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Profile: Martha A. Bethel
Martha A. Bethel was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
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