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Montana takes another hit - as land of kooks

SHARE Montana takes another hit - as land of kooks

First came the militias. Then the Unabomber, the Freemen, the Kehoes, all spouting off-the-wall philosophies and all from Montana. Now another rural cabin-dweller is in trouble: Russell Eugene Weston Jr., charged with killing two people in the U.S. Capitol.

"My reaction was, `Oh, no! Not again,' " Angie Made, owner of Mom's Cafe in Lincoln and a veteran of the Unabomber frenzy in 1996, said Sunday.Weston, who had a cabin in Rimini, Mont., was hospitalized in serious condition after allegedly shooting two Capitol police officers and wounding a tourist Friday.

"I felt so bad for those people (at Rimini)," Made said. "I just wanted to tell them to hold their breath, hang on, that it would all be over soon."

Taking the state's defense, Gov. Marc Racicot called Montana "a place of mythical proportions, and the people of America are aware of the kind and decent people who live here. That's why 10 times as many people as live here visit here, and some of them choose to stay."

Those who have stayed include Ted Kaczynski, the recluse who lived for years in a primitive cabin outside Lincoln until the FBI arrested him in 1996 as the Unabomber, the man who sent mail bombs that killed at least three people during his reign of terror.

Kaczynski was arrested a week after the anti-government extremists who called themselves Freemen catapulted the state into the public's eye with the start of an armed standoff against the FBI in eastern Montana.

The anti-government attitude held by some in the state was already well established nationwide by the Militia of Montana, based in tiny Noxon in the northwestern part of the state.

And last year, the Kehoe family's Montana roots just added to the state's image.

Kirby Kehoe, of Yaak, in extreme northwestern Montana, is charged in Arkansas with conspiracy to revolt against the federal government and create a whites-only nation. His sons were sentenced to prison for shootouts with law enforcement officers.

Now, some are blaming Montana - at least in part - for Weston's troubles.

"Something took over his mind out there," said Gary Baum, who graduated from high school with Weston in Illinois in 1974.

"What he did yesterday, that wasn't him while he was here in Illinois," Baum said Saturday. "Something happened to him when he went to Montana."

Wesley Alcorn of Helena, president of the Consumer Council of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, believes Weston slipped through the cracks of a state mental health-care system in upheaval.

Montana privatized its mental health care for low-income people a year and a half ago, and providers and patients have complained about poor service, long delays and slipshod payments.

Racicot, however, said he sees nothing that indicates the system failed. Weston "was accorded every degree of effort to treat a problem that he had" in 1996, when a court committed him to the state mental hospital for two months.

"There was extensive treatment that was conducted in accordance with the wishes of himself and his family," Racicot said.