With hugs and prayers, the Freemen traded their pastoral refuge on the windswept Montana plains for cramped jail cells, planning to carry their antigovernment crusade to the courtroom.
The group's 16 remaining members surrendered to the FBI and left their ranch Thursday night, ending the longest armed siege in modern U.S. history and avoiding the bloodshed of Waco and Ruby Ridge. The siege at the remote ranch the group called Justus Township lasted 81 days.They came out in their own vehicles, meeting the FBI at the compound entrance. Some hugged before being patted down and escorted, unhandcuffed, to transport vans. Others formed a circle holding hands and bowed their heads in prayer.
As two vans and a sedan carrying the Freemen left the 960-acre ranch for Billings and the Yellowstone County Jail, an FBI agent in a following vehicle waved an American flag out the window, an apparent gesture of triumph.
And a few minutes later, a half dozen FBI agents drove to "sentry hill," where Freemen lookouts had peered at them for more than 11 weeks. One of the agents climbed onto the trailer parked there and hauled down a Confederate battle flag the extremists had hoisted earlier in the day.
Fourteen Freemen spent the night in jail and were expected to appear in federal court today. They face charges including circulating millions of dollars in bogus checks and threatening to kill a federal judge.
The two people not facing charges, wives of Freemen members, accompanied the group on the 31/2-hour trip to Billings. It was not clear where the women went after arriving at the jail.
Since March, a total of 633 federal agents rotated in and out of the standoff, working 12-hour shifts, said FBI Agent Thomas T. Kubic, the local FBI commander. There were up to 150 in the Jordan area at any one time.
FBI Director Louis J. Freeh lauded the policy of "patience and resoluteness" that he credited for the outcome.
"The message that comes out of this is very clear to everybody - if you break the law, the United States government will enforce the law. It will do it fairly but firmly," Freeh said Friday on NBC's "Today" show. "Nobody got any deals on any charges."
President Clinton told a state dinner Thursday: "We will all say a little prayer tonight for this peaceful settlement of a difficult situation."
The final surrender negotiations began early Thursday but dragged on until evening. Kubic said the delay was because the Freemen were cataloging the "evidence" they say proves their grievances against the government, which they have called a "corporate prostitute."
The agreement called for the Freemen documents to be handed over to Karl Ohs, a state legislator who has acted as a mediator, for safekeeping. A sticking point in negotiations had been Freemen fears that the FBI would destroy the material otherwise.
A Ryder rental truck entered the ranch, apparently to take away the documents, which the group says contain evidence of government wrongdoing.
"It's a huge amount of stuff," a source said. "People all over the country have been sending them information they consider evidence."
Kubic appeared unimpressed, however, saying the documents were "not evidence in the traditional sense that would be admitted in court" and included such things as old law books. Some of the evidence may even incriminate the Freemen, he said.
It was clear, however, that the Freemen plan to continue their battle in the courtroom.
The outside mediators who helped end the standoff included lawyers Kirk Lyons and David Hollaway of The CAUSE Foundation of North Carolina, which bills itself as a civil rights organization for right-wing activists.
The group is representing Waco survivors and also has represented a former Texas Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Associate Director Neill Payne has said CAUSE was interested only in helping to end the standoff.
But Dave Trochmann of the Militia of Montana, which is sympathetic to at least parts of the Freemen philosophy, suggested CAUSE would help the Freemen turn their criminal trials into political forums.
There will be no shortage of cases.
U.S. Attorney Sherry Scheel Matteucci in Billings stressed no criminal charges were reduced or dismissed during negotiations and some were added. Several who faced only state charges now face new federal charges of helping the fugitives avoid arrest.
Those arrested on outstanding warrants from earlier indictments were: Ralph Edwin Clark, 65; Emmett Bryan Clark, 67; Dale Martin Jacobi, 54; Charlyn Petersen, 51; and Rodney Owen Skurdal, 43, Matteucci said.
Those arrested on federal charges related to their actions since the standoff began were: Casey Martin Clark, 21; Dana Dudley Landers, 44; James Edward Hance, 24; John Richard Hance, 19; Steven Charles Hance, 46; Russell Dean Landers, 45; and Jon Barry Nelson, 40, Matteucci said.
Those not named in the original indictments, Edwin Clark, 45, and Cornelius John (Casey) Veldhulzen, 49, were arrested on charges related to a fraudulent financial instruments scheme.
The remaining numbers of the Freeman group surrendered Thursday, ending the 81-day
Freemen are accussed of financial fraud worth at least $1.8 million. Arrests have been made and warrents have been issued in: Montana, California, Idaho, Utah, Ohio, Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina.
Jan. 27, 1994: Self-described Freemen take over the Garfield County courthouse in Jordan, Mont.
Over the next few months, they set up their own court system and their own compound, dubbed Justus Township. They appoint officers and declare elected officials criminals.
Oct. 17, 1994: Freeman William L. Stanton arrested in Billings, charged with felony criminal syndicalism and issuing a bad check. Four months later, he's convicted. The federal government alleges other Freemen circulated millions of dollars in worthless checks and threatened to kill a federal judge.
March 25, 1996: FBI agents capture three men, including LeRoy M. Schweitzer, on Clark property and surround the ranch with more than 100 agents. Standoff begins.
April 8: The Freemen nail a defiant declaration of independence to a post near their compound gate, branding the U.S. government a "corporate prostitute."
April 13: FBI agent Kevin J. Kramer, 34, of Sioux City, Iowa, is killed when his truck slides off a road near Jordan and overturns.
April 24: James "Bo" Gritz, who helped end Idaho's bloody Ruby Ridge seige, announces that he and Randy Weaver will urge the Freemen to surrender. Gritz negotiates on and off for about a week before emerging, saying the Freemen have taken an "oath to God" not to leave their compound until their demands are met.
May 2: The FBI calls on Freemen to meet under a flag of truce to discuss ending the stanoff. The militants reject the request.
May 31: FBI moves three armored cars and a helicopter to its staging area just outside Jordan.
June 2: The FBI moves three armored vehicles closer to the Freeman ranch and establishes additional checkpoints. The next day, the FBI shuts off electricity.
June 7: Negotiations between the Freemen and FBI resume for the first time since May 21.
June 12: FBI strikes the negotiating tent and parks vans nearby in apparent preparation for a Freemen surrender.
June 13: Remaining 16 Freemen surrender after peaceful negotiations and are taken to Billings, Mont., by FBI agents and law enforcement officials.
Justus Township (detail)
Richard Clark (School house)
Dean Clark (Current legal owner of Justus Township property)