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Handful of Idaho 'Freemen' Stage Demonstration Against FBI Siege

By Louis Sahagun
Los Angeles Times
LEWISTOWN, Mont.

Shivering in below-freezing temperatures, 10 Idaho "Freemen" - packing Bibles instead of guns - pitched tents at a park near here on Monday to attract supporters to demonstrate peacefully against the week-long federal siege at a distant Montana farm.

Edward LeStage, spokesman for Idaho's Freemen Patriots, said that the group is prepared to pull up stakes and intervene, if necessary, in the standoff between FBI agents and fellow Freemen at the farm about 140 miles to the east in Jordan.

"If another Waco starts over there, we're only two hours away and we'll go and stop it with peaceful resistance," said LeStage, recalling the the 1993 standoff at Waco, Texas, while pounding a picnic table.

LeStage would not elaborate except to say, "Remember Gandhi?"

In the meantime, his band of anti-government forces wants Garfield County Sheriff Charles Phipps, whom Freemen in Jordan have threatened to hang from a bridge, to resign because he let federal authorities take over the case that involves a variety of federal charges.

"If he [Phipps] calls on federal authorities to perform his duty, then he is derelict," LeStage said. "He needs to resign or repent and do his duty."

In an interview later, Phipps shook his head in amazement.

"I invited the FBI to assist me," he said. "It's up to the people of Garfield County to impeach me if they want to - not a group from Idaho."

Garfield County Attorney Nick Murnion was more blunt.

"This isn't any of their business," he said.

"The Freemen are big on communities handling their own affairs, and that's exactly what we are doing," Murnion said. "This community has been asking for FBI help in this matter for more than a year."

At least 10 Freemen have been holed up on the farm dubbed "Justus Township" since March 25, when leaders LeRoy Schweitzer, 57, and Daniel Petersen Jr., 53, were arrested in an FBI undercover operation.

The FBI and Montana State Police are restricting entry to the 960-acre farm to a handful of relatives, provided they are not taking in food or firearms that might be destined for the Freemen.