Game wardens and sheriff’s deputies staged a sundown raid Thursday, seizing 10 elk at the ranch of a Montana militia leader and tax protester who has promised bloodshed in a struggle against government.
At least a dozen heavily armed officers, fearing a confrontation with militia members, did not find Cal Greenup at his ranch when they showed up with a felony warrant for his arrest and seizure papers for his domesticated herd of elk.
Greenup, 52, who apparently is a fugitive, has said his elk are pets and livestock. State game wardens say they’re wildlife that require a special license.
In an interview last month, Greenup said there cannot be a “cleansing” of government “without the shedding of blood.”
His friend and fellow militia member, Al Hamilton, was arrested by deputies earlier this month. Deputies fired one shot after Hamilton attempted to back away from a police roadblock. He remains in jail.
The ranch is in Ravalli County, about 60 miles south of Missoula. The county has become one of the hot spots in the West for the militia movement - groups of citizens increasingly angry over taxes, gun control laws and governmental “interference” with individual rights.
“We’re watching America die!” Greenup’s neighbor, Marty Draxlir, screamed from the roadway as the raid proceeded.
He was among about 75 spectators who gathered on U.S. Highway 93 south of Darby, where Greenup’s ranch can be seen from the roadway. The ranch sits at the base of snowcapped Trapper Peak, in the Bitterroot Mountains.
“They want to have another Waco or Weaver incident down here, bigtime,” said retired logger Harold Nelson, another of Greenup’s neighbor.
He was referring to incidents in Texas and North Idaho in which standoffs with federal agents resulted in deaths.
“It’s a police state situation, and there’s proof,” said Gene Honey, a tow truck operator who said he knows Greenup and is sympathetic with his militia views.
Another man, sipping a Lite beer from the front seat of a green Dodge pickup, said the deputies and game wardens were doing something that shouldn’t happen in the United States.
“Pretty soon they’re going to be knocking on your door, with one of them warrants of their’s, and taking your pets, too,” said the man, who would only identify himself as “Lost Horse.”
But a relative of Greenup’s, who did not want to be identified, said Greenup’s militia affiliations and beliefs “have turned him into a lunatic.”
“The only people who follow him are the losers and the town drunks,” the family member said.
The raid on Greenup’s ranch occurred about an hour before a standing-room-only crowd of about 125 people, militia members and selfdescribed constitutionalists showed up at a grange in nearby Woodside, Mont., to discuss law and the American jury system. Like Greenup, those in attendance contended that government is corrupt and not in line with the U.S. Constitution.
Word of the raid spread quickly at the grange hall.
The gathering was sponsored by “Montanans for Due Process.” Speakers decried how the law of the land no longer follows the Constitution.
Ravalli County Sheriff Jay Printz recently left the county, touring the country as an opponent of the Brady bill, which regulates gun sales. Based on his actions against militia members since his return, those at the grange meeting accused Printz of becoming a turncoat on gun control.
“If (law officers) think that we should go to war with each other, then so be it,” said a man who identified himself as Bill Carter. “What the hell, who’s worried about blood?” Carter said.
There were no arrests or violence during the raid on Greenup’s ranch. The only shots were from tranquilizer guns. Ravalli County Undersheriff Jimmy Chinn said officers did not search Greenup’s house.
The game wardens and deputies went to Greenup’s house in a caravan of police cars that sped southward from Hamilton to Darby. While officers set up a roadblock at the dirt driveway to the Greenup ranch, game wardens pulled horse trailers onto the property and used tranquilizer guns to subdue the elk.
Mack Long, game warden captain with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, supervised the raid along with Chinn. Sheriff Jay Printz was out of the county on other business.
At a hastily called media briefing at the courthouse in Hamilton, Long wouldn’t say what would be done with the elk, or whether they would be destroyed.
Chinn said his deputies will continue looking for Greenup, who is named in a felony warrant for obstructing justice. He is accused of harboring his son, Scott Greenup, who also is being sought for felony assault and jumping bail.
Chinn declined comment when asked whether he thought the seizure of Greenup’s prize elk, which he has publicly displayed at the county fair and in parades, would escalate tensions between the militia leader and law enforcement officers.
When Long was asked the same question, he responded: “I hope not.”
Greenup is affiliated with the North American Volunteer Militia, based in Booneville, Ind. The group’s leader, F. Joe Holland, called on other members of that militia to show up in Hamilton as a show of support for Greenup, but it appeared that the request went largely unheeded.
The raid angered many friends and neighbors of Greenup, who said authorities appear to be pushing him into a corner, increasing the potential for the violence.
“This is not about taxes or even Cal Greenup,” said Karen Bemis, 37, of nearby Conner, Mont. “Those animals are pets. They have names. When these guys go on your property and take your pets, I think that’s a real violation of your rights.”
One Map: Law agencies raid Greenup residence