Copyright 1996, The Spokesman-Review
LeRoy Schweitzer’s journey to the radical fringes of the anti-government movement started two decades ago in the wheat fields of Eastern Washington.
Schweitzer, a pilot who owned a crop-dusting company in Colfax, Wash., balked when the IRS said he owned $700 more in taxes in 1977.
He relied on advice from his accountant and attorney, and didn’t believe he owed another dime, friends recalled.
When the IRS then froze $6,000 in his business account, Schweitzer’s partner paid the delinquent taxes.
“He couldn’t believe his bank would let anybody touch his money,” said a friend of Schweitzer, who still lives in Colfax and asked not to be identified.
“I can remember LeRoy saying, ‘The IRS can steal my money, but nobody else can,”’ the friend said. “That’s where his trust in banks went down the drain, and his hatred of the government began.”
In 1978, Schweitzer was audited again. He eventually stopped paying federal income taxes and became a “full-blown tax protester,” the friend said.
In the early 1980s, Schweitzer was friends with Whitman County rancher Ray Smith, who lost his land for failing to pay the federal Farmers Home Administration nearly $1 million in delinquent loan payments.
The two attended meetings in Whitman County of another far-right anti-government group called the Posse Comitatus.
“LeRoy and Ray Smith were good friends and shared a hatred of the federal government,” said a Colfax businessman who knows both men.
Efforts to locate Smith for comment were unsuccessful.
Members of a neo-Nazi group known as The Order practiced firing automatic weapons on Smith’s ranch near LaCrosse in the early 1980s, authorities said.
One Smith ranch employee, Eldon “Bud” Cutler, was the security chief at Aryan Nations, a white supremacy group in Hayden Lake, Idaho. He was arrested and convicted in a murder-for-hire plot tied to The Order in 1986.
Schweitzer had moved from Montana to the Palouse in the late 1960s and worked as a pilot for Fountain Flying in Moscow before starting his own business, Farm-Air, in Colfax.
“He’s simply the best pilot I’ve ever ridden with,” said one of Schweitzer’s friends in Colfax, who’s also a pilot.
“LeRoy is a very self-sufficient, loner type,” the friend said.
After building his own hangar at Colfax and opening Farm-Air, Schweitzer decided he wanted a helicopter. He bought one and taught himself how to fly it, friends recalled.
On another occasion, he flew a plane with an oversize, experimental engine from California over the Sierra Nevada mountains to Reno, Nev.
Oil spewed from the engine, coating the plane’s windshield. Schweitzer landed the plane by poking his head out the window so he could see.
When fire broke out in a Palouse wheat field one day, Schweitzer was quick to load his spray plane with water and douse the flames without being asked.
In 1983, when Whitman County fair officials were pestered by flies at the fairgrounds, Schweitzer volunteered his plane to spray the pesticide malathion. He later learned some people on the ground got doused by the chemical.
Those people complained, and at least one lawsuit was filed. Schweitzer was sued by his own insurance company before the dispute was settled.
“That whole deal at the fairgrounds just made LeRoy even more bitter,” the pilot friend said.
On another occasion, a state safety inspector showed up for a surprise inspection at Schweitzer’s hangar. The inspector cited him for not having an electrical ground on a grinding machine, explaining the regulations were intended to protect employees.
Schweitzer fired his only employee on the spot, right in front of the inspector, his friend said.
“Now there are no employees who work here, so see how your regulations protected that man,” the friend recalled Schweitzer saying.
His fight with the federal government continued until the mid-1980s when he sold his business.
About that same time, Schweitzer stopped renewing his state and federal licenses for his cars and airplanes.
“He contended they had authority over him only because he became voluntarily licensed. Without licenses they had no authority over him,” the friend said.
Schweitzer and his wife, Carol, moved to Bozeman, Mont., where they went into the fireworks business with his brothers.
One friend, Larry J. Miller of St. John, Wash., said he last spoke with Schweitzer about four years ago, about the time he got involved with the freeman movement.
“He just had a glaze in his eyes,” Miller recalled. “I just didn’t know him anymore.”
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