It took 81 days, 633 FBI agents and millions of dollars to get
the Freeman to surrender, but it was actor Chuck Norris who helped
end the standoff as much as anyone. Or, more precisely, Chuck
Norris's movies - a steady and eventually stultifying diet of
them, along with "Gremlins," Tanya Tucker tapes and
the book "Born Free." When the 26 anti-government zealots
first holed up on a Jordan, Mont., farm 12 weeks ago, they ate
barbecue together and channel-surfed for news about themselves
on satellite TV. "It was like camping," says Gloria
Ward, who left the ranch a week before the final capitulation.
But it didn't take long before so-called Justus Township turned
into the camp from hell- a bored, faction-ridden collective that
couldn't agree on much, least of all how to get what it wanted
in exchange for getting out. The native Montanans banished some
of the out-of-staters from their FBI-negotiating sessions. The
women did the cleaning while the men paraded around with store-bought
sherrif's badges and a gun on each hip. And then the Marlboro
100s ran out. The FBI was happy to satisfy the Freemen's addiction
- one pack at a time.
Some standoffs end with a bang. This one didn't even startle
the cows. There was no gunfire when the 16 remaining Freemen
piled into two cars and a motor home and slowly drove themselves
to a dozen waiting FBI agents. No one screamed bloody murder
- as they did at Waco and Ruby Ridge. Instead, the peaceful resolution
brought a sigh the size of Montana.
Some people in Garfield County, Mont., and beyond still criticize
the patient - even solicitous - FBI-led negotiations that made
this one of the longest armed sieges in U.S. history. Yet as
details of life in the 960-acre compound seep out, it's clear
that the FBI's strategy of accommodation coupled with slowly ratcheted
pressure deserves real credit for bringing about a corpse-free
conclusion. "The prudent thing was to put patience above
the risk of bloodshed," FBI Director Luois Freeh said at
a press conference minutes after the Feds carted the Freemen away.
"That approach may not always work, but it worked here."
The Feds say that no single action persuaded the Freemen to surrender
tot he government the despise. But a turning point came when
the FBI cut the electricity to the ranch, 10 days before the last
roundup. The toothpaste and toilet paper had run out weeks before;
without electricity, the water pump that supplied the faucets
went dry. Though the Freemen had generators, they barely supplied
enough power to keep food in the refrigerator from spoiling.
Not that the Freemen had a lot of food left. Their supplies of
cracked corm, potatoes and powdered mild held up, but the deer
and other meat dwindled. When Ashley Landers, 16, said she left
the compound in part because she craved Taco bell, is sounded
silly. Yet the Freemen took it very seriously. "They were
using the girls as shields," says Lynn Nielson, whose sister
Gloria Ward - a renegade Mormon who believes children should marry
at puberty - sought refuge at the ranch rather than lose custody
of her 8-and 10-year-old daughters. "They absolutely knew
that the FBI would not come in as long as the children were there."
In fact, the 16 remaining Freemen gave up the day after the last
No deals: Over the course of the standoff, the FBI allowed
45 outside mediators - including several self-proclaimed right-wind
activists - to negotiate with the anti-government group, most
to little avail. FBI Special Agent Thomas Kubic told NEWSWEEK
that when agents would leave negotiating papers with the renegades,
Freeman Rodney Skurdal, an ex-marine who once helped guard Presidents
Nixon and Ford, would stamp the documents with the bizarre phrase
REFUSED FOR CAUSE. (A habit of sorts: Skurdal also refuses to
recognize daylight saving time.) The Freemen even declined an
earlier FBI offer that would have dropped some state charges,
says Nick Murnion, the Garfield County prosecutor, although the
Feds insist they did not excuse any charges as part of their final
deal. In the end, the Freemen settled for a promise to allow
a Montana state legislator to safeguard a Ryder truck full of
documents they believe substantiate their complaints against the
Still, some locals say the Feds have been too soft on the Freemen
all along. "We went to the other extreme from Ruby Ridge,"
Murnion says. "We went to the extreme of being very, very
nice to these people. The community here believes pressure should
have been applied a lot earlier." Some even argue that the
FBI's kinder, gentler negotiating strategy will do little to discourage
other headline-grabbing antigovernment groups. Freeh disagrees.
"The law was enforced in Montana. We stayed there until
we arrested them," he says. "That's a pretty strong
message to send to anyone who would break the law." Unless
they bring a lifetime supply of cigarettes.