A Gathering of Eagles: Extremists Look to Montana
By Ryan Lenz
For two years in the mid-1990s, Judge Greg Mohr carried a gun and wore a bulletproof vest while presiding over his tiny courtroom east of Kalispell. Members of the Montana Freemen, an armed group of racist extremists, were regularly appearing before him, and they didn’t mince words. Some of them later sentenced Mohr to death in their own pseudo-legal “common-law courts.”
Nearly two decades later, similar types of antigovernment stirrings are frequently being felt again across Montana, especially in this nearly all-white city in the northwest corner of the state. Far-right extremists are vowing that if a war with the federal government comes, their base will be in the mountains here.
Chuck Baldwin, a Baptist preacher who ran for president under the Constitution Party banner in 2008, moved 18 members of his family to Montana’s Flathead Valley last fall after receiving what he called a divine message telling him the state was the “tip of the spear” in the fight for liberty. Stewart Rhodes, a Yale-educated lawyer, former Army paratrooper and head of the conspiracy-minded Oath Keepers, also moved here. Rhodes is laying the groundwork for a new militia and is calling for citizens to adopt a barter economy to escape the bondage of U.S. currency. Neo-Nazi April Gaede, also a transplant to the state, has issued a call for white nationalists to “come home” to the Northwest.
These extremists and others came for different reasons, but they are having a cumulative effect. Law enforcement officers and courts have seen a surge of antigovernment activity by “sovereign citizens,” radicals who believe that most laws do not apply to them. Rooms at the Kalispell Public Library host regular screenings of racist films. Christian Identity adherents are papering neighborhoods with their message that whites are the true chosen people of the Bible and Jews are directly descended from Satan. And, once again, so-called “Preparedness Expos” are being held so shoppers can get ready for the imminent collapse of government.
For Mohr, who got to know most of the Freemen long before their famed 81-day standoff with FBI agents in 1994, it’s the second act in a frightening drama.
“Here we go again,” he said with a nervous chuckle in September.
‘There’s a Fight Coming’
What is happening in Montana — thanks to this newest wave of extremists — is a convergence of two “separatist” ideas that have long fermented in the brew of Pacific Northwest extremism. The antigovernment “Patriots,” the larger of the two movements, want to establish a remote base of like-minded allies as a bastion of resistance for the day when, as they believe, the government will impose martial law. White supremacists are organizing around the idea of forming a long-desired all-white homeland far away from the multicultural cities.
The idea of staking a claim in the American West is tied intimately to Montana’s history and identity. The state is quintessentially Western, predominantly white, and home to a frontier ethos of militant individualism and support for the Second Amendment. Moreover, Montana’s residents tend to distrust the federal government, which is seen as a distant meddler, and they are vigilantly protective of the privacy afforded by the state’s remote location and rugged terrain.
Such an environment has historically drawn antigovernment and extremist groups — from the Freemen to the Militia of Montana, founded in 1994 by John Trochmann, a militant with white supremacist leanings. Unabomber Ted Kaczynski also was caught after years of hiding in Montana’s remote forests in 1996.
Now, it all seems to be happening again.
Karl Gharst, a neo-Nazi activist
More recently, militia leader Francis Schaeffer Cox, now under federal indictment for a scheme to murder state troopers and judges, spent time in Montana building support for his nascent militia before moving to Alaska.
This past June, militia activist Dave Burgert — who spent eight years in prison for his part in the “Project 7” plot to kill judges to spark a revolution a decade ago — allegedly fired shots at a Missoula County sheriff’s deputy before disappearing into the Lolo National Forest. Officials believe that Burgert, a trained survivalist armed with only a handgun, is living in the woods on caches of food, ammunition and other supplies. He was still on the lam at press time.
The Flathead County Sheriff’s Department, the FBI and others have not associated Burgert with other radical groups now active in Montana, including those linked to Baldwin, Rhodes and Gaede. Nevertheless, Burgert represents the militant extreme that ideologies now pervasive in the state are capable of reaching.
During a speech to a packed house at Kalispell’s Outlaw Inn in January, shortly after moving to Montana, Chuck Baldwin strolled onto the stage like a lawman of old, promising to round up the “terrorists of Washington, D.C.,” and restore liberty to America. A firebrand Patriot and “constitutionalist,” he vowed to lead anyone who would follow him into the breach.
