Montana’s long history with militant anti-government activists, like the Montana Freemen, resurfaced again with the arrest in early July of a self-proclaimed sovereign citizen in Montana. Michael Duane Strain had been a fugitive for eight years following his indictment in Iowa for being a felon in possession of firearms. U.S. Marshals arrested him at a ranch on the Crow Reservation where he had lived for years. Authorities had previously thought Strain might be in Minnesota, Wyoming, or Utah, but a tip led them to the ranch in southeast Montana.


In Iowa in 2011, federal agents found thousands of rounds of ammunition and numerous firearms while searching Strain’s home. That led to his indictment on charges of being a felon in possession of firearms. Strain became a fugitive who made it onto the “Most Wanted List” of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. After he was captured in Montana, a judge stated he will be returned to Iowa to face the charges. In addition to the Iowa indictment, Strain’s criminal history includes obstruction, contempt of court, trespassing, fleeing a peace officer in a vehicle, and possession of explosive devices.

Court documents stated that the 62-year-old Strain calls himself a sovereign citizen. His behavior fits with that description. When he was taken into custody, he claimed the federal agents had no jurisdiction over him. Sovereign citizens believe that they get to decide which laws are legitimate and which ones can be ignored. It’s common for sovereigns to believe they don’t have to pay taxes or register/license their vehicles, while also claiming that judges, juries, and law officers have no jurisdiction over them. When they get into trouble with law enforcement, sovereigns routinely inundate local courts with phony “legal” documents featuring bizarre arguments written with practically unintelligible punctuation. Sometimes sovereigns go beyond this paper terrorism and engage in violent acts, often directed at law enforcement and other public officials. 

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