Gun-Packing Militias Make Stand in Montana : Anarchy: What officials call paranoia, believers call patriotism. They contend that only an armed citizenry can defend America from a corrupt government.
When an Idaho National Guard helicopter gunship swooped over his ranch one day in February, Calvin Greenup figured it could mean only one thing: The government was attacking.
He got on the phone, and within a half-hour, 20 friends had arrived, carrying guns and ready to shoot down the chopper if it returned.
It never did. Officials said later the AH-64 Apache was on a training flight and passed over Greenup’s ranch by coincidence. But Greenup, a tax protester who vows not to be taken alive by authorities seeking his arrest, is glad he reacted the way he did.
“We were going to do something to defend ourselves,” Greenup said. “We have to be prepared for whatever these people are going to bring on us.”
What some call paranoia, Greenup calls patriotism. He’s at the volatile fringe of a burgeoning militia movement that believes an armed citizenry is the only way to defend America from a corrupt government.
Militia groups have sprung up nationwide in the past year, boosted by the current anti-government fervor in politics. They train with guns, talk darkly of government conspiracies and prepare for the war they believe will be needed to keep Americans free from a tyrannical New World Order.
Despite their alarmist rhetoric, most militia groups stay within the law, advancing their ideas through the usual political process.
But recent events in Montana have pushed the movement into dangerous new terrain. Confrontations are escalating statewide as officials clash with a loose network of anti-government activists who go by various names: militia, freemen, constitutionalists, patriots.
Many refuse to pay taxes, register their cars or get driver’s licenses. They don’t recognize the jurisdiction of the courts, instead forming their own common-law judicial systems and accusing public officials of treason.
Montana’s traditional tolerance of rugged individualism appears to be wearing thin. Judges say they’ve been threatened, sheriffs won’t serve arrest warrants for fear of bloodshed, and human-rights activists worry about links between militias and white supremacy groups.
Some recent confrontations:
* Seven militia activists were arrested March 3 in the eastern Montana town of Roundup after allegedly wearing concealed weapons and intimidating officials at the county jail. Those arrested included John Trochmann, co-founder of the Militia of Montana and a featured speaker at the 1990 Aryan Nations Congress, a white supremacist group in Idaho.
* In eastern Montana, William Stanton was sentenced March 2 to 10 years in prison for his part in a group of freemen who set up their own court system and offered a $1 million bounty for the “arrest” of county officials.
* The central Montana town of Cascade was declared a freeman enclave by Mayor Tom Klock, who then deposited $20 million in official-looking but worthless money orders in the local bank. The town council suspended him; he pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal syndicalism, or advocating violence or crime to advance political goals. A trial date has not been set.
Greenup considers them all patriots.
“We’re fighting for the same thing--justice back in the courts, freedom back in this nation,” he said.
A fourth-generation resident of western Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, Greenup, 52, is holed up on his 250-acre ranch, defying authorities to serve a warrant issued after he failed to show in court to face tax-evasion charges.
The state claims he owes $9,500 in income taxes and penalties, but Greenup claims the income tax applies only to corporations, not individuals. He says he’s willing to die for his interpretation of the law.
“I’ve told the sheriff what I’ll do,” Greenup said. “I would turn my back and he could put a bullet in my head. But I wouldn’t be hauled to jail alive. I’ve told him personally, you’ve got the first shot. Don’t wound me. Kill me.”
As Montana coordinator for an Indiana-based group called the North American Volunteer Militia, Greenup also vows to call on militiamen nationwide if there’s a standoff. The warning is repeated by the group’s national director, Joe Holland.
“How many of your agents will be sent home in body bags before you hear the pleas of the people?” Holland said in a letter to the Montana Revenue Department. “Proceed at your own peril!”
All the bluster has unnerved public officials here. Darby town councilors and Ravalli County commissioners passed ordinances in March banning weapons from public buildings.
Sheriff Jay Printz thinks Greenup is more talk than action, but he’s in no hurry to serve the contempt-of-court warrant against him.
“I’m not inclined to go up to his home,” Printz said. “I don’t want to have to kill the man for something this minor, and I don’t want any of our people hurt.”
City Judge Marty Bethel said something has to be done, sooner or later. Militia members sent her a 28-page document saying she would face trial in their common-law court if she didn’t dismiss a traffic violation against one militia member.
“Terrorism is what it is,” she said. “I hope someone takes this seriously, before blood is shed. If you let these people walk up one side and down the other, all you’ve done is empower them.”