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CdA agents help search for ex-militia leader in Montana

David Earl Burgert, a member of Kalispell, Mont militia group, pictured after an arrest in Feb. 2002.  (Associated Press)
David Earl Burgert, a member of Kalispell, Mont militia group, pictured after an arrest in Feb. 2002. (Associated Press)

FBI agents from Coeur d’Alene are in Montana to help search for a former militia leader who officials say fired on deputies and previously told police “he wasn’t going to be taken down like last time.”

The agents traveled to northwest Montana Sunday to assist in the manhunt for David Burgert, said Don Robinson, agent in charge of the Coeur d’Alene office.

“We had a request from Missoula County for support,” Robinson said. “Hopefully we find him in whatever state he’s in quickly, and it’s over.”

Burgert fled in a Jeep on Sunday when officers stopped to make a check on a vehicle at a picnic site near Lolo on U.S. Highway 12. Officers pursued Burgert until he pulled over, jumped out and fired a handgun at deputies, Missoula County Undersheriff Mike Dominick told the Missoulian.

The deputies returned fire — no one was hurt — before Burgert grabbed gear from the Jeep and fled on foot into the woods, Dominick said.

Burgert is the former leader of a Flathead County militia group known as Project 7, named for the number “7” on Flathead County license plates. Project 7 allegedly plotted to assassinate local officials, go to war with the National Guard and overthrow the federal government.

Burgert served time in the Federal Bureau of Prisons on weapons charges before being released on probation. Before his sentencing, he was diagnosed with paranoid personality disorder.

Last week, he was stopped by the Montana Highway Patrol for a moving violation. He told patrolmen then “he wasn’t going to be taken down like last time” and that “it would take a SWAT team” to bring him in, Dominick said.

Missoula police, Missoula County sheriff’s officers, and law officers from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Montana National Guard were looking for Burgert on Monday.

Burgert is described as 6 feet 2 inches tall and 230 pounds, with brown eyes and brown hair. He was last seen wearing a bluish colored shirt and a fanny pack and is believed to be armed with a handgun and possibly a rifle.

“He is extremely dangerous, and he’s a danger to anyone he meets,” Dominick said.

In July 2004, Burgert pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess illegal firearms, possession of a machine gun and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Federal prosecutors argued he led a group that amassed machine guns and explosives. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Burgert had been arrested in February 2002 after a standoff and a chase. He had a machine gun when he was arrested, and authorities found thousands of rounds of ammunition and homemade explosives while searching sites associated with Project 7.

At the time, officials in Flathead County in far northwestern Montana said that “Project 7” also conspired to kill local police officers, judges and county prosecutors.

Lolo is about 10 miles southwest of Missoula.

The Southern Poverty Law Center describes Burgert as an associate of Alaska militia leader Francis Schaeffer Cox, who is in jail on federal charges accusing him of plotting to kill law enforcement officials. Cox, 27, was the featured speaker at a meeting of extremist groups at the Post Falls Greyhound Park in December 2009.