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Militia Leaders Fear Poll May Spark Confrontation 6 Of 10 Montanans Against Reluctance To Arrest Anti-Government Fugitives

Wed., Dec. 27, 1995, midnight

A newspaper poll may provide law enforcement authorities with public support for an armed confrontation with government protesters in Jordan, Mont., Militia of Montana leaders fear.

“I think it gives (law enforcement) a green light,” said John Trochmann, Militia of Montana co-founder. “It’s the blessing that means something to them.

“If our law enforcement runs their operations by the polls of a certain organization, I think they make a giant mistake,” Trochmann said at his home in Noxon, Mont.

Lee Newspapers of Montana conducted a poll of 817 registered voters in mid-December and found six of 10 disapprove of law enforcement’s reluctance to arrest anti-government freemen who are fugitives and holed up on farms near Jordan.

The poll, with a 3.5 percent margin of error, also found 24 percent approve of the standoff and 16 percent are not sure.

Garfield County Attorney Nick Murnion told a congressional panel in November that he anticipates a bloody end to the standoff with the freemen in his county.

Freemen are outspoken critics who have renounced much of government’s authority.

Two of the group’s leaders, LeRoy M. Schweitzer and Rodney O. Skurdal, are wanted on Garfield County felony warrants alleging criminal syndicalism, or advocating violence to achieve political ends.

There also are warrants for Schweitzer’s arrest in Gallatin County, where his home and crop-dusting plane were sold to pay back taxes.

“I don’t concur with the way they conduct themselves, obviously,” Trochmann told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “We’re not aligned with those people.”

Trochmann was arrested in March with six other men who were labeled “freemen” by Musselshell County officials. The charge was dropped less than a month later.

“All they have to do is shut off the power and the phones, and these guys are dead in the water,” Trochmann said of the freemen.

Local militia members say they suspect the poll’s results which imply public support for storming the freemen’s enclaves.

“They come up with these polls to justify whatever they want to do,” said Steve McNeil, a militia member who said he recently returned from the freemen’s stronghold near Jordan.

McNeil said he went there to take a twoday class in law.

“I need to know more about the law, so I went there to find out,” he said.

Gordon Helgerson, a Manhattan, Mont., mechanic and one of the founders of a local militia chapter, said he doesn’t think the government wants a peaceful end to the standoff with the freemen.

“Why can’t they sit down and settle this thing the way it should be done?” he asked.

“I personally think they’re going to go in there and take them out,” Helgerson said, “They’re a thorn in the government’s side.”


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