Daniel Petersen is a paradox even to his own family.
A stepson loves him like a father, admiring how he provided for his family and how his word was golden.
His elderly mother hasn’t really known him since Petersen joined the freeman movement about five years ago. She’s just relieved he didn’t die Monday - or kill anyone else.
“I don’t approve of this,” said Edna Wangseng, hours after her son and another freeman were arrested by federal agents outside their compound.
“I feel bad, but I’m glad he hasn’t hurt anybody or somebody hurt him.”
Petersen, 53, lived in the eastcentral Montana town of Winnett (population about 100) until he joined nearly a dozen fugitives at Justus Township a couple of years ago. He became notary and U.S. magistrate for the breakaway government faction and was wanted for criminal syndicalism, felony threats and impersonating a public servant.
His family knew him as a crack carpenter and master auto mechanic who worked at a Winnett gas station. He used to supervise a motor carrier route in Bozeman for the Great Falls Tribune newspaper.
Petersen joined the freeman movement after the government confiscated his auto mechanic tools. Petersen had loaned them to another stepson who then became saddled with debt, said another stepson, Kevin Entzel, 35, of Winnett.
“Every one of those people (freemen) are good honest people,” Entzel said. “They’re just sick and tired of being run over. They’ve all been ripped off by the government.”
Entzel agreed to a telephone interview Monday even though it violated freeman protocol: Journalists are asked to put up $10 million bonds to ensure they report the truth, he said.
“Don’t screw it up,” Entzel said. “I’m mad. I’ll sue you.”
Petersen married Entzel’s mother, Cheryl Lynn Petersen, about 18 years ago. Late Monday, she remained in her Justus Township home surrounded by federal agents.
“My mom’s still in there,” Entzel said. “I’m also worried about my dad. I don’t believe these sons of bitches want my dad to make it to trial.
“He’s always been good to me and he’s good to my mom,” he continued. “He provides well and he’s always been honest.”
Nearby in Winnett, Petersen’s mother and stepfather learned of the arrests from a television news report and were awaiting more information.
Edna Wangseng saw the warning signs of rebellion when Petersen was at Winnett High School. He was a smart kid. If he only bothered to crack a book, it meant an easy A, she said. He started to service cars at 11.
Then Petersen started “tormenting the cops” and was sent away to Miles City to spend his senior year at Pine Hills High School.
“He had to go there for one year because we couldn’t handle him,” said Wangseng, 72. “He had a chip on his shoulder.”
About five years ago, Petersen started spewing anti-government rhetoric. He last contacted his mother on Feb. 12, 1994.
“I just didn’t understand where this was coming from,” Wangseng said. “He has two wonderful kids (from a first marriage) and four grandchildren. The kids are pretty upset. They don’t believe in this stuff. I believe everybody should pay taxes.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo