A timeline of events leading to the Freemen standoff and trials

2006-03-25T23:00:00Z A timeline of events leading to the Freemen standoff and trialsThe Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
March 25, 2006 11:00 pm  • 

Sunday, March 26, 2006

  • 1993-'94: Bizarre anti-government activities in Lewistown, Roundup and Jordan communities draw attention of local authorities. More than a dozen Montanans create their own common-law courts in Garfield and Musselshell counties, appoint themselves "justices," issue "arrest warrants," and flood local courts and counties with bogus documents.
  • District Judge Peter Rapkoch, of Lewistown, calls the documents "a bucket of snakes."

    Rodney O. Skurdal is permanently barred 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.

    Garfield County Attorney 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. He eventually files felony criminal syndicalism charges against Freemen members.

    Former Garfield County Sheriff Charles Phipps organizes a posse of about 90 local residents to come to the aid of his three-person department.

    Montana Human Rights Network says the anti-government activists hold racist Christian Identity views that whites are God's chosen people and that Jews and people of color are descended from Satan.

    Montana U.S. 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.

  • April 23, 1994: Freemen file $50 million claims against Gov. Marc Racicot and Garfield County Sheriff Charles Phipps, alleging violation of their rights. The claims are signed by William L. Stanton as "honorable justice" of a common-law supreme court.
  • Oct. 17, 1994: William L. Stanton arrested in Billings on felony criminal syndicalism charges. A jury later convicts Stanton, who is sentenced in March 1995 to 10 years in state prison and fined $10,000.
  • May 1995: Phony checks issued by Freemen, based in the foreclosed cabin of Rodney O. Skurdal south of Roundup, surface in the Rocky Mountain region. Bruce Parker, president of Norwest Bank Anaconda-Butte, says the checks, which bore the name of his bank, are "totally without merit or value." The Butte bank had been "involuntarily involved" since June 1993 with certain Freemen.
  • Freeman leader LeRoy M. Schweitzer and others issue bogus checks and file liens for hundreds of millions of dollars against public officials, private citizens and journalists. The Freemen claimed the money is owed for offenses against their sovereignty.

  • Sept. 28, 1995: LeRoy M. Schweitzer, Rodney O. Skurdal and others leave Skurdal's cabin at night in an armed convoy to Garfield County to take up residence at Ralph Clark's foreclosed ranch northwest of Jordan. The group calls the ranch "Justus Township" and draws people from around the country for classes on their checks and common-law theories. Local and federal authorities make no attempt to stop the convoy, fearing the Freemen would not surrender peacefully.
  • Oct. 2, 1995: Armed Freemen take $66,000 worth of camera equipment from an ABC News crew at Justus Township.
  • Oct. 3, 1995: U.S. marshal's sale of Ralph Clark's property for the Farmers Home Administration.
  • Feb. 8, 1996: Armed Freemen rough up and detain an Associated Press reporter and photographer on county road outside Justus Township, search their vehicle and seize photographer's film.
  • March 14, 1996: A Eureka arms dealer who sued Freemen leader LeRoy M. Schweitzer and other Freemen discloses that Schweitzer tried to buy $1.4 million in military-style arms. The Freemen's money order bounced and the arms were never delivered.
  • March 25, 1996: Eighty-one-day standoff begins when undercover FBI agents arrest Freemen leader LeRoy M. Schweitzer, Daniel E. Petersen Jr. and Lavon T. Hanson on Clark property and surround the enclave with more than 100 agents.
  • March 26, 1996: Federal indictments unsealed charging LeRoy M. Schweitzer, Daniel E. Petersen Jr. and others with conspiracy, mail and bank fraud, armed robbery and threats against federal officials.
  • March 30, 1996: Richard E. Clark of Grass Range turns himself in to federal officials.
  • April 4-5, 1996: Four Montana legislators meet with four Freemen in Justus Township to discuss ending standoff.
  • Please see Timeline, 9A

