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This story was originally reported August 3, 2014.
Montana is no stranger to people who espouse anti-government sentiments. Some are simply concerned about the federal government and higher tax rates. Others share more extremist views.
And then there’s David Burgert.
“He’s the kind of guy who would do whatever he could to provoke you. I just think he felt things should be his way,” Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry said.
When he was younger, friends and family say, Burgert wanted to help others, particularly “people whom he perceived to be weaker,” according to journalist Jamie Rogers. So he decided to enlist in the Marine Corps.
“I think in his mind, joining the military was a way for him to get to be a hero, to live out his fantasies of helping and saving people,” said Rogers, who has interviewed Burgert’s family and friends and written extensively about him.
“When he got there, guys (were) screaming in his face every day, (and that) didn’t work with his chemistry.”
By the time he left the Marines, “violence had become a main form of expression,” Rogers said. “His mother says that he used to press his jeans, put on a cowboy hat and get really gussied up to go fight.”
Burgert had numerous encounters with law enforcement, starting in 1985, according to Rogers, with a bizarre drunken incident in which he broke into a trailer to eat a sandwich and, when he took off, left his loaded gun behind.
He called police to get his pistol back, and they arrested him. He served four years in prison for that incident.
After his release from prison, he applied to join a search and rescue team in Flathead County, but his criminal background prevented that.
“So he just becomes this like citizen watchdog, in his mind,” Rogers said.
But he maintained a very hostile relationship with law enforcement. “He was just one of those very confrontational individuals,” Curry said.
Rogers put it this way: “The guy was notorious for just being a pain in the ass.”In 2002, an FBI and police investigation uncovered that Burgert had been the leader of a militia group known as Project 7, based in the Kalispell, Montana, area.
The militia’s No. 2, Larry “Chance” Chezem, said Project 7’s focus was to be active participants in the republic to “keep government in line.”
But Curry disagreed. “The goal of this group was to assassinate people who had wronged them.”
After authorities found a massive stockpile of ammunition and weapons – including illegal machine guns – Project 7 members including Chezem and Burgert were arrested and convicted of federal weapons violations. Burgert was sent back to prison, this time for about seven years.
After his released from prison – reportedly in March 2010 – Burgert was allegedly squatting at a campsite near Lolo, Montana, about 10 miles outside Missoula, when someone called 911 to report suspicious behavior. After Missoula County deputies arrived to investigate, Burgert fled the scene in his Jeep Cherokee.
After a long car chase, Burgert drove off-road, got out of his car and fired at the officers. They returned fire, but when they approached Burgert’s car, they found that he had disappeared in the woods. A five‐day manhunt with cadaver dogs never found any trace of him.
To this day, Burgert remains missing and is wanted by U.S. Marshals. They say he is a skilled survivalist and consider him to be armed and dangerous.