A state senator who is a leader in the patriot movement has agreed to negotiate with the Freemen to try to end the group's standoff at its Montana ranch.
Charles Duke, a Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate, said he was asked by the FBI to step in at the suggestion of James "Bo" Gritz, who helped negotiate the surrender of white separatist Randy Weaver in Idaho in 1992. Gritz met with the Freemen five times, then gave up on negotiating himself and suggested Duke take over.The standoff near Jordan, Mont., entered its 51st day Tuesday, matching the length of the 1993 Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas. That siege ended in a fiery death for cult members when federal agents tried to move in.
FBI agents surrounded the 960-acre Freemen ranch March 25 after they arrested two leaders of the group, whose members contend they are not subject to state or federal law, but only to common law as administered by their own court.
The FBI believes 18 Freemen are still in the compound, some of them wanted on state and federal charges ranging from threatening to kidnap and kill a federal judge to writing millions of dollars in worthless checks.
Duke said the FBI contacted him Friday. Duke, a vocal critic of federal law enforcement agencies, said his goal is to end the standoff.
"I am not representing the FBI," he said. "They just they have an interest in sitting down across the table (from the Freemen)."
He said he plans to be in Montana on Wednesday.
Duke had resisted getting involved when Gritz first mentioned his name at the beginning of the month, although he said he might bring a different perspective to the negotiating table.
"I tried to let people know there was no way I was going to insert myself into the process," Duke said Monday. "They (the Freemen) said they would be willing to talk if I would mediate."
He had said earlier that negotiators need to understand the viewpoint of the Freemen, who submit to the doctrine of Common Law and believe they are sovereign citizens not subject to state or federal laws.
He said Monday he is optimistic about reaching a solution.
"There seems to be a willingness on both sides to de-escalate this," he said.
Residents of Jordan, a farming town of about 500, frequently express frustration over the amount of patience demonstrated by the FBI, especially since many of them have been harassed by the Freemen since 1994. But they also don't want to be a part of another disaster like Waco.