Three armored cars closed in on the anti-government Freemen, moving to within four miles of the group's compound in the government's greatest hint of force yet in the 71-day standoff.
But a government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the movement of the armored cars does not mean the FBI plans to enter the ranch."We've moved them from one parking place to another," the source said. "We haven't given up" trying to end the standoff peacefully.
The armored vehicles, with big white letters "FBI" printed on their sides, are parked about four miles east of the compound and would have access to it on a back road, according to Tom Stanton, a neighboring rancher.
The vehicles, which were not visible, had been seen earlier Sunday by reporters topping a hill about eight miles from the ranch's back gate.
Reporters were kept 2 1/2 miles away from the front of the foreclosed wheat and cattle ranch.
Agents also established additional checkpoints Sunday along a rural road between Jordan and the Freemen ranch 30 miles away.
State Rep. Karl Ohs, who has met with the Freemen 18 times since the standoff began on March 25, told The Billings Gazette in a Sunday story that the Freemen position has hardened recently.
"Right now, we're in a pretty tough spot," Ohs said. "They seem much more entrenched."
The FBI moved two armored cars and a helicopter close to the Freemen ranch on Friday, announcing the equipment's arrival in one of the agency's few official statements about the standoff. A third car was moved into the area on Saturday.
They said at the time they wanted the equipment to be available for emergency rescues or to occupy the ranch.
The olive-drab rescue helicopter, which can hold up to 13 people, remained at the FBI staging area in Jordan on Sunday.
The FBI believes 18 people, three of them children, are inside the ranch.