Magazine article Newsweek

A Showdown in Montana; Why the Feds Are Closing in on a Band of Radicals

Magazine article Newsweek

A Showdown in Montana; Why the Feds Are Closing in on a Band of Radicals

Article excerpt

THE SCENE--A SNOW-SWEPT FIELD on a wheat farm and cattle ranch in eastern Montana--was plain as dirt, and the action wasn't much, either. Two men--either fearless revolutionaries or common scam artists, depending on your point of view--had a brief conversation with another group of men and were taken away to jail. That's the way it went down when the FBI bagged Leroy Schweitzer and Daniel Petersen last week. Schweitzer, 57, is the leader of a group of survivalist right-wingers now holed up on four ranches outside Jordan, Mont. He and Petersen, both charged with fraud, were busted because they trusted an undercover FBI agent posing as an ally. Newsweek has learned that the agent, who called himself "Mike Manson," duped Schweitzer and Petersen into inspecting a radio transmitter he was helping to install for them on the farm. When Schweitzer and Petersen arrived, other agents posing as technicians sprang the trap. "They really thought he was one of the good guys," Petersen's stepson said later. "Obviously, he wasn't."

And so round one of an 11-month federal undercover operation against the Freemen movement went to the Feds--much to the chagrin of Schweitzer's supporters on the ultraright. Like many in the militia movement, Schweitzer is known for his radical opposition to government and the law. Unlike many, he is also known to authorities as the progenitor of an elaborate scheme to bilk banks and businesses of what may be millions of dollars, using phony money orders and certified checks. Along with other Freemen, Schweitzer is said to have run a school for aspiring con men on the property outside Jordan, which he and his followers call "Justus Township."

Nobody knows for sure how many Freemen are on the four ranches--estimates range from 15 to 25, including wives and children. …

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