Acceptance Speech

Members of the President's family, Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, family and friends.

I was both shocked and delighted four weeks ago when Caroline Kennedy called me in a little town in Montana to give me the great news that I had been selected as this year’s John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage recipient. I had a vague awareness of the award but my first reaction was disbelief. I couldn't figure out how I could be selected for such prestigious honor when I had no idea I was even being considered. I will also admit that at the time I was almost more in awe in talking with Caroline Kennedy than in getting the great news about the award.

My first recollection of any political race was in I160 when at the age of 7 I asked to see pictures in the newspaper of who was running for President of the United States. My first impression was that there was no question I would have voted for John F. Kennedy. Later I remember a schoolteacher telling us to remember the Kennedy presidency as having made some of the most eloquent speeches in our time. Looking back at those speeches now I believe she was right. The Kennedy presidency was one that I remember very fondly for the ideals expressed and the vision of a future where everyone could share in the American Dream. Politics was a noble profession to which a young person could aspire.

One of my biggest honors in being chosen to receive this award is to represent the Big Sky State of Montana. Apparently John F. Kennedy also was fond of our state. When he addressed the Montana Democratic convention in 1960, he quoted Thoreau: "Eastward I only go by force, westward I go free." Then he added, "That is why I have come to Montana."

President Kennedy's last stop was in Great Falls on September 26, 1963 where he closed his final speech by saying: "This sun in this sky which shines over Montana can be,

I believe, the kind of inspiration to us all to recognize what a great single country we have -- 50 separate states but one people living here in the United States, building this country and maintaining the watch around the globe. This is the opportunity before us as well as the responsibility."

As I appear before you today in the great state of Massachusetts and in this historical city of Boston I am proud to be part of these 50 great states. My experience the last five years in dealing with the Montana Freemen has instilled in me a great appreciation for our democratic form of government Until you have to fight for your government you tend to take it for granted. In 1994 in a small county in Montana with only 1,500 residents and one sheriff and one deputy, our people had to make a decision to take a stand against 30 armed insurrectionists which put their own lives and property at risk. Even with the knowledge of the risks, 80 people signed up to assist law enforcement in whatever was needed to be done to deal with a situation which was rapidly escalating into an armed confrontation. In accepting this award I wish to acknowledge the courage of those 80 people and of the rest of the community which overwhelmingly condemned this movement. In "Profiles in Courage" I was struck by the stands taken by different people in history which left them alone to fight the battle. Everyone seemed to desert them at one time or another. I never felt completely alone in this struggle. I had the people of Garfield County for support. I had Attorney General Joe Mazurek assisting on behalf of the State of Montana. When times got real bad I knew I could always call on Senator Max Baucus for help.

The story of Edmund G. Ross who cast the deciding vote in stopping the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson particularly touched me. Ross voted against the impeachment to save the Union against those who wanted to continue the struggles brought on by the Civil War. Years later the Kansas newspapers finally praised the actions of Ross. "By the firmness and courage of Senator Ross, it was said, the country was saved from calamity greater than war, while it consigned him into a political martyrdom, the most cruel in our history.... Ross was the victim of a wild flame of intolerance which swept everything before it. He did his duty knowing it meant his political death...It was a brave thing for Ross to do, but Ross did it. He acted for his conscience and with a lofty patriotism, regardless of what he knew must be the ruinous consequences to himself. He acted right." There is a growing wave of intolerance in this country by those groups, which call themselves patriots, militias, constitutionalists, common law courts, posse commitatus, and freemen. Their numbers are estimated at between 5 and 20 million. They appear to be the disenfranchised Americans who believe that government has gotten so corrupt that the only solution is revolution. They were not taken very seriously until the Oklahoma City bombing. They have not gone away although their movement has gone more underground. They will be back with the same hate-filled message filled with scapegoats and conspiracy theories for all their problems.

As a prosecutor I am not sure I did anything in this situation that any other prosecutor in America would not have done. Everyday all across this country men and women in law enforcement put their lives on the line to enforce the law so that the rest of us can live in peace. They are the true unsung heroes.

For many months before the FBI finally came to Garfield County, we tried to devise ways to serve our arrest warrants on fugitives residing in an armed camp. In those meetings I learned the immense pressure felt by our leaders when they have to send men into harms way. The decision to make any attempt to serve our arrest warrants could result in the death of law enforcement personnel and in those people you previously considered to be your friends and neighbors. Most importantly you learn that contrary to the television and the movie portrayals, sending armed men into an armed camp almost always results in something going wrong. I also learned that those in law enforcement who are trained to take these actions are much like you and I. They are married with families and their biggest desire is to go back to their families. I salute all of the fine men and women in the F.B.I, who came to our aid in Garfield County. I also want us to remember F.B.I. agent Kevin Cramer who lost his life in an automobile accident on his way to the standoff area. He left behind a wife and two small children and we should not forget that we did have a fatality caused by the standoff.

I want to share this honor with the people of the great state of Montana who have over the past few years had to deal with different types of hate groups in different communities. In almost every case, the communities have come to together to condemn the hate motivated activities. In Billings we had the wonderful example of a community showing support by placing menorahs in the windows of hundreds of homes after a Jewish family had a brick thrown through their window.

In other parts of Montana we have had other Freemen type activity in which law enforcement has vigorously prosecuted. Lately we had a fire set on one of our Hutterite colonies, which has led to condemnation by our congressman and an intensive criminal investigation.

In Billings, Montana a campaign to deal with hate groups used the message "Not in our Town." In Garfield County the message our people sent was clear, "Not in our County." In the State of Montana I am proud to say we have sent a message -"Not in our State." I stand before you today in the great state of Massachusetts and say "Not in this Country." Those groups who look with envious eyes at the vast open spaces of Montana with the idea of making it some type of refuge for white supremacists need to understand: We know about you and your hate filled ideas. We will expose the truth about you and the truth will defeat you. To the rest of America let Montana be an example of how hate can be conquered.

Finally I share this award with my wife and children who have had to endure the threats for the past 5 years. They have quietly stood by me and I thank them for that. I am deeply honored to accept this award and hope that I can live up to the ideals behind it each day of the rest of my life.

Remarks of Garfield County Attorney Nickolas C. Murnion, 1998 Profile in Courage Award recipient, May 29, 1998.