The Montana Freemen was an anti-government militant "Christian Patriot movement" based outside the town of Jordan, Montana, United States. The members of the group referred to their land as "Justus Township" and had declared themselves no longer under the authority of any outside government. They became the center of public attention in 1996 when they engaged in a prolonged armed standoff with agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The Montana Freemen espoused belief in the doctrine of individual sovereignty and rejected the authority of the federal government of the United States. On March 2, 1995, William Stanton, a Garfield County rancher, became the first Montana resident ever convicted of terrorism; District Judge Kenneth Wilson sentenced Stanton to 10 years in prison (the maximum penalty) for using violence for political ends. The following day, four armed men who styled themselves the "Garfield County Freemen" were arrested when they entered the Musselshell County Courthouse and tried to file papers protesting the seizure of Rodney Skurdal's house by the Internal Revenue Service.
The Freemen, led by LeRoy M. Schweitzer, used inter alia Anderson on the Uniform Commercial Code and Bankers Handbook to draw notices of lien against public officials. The liens were then allegedly sold to generate equity to fund an effort to make a "firm offer to pay off the national debt." The Freemen claimed that the liens conformed to the Uniform Commercial Code and that their township's court had an interest in a tort claim for damages incurred by the named public officials for violations of their oaths of office. They also claimed that support of the corporate credit system was an unconstitutional and corrupt act which has throughout the last half of the twentieth century "...[deprived the majority of Americans] of their property until [their] posterity wakes up homeless...", a paraphrased quotation attributed to Thomas Jefferson.
The Freemen were known to produce their own very realistic counterfeit checks and money orders, sometimes ordering items and deliberately overpaying so they could demand refunds. The president of one bank reported that over an 18-month period his bank received two to five complaints a week about Freemen checks. In 1995, members wrote a fraudulent check to try to purchase $1.4 million worth of firearms, ammunition, and bulletproof vests.
In late 1994, foreclosure proceedings were initiated against the farm that contained Justus Township. The Freemen refused to be evicted from the land. They had also conducted their own mock trials of numerous public officials, and issued their own writ of execution against a federal judge. The FBI investigated the group and initiated a sting operation aimed at one of the Freemen's financial programs, which led to the arrest of two members of the group in March 1996. The FBI also had warrants for eight other persons suspected to be in the farm, but before they were able to arrest them an armed confrontation developed and the FBI withdrew to a safe distance to avoid violence. The similar 1993 standoff in Waco, Texas involving the Branch Davidians, as well as the 1992 incident between the Weaver family and the FBI at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, were still fresh in the public mind, and the FBI was extremely cautious and wanted to prevent a recurrence of those violent events. After 81 days of negotiations, the Freemen surrendered to authorities on June 14, 1996.
LeRoy Schweitzer was convicted of conspiracy, bank fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, false claims to the IRS, interstate transportation of stolen property, threats against public officials, armed robbery of a television news crew, and firearms violations. He received a 22-year sentence for 25 convictions in a South Carolina federal prison. After Ervin Elbert Hurlbert and Donald Little, who identified themselves as "Montana Marshals", attempted to free Schweitzer from the prison, he was moved to the Administrative Maximum (ADX) facility at the Florence Federal Correctional Complex at Florence, Colorado, in 2006. Schweitzer died, aged 73, in ADX Florence on September 20, 2011.
Members of the Montana Freemen and their sentences
- LeRoy M. Schweitzer – 22 years. Died in federal prison on September 20, 2011, of natural causes, at age 73 years.
- Emmett Clark – Pled guilty and sentenced to time served plus 3 years under supervision.
- Richard Clark – 12 years.
- James Hance – 5 years, 7 months.
- Lavon T. Hanson – Pled guilty under plea bargain and sentenced to 1 year, 1 day.
- Dana Dudley Landers – Pled guilty and sentenced to 1 year, 9 months with credit for 2 years, 3 months already served.
- Russell Dean Landers – 11 years, 3 months; later extended an additional 15 years (see below). Died in prison on April 10, 2021, aged 69
- Daniel E. Peterson – 15 years (see below).
On April 7, 2008, Russell Dean Landers had his sentence extended by 15 years for attempting to extort his release from prison. He and two other inmates at the federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma had demanded millions of dollars from officials for the use of their names, which they claimed were "copyrighted". They were found guilty of "conspiring to impede the duties of federal prison officials and extortion in (their) efforts to gain release from prison by making financial demands on prison staff and attempting to seize their property."
On April 6, 2010, Daniel E. Petersen was sentenced to additional time for filing bogus liens from prison against three federal judges. One of the judges targeted was the judge who sentenced Petersen to prison originally. Petersen was sentenced in 1996 to 15 years. He was convicted on 19 of 20 counts, which included bank fraud and armed robbery. While serving his sentence in a federal prison in Minnesota, Petersen devised a scheme in which to retaliate against three judges in his case. Federal prosecutors, after investigating, found that Petersen invented a company that supposedly held assets that included a $100 trillion default judgment against the United States. He then sold "shares" of the phony company to fellow inmates and others. He claimed these shares were backed by "redemption certificates" to be redeemed when the judgment was collected. The judgment he referred to came from a self-created court, after former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declined to respond to his demands. He was demanding $100 trillion, as well as $1 billion per day in interest for unlawfully confining him. Petersen followed up by filing liens against property owned by the three federal judges, as well as by offering bounties for the arrest of the same judges. The purpose was to entice someone to bring the three judges to Minnesota in order to respond to his liens.
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- See generally United States v. Hanzlicek, 187 F.3d 1228 (10th Cir. 1999), at .
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