Roy Schwasinger, 67
Perhaps more than any other figure of the 1990s, former Nebraska meatpacker Roy Schwasinger is responsible for the proliferation of get-rich-quick schemes that used the antigovernment rhetoric of the Patriot movement.
After starting We the People in 1993, Schwasinger claimed that he had won a class action suit against the government alleging that the country had gone bankrupt in 1933 — a suit that meant most Americans were now eligible for tax-free settlements of more than $20 million apiece (conveniently, he said, Delta Force commandos had brought back $600 trillion from overseas banks).
There was only one catch — Schwasinger needed a $300 fee in order to file a claim. Along with others, Schwasinger victimized at least 6,832 people; Schwasinger's personal take, officials said, was more than $300,000.
At a 1992 seminar, Schwasinger taught LeRoy Schweitzer of the Montana Freemen how to create fake financial instruments — a skill that Schweitzer then passed on to hundreds.
Schwasinger was also a conspiracy fabulist. In one videotape, according to research on the Militia Watchdog Web site, he announced that he and We the People "have a license to kill," and in fact had recently executed 170 judges and lawyers at a secret base.
In another tape, the group said a gold molecule had been developed that could make steel beams levitate — a molecule used by Christ to heal the sick.
Schwasinger today is serving lengthy federal and state prison terms in connection with his scams.
The Accidental Theorist
Eugene Schroder, 52
Returning home to Campo, Colo., after finishing veterinary school in the 1970s, Eugene Schroder found local farmers losing their land in a devastating recession and decided to do something about it. With his father and friends, Schroder founded the American Agricultural Movement, which in 1978 organized a famous "Tractorcade" protest in Washington, D.C.
Schroder soon grew more radical, however, allying himself with the anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus and adopting many of the Posse ideas that would later animate the "common-law" court movement.
In 1992 and 1995, he outlined in two books a core Patriot theory: Using the 1917 Trading With the Enemy Act and the 1933 Emergency Banking Act, President Franklin Roosevelt imposed martial law that still remains in effect today, benefiting a secret cabal of Washington, D.C., plotters.
Schroder heavily promoted common-law courts, helping to organize a 1995 Wichita, Kansas, meeting that helped spread the pseudo-legal bodies throughout the country. He also wrote articles for the anti-Semitic United Sovereigns of America. But in 2000, Schroder, the antigovernment theorist, changed course radically, suing the federal government for not protecting farmers.
Where a few years ago Schroder argued angrily that the government should butt out, the Colorado veterinarian now insists that it should intervene to stop farm foreclosures and support farmers.
Jim Strode, 61
Almost since the inception of the militia movement, Jim Strode has been trying to pull its often-warring factions together into one national organization — a task that has been compared to herding cats.
A reserve deputy in New Mexico for more than 20 years, Strode always portrayed militias in moderate terms, as groups "organized on the principle of people helping people" that were fundamentally concerned with helping to cope with disasters.
Still, like Patriots nationwide, Strode pushed popular Patriot conspiracy theories, including a particularly resilient one alleging that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is no mere disaster relief organization — rather, it is a New World Order front that will one day direct the internment of good Americans in concentration camps.
After starting the New Mexico Militia in 1995, Strode hosted the first gathering of the American Constitutional Militia Network, which was created as a networking nexus, but after less than a year it faded away without achieving notable success. In the hysteria preceding the millennial date change, Strode again attempted to bring unity to the movement, starting an outfit called the Coalition of Militias, which was stillborn.
Finally, just this February, Strode joined up with Republic of Texas separatist Mike Joffrion to start the United States Militia, but prospects for this, too, appear dim.
The Racist Con Man
LeRoy Schweitzer, 62
Montana crop duster LeRoy Schweitzer, who learned at the feet of Colorado rip-off artist Roy Schwasinger, was the prolific con man behind the Montana Freemen. But unlike Schwasinger, Schweitzer added a specifically racist and anti-Semitic twist to his money scams. Schweitzer's Freemen argued that the unalienable rights referred to in the Preamble to the Constitution in fact specifically excluded "the colored races and Jews."
Even as he pushed this and other aspects of the anti-Semitic Christian Identity religion, Schweitzer taught an estimated 800 people from around the nation — at a cost of $100 each — how to defraud others. Essentially, this boiled down to a lesson in creating fake financial instruments, often signed by Schweitzer, that were supposedly backed up by liens against government officials.
And Schweitzer talked tough about resistance to government agents, telling one of his classes, "We are the authorities... . Anyone obstructing justice, the order is shoot to kill."
In 1996, FBI agents arrested Schweitzer for felony criminal syndicalism, precipitating an 81-day standoff between agents and the Montana Freemen holed up in "Justus Township" (above) that finally ended peacefully.
Most of the Freemen drew long prison terms after the siege ended, with Schweitzer being sent to federal prison for 22 years.