All 16 Remaining Freemen Surrender Peacefully
JORDAN, Mont. (AP) _ All 16 remaining members of the antigovernment Freemen surrendered to the FBI and left their ranch Thursday, ending the 81-day standoff without the bloodshed of Waco and Ruby Ridge.
As two vans and one sedan carrying the Freemen left the compound, an FBI agent in a vehicle that followed leaned out his window and waved an American flag _ a seeming gesture of triumph that the longest armed siege in modern U.S. history had come to a peaceful conclusion.
After the convoy had departed, six FBI agents drove to the Freemen’s sentry point on the 960-acre ranch in rural eastern Montana. One agent climbed onto the trailer parked there and pulled down the Confederate battle flag that the extremists had hoisted earlier in the day when they removed an upside-down American flag, a traditional symbol of distress.
The surrender in early evening capped an excruciating day of tension as reporters _ who were kept more than a mile away _ watched a flurry of activity at the compound with little explanation what was going on. Television news cameras showed frequent live shots of vehicles driving around within the compound. Reports had circulated since Tuesday night that a settlement of the crisis was imminent.
``We will all say a little prayer tonight for this peaceful settlement of a difficult situation,″ President Clinton told the audience at a state dinner.
FBI Director Louis J. Freeh lauded the ``patient but resolute″ strategy that he credited for the outcome.
``I think the American people can take great comfort that the law was enforced and that it was done in a way that did not do harm to anyone,″ he said at an evening news conference at FBI headquarters in Washington.
In Billings, FBI Agent Thomas T. Kubic said the FBI force at the compound included a total of 633 agents rotated in and out and working 12-hour shifts. At any one time, there were up to 150 agents in the Jordan area, he said.
About 3 1/2 hours after the surrender was completed at the ranch, a five-vehicle convoy carrying the Freemen arrived in Billings, where 14 of the fugitives were to face criminal charges, including circulating millions of dollars in bogus checks and threatening to kill a federal judge.
A Montana Highway Patrol car led the convoy, but did not have lights or siren going when the vehicles arrived at the jail. The vans carrying the Freemen drove into an indoor garage at the jail and the garage door closed. Nothing further could be seen inside.
The Freemen were to be held overnight, with court appearances beginning Friday, said U.S. Attorney Sherry Scheel Matteucci.
The two people not facing charges, wives of Freemen members, chose to drive with the group to Billings, but were not expected to be detained.
Matteucci stressed that negotiations with the group had not involved dismissal or reduction of any federal charges.
``That was never a possibility,″ Matteucci said, adding that ``no Montana state charges have been dropped and no agreement to drop any of those charges has been made.″
The formal end to the standoff came after Freemen trucks drove in a convoy from the main part of the compound to the gate and met up with an FBI convoy, which included two large passenger vans. A group of Freemen lingered behind on the road to the compound, hugging each other.
At the gate, Freemen members were escorted one-by-one by their leader Edwin Clark out of their vehicles and into FBI custody. Those waiting to be escorted to the vans gathered near the Freemen motor home, holding hands, their heads bowed as if in prayer.
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 to FBI agents. Casey shook his father’s hand, then boarded the van.
Earlier in the day, a Ryder rental truck had entered the ranch and the FBI brought in packing crates, apparently for the Freemen’s documents, which the group says contain evidence of government wrongdoing.
Under the agreement, 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.″
The truck was driven off the compound shortly before the surrender. Photographers near the site said Ohs was at the wheel.
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.
Right-wing activists and those who talked with the Freemen during the standoff had feared it would end in another Waco, but the peaceful conclusion was a vindication for the FBI’s strategy of carefully calibrated pressure.
Since the standoff by two dozen extremists began March 25, federal agents 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.″
Matteucci said that although not named in the original indictments, Edwin Clark, 45, and Cornelius John (Casey) Veldhulzen, 49, were arrested Thursday on charges related to the fraudulent financial instruments scheme.
Those arrested Thursday on outstanding warrants from earlier indictments were: Ralph Edwin Clark, 65; Emmett Bryan Clark, 67; Dale Martin Jacobi, 54; Charlyn Petersen, 51; and Rodney Owen Skurdal, 43, Matteucci said.
Those arrested on federal charges related to their actions since the standoff began were: Casey Martin Clark, 21; Dana Dudley Landers, 44; James Edward Hance, 24; John Richard Hance, 19; Steven Charles Hance, 46; Russell Dean Landers, 45; and Jon Barry Nelson, 40, Matteucci said.
Those removed from the property but not facing federal charges at this time include Kay Clark, 65, wife of Ralph; and Rosie Clark, 70, wife of Emmett, she said.
The Freemen at the the ranch they call Justus Township included 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.