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June 11, 1996: FBI Opens Surrender Discussion with Jailed Freemen Leader

The FBI brings a Montana Freemen member (see March 25, 1996), Edwin Clark, to Billings, Montana, to discuss terms of the Freemen’s surrender with jailed Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer, who gives his “blessing” for a surrender. Clark will emerge as the Freemen’s primary negotiator, and will be credited by federal officials with helping bring the standoff to a peaceful end (see June 13, 1996). A source tells the Associated Press: “Edwin had to become at peace with LeRoy about it [a surrender]. He didn’t want to go forward without checking with LeRoy first.” The source adds: “They’ve pretty much agreed it won’t be a gun battle. I’m extremely hopeful at this point. It’s an extremely positive sign.” The deal is conceived of and brokered by Kirk Lyons, an attorney famous for representing Aryan Nations members (see Early 1970s and 1981 and After) and other right-wing extremists in court. The FBI was not sanguine about letting Clark meet with Schweitzer in the Billings prison. Neill Payne, who works with Lyons in the CAUSE Foundation, a white supremacist legal organization, will later recall that an FBI agent initially responded to the plan by saying: “Let me get this straight. You want us to take a man who is technically under arrest, fly him in an FBI plane to a jail we hope to see him incarcerated in, bring him home, and then put him under siege again? Is that what you’re asking?” The FBI eventually agreed to the plan, though it was worried that Schweitzer might advise his colleagues to continue the standoff. The deal almost backfires when, after bringing Clark back to the ranch, the Freemen spot large tractors in neighboring fields and become instantly suspicious of an FBI trick. “Seeing those tractors was like waving a red flag at a bull,” Payne will later say. “Our guys were incredulous, and the Freemen were acting like an ants’ nest that got kicked over. They got their guns and they manned their sentry posts.” But Lyons and the FBI manage to calm the Freemen’s fears. [Associated Press, 6/12/1996; Associated Press, 6/13/1996; Los Angeles Times, 6/15/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006]

Entity Tags: LeRoy Schweitzer, CAUSE Foundation, Edwin Clark, Kirk Lyons, Montana Freemen, Neill Payne, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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