In early January, word reached the Militia of Montana's headquarters that a fast-moving convoy of U.S. Army trucks was nearing this tiny lumber town nestled in the Cabinet Mountains on the state's western edge.
Fearing a possible attack, top militia officials went on alert, taking up firearms, hiding documents, packing extra clothes and preparing to seek refuge deep in the forested mountains where they had stockpiled food and water-filtration equipment to help them survive an assault.
"The Army caravan was coming through at a high rate of speed so we took evasive action," said Militia of Montana co-founder John Trochmann, a soft-spoken man whose distinctive long gray beard and piercing eyes give him an almost prophetic appearance. "We wanted to be ready to slip into the woodwork if we had to and defend ourselves."
The trucks, en route to an Army base, barreled past the town without incident. But Trochmann's perception of a threat underscores a firm belief among the more virulent citizen militias that have sprung up across the country recently. They are convinced that government is engaged in a systematic campaign to destroy individual liberties and constitutional rights.
Trochmann, 51, came to serene Montana from Delano, Minn., where he, his brother and nephew owned a successful company that manufactured and distributed snowmobile parts. Since then, financed largely by his book and video sales, he has fashioned himself into a well-read guru of the American militia movement whose reach extends far beyond the scattered membership of the Militia of Montana.
"He is the chief and primary distributor of conspiracy propaganda in the militia movement," said Ken Toole, president of the Montana Human Rights Network. "I don't think anyone in the movement is doing the volume of mail orders that he is doing or the traveling urging people to pick up guns and run into the hills."
Working out of a boxy, ramshackle office that, ironically, is located off a dirt road in the shadow of Government Mountain, Trochmann's group considers itself a serious educational organization aimed at rescuing the Constitution. "We are not a few wackos who fell off a lumber truck," said Bob Fletcher, the militia's spokesman and investigative researcher. "I'm a pissed off American who knows what's going on."
The militia's bustling headquarters is cluttered with computers, telephones and mounds of documents, as well as books and tapes that the group sells. Its large video stock includes such titles as "Battle Preparation Now," "Government Gone Mad" and "The CIA and Their Toys of War." A T-shirt designed by the militia reads: "The U.N. Peace Through Terror." It bears a skull emblazoned in the middle of the United Nations emblem.
Far from representing the entire town, Trochmann's militia is viewed by some as a hate group that has fostered divisions. "They hate Jews, Negroes and any ethnic groups," said town resident Joyce Floyd, who is among a dozen residents who formed the Sanders County Task Force for Human Dignity in opposition to the militia. "They told me that I would never be able to stay in America if they took over because I'm Italian. . . . It would be nice to see those guys leave town."
Trochmann's call to arms is based on what has become a prominent theme within one segment of the militia movement: that a new world government is being formed through the United Nations and that once it is in place, its agents, including the president of the United States, will impose martial law, suspend the Constitution, institute totalitarian rule and seize all weapons from individuals. His members have produced mounds of documents and photographs that show Russian tanks, bombers and missiles being moved or stored in a number of states, including Montana, Texas and Louisiana.
In interviews and written materials, some Montana militia leaders go as far as warning that the "One World Government" will try to track people's activities by implanting electrical transponders the size of a rice grain under their skin. They also contend it has evidence that the government has developed methods to control the weather and induce earthquakes and floods in an effort to create a food shortage and regulate the world's population.
The driving forces behind this takeover, say these self-described patriots, are corrupt government officials, deceptive media organizations and the greedy banking elite around the world, including the Federal Reserve and the Morgan Trust, an apparent reference to Morgan Guaranty Trust Co., all of which are taking advantage of an increasingly complacent and uninformed populace.
The Militia of Montana is one of a number of armed patriot groups around the country, an angry, if not paranoid, stew of constitutionalists, tax protesters, right-wing isolationists and white supremacists, that have come under increasing scrutiny following the savage bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City two weeks ago. Federal investigators believe that one of the persons charged in the Oklahoma City bombing, Timothy James McVeigh, may have ties to militias in Michigan and Arizona.
Various militia groups have condemned the bombing, charging that the federal government somehow orchestrated the tragedy in an attempt to create widespread fear. According to the theory, a bomb planted in the building exploded seconds before the one in the van that was parked outside -- which was intended to serve as a decoy. The Militia of Montana has what it says are seismic records showing that there were two blasts.
