by Tom Laceky, Associated Press
WHITEFISH, Mont. - Police say David Burgert is a trouble-making blowhard and his alleged "Project 7" assassination plot probably is fantasy.
But they are watching their backs. Carefully.
"You never know. A lot of people thought something like the World Trade Center would never happen," Police Chief Bill Dial said. "I take extremist groups seriously. Would they have done it? I don't know. Your guess is as good as mine."
Investigators believe Burgert's group was plotting to trigger an anti-government revolution. Detectives say they discovered it last month when a Project 7 member tipped them off after Burgert beat him up.
According to Flathead County Sheriff Jim Dupont, the conspirators planned to kill judges, prosecutors and police officers in such numbers that the National Guard would be sent in. The troops then would be killed, forcing the federal government into the fray and sparking a national uprising.
How serious was the plot?
Project 7 amassed a huge arsenal machine guns, 30,000 rounds of ammunition, explosives, night-vision equipment, body armor and booby traps that Dupont estimates may have cost hundreds of thousands.
Authorities say Burgert's girlfriend, Tracy Brockway, 32, penetrated the Whitefish Police Department as a cleaning woman and compiled "intelligence files" with extensive personal information on county law-enforcement officers and their families.
The Project 7 name refers to Flathead County license plates, all of which begin with the number seven.
Flathead County, which borders Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana, is staunchly conservative. Many residents work as loggers or miners and are quick to vilify environmentalists and the federal government.
But Dial dismissed any notion that Project 7 is a symptom of right-wing radicalism. "We just view them as criminals, as thugs," he said.
Burgert's lawyer, Mark Sullivan, did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday. But Brockway's lawyer, Gary Doran, said police seem to be engaging in the sort of conspiracy theories they usually ridicule.
The charges originated with "a 17-year-old kid who got in a fight with Mr. Burgert and went away very angry and immediately gave statements to police officers," Doran said.
Until now, Burgert, 38, has been a petty, though frequent, problem for local officers. Because he had a criminal record in Alabama and Colorado, Dupont barred him several years ago from joining the county search-and-rescue team.
"He has hated me ever since absolutely hated me," the sheriff said.
The police chief in nearby Kalispell, Frank Garner, supposedly was targeted by the group. A 17-year veteran, he said he considered it a credible threat since "not many go to these lengths."
Burgert was arrested Feb. 8 on charges unrelated to the alleged plot and remains jailed in Kalispell. He is accused of assaulting an officer when police came to arrest a friend who had fled to Burgert's home. Brockway is charged with hiding Burgert while he was a fugitive on the assault charge.
No one has been charged in the alleged assassination plot.
There are two more Project 7 members Garner especially wants to see behind bars, and investigators are building cases against them. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI also are investigating.
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Dupont and others think that Project 7 had eight to 10 people, and that only two or three close to Burgert may have been involved with the assassination plot.