Montana Freemen Trial May Mark End of an Era

Montana Freemen trial may mark end of an era

Seedlines and the Banks
To emphasize the point, classes at Justus Township near Jordan (and at Rodney Skurdal's place outside Roundup, Mont., where the Freemen holed up before moving in a mass convoy to Jordan) opened with an hour-long Bible lesson by Dale Jacobi on Identity's so-called "seedline" reading of Genesis: Eve had been impregnated with two seeds, one from Adam and one from Satan.

Jews and their banking system were descended from Satan through Cain. Whites — noble, made in the image of God and able, unlike blacks, to blush — were the progeny of Adam and Eve.

Christian Identity was the cornerstone of the Freemen edifice, even for farmers who may have first embraced the check-writing scheme out of economic distress.

"There is a difference between a bankrupt farmer who can't make land payments or pay taxes and someone who won't because of a deeply held, anti-Semitic ideology," explains the Rev. David Ostendorf of Chicago's Center for New Community, a farmer's advocacy group since the early 1980s.

The Freemen, according to Ostendorf, only brought more grief to those economically embattled farmers ensnared in their scheme.

The particular genius of the Freemen was to flesh out a mass-style movement on the bones of their hard-core, Identity-based ideology. Like We the People, the Freemen found constituents for its scheme among hard-pressed rural residents.

In Montana, lawmen sought to arrest the Freemen long before the Jordan standoff, while they were still ensconced near Roundup. But the Freemen's threats of creating a replay of the Waco disaster, in which some 75 Branch Davidians died, kept law enforcement officials at bay.

As Schweitzer said at one training session: "It's up to us to gather enough men in one place so that we can make it stick."

For a while, he did.

'The Sad Reality'
During the siege, the Freemen grabbed the attention of the most influential leaders of America's radical right. To Chris Temple, an Identity ideologue writing in June 1996, the Freemen were "at the center of the most significant clash between the ... federal government and its citizens since Waco."

Temple, an Identity strategist now working with Liberty Lobby, was friendly to the Freemen's goals and methods. He was also a key speaker at the 1992 Colorado meeting that launched the modern militia movement.

But in the end, even Temple couldn't support the Freemen. Their "odd brand" of credit scamming ripped off workaday whites, he complained, not just banks or government agencies. "Even local townspeople have been alienated deeply" by the Freemen's threats against some local officials, he worried.

In the final analysis, their own greed and contempt for their neighbors, not government repression, may have closed the door on the Freemen saga. With it, this most recent period of mass-style resistance may end also — a possibility that has not escaped Chris Temple. "Millions of people, after Ruby Ridge and Waco, started to seriously question their rulers for the first time in ages," he laments.

"The sad reality for the moment is that this conduct on the part of some of the Freeman has allowed the FBI to significantly rehabilitate itself in the eyes of the average American."

Whatever the verdict in the May trial, that part of Temple's assessment of the Montana Freemen is likely to stand.

Leonard Zeskind is president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, based in Kansas City, Mo., and author of a forthcoming book on white nationalism.