Monday, March 02, 2015

Tales of the Montana Freemen: The Girl and Her Dog

The Freemen's cabin near the town of Roundup
Here's a story a collected while reporting on the saga of the Montana Freemen in the 1990s. I have always thought it was a revealing (not to mention disturbing) instance of the far-right "Patriot" mindset, particularly in how they viewed the world and the way children should be raised.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of my first book, In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest, published by WSU Press in 1999. The chapter is primarily about the activities of the Freemen prior to their infamous armed standoff with the FBI of 1996, especially Ur-Freemen Rodney Skurdal and Leroy Schweitzer, in the little town of Roundup.


A sign on the Freemen property.
While their legal defeats were coming in rapid succession, the Freemen’s recruiting was going well. Another key follower showed up at the Freemen ranch that fall: Dale Jacobi. A Canadian businessman who had moved from Calgary in the 1980s south to Thompson Falls, Montana, Jacobi became involved in the radical right while operating a propane-gas business in the little Clark Fork River logging town just a few miles east of Noxon. He fell in with John and Dave Trochmann, and also became acquainted with another local Constitutionalist, John Brush.

Brush decided to move to Musselshell County in 1994, partly to be closer to the Freemen, so he bought a parcel of land out in the distant woods and set about raising and training horses with his wife and daughter. Jacobi, who became a Freemen follower after Trochmann recommended their four-day courses in the Militia of Montana newsletter that spring, sold his business and moved onto Brush’s land, living in a trailer on the property.

In one afternoon that fall, though, Brush not only disavowed Dale Jacobi but the Freemen as well. He later explained why to John Bohlman, the Musselshell County prosecutor: One morning, Brush told Bohlman, when he drove into town for supplies, Jacobi took Brush’s 8-year-old daughter, with her dog in tow, out to a remote part of their land. He carried with him a stool and a piece of rope. Under a tree, Jacobi set up the stool and placed the little dog on it. Then he made a noose with the rope, placed it over the dog’s neck, and slung it over the tree. He pulled the open end of the rope tight and held it at a distance from the dog, then told the girl to come stand in front of him. Call the dog, he told the girl. She did. It jumped off the stool and hung itself as Jacobi held the line taut.

The girl was in hysterics when her father returned home. Enraged, he asked Jacobi why he did it. Jacobi told him he felt the girl needed some toughening up, and that this would help her. Brush screamed at Jacobi to leave and never come back. Jacobi packed his things into his car and left.

He found an open room at [Rodney] Skurdal’s ranch, and soon was named one of the group’s constables. Brush announced he wanted nothing more to do with that bunch -- and asked Bohlman to remove the arms cache Jacobi had left behind. Bohlman and a deputy went out to Brush’s place and found PVC pipes hidden under some brush, stuffed with a few guns and a massive load of ammunition, reloading tools, powder and bullets, enough to make thousands of rounds with. Brush also told Bohlman he knew of similar caches like this in strategic spots throughout the Northwest.


Of course, none of this ended particularly well for any of the participants, most of whom wound up doing federal prison time after engaging the FBI in a record-setting 81-day standoff at another ranch outside the town of Jordan, a couple of hours north of Roundup. One hopes that John Brush's daughter eventually recovered. And that her daddy got a clue.

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