A northwest Montana "prepper" has been sentenced to four years in federal prison for explosives and firearms-related crimes.
Bruce Boone Wann, 62, of Kila, said he stockpiled weapons in Flathead County to prepare for societal collapse. In U.S. District Court in Missoula Friday, Judge Dana Christensen sentenced him to 48 months in prison for illegal possession of a machine gun, unregistered silencer, a short-barreled rifle and a grenade.
Wann pleaded guilty to these charges in December, in exchange for prosecutors’ dismissing five other weapons-related charges. The prosecutors’ sentencing memorandum stated that “during the summer of 2018, Wann possessed illegal firearms, ammunition, a grenade, dynamite and detonation cord.” Those weapons included a machine pistol.
Several local and federal agencies had investigated this weapons cache. “Wann knew that he was not permitted to possess these dangerous items and stated that he was concerned that if these items were recovered by law enforcement he would be arrested,” prosecutors wrote.
At Friday’s hearing, Wann’s attorney, Shandor Badaruddin, acknowledged that his client stole the items from a government facility in California in the late 1980s. He kept them, they explained, to prepare for an impending crisis.
“Mr. Wann didn’t possess these items to hurt anyone,” Badaruddin told Judge Christensen. “He was preparing for a future collapse. It’s not as crazy as it sounds."
"He just had them so that when the electromagnetic pulse occurs … he would be able to protect his community when government services were no longer available.”
During his own lengthy testimony, Wann referenced the Carrington Event, an 1859 solar storm that disrupted early electrical systems. “That’s important to us because if we had such an electromagnetic pulse from the sun today, the lights in here would not be on … our emergency systems would not handle what would happen.” He mentioned former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has warned of the threat of a man-made electromagnetic pulse, before Christensen cut him off.
“How are explosives going to assist you if that scenario occurs?” the judge asked.
“Blowing trees down” to bar people from stealing food or harming his family, Wann replied.
“I’m a prepper,” he told the judge. “I’ve put away a five-year supply of fuel and food …. I live my life with a mentality of ‘always be prepared.’”
He and Badaruddin dwelled on his service in the U.S. Army and other roles, his lack of any prior criminal history and the many character references he’d received. Those other roles included law enforcement, according to court documents.
“I was stupid for doing what I did. It will never happen again,” Wann said.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Tara Elliott, the prosecutor in this case, told the judge that “there are a few things that Mr. Wann said that are a little bit troubling to the government.”
In their sentencing memorandum, she and trial attorney Taryn Meeks wrote that Wann threatened violence during the investigation; that he tried to recover some of his weapons in a burglary, stealing others in the process; and that he “possessed a wig for ‘surveillance’ and had a ‘kill list’ and specifically identified two individuals he wanted to do ‘some righteous vigilante stuff’ against.”
Those plans “have nothing to do with being a prepper,” Elliott told the judge.
In the end, Christensen sided with the prosecution. “As long as you share Mr. Wann’s view of the world, you find him to be a law-abiding, gentle soul. But the facts of this case indicate that Mr. Wann has an aspect to his belief system … that pose a threat to the community.”
He sentenced Wann to 48 months and three years’ supervised release, a prison sentence that fell within the prosecution’s requested range. He added, “I am profoundly disappointed by the lack of acceptance of responsibility in this case.”
About two dozen supporters came for the hearing, and several took issue with the judge’s assessment of Wann. One of them, former Montana State Rep. Jerry O’Neil, R-Columbia Falls, told the Missoulian afterwards that “I don’t agree that he’s a danger to the community.”
O’Neill said he knew Wann through their involvement with Liberty Fellowship, a Kalispell church led by Pastor Chuck Baldwin. The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Montana Human Rights Network have accused this group of spreading anti-government extremism.
A 2009 Flathead Beacon article described Wann carrying a handgun and wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, holding a "Nazi Checkpoint Ahead" to warn motorists of nearby law enforcement.
Travis McAdam, the Montana Human Rights Network's research director, said that these ideologies have long been present in the Flathead Valley. “It seems pretty consistent with what’s gone on up there before. That link to Baldwin’s church does not surprise me at all.”
But whatever his backers’ motives, Wann valued their presence. Before the U.S. Marshals escorted him out, he turned and said, “Thank you, guys.”
An elderly man, wearing an olive green jacket with a “Sovereign Montana State Posse” patch, stood and saluted.