FBI agents blocked two armed Oregon militia followers who attempted to drive into Justus Township on Friday, the fifth day of the federal standoff with the Montana freemen.
Self-described constitutional patriots Tad Silveira and Mike Bartee confronted the FBI after driving nonstop for two days from Medford, Ore., with an assault rifle, a semiautomatic pistol, ammunition and boxes of food.
After FBI agents twice turned them away, the pair promised to try again today to enter the freemen’s stronghold.
Authorities say as many as 24 people, including several fugitives, are holed up in the half-dozen homes that comprise the township.
The Oregon pair became the FBI’s latest crisis here in Montana, where the federal agency is trying to use public relations instead of military might to resolve the siege.
To avoid the negative fallout from bloody confrontations at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, the FBI is trying to keep a low profile.
Rather than permanent roadblocks, roving teams of SWAT agents are being used to stop vehicles driving county roads to the freemen compound.
Jordan residents are circulating a petition asking the freemen to surrender.
In Washington, D.C., Attorney General Janet Reno reiterated her commitment to ending the standoff without violence.
“The government continues to try to resolve this matter peacefully,” said Reno. “We will do so in every possible way.”
The Militia of Montana, based in Noxon, issued its own statement, asking all “patriots” to stay home and not travel to Jordan.
“We are trying to come to a peaceful solution to the problem that exists in Jordan without bloodshed or mishap,” said the statement from Militia co-founder David Trochmann.
The standoff began Monday with the arrests of freemen leaders LeRoy Schweitzer, 57, and Daniel Petersen, 53, at the township about 30 miles from Jordan.
They are charged with writing millions of dollars in bogus checks and threatening public officials.
On Friday, the freemen set up their own roadblock by installing makeshift posts and barbed wire on a narrow county road at the township.
But most of the day’s attention centered on the two men who drove 1,500 miles from Oregon to visit the freemen.
Silveira and Bartee said they distribute an anti-government, constitutionalist newspaper called “The American’s Bulletin,” published in Medford.
They said they don’t know the freemen fugitives. “I do know that they might be white supremacy types,” said Silveira, a 47-year-old contractor. “I’m not, not a bit. But they have a right to believe what they want to believe, as long as it doesn’t violate someone else’s rights.”
When he and Bartee got to Jordan, Silveira said he was told by an FBI agent to get rid of his Mini-14 assault rifle and 45-caliber semiautomatic Colt handgun.
He hid both weapons in a snowy roadside culvert about two miles south of Jordan before driving to the township entrance where he was stopped by FBI agents.
There, agents told Silveira and Bartee they couldn’t take several boxes of food or ammunition into the freemen’s compound.
When FBI agents heard reporters ask Silveira where he left his weapons, the federal officers said the guns posed a safety threat to the public and ordered him to go get them. The agents offered to store the weapons, but Silveira declined.
With a media entourage in tow, Silveira drove back toward Jordan and retrieved the guns.
After lunch, he went to the Jordan bank to see if he could rent a safety deposit box to hold the weapons. He was refused. Silveira then walked across the street, thinking he could store the guns at an attorney’s office. He apparently didn’t know the attorney, Nick Murnion, is the county’s part-time prosecutor whose life has been threatened by the freemen.
From there, Silveira and Bartee drove to three churches in vain attempts to get ministers to store the guns. At the third church, an FBI SWAT team showed up and ordered the pair from the truck at gunpoint.
After being searched, the FBI let the two men go with their guns. They face no charges.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo