By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
"We've been harassing the government around here for about 15 years," he says, and shoots a mischievous grin at his wife, Margaret, who's busy frying bacon at the stove. "Isn't that right, ma? And they've been busy harassing us."
Lundeen's great-grandfather, a Swedish immigrant, homesteaded this farm after paying $10 for a permit in the 1870s. A copy of the land patent, issued by the federal government in 1877, declared his 160-acre freehold to be "secured for him and his heirs forever"--a promise Lundeen intends to hold county tax officials to.
When Sonny Lundeen dropped out of high school, got married, and bought the farm from his own father in 1961, making a living was easy enough if a man didn't plan on getting rich. "Trying to keep feet in your own soil now," he says, "after that Reagan bunch broke our backs, regulated and taxed farmers to hell, and assigned a bureaucrat for every acre, well, I don't know whether to laugh or cry myself to death." A study completed in 1991 by the family-farm advocacy organization Farms First estimated that small-scale dairy farmers must increase and expand an average of 60 percent every decade just to maintain a consistent rate of income. Plummeting market values over the past two decades, along with tax-forfeited land grabs by encroaching corporate farm operations, have put nearly a quarter of Burnett County family farms out of commission.
Fifteen years ago, Sonny Lundeen started having trouble with the inspections department. Two agents came out one morning on a routine tour of his facilities and grounds, and spent an hour crawling around on hands and knees with their checklists and regulations, "in every little crevice and crack they could think of." A week later, Lundeen was informed by mail that his Grade A milk license had been reduced to Grade B on a series of violations including a crack in the floor, illegal dogfood containers in the milkhouse, and a dirty water hose. The downgrading meant not only a loss of 35 cents per 100 gallons of shipped milk, but, even more disturbing to Lundeen, another reminder that "the government decides when to plant, when to plow, how to harvest, what to milk, how to ship, what the standards are, and how much income it can afford for individual farmers like me to make."
In the ensuing court battles over his licensing, which lasted nearly a decade before his Grade A permit was reinstated, Lundeen fired off a series of letters to the DA's office, claiming, among other things, that "you heap more injustice on my back and the yoke is indeed heavy: Proverbs 29, Verse 2." In fact, Lundeen filed so many appeals, demands for jury hearings, and photocopied pages from Black's Law Dictionary that, as one clerk at the government center in Siren remembers, "we had to basically create a whole new archive with his name on it. The weird thing is, we'd never even heard of half the document forms he mailed over here."
Some of those forms were handwritten, with the aid of fellow Wild River Patriots like Paul Ekblad. Some were produced on the manual typewriter in Lundeen's kitchen. Some were supplied by network affiliates around the country. In them, defendants charged with tax evasion, illegal money-order production, frivolous lien filings, operating without proper licensing, and a host of same-vein allegations, rely on a body of arguments and tactics that have put rural militia and protest groups on the political map.
Their arguments are culled from a random tangle of state and federal statutes (often out of date or irrelevant), case law (often dating back to the 1800s), and obscure legal manuals (often based on Revolution-era English feudal-tenant principals). They contest the charges, citing Article 2, Section 5 or 442 U.S. 228--any of the thousands of precedent cases that might bear quoting. They contest the jurisdiction of any of the "legislative bureaucracies that have nullified the Constitution." Most of all they contest the "whole oversophisticated U.S. legal procedure, which is a sham," as one of Lundeen's missives to a circuit court judge in 1983 put it.
The hopes pinned to these flurries of paper are, one, that courts will become so overburdened by the whole business that pending cases will be dismissed; two, that the intricately crafted arguments might suddenly move the American legal and political system to recognize the error of its ways; and three, that the patience of law-enforcement authorities will wear thin enough to cause them to leave protesters alone to conduct their sovereign business as they please. It is on this last hope that the Patriots and company fasten their movement.
The legal ground on which the Patriots and like-minded groups seek to stand is summed up in a single entry in a Black's Law Dictionary that Lundeen produces from his stack. Allodial. He reads the definition, which is highlighted in yellow marker, aloud: "What this says is 'Free; not holden of any lord or superior; owned without obligation of vassalage or fealty; the opposite of feudal.' This was the principal behind my suing the board, who are all thieves-by-taxation. This is what got Paul Ekblad into jail. This is the whole notion behind what you're seeing across the country right now."