A freemen leader was flown by the FBI to Billings Tuesday to confer with a jailed comrade, and a source told The Associated Press that the group could surrender as early as Thursday.
Late Tuesday, an FBI convoy returned to the ranch and most of the freemen could be seen entering a barn, presumably to discuss the surrender proposal.
The source, who is familiar with the FBI strategy and spoke on condition of anonymity, said progress was made toward a deal that could lead to surrender of the 17 remaining freemen by Thursday.
He would not elaborate, but said, “The mere fact that the FBI allowed this to happen is a very positive step.”
The FBI said it arranged safe passage for Edwin Clark to meet with LeRoy Schweitzer “In another effort to reach a peaceful resolution of the standoff.” The arrest of Schweitzer and another freemen leader more than two months ago sparked the standoff 79 days earlier.
“Edwin had to become at peace with LeRoy about it,” before agreeing to the surrender plans, said the source. “He didn’t want to go forward without checking with LeRoy first.”
“They’ve pretty much agreed it won’t be a gun battle,” the source said. “I’m extremely hopeful at this point. It’s an extremely positive sign.”
A senior federal official in Washington also said Clark was carrying a proposal that might end the standoff, for Schweitzer to review and discuss. But that official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, cautioned that the agreement still could fall through.
“There’s not a tentative agreement right now,” the senior official said. “It’s possible what’s happening today could end up in an agreement or could end up in nothing.”
The FBI convoy returned to the compound Tuesday evening and a vehicle drove up to Clark’s house. Later, there was an unusual amount of activity, with people and vehicles moving among the various buildings, and reporters saw at least 11 people gather at a barn, presumably to hold a meeting to discuss Clark’s Billings visit.
The freemen at the ranch had requested earlier that a representative be allowed to meet with Schweitzer, who was arrested on federal charges of fraud and other crimes after being lured out of the compound on March 25.
Also on the FBI plane were three negotiators from the CAUSE Foundation, third-party mediators brought in by the FBI. The group has represented a former Ku Klux Klan leader as well as survivors of the deadly 1993 Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas.
Edwin Clark, one of the original owners of the now-foreclosed land the freemen occupy, has emerged in recent days the apparent leader of the people remaining in the remote farm complex.
Previously, he has been allowed to go to an FBI checkpoint just outside the ranch for negotiations and then return to the compound. This was be the first time he has gone beyond the FBI perimeter.
That indicates that chances have improved for a bloodless end to the confrontation, Colorado state Sen. Charles Duke told the AP Tuesday in a telephone interview from his home.
“If Edwin had been the leader when I was there, this would be over already,” Duke said. “We tried to make him the leader. He was the owner of that land. If he goes out, everybody goes.”
Duke, a leader of the so-called Patriot movement in his state, gave up negotiating with the freemen on May 21, saying they were not dealing in good faith.
But last week, Edwin Clark met alone with FBI agents twice at a small church about a mile from the freemen compound. He and another Freeman - his son Casey, in at least two instances - also have met with FBI agents at the entrance to the complex.
It is especially significant that Clark would come out of the property the freemen call Justus Township, Duke said. He is the only Freeman known to have done so who was not surrendering.
Clark is wanted on several charges: impersonating public officials by helping to issue bogus arrest warrants and subpoenas on behalf of freemeninvented courts, and criminal syndicalism for knowingly belonging to an organization that advocates crime, violence or terrorism to further political goals.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Associated Press Associated Press Writer Michael J. Sniffen in Washington contributed to this report.