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Militia Members Threaten to Kill Officials Over 'Freemen' Standoff

By Louis Sahagun
Los Angeles Times

While anti-government "Freemen" involved in a standoff with federal agents in Jordan, Mont., met with negotiators on Thursday, armed militia members were busy setting up base camps in the area, threatening to kill authorities if the incident ends in bloodshed.

One of those groups, the Ohio Unorganized Militia of Columbiana County - has set up operations at a cabin near Winnet, Mont., about 75 miles west of Jordan. The cabin is owned by Lyle Chamberlin, a Freeman and supporter of the estimated 20 people holed up at the 960-acre farm.

In a telephone interview from the cabin Wednesday night, Ohio militiaman Don Vos said: "There will not be another Waco that the government will survive." He was referring to the deadly 1993 confrontation at Waco, Texas, between federal agents and Branch Davidian cult members.

"Federal agents may have that Jordan farm blocked off," he said. "But if they shoot or burn the kids inside, they will never leave Montana."

Vos has conveyed similar statements to local law enforcement authorities.

"Vos told me that he was here to monitor the situation in Jordan and that if the FBI moved in and there was bloodshed, he would retaliate," said Fergus County Undersheriff Tom Killham.

"These guys are very disturbing," he added. "I'm worried about more Don Voses coming in here - and that one guy with a Saturday night special who might crack off a round at somebody and start a real mess."

Given that April 19 is the anniversary of both the tragedy at Waco and the Oklahoma City bombing last year, authorities and residents in Montana are nervous about the arrival of these hard-core, anti-government contingents.

They also fear that threats of violence could upset the delicate negotiations between FBI agents and the Freemen at the farm, dubbed "Justus Township." FBI officials said this week that they are considering several people to act as mediators in the dispute.

On Thursday, four of the Freemen, sitting on folding chairs on a dirt road, met with negotiators for the first time in the 11-day standoff. The freemen met for about 1{ hours with four negotiators at the edge of the compound. At least one of the negotiators was said to be a federal agent.

The standoff began March 25 when Freemen leaders LeRoy Schweitzer and Daniel Petersen Jr. were arrested at the farm in an undercover operation. They are charged in schemes involving fraudulent checks and money orders, as well as with threatening the life of a federal judge. Another member, Richard E. Clark, turned himself in Saturday. All three remain in custody, held without bail.

Authorities believe that three fugitives from North Carolina and two from Colorado with anti-government views similar to the Freemen remain holed up at the farm, with women and children.

Winnet residents say that Chamberlin and his wife, Gerry, this week expressed regrets about allowing the militiamen to move into their cabin, which is about 20 miles from a major highway in a draw surrounded by high cliffs and reachable by one dirt road.

Gary Gershmel, who owns a general store, is among many who wish they would leave. The 400-square-mile Petroleum County, with less than one person per square mile, is patrolled by only two full-time deputies, Gershmel said.

"We don't need these people in Montana - they are the scary part of this thing now," Gershmel said. "We don't want to be the battleground of America, and we won't be if we are left alone."

Internal militia communiques obtained by the Los Angeles Times show that Vos is in daily contact with Norman Olson, commander of the Northern Michigan Regional Militia.

In one telecommunication, Olson praised Vos for establishing a "beachhead" and acting as "a forward observer for the militia in the Montana theater of operations."

Olson also advised: "Reinforcements are on the way. Present plans call for mobilization to continue throughout the next two weeks."

Both Vos and Olson dismissed the negative reaction they are getting from many Montana residents.

"People like Don Vos, myself and a host of others who might be called hard-line," Olson said Thursday, "represent the worst possible nightmare - the loosing of the dogs of war."

But without hard-liners, he added, cooler heads in the anti-federal government movement would lack the leverage to negotiate the Freemen's demands with federal authorities.