Montana militia officials say that their intelligence operations, particularly in Washington, D.C., are almost comparable to the CIA's. But that is not enough to put Trochmann totally at ease. Even within the confines of his headquarters, he said he feels the long reach of the government. He is reluctant to hold lengthy conversations on the phone because he believes the lines are tapped. "This is a very public address system," Trochmann told a caller last week before recommending that the militia mail the person an information packet.
Fletcher said the militia recommends that individuals undertake several survivalist precautions in case of a confrontation with the government. "We want people to get a year's food supply for each family member, two convenient legal weapons and ammunition to protect themselves," he said. "Americans have to wake up and open their complacent minds that when the government and its enforcement arm are the only ones with weapons, it is a dictatorship, it's all over."
Two rifles and a pair of blowguns sit in a corner of the militia's headquarters and several handguns, including two .45-caliber pistols, can be found on desks and shelves around the office. Trochmann, who said he has been involved for 20 years with groups concerned about similar issues, wears a pair of bullet clips on his belt while his wife, Carolyn, clad in bloomers and a straw hat, displays a small pistol she keeps in her bag.
"My mom taught me how to shoot, and my dad taught me how to cook," she says, noting that her first two firearms were rifles. "If some bastard comes through that door with ill intent for me, I'll drop him at the door."
Militia officials said they are simply using their constitutional right to bear arms, and that they strictly abide by local laws. The leaders contended that the militia has been unfairly confused with other scofflaw patriot groups that share its philosophical positions.
The Militia of Montana, for instance, is not affiliated with the Indiana-based North American Militia, which has sent a number of threat letters to elected officials and judges. In a missive sent to U.S. District Court Judge Jeff Langton in Hamilton, Mont., last December, the militia expressed its discontent with several of his actions from the bench.
"We are prepared . . . to defend with our life, our Rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. We number in the thousands in your area and everywhere else," said the letter, signed by the North American Militia. "How many of your agents will be sent home in body bags before you hear the pleas of the people? Proceed at your own peril."
Last month, county officials, facing threats from constitutionalists to forcibly take over the courthouse, passed an emergency ordinance banning weapons and explosives from the building.
Unlike some members of other militias around the country, who balk at complying with routine government regulation, Trochmann said that he carries a valid driver's license, has license plates on his car and votes. In addition, the group does not assign ranks or form companies, like the more militant Michigan Militia.
Trochmann said that he, his brother, David, and his nephew, Randy, formed the militia largely as a result of the deadly 1993 federal raid on the Branch Davidian cult compound near Waco, Tex., and the slaying by federal agents of Idaho survivalist Randy Weaver's wife and child a during a standoff at his home a year earlier. Trochmann said that passage of federal gun control legislation has further heightened his group's fears.
"The purpose of those bills is to bring us down to the status of a Third World nation," he said. "Fear the government that fears your arms."
Trochmann has come under fire from a local human rights group for appearing at the Hayden Lake, Idaho, compound of the white supremacist group Aryan Nations.
Last week, Trochmann defended his two visits to the Aryan Nations headquarters. He said he went the first time because he wanted to get a sense of the life there and later returned to give his opinion on how the group could improve what he described as a decadent and irresponsible environment. "I could not believe the promiscuity; there was alcohol everywhere," he said. "I spoke of immorality. But I have never been affiliated with them."
Trochmann's statements that he is not aligned with the group prompted an angry response from the group earlier this month. "Why lie about the number of times here, especially when you came over several times for Bible studies? John, you even helped us write a set of rules for our code of conduct on the church grounds," Aryan Nations said in a statement.
Trochmann lives modestly, wearing secondhand clothes and driving around in an aging car with about 304,000 miles on it that he poignantly notes is American made. His wife also wears secondhand clothes and brings in extra income by doing accounting and shipping work for a surplus ammunitions seller.
Although he has received numerous death threats, Trochmann said he will not be deterred from his mission to uncover the hidden plot by government authorities to disarm average citizens and violate their constitutional rights. "We are facing enemies foreign and domestic," he said. "The creeping gradualism of the last 50 years of a one-world takeover of America, of the destruction of our national sovereignty, has greatly accelerated." @Caption: Militia of Montana co-founder John Trochmann is guru of the American militia movement. @Caption: Joyce Floyd, left, and Sharon Larkin formed the Sanders County Task Force for Human Dignity to counter the influence of Militia of Montana. @Caption: Bob Fletcher, militia spokesman and investigative researcher, shows evidence of conspiracy.