Mediators gave up attempts Wednesday to persuade the freemen to surrender after the anti-government extremists said they’ve taken an “oath to God” not to leave their compound until their demands are met.
John Connor Jr., an assistant state attorney general, confirmed that the state had offered the possibility of leniency on state charges in return for the freemen’s surrender to federal authorities. He said the offer was rejected.
“I’m disappointed, of course,” Connor told reporters at a roadside news conference after leaving an hourlong meeting with the freemen. “I don’t know that there is much reason for me to remain involved at this point. There’s nothing on the table right now.”
U.S. Attorney Sherry Matteucci issued a statement in Billings, saying discussions with the freemen “have been unproductive.”
Matteucci said while there was an offer to dismiss state charges against the fugitives, “there was no offer to dismiss outstanding federal charges.”
“This is not an unusual situation,” she said. “It often makes sense to conserve judicial resources by proceeding either with state or federal cases and not both.”
“In this particular situation, we felt that the interests of Montana could be best served through peaceful surrender of the fugitives and orderly prosecution in federal court,” Matteucci said.
Former Green Beret Col. James “Bo” Gritz, a leader of the self-styled patriot movement who helped negotiate an end to the deadly siege on Ruby Ridge in Idaho in 1992, also called it quits after a 2-1/2-hour session Wednesday morning. It was his fifth meeting with the group.
Gritz said the freemen were back to their earlier position that they will submit only to a tribunal of their own kind; they will not submit to the federal courts.
The freemen “have had communications with God - Yahweh,” and vowed not to leave their ranch unless their demands are met, Gritz said. “I don’t see any way they’re going to deny this oath to God.”
Gritz didn’t sound optimistic about a peaceful resolution. He said freemen told him that “Yahweh has placed an invisible barrier around their sanctuary that no more enemies can penetrate.”
The tribunal must consist of 23 people who are completely debt-free, do not work for the government and are not lawyers, Gritz said. Also, the members of the tribune must reach a unanimous verdict.
Connor said the state’s proposal was far more limited.
“They wanted criminal charges on hold until after a forum,” he said. “Our response was they have to surrender to federal charges first. … Then any state charges without evidence could be dismissed in deference to federal charges.”
He said it was a 24-hour offer, and the freemen turned it down.
The freemen refuse to recognize the government’s authority. They have their own laws and courts based on their selective interpretation of the Bible, the U.S. Constitution and other documents.
Members of the group are wanted on state and federal charges ranging from writing bad checks to threatening to kidnap and kill a U.S. judge. The standoff began March 25 after two of their leaders were arrested.