]‘d go in there and shoot ‘em all. It would save the taxpayers a lot of money and time.” Tom Fogle, a county worker, is even more forceful. “If they can’t get them out of there peacefully in a couple of weeks, I’d say go in and get them out any way they can. If they don’t give up, I say go in and strafe ‘em.… Bring in the Apache helicopters and blow the hell out of them. I’m tired of it.” [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; New York Times, 5/28/1996]

Entity Tags: Terry Kastner, Federal Bureau of Investigation, K.L. Bliss, LeRoy Schweitzer, Tom Fogle, Tom Wilson, Montana Freemen, Ralph Clark

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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

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

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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

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

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Indicted Montana Freemen Daniel Petersen and LeRoy Schweitzer, who have previously attempted to disrupt court proceedings with shouts, curses, and specious legal wrangling (see March 26, 1996), remain quiet in the court while Judge Richard Anderson reads the indictment to them. However, when asked to enter a plea, Petersen shouts at Anderson that he wants “you to be an honest person and the rest of these perverts to be honest people.” Petersen is taken to a holding cell to watch the proceedings; Anderson enters “not guilty” pleas on their behalf. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Daniel Petersen, Richard Anderson, Montana Freemen, LeRoy Schweitzer

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Indicted Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer (see March 26, 1996) declares himself on a hunger strike, and is remanded to a federal detention center in Springfield, Missouri, that handles sick prisoners, so his health can be monitored. Both Schweitzer and his colleague Daniel Petersen refuse to bathe or change their clothes. In the following days, Schweitzer will abandon his hunger strike. Petersen will issue a barrage of legal documents, including “writs of mandamus” demanding his immediate release and charges to be dropped. He will threaten US Attorney Sherry Matteucci with imprisonment and a $1,000/day fine if she does not let him go. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Daniel Petersen, Sherry Matteucci, Montana Freemen, LeRoy Schweitzer

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Charles Duke.Charles Duke. [Source: Crooks and Liars]At the FBI’s request, Colorado Republican State Senator Charles Duke, a respected figure in militia circles, arrives in Jordan, Montana, to negotiate with the besieged Montana Freemen (see March 25, 1996). Duke and FBI negotiators spend six days in fruitless negotiations culminating in an argument between Duke and Freemen leader Rodney Skurdal. Duke says only half of those in the compound are real Freemen, with the rest “nothing but criminals trying to escape prosecution.” The Freemen promise to allow Duke and an FBI team to interview everyone in the compound, and to release two young girls among their number, but fail to deliver on either promise. [Chicago Tribune`, 5/24/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] Gloria Ward and her two daughters, aged 8 and 10, appear at one negotiating session with their luggage packed as if readying to leave, but instead of exiting the compound, they go back inside when the talks end. [Reuters, 5/20/1996]
Talks End in Angry Shouts; No Support from Militias - Duke is blazingly angry at the Freemen’s refusal to honor their promises. As Skurdal climbs into an automobile to go back to the ranch house, he shouts, “You aren’t enough of a man to come face me, get out of that car!” Afterwards, Duke says: “I told him, ‘I’m going to go out of here and I’m going to tell the American people what you’re doing here. You will not get support from the patriot community, you will not get support from the militia community, and if you die, nobody’s going to avenge you.’” Many in the militia community have similar feelings as Duke’s. Montana Militia leader Randy Trochmann says: “People in contact with them understand now that what they were doing was fraud. With the public, a good percentage of them want the FBI just to leave, put a berm around the house, and let the state police patrol it. And another percentage just want them [the FBI] to go in and finish them off.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/5/1996] Duke adds: “The FBI has now pursued each and every avenue to a peaceful solution. If it should come to a less than peaceful solution, I can tell you for sure the FBI has bent over backwards to avoid it.… One can only conclude the adults inside care only for their safety and care not one whit for the safety of their children, because they’re willing to sacrifice them and use them as a shield (see May 1, 1996). I think it’s unconscionable.” After Duke leaves, the Freemen begin rotating armed foot patrols, something they have not yet done during the duration of the standoff. [Associated Press, 5/21/1996] After leaving the Freemen ranch, Duke says he sees little hope of resolving the standoff by peaceful means. “I realized this is going nowhere,” he says. It is time for the FBI to make the Freemen “feel some pain.” [Chicago Tribune`, 5/24/1996] “This is not a battle for the militias,” Duke later adds. “The Freemen are using the Constitution as a facade to prevent their incarceration for illegal activity.” Militia leader James “Bo” Gritz, who himself attempted to negotiate an end to the standoff (see May 1, 1996), says the standoff is not a cause for any militia groups or their supporters. “There isn’t anyone in the legitimate patriot movement who doesn’t want to see the Freemen out and before the bar of justice,” he says. “The FBI are wrong in their fears.” Gritz is referring to fears that if the FBI moves on the Freemen, the right-wing militia groups will condemn the bureau for its actions, and perhaps launch counterattacks. [New York Times, 5/24/1996]
Fear of Cancer, 'No Brains' Drugs - At least one of the Freemen expresses his fear of being injected with cancer cells and “no brains” drugs if he were to go to jail, and several of the Freemen say they are ready to shoot it out with the FBI. The information comes from audiotapes Duke makes of his conversations with the Freemen; he will publicly air some of the tapes on the June 17, 1996 broadcast of Dateline NBC. Freeman Edwin Clark says: “When [LeRoy Schweitzer, the Freeman in federal custody] went to Missouri (see March 30-31, 1996), a man, a doctor from New York City, come in and told Leroy, he says, ‘You’ll never see the light of day.’ And he says, ‘I’ll guarantee you before you leave here I’m gonna inject you with a, with a deadly ah… dose of cancer.” Clark says that government officials have tried to kill other jailed Freemen: “I know of two of them, one of them at least, he was as healthy as a [expletive] horse when he went in there, and he came back… there was another one, I can’t remember his name, they, they give him a lethal dose of ‘no brains’ when he come back.” [Associated Press, 6/17/1996]

