All 16 Remaining Freemen Surrender Peacefully
Jun. 14, 1996
JORDAN, Mont. (AP) _ All 16 remaining members of the Freemen extremist group surrendered to the FBI and left their ranch Thursday, ending the 81-day standoff without the bloodshed of Waco and Ruby Ridge.
An FBI vehicle following two vans and one sedan carrying the Freemen waved an American flag out the window as it drove away from the compound in rural eastern Montana.
The convoy of vehicles was heading for a church, where it was to gather before driving 175 miles southwest to Billings, where 12 of the antigovernment fugitives were to face criminal charges, including circulating millions of dollars in bogus checks and threatening to kill a federal judge.
U.S. Attorney Sherry Scheel Matteucci and FBI Agent Thomas T. Kubic announced that all the members of the group still on the property had been safely removed. They said the Freemen voluntarily turned themselves over to authorities without incident.
Earlier in the day, an FBI agent, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the four who were not charged would be free to go but would not be allowed to return to the 960-acre ranch, the agent said.
After Freemen trucks drove in a convoy to the gate and met up with an FBI convoy, which included two large passenger vans, Freemen members were escorted one-by-one by their leader Edwin Clark out of their vehicles and into FBI custody.
Federal agents did not handcuff the fugitives, but checked them for weapons before taking them by the arm and leading them to the van.
Clark escorted his son, Casey, 21, from a Freemen motor home parked at the gate, which had been designated as the surrender point, to FBI agents. Casey shook his father's hand, and then boarded the van. Casey has not been charged with any crime.
Attorney General Janet Reno hailed the peaceful resolution.
``From the first day of the standoff in Montana, the Justice Department and the FBI have worked with steadfast determination to reach today's result,'' she said in a statement released in Washington.
``This episode was the first real test of the reforms the Department of Justice has instituted for resolving crisis situations,'' the statement said.
The surrender in early evening capped an excruciating day of tension as reporters watched a flurry of activity at the compound.
The rental truck entered the ranch and the FBI brought in packing crates, apparently for the Freemen's documents, which the right-wing extremists say contain evidence of government wrongdoing.
Under the agreement aimed at ending one of the longest sieges in U.S. history, the documents will be safeguarded by Karl Ohs, a state legislator who has acted as a mediator in the standoff, sources said on condition of anonymity. The Freemen feared the FBI would destroy the material otherwise.
``It's a huge amount of stuff,'' a source said of the documents. ``People all over the country have been sending the information they consider evidence.''
Until they were moved to the compound gate, the vans had sat parked nearby, apparently in preparation for the Freemen's departure.
Right-wing activists and those who talked with the Freemen during the standoff had feared it would end in another Waco.
A peaceful end to the siege would be a vindication for the FBI's strategy of carefully calibrated pressure.
Since the standoff began March 25, federal agents have stayed well away from the compound and kept the media similarly cordoned off. Third-party negotiators tried to talk the Freemen out for months. The FBI didn't shut off the compound's power until the 71st day of the standoff, June 3.
In 1993, the 51-day standoff at Waco, Texas, ended in a fire that killed more than 80 cult members. In 1992, white separatist Randy Weaver held federal agents at bay at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, for 11 days in a siege that began with the killing of his son and a federal marshal. Weaver's wife also was killed during the standoff.
In 1973, supporters of the American Indian Movement took over the site of the battle of Wounded Knee. A standoff lasted 69 days and two of the group's members were killed.
Asked whether the FBI had learned anything about handling such situations since Waco, Reno said, ``We just learned that each situation has to be evaluated on its own merits.''
Early Thursday, two Freemen lowered the upside-down U.S. flag _ a traditional sign of distress _ on ``sentry hill,'' their outpost on a hilltop overlooking the compound. It was replaced by a Confederate battle flag. The Freemen then apparently abandoned the sentry post.
Later in the day, a former Freeman, Clay Taylor, drove a horse trailer into the compound and came back out with two horses on board. The last minor at the ranch, a 16-year-old girl, left on Wednesday.
The Freemen at the the ranch they call Justus Township include hard-luck farmers and some fast-talkers hawking cure-alls for financial woes. They spread pseudo-legalistic documents purportedly showing that they can renounce governmental authority, start their own government and issue their own checks.
They could no longer be dismissed as crackpots when they formed their own ``courts,'' appointed themselves officers and declared elected officials criminals subject to arrest and execution.