  • April 11, 1996: Ebert W. Stanton and his mother, Agnes B. Stanton, leave Justus Township and surrender to FBI agents.
  • April 17, 1996: Five Freemen meet with state Rep. Karl Ohs and state Assistant Attorney General John Connor Jr. for almost two hours on a road. Ohs meets with Freemen several more times during standoff.
  • April 27, 1996: FBI allows James "Bo" Gritz, who helped end Idaho's bloody Ruby Ridge siege, to meet with Freemen. Gritz reports Freemen are running low on food.
  • May 1, 1996: Gritz gives up on negotiations after four days, saying the Freemen have taken an "oath to God" not to leave their compound until their demands are met.
  • May 15, 1996: Colorado state Sen. Charles Duke arrives in Jordan at FBI's request to negotiate with Freemen. Duke and FBI negotiators begin talks with Freemen. Talks break down six days later with argument between Duke and Rodney O. Skurdal. Duke calls only half of those in compound true Freemen and the rest are "nothing but criminals trying to escape prosecution."
  • May 31, 1996: FBI moves three armored cars and a helicopter to staging area outside Jordan, saying they may be needed to make rescues or to occupy part of the Freemen compound.
  • June 3, 1996: FBI cuts power to Freemen compound.
  • June 11, 1996: FBI and Edwin F. Clark travel to Billings to discuss surrender terms with jailed leader LeRoy M. Schweitzer. Clark emerges as the primary Freemen negotiator and is credited by federal officials with helping to bring the standoff to a peaceful end.
  • June 13, 1996: Freemen surrender.
  • March 16, 1998: First Freemen trial begins in U.S. District Court in Billings for six defendants accused of being accessories for helping fugitives avoid arrest during the standoff. Four Freemen are ejected from the courtroom during the trial for being disruptive. Edwin F. Clark remains in the courtroom and is the only Montanan among the six defendants.
  • March 31, 1998: Federal jury acquits Edwin F. Clark and convicts five others.
  • May 26, 1998: Jury trial of LeRoy M. Schweitzer and 10 others begins in U.S. District Court in Billings amid tight security, but is delayed a day when a defendant is ill. The Freemen are charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, bank and wire fraud, filing false IRS claims, interstate transportation of stolen property, threatening federal officials, armed robbery of news crews and firearms violations.
  • Prosecutor calls the Freemen check scheme a fraud "of truly epic proportions." Defense attorneys, most of whom are rejected by their clients, say the Freemen believed what they were doing was lawful.

    Only three of the Freemen attend the trial; the remaining defendants boycott the proceedings and stay in the Yellowstone County jail, where they monitor the trial on closed-circuit television.

    Ninety-two witnesses testify.

    Three other Freemen charged in the indictment pleaded guilty before trial.

  • May 29, 1998: Garfield County Attorney Nick Murnion awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for enforcing the law despite death threats from the Freemen. Murnion receives the award from the Kennedy family at the JFK Library in Boston.
  • July 8, 1998: Jury convicts LeRoy M. Schweitzer and three top comrades involved in teaching classes but deadlocks on some counts. U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour of Seattle declares a mistrial on 63 unresolved counts of the 126 total charges.
  • Oct. 23, 1998: Retrial of 10 Freemen begins in U.S. District Court in Billings. The case involves 35 counts focusing on bank and mail fraud charges and armed robbery charges for taking camera equipment from two television news crews. Sixty-five witnesses will testify.
  • Nov. 18, 1998: Jury convicts Freemen charged with bank fraud and all but one of the Freemen charged in the armed robbery counts. Some Freemen are acquitted on mail fraud charges.
  • March 16, 1999: Judge Coughenour sentences LeRoy M. Schweitzer to 22½ years and orders $39,842 restitution on 25 counts in massive bad-check scheme that spread through out the country. Schweitzer boycotts his sentencing.
  • The judge sentences eight other Freemen to terms of 12 to 18 years. One Freeman is sentenced to time served and five years of supervised release while another is sentenced to five years supervised release and 100 hours of community service.

    Judge Coughenour said the Freemen 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."

