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Profile: Rodney Owen Skurdal

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Rodney Owen Skurdal 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

Rodney Skurdal, a leader of the “Montana Freemen” movement (see 1993-1994), files a 20-page treatise with a Montana court that claims the Freemen are the descendents of the true Anglo-Saxon “chosen people,” and that the land occupied by the United States was promised to them by God. Skurdal, who signs the document “the honorable Justice Rodney O. Skurdal,” writes: “In reading the Bible, one must understand that there are ‘two seed lines’ within Genesis. It is the colored people, and the Jews, who are the descendants of Cain… when We move into a new land, We are to kill the inhabitants of all the other races… nor are We to allow the other races to rule over us.” Skurdal writes extensively of the Freemen’s opposition to governmental rule of any sort, justifying it by referencing his interpretation of Biblical teachings: “We, Israel, must obey God only; not man-made laws by our purported Congress and state legislators and/or the United Nations, under the purported ‘new world order’ i.e., ‘Satan’s laws.’” Skurdal adds that taxes, marriage licenses, driver’s licenses, insurance, electrical inspections, and building permits are all instruments of Satan’s law. He writes that the “land of milk and honey” bequeathed by God to whites is actually the territory now considered the United States, and notes, “If we the white race are God’s chosen people… why are we paying taxes on ‘His land.’” Michael Barkun, a Syracuse University professor and expert on radical Christian ideologies, will call Skurdal’s treatise “pure Christian Identity” (see 1960s and After). This theological claim to land, Barkun will say, goes further than a lot of other Identity adherents do. “What’s unusual here is that this isn’t simply a kind of collective granting of a piece of soil by God to his people, but it’s a kind of literal granting of ownership and control: Because we are his people and this is his land, no one can tell us what to do with it,” Barkun will observe. [Washington Post, 4/9/1996; Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996] Skurdal has come to the notice of Montana legal authorities before. At one point he had legal actions going simultaneously in every one of Montana’s 56 counties. He has succeeded in getting to the Montana Supreme Court three times over traffic tickets. When the state judiciary ruled that Skurdal’s legal filings were frivolous and could not be accepted without being signed by a lawyer, Skurdal merely mailed his writs and documents to out-of-state agencies, which, assuming the documents were misdelivered, returned them to Montana authorities, where they were filed. After four years of dealing with Skurdal’s legal court cases, Musselshell County Attorney Vicki Knudsen quit her job. One of Skurdal’s filings was a “Citizens Declaration of War” which claimed foreign agents were surreptitiously infesting “the country of Montana.” Another accused county officials of attempting to help institute a New World Order (see September 11, 1990). “Once a court accepts one of these asinine Freemen things,” Knudsen later says, “it’s in the system. Everybody named in it becomes involved [and] has to respond. It’s not funny. It’s not romantic. It’s scary.” Knudsen is referring to the threats issued by Skurdal and his fellow Freemen towards herself and other county officials over their filings. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Montana Supreme Court, Michael Barkun, Montana Freemen, Vicki Knudsen, Rodney Owen Skurdal

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A poster issued by the Freemen placing a $1 million bounty on the head of Garfield County Attorney Nick Murnion.A poster issued by the Freemen placing a $1 million bounty on the head of Garfield County Attorney Nick Murnion. [Source: Anti-Defamation League]Frustrated at the foreclosure of their farm, the Clark family of Jordan, Montana (see 1980s-1994), takes part in an armed takeover of the local county courthouse. The assault is carried out by a group of Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994), an anti-government, tax-resister group recently joined by members of the Clark family. The Clarks set up their own “common law” court, and join some three dozen Freemen in taking over Garfield County’s courthouse. They hold a meeting declaring themselves the county government. Presiding at the meeting are two of the Freemen founders, Rodney Skurdal and Daniel Petersen (see 1983-1995). Richard Clark is the presiding judge. The “court” charges the real judge, and others whom the Clarks feel have persecuted them, with contempt. Richard Clark tells the 30 people, “We’ve opened our own common law court and we have the law back in the county now.” They even videotape the meeting. Within days, posters appear around Jordan, offering a $1 million bounty for the arrest of the Garfield sheriff, county attorney, and judge. A rather bemused Sheriff Charles Phipps asks one of the Freemen if he would get the bounty if he turned himself in. The Freeman replies he would get the money, he wouldn’t live long enough to enjoy it: he’d be “tried, convicted, and hung.” Phipps’s amusement drains quickly, but he realizes there is little he can do: he has one deputy and a two-cell jail and little more. He realizes that if he intends to force the Clarks off of their farm, he will require outside help. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Daniel Petersen, Charles Phipps, Richard Clark, Montana Freemen, Rodney Owen Skurdal

