Saying the Montana Freemen were "motivated by hatred of the United States" and the desire to make money, prosecutors accused the anti-government group of running a massive case of fraud.
"Every government, even a fake one, needs money to run," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Seykora said Thursday in opening statements in the federal trial of 12 of the extremists who held the FBI at bay for 81 days in 1996. "The defendants set out to make money."He said they did so by issuing more than 4,000 bogus checks and causing losses of $1.8 billion.
But defense attorneys portrayed their clients as victims who truly believed the fantasy of a Freemen government.
"These were folks who legitimately believed the federal government was no longer their government," attorney Tony Gallagher said in his opening statement of the trial, which was scheduled to resume today.
Other defense attorneys followed Gallagher, describing their clients as innocent victims who believed that checks and warrants were legal documents.
The defendants have for the most part refused to cooperate with their appointed lawyers.
Only three of the Freemen - Agnes Stanton, Cherlyn Petersen and John Patrick McGuire - were in court Thursday. Contrary to Freemen doctrine, they have accepted lawyers to plead their case. The other nine are in a holding cell, where they can watch the courtroom on closed-circuit television.
Tommie Canady, the FBI agent who headed the Freemen investigation, testified that not even he was free from Freemen financial attacks. He said Rodney Skurdal, one of the group's leaders, filed a $1 billion lien against Canady and his wife.