  • April 11, 1996: Ebert W. Stanton and his mother, Agnes B. Stanton, leave Justus Township and surrender to FBI agents.
  • April 17, 1996: Five Freemen meet with state Rep. Karl Ohs and state Assistant Attorney General John Connor Jr. for almost two hours on a road. Ohs meets with Freemen several more times during standoff.
  • April 27, 1996: FBI allows James "Bo" Gritz, who helped end Idaho's bloody Ruby Ridge siege, to meet with Freemen. Gritz reports Freemen are running low on food.
  • May 1, 1996: Gritz gives up on negotiations after four days, saying the Freemen have taken an "oath to God" not to leave their compound until their demands are met.
  • May 15, 1996: Colorado state Sen. Charles Duke arrives in Jordan at FBI's request to negotiate with Freemen. Duke and FBI negotiators begin talks with Freemen. Talks break down six days later with argument between Duke and Rodney O. Skurdal. Duke calls only half of those in compound true Freemen and the rest are "nothing but criminals trying to escape prosecution."
  • May 31, 1996: FBI moves three armored cars and a helicopter to staging area outside Jordan, saying they may be needed to make rescues or to occupy part of the Freemen compound.
  • June 3, 1996: FBI cuts power to Freemen compound.
  • June 11, 1996: FBI and Edwin F. Clark travel to Billings to discuss surrender terms with jailed leader LeRoy M. Schweitzer. Clark emerges as the primary Freemen negotiator and is credited by federal officials with helping to bring the standoff to a peaceful end.
  • June 13, 1996: Freemen surrender.
  • March 16, 1998: First Freemen trial begins in U.S. District Court in Billings for six defendants accused of being accessories for helping fugitives avoid arrest during the standoff. Four Freemen are ejected from the courtroom during the trial for being disruptive. Edwin F. Clark remains in the courtroom and is the only Montanan among the six defendants.
  • March 31, 1998: Federal jury acquits Edwin F. Clark and convicts five others.
  • May 26, 1998: Jury trial of LeRoy M. Schweitzer and 10 others begins in U.S. District Court in Billings amid tight security, but is delayed a day when a defendant is ill. The Freemen are charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, bank and wire fraud, filing false IRS claims, interstate transportation of stolen property, threatening federal officials, armed robbery of news crews and firearms violations.
  • Prosecutor calls the Freemen check scheme a fraud "of truly epic proportions." Defense attorneys, most of whom are rejected by their clients, say the Freemen believed what they were doing was lawful.

    Only three of the Freemen attend the trial; the remaining defendants boycott the proceedings and stay in the Yellowstone County jail, where they monitor the trial on closed-circuit television.

    Ninety-two witnesses testify.

    Three other Freemen charged in the indictment pleaded guilty before trial.

  • May 29, 1998: Garfield County Attorney Nick Murnion awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for enforcing the law despite death threats from the Freemen. Murnion receives the award from the Kennedy family at the JFK Library in Boston.
  • July 8, 1998: Jury convicts LeRoy M. Schweitzer and three top comrades involved in teaching classes but deadlocks on some counts. U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour of Seattle declares a mistrial on 63 unresolved counts of the 126 total charges.
  • Oct. 23, 1998: Retrial of 10 Freemen begins in U.S. District Court in Billings. The case involves 35 counts focusing on bank and mail fraud charges and armed robbery charges for taking camera equipment from two television news crews. Sixty-five witnesses will testify.
  • Nov. 18, 1998: Jury convicts Freemen charged with bank fraud and all but one of the Freemen charged in the armed robbery counts. Some Freemen are acquitted on mail fraud charges.
  • March 16, 1999: Judge Coughenour sentences LeRoy M. Schweitzer to 22½ years and orders $39,842 restitution on 25 counts in massive bad-check scheme that spread through out the country. Schweitzer boycotts his sentencing.

The judge sentences eight other Freemen to terms of 12 to 18 years. One Freeman is sentenced to time served and five years of supervised release while another is sentenced to five years supervised release and 100 hours of community service.

Judge Coughenour said the Freemen 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."

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