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Rodney Skurdal, the co-founder of the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994), writes a court filing demanding the resignation of Musselshell Count Sheriff G. Paul Smith. In the document, Skurdal writes: “This is a holy war. God’s laws vs. man-made laws.” [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Rodney Owen Skurdal, G. Paul Smith, Montana Freemen

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

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

The FBI allows “Patriot” militia leader James “Bo” Gritz and his partner, former police officer Jack McLamb, to take part in negotiations to end the siege of the Freemen compound outside Jordan, Montana (see March 25, 1996 and April 25, 1996). The two men helped end the Ruby Ridge siege in Idaho (see August 31, 1992). Most law enforcement officials do not like either Gritz or McLamb, but they hope that with the two’s established credibility in the militia movement and their success in Idaho, they may be able to negotiate a successful surrender. Garfield County prosecutor Nick Murnion says: “There’s some hope. I think [Gritz] is of the right political persuasion, and certainly probably has more credibility with these folks than a lot of potential negotiators. So he does seem to offer them the possibility to come out in a more dignified manner.” After seven hours of negotiations with the Freemen, militiaman Stewart Waterhouse, who joined the besieged Freemen weeks before (see March 25 - April 1, 1996), leaves the compound, and authorities begin to hope that Gritz and McLamb are making headway. But Gritz gives mixed impressions in his initial reports to the press. He says the situation is “bridgeable,” but seems to fundamentally misunderstand the Freemen, saying that they “have no white supremacy, separatist tendencies that I saw. None at all.… They brought up the fact and said, ‘Where is the media getting the idea we have any prejudice or bias?’” Many of the Freemen, including leader Rodney Skurdal, have produced inordinate reams of court documents and other statements laced with virulently racist and anti-Semitic diatribes. Author Mark Pitcavage will later write, “In any event, there was something that Gritz was not ‘getting.’” [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] Gritz and McLamb will give up after four days (see May 1, 1996).

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, Jack McLamb, James (“Bo”) Gritz, Mark Pitcavage, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Stewart Waterhouse, Nick Murnion

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Militia leader James “Bo” Gritz, brought in four days earlier to help negotiate an end to the Freemen standoff in Montana (see March 25, 1996 and April 27, 1996), quits. On the third day of negotiations, the Freemen told Gritz and his partner, Jack McLamb, that they would surrender if they could speak before the Montana legislature—which is not due to convene until 1997. No one was sure if the offer was a sincere one. Gritz relayed offers of reduced or even dropped charges for some of the Freemen. He and McLamb, along with Soldier of Fortune reporter Jim Pate, believe that the Freemen are divided into two groups: one willing to negotiate a deal, and one controlling the group and entirely unwilling to make any deal. Despite the hopes of the negotiators, no one else leaves the compound. Instead, the Freemen tell Gritz that all of them have made an “affirmation” to God not to surrender, and even say that God has placed an invisible barrier around the farm that protects the Freemen from outsiders. They restate their demands for a common law court of male, “non-14th Amendment” citizens, not government employees or in debt to anyone (see Fall 2010). [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] In his newsletter, Gritz will say that the Freemen are ruled by a small “hard core” of leaders—Edwin Clark, Dale Jacobi, Russell Landers, and Rodney Skurdal—who are holding others hostage, including three young girls. Gritz will write that he had implored Clark to let the nonmembers go, to no avail. “I beseeched Edwin to release the non-Freemen,” he will write. “His pained reply made it clear that they knew the value of placing children between themselves and the FBI.” Gritz will write that Clark replied, “But, Bo, if the others left, what would happen to the Freemen?” Gritz says his time with the Freemen was marked by dwindling food stores, a large weapons arsenal, and incessant rants about the “Zionist Occupational Government” the Freemen say is manipulating the United States. According to Gritz, the oldest of the three girls, 14-year-old Ashley Taylor, tells him: “I am only here because of my mom. This is not something I am willing to die for. I haven’t even started to live.” Her mother is Dana Dudley Landers. [New York Times, 5/18/1996] Gritz calls the Freemen a “potpourri circus of over-the-hill outlaws, people with no past or future.” According to Gritz, the Freemen’s grip on reality is sometimes tenuous. He will say that Dudley Landers told him her father had been a great physicist murdered in Europe because he knew the truth about flying saucers; recalling that tale, Gritz will say, “I expected to see Alice and the Mad Hatter appear.” [New York Times, 6/15/1996]

