An alleged plot by a tiny but well-armed Montana militia group has officials scratching their heads
The 1950s gave us Ed Wood. Carried away with post-war paranoia, the supremely untalented movie director masterminded "Plan 9 from Outer Space."
Ostensibly about a space-alien conspiracy to destroy the Earth before our nuclear bombs blow up the sun, "Plan 9" is widely considered the most inept movie ever made.
The problems go deeper than the clearly visible strings manipulating Wood's paper-plate flying saucers; the most mystifying thing about Plan 9 is that no one — actors, director or audience — has any clue about the details of the "plan."
The 2000s now give us Dave Burgert.
In picturesque little Kalispell, Mont. (population 17,000), Burgert masterminded Project 7, a tiny "Patriot" militia with a farfetched scheme to inspire an armed uprising across the United States.
Before Project 7 — named for the license-plate number Montana assigns to Flathead County — unraveled in February, Burgert was best known as a local ne'er-do-well.
He had been charged with assaulting a police officer in January 2001, and with obstructing another officer later in the year.
Last December, when his neighbors lined their street with paper-bag luminaries, Burgert cranked up his snowmobile and extinguished them in short order.
The next thing anybody knew, Burgert's wife was reporting him mysteriously absent. He went fishing, she said; maybe he drowned.
Sure enough, Burgert's truck was right there by the river, with his fishing pole nearby. But officers got suspicious when they saw no hook on the line, and found the tackle box filled with lures unsuited to fishing in Montana.
A few weeks later, the whistle was blown by a 17-year-old Project 7 acolyte who was mad because Burgert allegedly had beaten him up.
After revealing that Burgert was hiding out in the home of his married girlfriend, 32-year-old Tracy Brockway, he sketched out the alleged Project 7 plot.
The heavily armed Patriots would start by killing a long list of officials: police officers, judges, prosecutors, an FBI agent, a police dispatcher, even a dogcatcher. This would then force Montana to call in the National Guard, whose troops would meet a similar fate.
From there, it got a little fuzzy.
According to Sheriff Jim Dupont, the group hoped that after it mowed down the Guard, "NATO troops would be sent in and that would trigger an all-out revolution." Dupont said the plotters were also braced for an invasion of "Red Chinese" crossing the border from Canada.
The insurrection was tentatively scheduled to commence on Earth Day, April 22. That was more than two months off when police spotted Burgert coming out of Brockway's house during a snowstorm on Feb. 7.
A chase ensued. When Burgert's truck slid off the road, he ran off into the woods with a snow-camouflaged, fully automatic machine gun. After an all-night standoff, Burgert finally surrendered.
Police conceded that aspects of the plot struck them as comic. But nobody was guffawing when a search of Brockway's home uncovered a massive trove of deadly supplies:
- 25,000 to 30,000 rounds of ammunition;
- Machine guns;
- Booby traps;
- A silencer;
- Bomb-making chemicals;
- Body armor;
- Shackles; and
- Military rations.
"It all certainly supports the theory that there was going to be big trouble," Sheriff Dupont told a reporter. "The last I heard, it didn't take 30,000 rounds of ammo to kill a turkey."
At press time, Burgert and Brockway were the only Project 7 members facing charges — and neither had been charged in relation to the supposed plot.
"We have to find evidence that supports a conspiracy," Dupont told the Daily Inter Lake. "Merely making a threat to do that without taking steps to accomplish the goal is not a crime."
With the paramilitary stockpile seized, Burgert locked up and the FBI investigating, Montanans struggled to make sense of the plot.
Was Project 7 a real threat? Should folks be worried about Project 56, a militia group allegedly operating in adjacent Lincoln County? Will the spirit of Ted Kaczynski, who lived in neighboring Lewis and Clark County, ever be exorcised from these parts?
Eager to shoo away memories of Montana's extremist past, Gov. Judy Martz gave the whole episode two thumbs up. "It just goes to prove that people love Montana," she told USA Today.