The Making of a Standoff

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JORDAN, MONTANA: The tense standoff between a dozen fugitives and about 100 federal agents west of a rural Montana town continued through its fourth day, but the "freemen," as the anti-government activists call themselves, have been wanted for a long time. One of the fugitives, farmer William Stanton, was convicted a year ago of threatening officials who foreclosed on his farm and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. A standoff at the farm of Ralph Clark between the "freemen" and local law enforcement officials began ensued, but Sherriff Charles Phipps, suspecting he was outgunned and outnumbered, decided to wait. The group's compound, which members call "Justus Township," was lost in foreclosure and sold last October, but the tenants refused to leave. Phipps waited. "It's not worth getting somebody killed -- them or us," he told TIME's Patrick Dawson. When the people of Jordan grew impatient with the armed cadre outside of town, Phipps asked for federal help. But until this week, the FBI has since acknowledged, it had only one agent on the case. The FBI arrived as the group circled its wagons around the Clark farm Monday, after the arrests of leaders LeRoy Schweitzer and Daniel Petersen on charges of threatening public officials (they advocated hangings), conspiracy and fraud. The situation has since settled into an uneasy equilibrium, with federal agents openly worried about a reprise of the violent 1992 standoff in Ruby Ridge, Idaho.