“We know there’s a fight coming,” Baldwin said. “We know there is a line being drawn in the sand, and we want to be in the right place. The good ground is right here in Montana.”
A Modern-Day Alamo
Baldwin is by far the most visible of this new generation of extremists in Montana, a state he has praised for being thousands of miles from the “Orwellian machine” of government and for being more gun-friendly than most others. Last fall, he arrived in Kalispell after abandoning a church he led for 35 years in Pensacola, Fla.
“We are going [to Montana] to fight!” Baldwin wrote in a Sept. 15, 2010, letter to his followers. “The Mountain States just might become The Alamo of the twenty-first century, with, hopefully, much better results. But if not, I would rather die fighting for Freedom with liberty-loving patriots by my side than be shuttled off to some FEMA camp.” (Fears of government prison camps have long animated the radical right.)
Eighteen members of Baldwin’s extended family moved with him to Montana, most notably his son Timothy Baldwin, a writer and lawyer. The family has wasted no time in feathering a nest for what Baldwin has called a “gathering of eagles” — people opposed to oppressive “big-city liberalism and UN-sponsored globalism.”
The Baldwins established a new church, Liberty Fellowship, which meets every Sunday at Kalispell’s Red Lion Inn and claims to attract as many as 200 people every week, including Randy Weaver, a white supremacist who engaged in a famous standoff with federal authorities at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992. Timothy Baldwin ran for the board of trustees of Flathead Valley Community College and, although he lost, received a surprising 20% of the vote. Together, Chuck and Timothy Baldwin formed The Baldwin Institute of Education, a school with a distinctly Patriot curriculum focusing on American Revolutionary War history.
It’s virtually impossible to accurately say how many extremists have heeded the call to come to Montana. Christian Identity adherent Karl Gharst, in an E-mail to the Intelligence Report, claimed, “For every one of us you know, there are 10,000 you don’t” — an obvious and wild exaggeration. But there are signs the numbers may be significant.
Chuck Baldwin has publicly said that dozens have already moved to the Flathead Valley and “scores” more are on the way because of his urgings. His speeches draw audiences numbering in the hundreds, and his family has made inroads with many prominent figures on the Patriot scene. They included Weaver; Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers founder who since coming to Montana has embraced a host of conspiratorial fears, including the idea that the U.S. Army has trained soldiers to invade cities; and Dane Clark, a Constitution Party advocate known for wearing a gun on his hip to political functions.
The Baldwins’ move to Montana is part of a grand design to prepare the Northwest for an apocalyptic clash between “liberty-loving” Patriots and international agents of the New World Order. The idea of building a fortified home for “Christian Patriots” in the Northwest is known as “The American Redoubt,” a plan to strategically group people across five Western states (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington) as a “defensive reaction” to threats to liberty and the Christian way of life. It was first proposed by survivalist author and sovereign citizen James Wesley, Rawles. (The comma is part of his name; sovereigns often use such bizarre forms of punctuation.) “I am a separatist, but on religious lines, not racial ones,” Wesley, Rawles wrote on his website. “In calamitous times, with a few exceptions, it will only be the God fearing that will continue to be law abiding. Choose your locale wisely.”
What Wesley, Rawles casually ignored — as, for that matter, did the Baldwins — is the history of the idea. Others have chosen the Northwest for similar reasons. They were Nazis.
In the mid-1980s, the idea of carving out a white homeland in the Pacific Northwest was highly popular among neo-Nazis and other white supremacists. The so-called Northwest Territorial Imperative, popularized by Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler, imagined enclaves of “racially conscious” white people. Two decades later, in 2006, April Gaede left her home in California for Kalispell, where she took up residence in a quaint, two-story house adorned with a sunflower garden. Not long afterward, she set out to breathe fresh air into that Aryan dream.
“I am formally making your [sic] invitation to ‘come home,’ she wrote on the white nationalist Web forum Stormfront in 2008. “Over 20 years ago some of the first White Nationalist pioneers started moving to this area. The numbers are not clear, but we are slowly but surely gaining ground.” Touting “wonderful neighborhoods,” “the best high schools in the nation” and a “state of the art hospital and care,” Gaede implored fellow white supremacists to move to Montana and form “Pioneer Little Europe” communities. The idea, first proposed in a 2001 pamphlet by H. Michael Barrett that was titled Pioneer Little Europe Prospectus, envisioned consolidating white residents in existing cities and towns and actively repelling racial minorities.
