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Exactly when Project 7 formed and to what extent the group was a militant, anti-government militia is difficult to pin down. Larry Chezem met Burgert at his rental shop in January 2001. Chezem, who had previously worked as a high school teacher and guidance counselor in Ronan, was then making a living installing and repairing satellite dishes in Flathead Valley homes. He had heard Burgert call in to a local talk radio show and found a common ground in Burgert’s suspicion of government. “We’d had a whole string of things—Waco, Oklahoma City, Ruby Ridge, the assault weapons ban,” he says. “If you had a viewpoint considered in opposition to the mainstream politic, you were harassed.”
Chezem found a like-mind in Burgert, and shortly after meeting, Burgert invited him to participate in a group he was organizing.
“[Burgert] told me he had hired a CPR instructor who would be giving weekend training sessions over the course of about six weeks,” Chezem remembers, and adds that the group had no name. The “Project 7” moniker, which alluded to the “7” on Flathead County license plates, was “fed to the media by Dupont,” he says.
Over time, the group’s ambitions evolved.
“We had all felt that things were moving in such a direction that there was a disaster coming down the road—man-made or natural,” Chezem recalls. “Our agreement was that we would train ourselves in survival skills as best we could and to get a knowledge base so that we could also train other people.”
- Phyllis Richards
- Prom. Camping, age 14.
Chezem says the stockpiling of food, clothing, medical supplies, “and yes,” ammunition and weapons, was not to orchestrate a government takeover, but to help “everyone in the community” in the event of catastrophe.
“It was no different from what the fire department was doing,” he says.
But as Project 7 took shape, Burgert’s problems with law enforcement grew more serious. On Jan. 5, 2001, Bob Cesnick, a member of his AA group, was signaled to pull over by a Highway Patrol vehicle. Like Burgert, Cesnick was paranoid about law enforcement. He panicked and drove straight to Burgert’s house without stopping.
A dashboard camera recording from that night depicts a chaotic scene. The Highway Patrol officers had been joined by Sheriff’s Deputy Tom Snyder, their vehicles parked behind Cesnick’s pickup truck. Though the beginning of the recording’s audio is muddled, charging documents would later allege that upon arriving, Burgert told Cesnick to go inside the house. When Snyder attempted to follow across the threshold of Burgert’s front door, Burgert attempted to forcibly stop him. Though neither of the two other officers would testify to witnessing it and though he sustained no injuries, Snyder claimed that Burgert punched him.
In the recording, after all of the men are outside again, Cesnick spits obscenities at the officers while Burgert urges him to calm down and just “talk to them.” Burgert tries to diffuse the situation.
“This man is afraid of police,” he says to the officers.
Finally, the officers leave and say they will recommend charges be pressed. As they get back in their vehicles, one officer says to another, “That other guy is Dave Burgert.”
The officer responds, “Oh, Burgert. Okay.”