THE antigovernment "freemen" holed up in Montana this week are part of a small but growing movement so far off the generally accepted political scale that terms like "left" and "right" do not apply. With ties to armed militias and an end-of-the-world religious outlook, these radical tax protestors can be dangerous.
Though their numbers are hard to pin down, Chip Berlet, an analyst at Political Research Associates in Cambridge, Mass., says there are "tens of thousands of people who believe in elements of the freemen/sovereign citizen argument. They often form compounds and hide. There's dozens all over the country." He calls them "a fairly durable subculture in America."
Like others across the country, the freemen outside Jordan, Mont., who are entering their fifth day in a standoff with federal agents, have formed their own shadow government and refuse to pay taxes. Except for common law, the Bible, and the Bill of Rights, freemen recognize no political authority.
"This includes the IRS, all courts of record, the banking profession, specifically including foreclosures and liens," Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation superintendent Ted Almay told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on crime last November. "Also included is law enforcement, especially in the area of traffic enforcement as this violates their right of free passage, licensing boards, and virtually any government-regulated business."