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Freemen face court after Montana siege

Fourteen Freemen, ranging in age from 65-year-old rancher Ralph Clark to his 21-year-old grandson, Casey, faced criminal charges brought by the government whose legitimacy they denied in a courtroom in Billings, Montana yesterday.

The Freemen surrendered peacefully at sunset on Thursday night. After a group prayer, they walked out of their ranch into two FBI vans without being handcuffed. The 81-day siege that became the longest in modern US history cost several million dollars, with 633 FBI agents rotated in and out of remote eastern Montana.

President Bill Clinton praised the enforcement of the law "in a way that did not do harm to anyone".

The Freemen are accused of multi-million dollar fraud and issuing death threats as they set up their own courts, banks, and government. They run from dispossessed Montana ranchers to far-right activists from North Carolina. Two women from the ranch who did not face charges were released.

The siege ended after agents cut off telephones and electricity to the ranch 10 days ago. FBI director, Louis Freeh, said some agents were critical of the bureau for waiting too long. "I understand their impatience," he said, but "time was on our side."