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, LeRoy Schweitzer, Gloria Ward, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James (“Bo”) Gritz, Edwin Clark, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Randy Trochmann, Charles Duke

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The FBI brings a Montana Freemen member (see March 25, 1996), Edwin Clark, to Billings, Montana, to discuss terms of the Freemen’s surrender with jailed Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer, who gives his “blessing” for a surrender. Clark will emerge as the Freemen’s primary negotiator, and will be credited by federal officials with helping bring the standoff to a peaceful end (see June 13, 1996). A source tells the Associated Press: “Edwin had to become at peace with LeRoy about it [a surrender]. He didn’t want to go forward without checking with LeRoy first.” The source adds: “They’ve pretty much agreed it won’t be a gun battle. I’m extremely hopeful at this point. It’s an extremely positive sign.” The deal is conceived of and brokered by Kirk Lyons, an attorney famous for representing Aryan Nations members (see Early 1970s and 1981 and After) and other right-wing extremists in court. The FBI was not sanguine about letting Clark meet with Schweitzer in the Billings prison. Neill Payne, who works with Lyons in the CAUSE Foundation, a white supremacist legal organization, will later recall that an FBI agent initially responded to the plan by saying: “Let me get this straight. You want us to take a man who is technically under arrest, fly him in an FBI plane to a jail we hope to see him incarcerated in, bring him home, and then put him under siege again? Is that what you’re asking?” The FBI eventually agreed to the plan, though it was worried that Schweitzer might advise his colleagues to continue the standoff. The deal almost backfires when, after bringing Clark back to the ranch, the Freemen spot large tractors in neighboring fields and become instantly suspicious of an FBI trick. “Seeing those tractors was like waving a red flag at a bull,” Payne will later say. “Our guys were incredulous, and the Freemen were acting like an ants’ nest that got kicked over. They got their guns and they manned their sentry posts.” But Lyons and the FBI manage to calm the Freemen’s fears. [Associated Press, 6/12/1996; Associated Press, 6/13/1996; Los Angeles Times, 6/15/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: LeRoy Schweitzer, CAUSE Foundation, Edwin Clark, Kirk Lyons, Montana Freemen, Neill Payne, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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

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

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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]

The New York Times publishes an overview of the ongoing criminal trials of the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994, March 25, 1996, June 13, 1996, and March 16, 1998 and After), and calls the proceedings “an absurdist drama that could be called Alice in Wonderland on the Yellowstone River.” Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer, indicted for multiple counts of civil fraud and threatening federal officials (see March 26, 1996), recently announced himself as “Supreme Court Justice LeRoy Michael” in a court hearing, and told the judge: “Supreme court is in session. You are removed from the bench under impeachment.” Most of the Freemen are refusing to cooperate with either the court officials or their own defense lawyers; some of them had to be compelled to give fingerprints and be photographed for booking. Defendant Daniel Petersen, indicted along with Schweitzer and a third Freeman, Rodney Skurdal, disrupted a recent proceeding by shouting that the “Supreme Court of Yellowstone County” was now in session, and yelled at the judge and prosecution, “I’m charging all of you with misprison of treason and misprison of felony.” Defendant Steven Hance (see June 14, 1996) told one judge, “I am above the Constitution,” called the judge “an outlaw,” and informed him, “You are out of order.” Hance’s two sons, James Hance and John Hance, answered their indictments by belching at the judge; James Hance told the judge: “You’re going to be impeached. How are you going to feel about that?” and his brother added: “You’d better start obeying the law, sir. You’re incompetent.” Another defendant, Dale Jacobi, accused the judge of holding “blood sacrifices.” During a North Carolina trial of one Freeman, Russell Landers, the judge at that trial ordered Landers—defending himself—to cease his rambling opening statement, threw him out of the courtroom, and had him watch his trial by closed-circuit television; in his turn, Landers claimed he was being held hostage by a foreign power and accused the judge of wearing a black robe to disguise his real identity as “a Roman tribunal.” One judge, Charles Lovell, recently said that Schweitzer has “no business in the courtroom unless he is chained and taped,” and banned him from the courtroom. The defendants are routinely expelled from the courtroom for their antics. They call themselves “white Christian men” who are, by definition, “sovereign American naturals” and therefore not subject to United States laws and courts. They hold that their system of “common law” (see Fall 2010) places them above the “ordinary” American judicial system. The judges have uniformly ignored the Freemen’s arcane legal claims, which the New York Times calls “a salad of the Uniform Commercial Code, the Magna Carta, biblical admonitions, and meaningless Latin phrases.” Lovell called Schweitzer’s legal defense “nonsensical” and added, “This is preposterous, absolutely preposterous—it has no more bearing in law than an ounce of sand.” The Montana Supreme Court threw out 37 pages of Freemen court documents as “nonsensical filings,” and another judge called a Freeman’s legal arguments “bunkum.” While similar trials of right-wing militia figures have drawn numerous protesters agitating on behalf of the defendants, the Freemen are drawing a vanishingly small number of supporters; “sympathizers are rare, and protest placards have not been seen in more than nine months,” the Times observes. [New York Times, 3/25/1997]

