Federal fugitive David Earl Burgert would likely find a survivalist, government-bashing event set for this weekend much to his liking. What’s more, it would probably be convenient — after all, it’s just down the road from a shootout he allegedly had last Sunday with deputies in western Montana.
On Saturday, a group of self-described constitutionalists and “Patriots” called the Flathead Liberty Bell will host a “Preparedness Expo” at Valley Victory Christian Church in Kalispell. That’s the same community where Burgert lived in 2002, when he headed a secret militia group called “Project 7” whose activities sent him to federal prison on weapons charges for eight years.
Those scheduled to speak at the survivalist gathering include antigovernment headliners Stewart Rhodes, the founder of Oath Keepers, a group of law enforcement officers, members of the military and veterans with a conspiratorial bent; Chuck Baldwin, a former presidential candidate of the far-right Constitution Party; former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack, a hero to many Patriots for challenging a 1990s gun control law; and “special guest” Randy Weaver, a white supremacist who engaged in a famous standoff on Ruby Ridge with federal authorities in 1992.
Besides those speakers, the Preparedness Expo will provide “resources and workshops to help you prepare for the unexpected,” according to an Internet posting by Flathead Liberty Bell.
Even if Burgert wasn’t still on the loose, the event might be monitored by those law enforcement agencies tracking domestic terrorism — such gatherings, typically pitched to people who are afraid of looming disasters and government perfidy, often attract hard-line extremists. With the manhunt for Burgert continuing, law enforcement is now considering whether or not to monitor the expo.
Earlier this week, Burgert apparently eluded tracking dogs, airplanes, an FBI SWAT team and squads of sheriff’s deputies in the remote mountain country near the Idaho-Montana border after allegedly shooting at Missoula County deputies.
Authorities say they believe the man they describe as a highly dangerous antigovernment survivalist — now wanted on attempted murder charges and federal parole violation — may have been attempting to lure deputies into a gunfight as they attempted to stop his vehicle for a traffic violation on Sunday near Lolo, Mont.
After a low-speed chase — during which Burgert waved at patrons of a remote saloon and campground — the survivalist militia-man stopped his car, fired at deputies, then fled into the woods in the shadow of 9,000-foot Lolo peak, officials say. Authorities say they later discovered that Burgert had prepared caches of food, weapons and, apparently, a secondary getaway vehicle.
While there’s no evidence suggesting Burgert will return to nearby Flathead County and Kalispell, where he once lived, law enforcement officials there are keeping a watchful eye. They have alerted people, including his estranged family members and elected officials who once were on his Project 7 assassination list.
The No. 1 “enemy” on that list, former Flathead County Sheriff Jim Dupont told Montana’s KAJ-TV this week: “Now that he [Burgert] was actually shooting at people, he could be very dangerous at this point.”
“There’s always a concern with people like him. They’re unpredictable,” Dupont said. Burgert, diagnosed as paranoid, is “progressively getting worse,” he added.
Flathead County Undersheriff Jordan White said he isn’t sure if his department will have a visible presence at the Survivalist Expo on the off chance that Burgert might show up. “It’s still under discussion,’’ White said when asked if the Flathead County sheriff’s office would have deputies at the Preparedness Expo.
The Flathead Liberty Bell group “is convinced we’re monitoring them, and we’re not,” the undersheriff said. So far, he said, the constitutionalist group “has been cooperating with us and [has] presented no problems.”
“They’re concerned about what’s going to happen at the expo if he [Burgert] shows up,’’ White said. “They don’t want any connection with him at all.”
The Flathead Liberty Bell group, formed in February 2009 with help from Francis Schaeffer Cox, has no connection whatsoever with Burgert or his former militia associates, said spokesman Mike Greskowiak, a Kalispell barber who founded the group. The group has no membership list but gets as many as 500 people at its meetings, he claimed.
“We’re just a loose-knit, grassroots organization,” Greskowiak said, bristling at the descriptor “antigovernment.” “We have never advocated being ‘antigovernment.’ What we want is constitutional government,” he said. “Our purpose is just to get people to understand what freedom and liberty are all about because we’re losing it in this country.”
The group’s website says the Preparedness Expo will include such topics as “water treatment and storage, alternative energies, food growing and storage, communications, political structures, homemade household necessities, wild foods and herbal remedies, animal care, sound money, home schooling and self-defense.”
Greskowiak – or “Mike the Barber,” as he’s called in Kalispell – said the gathering will be held in the church gymnasium, which he said is privately owned by an individual he wouldn’t identify, and outdoors on eight adjoining acres.
And if Burgert shows up?
“I have no idea. I can’t even speculate,’’ Greskowiak said. “That’s like asking me if Hitler showed up at one of our birthday parties. I mean…”