As forests burn in the Bitterroot Valley and across Montana, rumors rise as thickly as the smoke. According to Rodd Richardson, supervisor of the Bitterroot National Forest, the Militia of Montana has been issuing e-mail alerts that state, among other things, that the Forest Service is intentionally not battling the blazes as effectively as they could, in an attempt to burn as many forest acres as possible. Richardson absolutely denies the allegations.
While the statements appear almost ludicrous, in the forested hills northeast of Hamilton, another Militia/Freeman problem has surfaced that is directly related to the approaching forest fire.
Brian William Severson was one of the Bitterroot Valley’s most vehement self-styled “free, white, Christian males,” who refused to acknowledge the rights of the state of Montana or the United States of America to control any of his actions.
His troubles with the law began with a DUI citation and eventually led to felony charges after he started standing on the deck of his home and shooting in the direction of neighbors walking past his home on a public road.
In January 1999, Severson was convicted of two counts of felony assault, one count of criminal endangerment, one count of negligent endangerment, and two counts of felony accountability for criminal mischief. He was sentenced to 60 years in Montana State Prison with 35 years suspended. He refused to participate in his trial or even acknowledge it was taking place.
While Severson is in prison, his property remains in the Bitterroot Valley. Many firearms were confiscated from the house but little ammunition was recovered.
More importantly, the property houses two giant above-ground storage tanks, one filled with 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel and the other with 10,000 gallons of unleaded gasoline. And they now lie in the potential path of the oncoming Blodgett fire.
Neighbors made sure the Forest Service, the sheriff’s office, local disaster and emergency services personnel, and all local fire departments are aware of the tanks and their explosive potential. Plans have been made to drain and move the fuels, if the fire continues to advance.
One neighbor, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, said, “We don’t care if his property burns, but if those tanks blow, they could take out half the neighborhood.”