Victims of hate groups came here Friday to launch a ballot petition to toughen Montana’s law against the tactics of the anti-government freemen, who have been holed up in a farm complex near here for 33 days.
Backers will have no problem gathering the 20,392 voter signatures needed to qualify it for the November ballot, predicted Evan Barrett of Butte, co-chairman of the Montana Anti-Extremism Coalition.
The petition deadline is June 21.
“When one Montanan is threatened, all Montanans are threatened,” Barrett told a news conference in a community hall 24 miles northwest of Jordan, near the crossroads where the FBI restricts access to the encircled freeman farm complex eight miles away.
First signers included Tammy Schnitzer, whose family was the target of anti-Jewish vandalism in Billings, and the county prosecutors in Musselshell and Garfield counties, both of whom have been the target of threats from freemen and sympathizers.
Observers at the news conference included James “Bo” Gritz, who helped end the bloody siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Randy Weaver, whose wife and son were killed there by federal agents. A U.S. marshal also was killed.
The initiative petition would ask voters to approve a new law letting individuals sue for damages if they receive threats or false liens against their property.
It would also simplify the legal process for removing such liens.
False liens, clouding title to property and forcing expensive legal action to clear the title, are a favorite tactic of freemen against their enemies.
“We weren’t trying to bomb you,” Gritz told Barrett during an amicable discussion.
“We just wanted to see how much support (the freemen) have in the community.”
A brief confrontation developed between Weaver and rancher Cecil Weeding, an outspoken critic of the freemen. Weaver criticized the petition as an extension of police powers, and Weeding disagreed, saying Weaver was an outsider with no business here.
Gritz told Barrett what he had heard about the petition sounded reasonable.
“I don’t want some yahoo coming up and liening my property,” Gritz said.
The freemen contend they are not subject to federal or state laws, but are sovereign citizens of their own country and are governed only by common law.
Some of those on the foreclosed farm they occupy are wanted on federal and state charges ranging from writing millions of dollars in worthless checks to threatening to murder a federal judge.
Gritz said later he believes the FBI will let him meet with the encircled anti-government freemen - but will enter their ranch with or without permission.
“We are going to get in there or we’re going to be arrested,” he said.
He met again with the FBI later Friday at its operations center at the Garfield County fairgrounds on the edge of Jordan. He met with the FBI there for more than an hour Thursday.
The farm has been isolated since March 25, when FBI agents captured two leaders of the group.