KALISPELL - Judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers were among those targeted for assassination by a Kalispell-based militia organization, according to local investigators who have been unraveling the plot since early February.
"We're pretty sure they were planning on assassinating as many cops and public officials as possible," said Flathead County Sheriff Jim Dupont. "We found weapons, ammunition, survival equipment, booby traps, body armor, explosives, bomb-making equipment, you name it. It all certainly supports the theory that there was going to be big trouble.
"The last I heard," he added, "it didn't take 30,000 rounds of ammo to kill a turkey."
Dupont said the group, called Project Seven, was headed by 38-year-old Dave Burgert, who was arrested earlier this month after an armed standoff that lasted nearly seven hours. Burgert had been awaiting trial on charges he assaulted a police officer in January 2001. He also faced charges of obstructing a police officer in a November 2001 incident.
Dupont said Burgert disappeared - faking his own death - just as a district judge was ordering he be taken off house arrest and placed in jail. He was nabbed after an informant - a member of Project Seven - led officers to the home of Tracy Brockway, where Burgert was hiding out.
Brockway, 32, is charged with obstruction of justice for harboring Burgert. She also is suspected of using her job as a cleaning woman at the Whitefish Police Department to gather information about officers and their families.
"They had these information sheets, actual forms printed out from a computer," Dupont said. "They had officers' names, addresses, places they eat, places they shop, stuff about their kids. They even had information on what medications one guy's wife was taking."
Dupont said those listed included himself, county deputies, city police officers, the county attorney, district judges and Kalispell's chief of police.
"The question," he said, "is whether this was a wide conspiracy or just Burgert."
The answer to that question may be hidden in the encrypted files found on a computer seized at Brockway's home. The computer, Dupont said, is currently being investigated by the state Criminal Investigative Bureau in Helena, but that process has been delayed by encryption locks placed on many files. In addition, he said, the machine appears to be equipped with two hard drives, further complicating evidence gathering.
Dupont expects that once cracked, the computer files could lead to additional charges against Burgert, as well as conspiracy charges against at least four other Flathead Valley residents.
Those residents, he said, all were part of the Project Seven militia cell. The militia's name, according to Dupont, refers to Flathead County license plates, which all begin with the number seven. A similar cell, called Project 56, is believed to be operating in adjacent Lincoln County. The plate-based cells, he said, each have about 10 members who are linked by a "mother cell" that serves as a communications hub.
While most of the militia organizations focus on the national government, Dupont said, Project Seven differed in that it targeted local officials.
"That's what Burgert did," Dupont said. "He had this gripe with local officials, and he put a real spin on things. He brought it home to the local level."
But although Burgert's plan might have started at the local level, Dupont said, it aspired to national - even international - grandeur.
Project Seven, Dupont said, hoped to kill enough judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers to force the state to call in the National Guard. The militia then hoped to kill enough National Guard troops to catch the federal government's attention.
Then, "because the federal government is of course incompetent and has this big conspiracy agenda," national leaders would call in NATO troops, Dupont said. That would spark a revolution, led by Burgert and others who "would ride to the rescue of America, delivering us from the hands of the Red Chinese that are massing north of the border," Dupont said. "Burgert would be carried out on their shoulders, the hero who saved America."
At least that's the plan as related by Dupont's Project Seven informant, a man the sheriff says "is very reliable. Nothing he's told us has not come true." (A "wanted poster" has since been circulated, including the suspected informant's picture and Social Security number, with the charge that he informed on the Montana State Militia.)
Proving Project Seven's plan, however, could be tricky, as those involved have known for weeks that much physical and electronic evidence was seized when Burgert was captured. At one home already investigated with a search warrant, Dupont said, the place was cleaned out before officers arrived. Outside was "a pile of burnt ashes - fresh ashes," he said. "There went the evidence."
Nevertheless, Dupont believes he has enough evidence to push for more warrants, and is pinning his hopes on the computer's contents to connect the remaining dots.
He meets Friday with federal prosecutors to determine whether federal conspiracy laws apply.
Reporter Michael Jamison can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or email@example.com.
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