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, Dale Jacobi, Charles C. Lovell, James Hance, LeRoy Schweitzer, Montana Supreme Court, New York Times, Steven Hance, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Russell Dean Landers, John Hance

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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

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

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Judge John C. Coughenour sentences Montana Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer (see November 18, 1998) to over 22 years in prison, and orders almost $40,000 in restitution, on charges stemming from the Freemen’s expansive bad-check scheme that spread throughout the country (see 1993-1994). Freemen leader Rodney Skurdal receives a 15-year sentence. Another group leader, Daniel Petersen, is sentenced to 15 years and ordered to pay $39,845 in restitution. Former Canadian police officer Dale Jacobi receives 13 years. Richard Clark receives 12 years. William Stanton (see October 17, 1994) receives a three-year sentence. Two of the convicted Freemen’s wives, Agnes Stanton and Cherlyn Petersen, are sentenced to time served and released. Coughenour says of the Freemen’s crimes, “What we are talking about is a calculated and organized program to undermine the banking system of this country and to encourage other, more ignorant people to violate the law.” He says that the Freemen’s sentences should send “a loud and clear message to those who pass this hatred and ugliness around.… Be forewarned, your personal liberty is at stake.” Schweitzer and five other Freemen, continuing to refuse to accept the sovereignty of the court, refuse to attend the sentencing and watch the proceedings from a holding cell. [Seattle Times, 3/17/1998; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: John C. Coughenour, Agnes Bollinger Stanton, Cherlyn Bronson Petersen, Daniel Petersen, LeRoy Schweitzer, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Dale Jacobi, Montana Freemen, Richard Clark, William Stanton

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Ervin Elbert Hurlbert and Donald Little are arrested while trying to impersonate “Montana marshals” in order to facilitate the escape of Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994) leader LeRoy Schweitzer (see 1983-1995) from a federal prison in Edgefield, South Carolina. Schweitzer is serving a 22-year sentence for a variety of crimes relating to bank and check fraud (see July 3-8, 1998 and March 16, 1999). Both Hurlbert and Little are arraigned for attempting to aid a prisoner’s escape; Hurlbert is also charged with impersonating a law enforcement officer. The two enter the lobby of the Edgefield prison, identify themselves to a prison official as “Montana marshals,” and tell the official that they are there to take custody of Schweitzer. They give the official documents to “prove” their assertion, including a writ demanding that the warden relinquish custody of Schweitzer to “Marshal Ervin Elbert clan of Hurlbert.” One of the documents reads, “United States of America Special appointed Marshal Ervin Elbert: clan of Hurlbert shall assume full responsibility for the custody of the Justice/Petitioner,” meaning Schweitzer. The documents state that Schweitzer is “volunteering to return to the Country of Montana.” The documents are signed by Schweitzer and three former Edgefield inmates. Instead of releasing Schweitzer, prison officials notify local law enforcement, and sheriff’s deputies arrest Hurlbert and Little. FBI agent Deborah DeVito tries to interview Little, but he refuses to answer questions and instead repeats the claim that he is a “process server, noncombatant.” Little also tells DeVito that he is not a United States citizen but an “American National Citizen” and a foreigner from the “Country of Montana.” Hurlbert waives his legal rights, but refuses to sign a waiver form, telling DeVito that he owns his name and will not sign anything. Hurlbert says Schweitzer sent him the documents. He also tells DeVito that the codes of the “Country of Montana permit the establishment of their own Supreme Court and Justices.” Hurlbert says he had no intention of using violence, but admits to having a pistol in his vehicle. He says the gun is registered in the “Country of Montana.” [Associated Press, 3/25/2003]

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, Deborah DeVito, Donald Little, LeRoy Schweitzer, Ervin Elbert Hurlbert

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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