BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) _ As attorneys began closing arguments Thursday in the trial of the Montana Freemen, a federal prosecutor told jurors, ``Don't leave your common sense at the door.''

Prosecutors contend the 12 anti-government extremists on trial, including the group's leaders, tried to cripple the nation's banking system with a massive hot-check scheme and committed a variety of crimes, some violent, along the way.

Lawyers for five of the 12 defendants, however, argued that everything indicates the Freemen did believe that LeRoy Schweitzer's common-law liens gave them unlimited credit, so they never intended to defraud anyone.

The Internal Revenue Service tabulated 3,432 of them totaling $15.5 billion.

Prosecutor Robertson Park said it is inconceivable that the group believed that their worthless ``checks'' were real.

``This case is a fraud of truly epic proportions, motivated by greed and a deep and abiding hatred for our government and all its institutions,'' Robertson said.

``When you begin your deliberations, don't leave your common sense at the door,'' Park said.

Schweitzer believed his theories were not just legal, but the only recourse left for people victimized by the financial and legal systems, lead defense attorney Tony Gallagher said.

The defendants are charged with conspiracy to defraud; bank, mail and wire fraud; armed robberies of two network TV crews; and threatening to kill a federal judge. Six secondary members of the Freemen were tried as accessories this spring, and five were convicted.

Some two dozen Freemen surrendered to the FBI in June 1996 after holding hundreds of FBI agents at bay for 81 days at the foreclosed farm stronghold they called Justus Township in eastern Montana.

U.S. District Judge John Coughenour wants closing arguments to conclude Friday and jury deliberations to begin Monday.