Slap Shots

True Citizens and the New Federal Reserve
If the FBI is right about Ted Kaczynski, we must prepare ourselves for the thought that the 17-year bombing spree that terrorized the nation was masterminded by some stinky guy who lived in a Montana cabin and spread his own poop on his carrot patch.

While this irony seems like one plucked from an Edward Abbey novel, the Montana connection didn't surprise people like myself who have lived there. For three decades the state has been a magnet for society dropouts. Among the working folks, you always noticed young, shaggy people living on a patch of land, ubiquitous VW van parked in the driveway. University campuses were dotted with bright individuals from all points east and west. Like Kaczynski, they were fed up with the hectic pace of modern times and had come to Montana for a mellow lifestyle.

I remember a couple guys in particular, anti-social by big-city standards but quietly integrated into the small community surrounding the college town of Bozeman, just a few hours south of Lincoln. This was back in the late '70s, when disco sucked, Rainier beer was referred to as "Vitamin R," and a Foxy Lady glitter T-shirt looked damn fine, no matter how much a lady's gut poked out underneath.

Dave was from New Jersey. He lived on an acre of land several miles outside of town, in a run-down wooden building with a dog, blasting the Rolling Stones' "Street Fightin' Man" from his stereo. Dave worked for the Forest Service a few months a year, planting trees in the Rocky Mountains, and collected unemployment. The rest of the time, what he did was anybody's guess. Another mysterious character was Michael T., a highly intelligent, ponytailed DJ at the campus radio station, also from the East Coast, who rode an ancient bicycle with a shock-absorbing front wheel. Besides hosting a weekly classical music radio program, during which he said maybe five words, his sole occupation seemed to be making and selling kiln-fired ceramic tiles.

Hundreds (thousands?) of these people sprinkled themselves throughout the state. And while most of them were doing nothing more harmless than divvying up GLAD trash bags full of weed to customers, it seems that at least one may have been building bombs.

A few hundred miles east of the Kaczynski carrot patch, a standoff continues between FBI agents and the Freemen. Again, no surprise. The "Freemen compound" is a homestead ranch owned by the Clark family since 1913, which the bank foreclosed upon and auctioned in 1994. Sadly, the foreclosure drama is rerun weekly all over the state. Most of the property that surrounds my family's ranch, 120 miles away, has changed hands since the '80s.

The Clark family came up with an interesting alternative to foreclosure. They refused to vacate the property and fell in with a few shysters toting a carload of complicated-looking documents about property liens and such. This bunch of jaspers included a crop-dusting pilot, an ex-cop from Canada, and a former Wyoming oil rigger who got conked on the head and now, according to his ex-wife, "has an odd personality and refuses to use a Social Security number or driver's license." It was convenient that at least one of the Clarks can neither read nor write. The shysters were invited to move onto the Clark property, everybody got to be called a Freeman, and they began holding seminars on how patriots can take America back from the heathen blacks, Jews, etc.

They call themselves "the new federal reserve" and "true citizens"; locals prefer the word "losers." And like attracts like. According to local papers, one Freeman recently looked out the window and noticed a man running in the snow toward the ranch house, waving a bandana decorated with a portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe. He claimed he was with Life magazine, and presented the Freeman with a copy of his book The Ashes of Waco. The Freeman, apparently a man of principle, told him he'd better get going.

Like the tragedies in Waco and Oklahoma City, the Freemen episode has provoked chin-stroking dialogue on the talk shows about why, why, why. On a recent Nightline, a state law enforcement official said that government distrust has been simmering in the community for years. It was Montana's turn to become a national focal point for our disillusionment with The System. And since tourism is the No. 1 industry in the state, Gov. Marc Racicot is practically pooping in his carrot patch himself, hoping that all this bomb and racist militia stuff will blow over.

"You have to defuse it somehow," a public relations consultant told the Billings Gazette. "The first scenario is to ignore it, and you won't know the effect of it all until summer."

If you can't wait until summer, capitalize on it, as the thinking goes in Montana. Locals living in Lincoln, several miles from Kaczynski's cabin, are selling Unaburgers and hooded sweat shirts. And over in Jordan, next to the property held by the Freemen, reporters from as far away as Germany and Sweden have rented every hotel room within 100 miles. Car rental agencies are charging $200 a day for vehicles, as news crews find themselves migrating the seven-hour drive between the two locations. (Lucky for them, Montana has no speed limit.)

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