Gaede’s invitation drew apparently widespread but largely anonymous support online, despite the comical reservations of some detractors who feared that creating a white homeland in landlocked Montana, with no harbors, would make it impossible to ever secede from the Union.
Meanwhile, white nationalists are growing more visible to Montanans. British Holocaust denier David Irving gave a speech in Kalispell last May. Gaede and Gharst hold frequent white nationalist film screenings at the Kalispell Public Library, despite public protest.
Police in Montana are more than aware of the white nationalists’ activities. But in the absence of criminal activity, there’s little they can do. “We’ve got a lot of dangerous guys in Kalispell,” Police Chief Roger Nasset said. “But as long as they are peaceful, we can’t hold [their beliefs] against them.”
Gaede insists that people are coming, but the indications are that no more than a half dozen families have answered her call. And she has the Patriots to contend with. If the white nationalists are whispering their wishes in shadowy gatherings, the Patriots are yelling through a bullhorn. In June, a survivalist “Preparedness Expo” in Kalispell drew at least 1,000 people to learn about “resources and workshops to help you prepare for the unexpected,” as event fliers advertised.
Speakers included Stewart Rhodes, Chuck Baldwin and former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack, a hero to many Patriots for challenging gun control laws in the 1990s. Such expos were frequently held during the first wave of the militia movement in the 1990s, when the Militia of Montana and other groups were hell-bent on preparation for a war that never came.
The current popularity of the expos is due largely to one group, the Flathead Liberty Bell.
Calling All Patriots
Founded in 2009 with the help of Francis Schaeffer Cox, the boyish, self-made militia leader who spent time in Montana before leaving in March for Alaska, the Liberty Bell arguably represents the future of the Patriot movement in Montana. It is loosely organized, keeps no public records of its members and remains exceptionally secretive.
Francis Schaeffer Cox helped found the Flathead Liberty Bell, a Montana “Patriot” group, before moving on the Alaska. He has since been charged in a plot to kidnap and kill police officers and judicial officials. PHOTO CREDITS contributed from Francis Shaeffer Cox’s facebook page
In reality, the group wants much more. The Liberty Bell clings to an ideology closely akin to that of the sovereign citizens movement, holding that modern government is slavery and that citizens can once again be free. “American’s Founding Fathers would say that Americans today are slaves. Wealthy slaves that enjoy luxury and tranquility, but slaves none the less,” its website states.
Members see government as a “Big Brother” figure meddling in the lives of well-meaning citizens, and the group offers primers on “living off-grid” through “solar power, alternative housing systems and herbal remedies.”
The mindset is distinctly survivalist and tied intimately to the origins of the group. In its early days, founding members met at a sprawling property on top of Big Mountain, near Whitefish, Mont. The property belonged to Sam Halpern, a tax protester, survivalist and sovereign citizen who went by the name Sam Bentacour de Valencia Halpern. His fears, in fact, led him to build a $500,000 hermetically sealed shelter underground on his property.
The Liberty Bell continues to work closely with many extremists in the area. Greskowiak appeared alongside Rob Blair at a Flathead County Commissioners meeting in February, during which Blair, who heads the Christian Patriot group Mountain Mission, asked the commission to investigate “invalid oath of offices [sic]” among county officials. Chuck Baldwin and Stewart Rhodes also routinely speak for the group.
On March 8, for example, Rhodes and Baldwin spoke at a Liberty Bell function at Valley Victory Church, just outside Kalispell. There, Rhodes issued a call, in front of a giant American flag, for citizens of Flathead Valley to help form his nascent militia. The collapse of the government was imminent, he warned, and the federal government would soon start rounding up American citizens. “You’re weak,” he admonished. “You’re militarily weak.”
This apparent militarization, or at least such rhetoric from many of the movement’s most visible figures, has grown increasingly worrisome. Several judges and law enforcement officers say the concerns are real, just as they were two decades ago. People are coming to court armed with a vitriolic distrust of government — and, on occasion, sidearms. Judge Mohr, who sees frequent sovereign citizens and Patriots in his courtroom, said many believe they have been sold a bill of goods. And they are rallying around what he calls “messianic” figures who would much sooner die than bow to a government they hate.
How dangerous does he fear it will become? Is he carrying a gun this time? Mohr just laughs. “I’m not talking about it. Not talking about it.”
Janet Smith and Evelyn Schlatter contributed to the research of this report