JORDAN, Mont. (AP) — A cluster of FBI vehicles moved to the surrender point at the Freemen ranch Thursday and a rentral truck believed to be carrying documents gathered by the group left the compound as the 81-day standoff appeared to be drawing to a close without the bloodshed of Waco or Ruby Ridge.
The FBI convoy included two passenger vans that can carry up to 15 people apiece.
On the compound, three Freemen vehicles appeared to be heading toward the gate. The lead van was driven by Janet Clark, who is Edwin Clark’s wife, but has not been charged as a member of the group and has been on and off the compound.
Emmett Clark, one of the Freemen, was in the lead vehicle with Janet Clark. As the three-vehicle Freemen convoy reached the gate, Emmett Clark stepped out of the vehicle and shook hands with an FBI agent.
There were no handcuffs in site as the two convoys met at the surrender point. A group of Freemen near the mobile home, which sat at the gate, were seen holding hands and apparently praying.
After Freemen trucks drove in a convoy to the gate and met up with an FBI convoy, which included two large passenger vans, Freemen members were escorted one-by-one by their leader Edwin Clark out of their vehicles and into FBI custody.
Federal agents did not handcuff the fugitives, but patted them down before taking them by the arm and leading them to the van.
Clark escorted his son, Casey, 21, from a Freemen motor home parked at the gate, which had been designated as the surrender point, to FBI agents. Casey shook his father’s hand, and then boarded the van. Casey has not been charged with any crime.
Earlier in the day, an FBI agent, speaking on condition of anonymity, said when the surrender took place, those in the compound facing charges would be taken to Billings, about 175 miles away. The others would be free to go but would not be allowed to return to the 960-acre ranch, the agent said.
Twelve of the 16 are believed to face state or federal charges, including circulating millions of dollars in bogus checks and threatening to kill a federal judge.
Attorney General Janet Reno hailed the peaceful resolution.
“From the first day of the standoff in Montana, the Justice Department and the FBI have worked with steadfast determination to reach today’s result,” she said in a statement released in Washington.
The surrender in early evening capped an excruciating day of tension as reporters watched a flurry of activity at the compound.
Under the agreement aimed at ending one of the longest sieges in U.S. history, the documents will be safeguarded by Karl Ohs, a state legislator who has acted as a mediator in the standoff, sources said on condition of anonymity. The Freemen feared the FBI would destroy the material otherwise.
“It’s a huge amount of stuff,” a source said of the documents. “People all over the country have been sending the information they consider evidence.”
Until they were moved to the compound gate, the vans had sat parked nearby, apparently in preparation for the Freemen’s departure.
Right-wing activists and those who talked with the Freemen during the standoff had feared it would end in another Waco.
A peaceful end to the siege would be a vindication for the FBI’s strategy of carefully calibrated pressure.
Since the standoff began March 25, federal agents have stayed well away from the compound and kept the media similarly cordoned off. Third-party negotiators tried to talk the Freemen out for months. The FBI didn’t shut off the compound’s power until the 71st day of the standoff.
In 1993, the 51-day standoff at Waco, Texas, ended in a fire that killed more than 80 cult members. In 1992, white separatist Randy Weaver held federal agents at bay at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, for 11 days in a siege that began with the killing of his son and a federal marshal. Weaver’s wife also was killed during the standoff.
In 1973, supporters of the American Indian Movement took over the site of the battle of Wounded Knee. A standoff lasted 69 days and two of the group’s members were killed.