Entity Tags: Jim Pate, Dana Dudley Landers, Dale Jacobi, Ashley Taylor, Edwin Clark, James (“Bo”) Gritz, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Russell Dean Landers, Montana Freemen, Jack McLamb

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

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]

The Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings, Montana, where the 14 Freemen are arraigned.The Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings, Montana, where the 14 Freemen are arraigned. [Source: Civic Images (.com)]A group of 14 Montana Freemen make their first court appearance after surrending to federal authorities (see June 13, 1996). The 14 Freemen being processed are: Casey Clark, Edwin Clark, Emmett Clark, Ralph Clark, James Hance, John Hance, Steven Hance, Dale Jacobi, Dana Dudley Landers, Russell Dean Landers, Barry Nelson, Cherlyn Petersen, Rodney Skurdal, and Casey Valheimer. The elderly wives of two of the Freemen, Kay Clark and Rosie Clark, face no criminal charges. The Freemen in court are defiant and disruptive. Most of them object to the proceedings and refuse to acknowledge the charges being brought against them. Some of them refuse to acknowledge their names; when Magistrate Robert Holter asks Skurdal his name and explains that he wants to ensure that he is the right person, Skurdal retorts, “I object to your calling me a person, your honor.” Dana Landers responds to a similar question by reciting: “I am a Christian. My flag is red, white, and blue; it’s an American flag. The Holy Scriptures are my law. I’m not familiar with your tribunals.” Each demands their right to “effective counsel,” meaning that they should be able to choose their own lawyers but the court must pay for them. Many object to their names being spelled with all capital letters, as is common in legal briefs. One male Freeman requires physical restraint. Holter refuses to hear their arguments that their own alternative government’s rules must apply over those of the federal legal system. Working through a barrage of shouts, imprecations, and recitations, Holter assigns them lawyers over their objections, and sets arraignment and bond hearings. [CNN, 6/12/1996; New York Times, 6/14/1996; Los Angeles Times, 6/15/1996] New York Times reporter Carey Goldberg writes: “When they appeared in court on Friday, and rejected everything from the American flag to the capital letters in their names, the 14 newly surrendered Freemen laid bare, in word and posture, the central spirit of the anti-government group that held off federal agents for 81 days. It was a culture of collective denial. Each member came from a different set of circumstances, but the freedom they sought was freedom from American reality.… [W]hat united them was the ideological structure they built, in which the debts they owed were nullified, the criminal charges against them were invalid, and their position in society was considered supreme.” [New York Times, 6/15/1996]

Entity Tags: Dale Jacobi, Cherlyn Bronson Petersen, Steven Hance, Casey Clark, Carey Goldberg, Barry Nelson, Rosie Clark, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Russell Dean Landers, Ralph Clark, Emmett Clark, Edwin Clark, Dana Dudley Landers, James Hance, Robert Holter, Montana Freemen, John Hance, Casey Valheimer, Kay Clark

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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

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

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A 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

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