Monday, May 10, 2004

Two missing words

Some good news out of Montana this past week: Indictments were finally handed down from a federal investigation into the anti-government conspiracy based in Kalispell, Montana, calling itself "Project 7" (about whom I've written previously).

Last Thursday, federal agents swooped down on three suspects in the Kalispell area who were accused of taking part in the group, which was believed to be preparing to assassinate local civic and law-enforcement officials:
The group was accused two years ago of plotting to kill local officials. One man connected with the group, David Earl Burgert, was convicted in 2003 of federal weapons charges. He was reportedly indicted on further charges Wednesday, along with the other three.

Arrested without incident at their homes Thursday morning were James Riley Day, 60, of Patrick Creek Road and John William Slater, 54, of Shady Lane. Another man, Steven Neil Morey, 44, of the El Rancho Motel in Evergreen, was arrested outside of Helena.

Day is charged with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and illegal possession of a machine gun. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $260,000 fine. He reportedly has a 1973 conviction for felony possession of marijuana in California.

Slater is charged with illegal possession of machine guns and possession of firearms with obliterated serial numbers. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Morey also is charged with illegal possession of machine guns and possession of firearms with obliterated serial numbers. He also faces up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The charges so far are strictly related to the firearms violations uncovered by the investigation, but there's a lot more to this story:
The investigation began when Burgert, now in a Minnesota medical prison, had a confrontation in February 2002 with a teenager west of Kalispell. Burgert was wanted at the time on a bail-jumping charge following a charge of assaulting an officer.

The teen told authorities that Burgert and others had formed a group named Project 7 that was stockpiling weapons and planning to assassinate local judges, police, and prosecutors.

Sheriff Jim Dupont said the informant told officials that the group had a bizarre plan that would lead to a civil war. He said the group planned to kill local police and judges, evoke a National Guard response and battle with the National Guard until a revolution ensued, with militia members from outside Montana coming in to help.

Burgert, who was reported missing and whose wife accused police of killing him, was found with a woman described as a "medic" with the group. The woman, Tracy Brockway, was arrested and later received a 10-year suspended sentence for obstructing justice by harboring a fugitive. Burgert fled into the woods west of Kalispell, where SWAT officers and others pursued him through the night and arrested him the following morning.

Officials then searched Brockway's Smith Lake Road home and a 1977 Travelese 20-foot camp trailer there, a pickup camper mounted on a flatbed trailer parked at Mountain Meadow Road and a Gateway personal computer from Brockway's home.

They reportedly seized weapons, including 25,000 rounds of ammunition, commercial explosives, a gun with an illegal silencer, pipe bombs, shackles and other gear.

Also confiscated were "intel sheets" on law-enforcement officers, including home addresses and phone numbers for officers, physical descriptions and data on their spouses and children. Even bank account numbers reportedly were listed for some officers.

Burgert was eventually convicted of federal weapons charges for possessing an illegal machine gun and for being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was arrested with an FN-FAL .308-caliber, fully automatic machine gun. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.

The initial arrests were just a start. Two more indictments have been handed down, including one set against the chief informant in Burgert's case, Tracy Brockway. The other happened to be against a former candidate for sheriff on the Libertarian ticket:
Larry "Chance" Chezem, ran as a Libertarian and lost in the 2002 general election for Flathead County sheriff.

His ties to Project 7 were an issue then, when Sheriff Jim Dupont, who was re-elected, accused Chezem of contributing to the stockpile of weapons and explosives that officials seized after David Burgert's arrest.

Chezem said the group did not call itself Project 7 and that Dupont created "this bogeyman ... to get everybody scared, to get them in a siege mentality."

Chezem called Burgert a friend. He qualified his own involvement with the group then, saying he "never denied being part of a group of people who meet [for] survival training, first-aid training" and put away stocks of food, clothing, guns and ammunition in preparation for "natural or man-made disaster."

Chezem said he contributed about 6,000 rounds of .22-caliber ammunition to the inventory.

Now, has anyone noticed the two words that are conspicuously missing from these stories, as well as from the federal indictments?

As in "domestic" and "terrorism"?

There's little doubt "Project 7," such as it was, constituted a domestic terrorism conspiracy. However, it appears that the only charges any of them will face involve the weapons violations.

In the meantime, of course, the Justice Department is now one month in on the trial of a University of Idaho student named Sami Al-Hussayen, charged under the Patriot Act on terrorism charges for allegedly maintaining a Web site that had financial ties to Al Qaeda.

At the same time, accused eco-terrorist Tre Arrow is fighting extradition as federal officials seek to bring charges against him for a variety of acts of vandalism and malicious destruction of property. The FBI has now declared such "eco-terrorists" to be the agency's top domestic-terrorism priority.

UPDATE: Here's Bill Morlin's version in the Spokesman-Review, which notes:
It appears prosecutors are prepared to use only federal firearms charges against suspected members of the militia cell.

Court records show that a federal grand jury, monitoring the investigative work of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has not returned an indictment accusing the suspects of conspiracy to kill or harm public officials.

Although investigators said there is little doubt a plot was afoot, their two-year investigation turned up insufficient evidence to bring conspiracy charges.

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