A recent article in the Independent discussed how former members of the Montana Freemen were unhappy about revelations that Scott Roeder, who murdered Dr. George Teller, had studied under Freemen leaders in 1996 (see "Finding Freemen," June 11, 2009). The people interviewed repeated the "poor Freemen" rhetoric that was common during the 1990s from the anti-government group's allies. Make no mistake about it: The Montana Freemen were a domestic terrorist group and invented what is now called "paper terrorism." They filed fraudulent liens against the property of local elected officials. They formed "common-law courts," which they often convened by taking over county courthouses, and issued bogus subpoenas for statewide elected officials. They defrauded banks and credit card companies of over a million dollars. They also threatened to hang local sheriffs and offered bounties on employees of the criminal justice system. These criminal activities led to their 81-day standoff with federal authorities.
Despite all of this, allies tried to portray the "poor Freemen" as innocent victims of the federal government, instead of criminals who, by the standoff, already faced over 50 federal and state criminal charges. We understand that occasionally good people get caught up in these groups due to what is happening in their lives. For instance, the Clark family gravitated to the Montana Freemen when their family farm faced foreclosure. However, the majority of people who join radical groups do so because they find the ideology appealing.
The motivation for joining the Freemen does not absolve individuals from the criminal activities in which they engaged. Instead of following the law, the Montana Freemen hitched their horses to LeRoy Schweitzer, who at the time was already a well-known fugitive and tax protestor. People involved with the Freemen shouldn't be surprised that anti-government activists like Roeder continue to be tied to them. The Freemen conducted "classes" whereby they taught over 800 people to not pay their taxes and how to use bogus checks to defraud banks and the government. These "students" came from all over the country, learned the Freemen tactics, and took those practices home to their communities.
Some of those interviewed in the article made it sound like the practices of the Montana Freemen are a distant part of the past. That couldn't be further from the truth. While incarcerated, LeRoy Schweitzer has taught his fellow inmates how to engage in "paper terrorism," according to a 2001 Associated Press article. The other "common law" practices the Montana Freemen helped create continue to circulate and be modified in anti-government circles to this day. The Montana Freemen continue to show up in the media for a reason—their checkered legacy remains relevant today.Travis McAdam, Montana Human Rights Network, Helena