The Pale Horse: The Northwest Montana Insurgency and its Aftermath (1987-2002)


"Night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come.
And some of our men just in from the border say
There are no barbarians any longer.

Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution." -
Constantine Cavafy


Prologue (1924-1987)

The Scarecrow and the Tin Man (1924-1940)
This Land Is Your Land (1940-1970)
The Islands of the Mad (1955-1975)
Map: The Constituent Syndicalist Republics of the CSA
A Mighty Fortress is our God (1975-1987)
Going Hot (1987)
Map: Spheres of Influence in the Americas (1987)

The First Phase (1987-1989)

A Brief Catalogue of the Dead (1988)
A Rifle Behind Every Blade of Grass (1987-1988)
Map: The Syndicalist Internet: Cybersyn and DigiTel
Down With the Traitors, Up With the Stars (1989)
Operation Wagon Train (1989)

Destroying the Village in Order to Save It (1989-1992)

Death From Above (1989-1990)
Because We Live Here (1990)
Go West, Young Man (1990-1991)
The Widening Gyre (1991-1992)
Map: 1992 Pacific States House of Representatives Elections
The Plains Massacre (1992)
Shiny Happy People Holding Hands (1992)

A Melancholy Long Withdrawing Roar (1992-1994)

Partial radio transcript (23 May 1993)
Map: Global Spheres of Influence and Proxy Wars (1965-1995)
Alan Clark's War (1992-1993)
Map: The Gnomes of Brussels
Timeline: Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom/Chairmen of the Trades Union Congress (1918-1992)
No Fighting in the War Room (1993)
Interlude: The New Afrika and Gullah CSRs
Tougher Than You Can Imagine (1993)
Haig's Gamble (1993)
Theorie des Partisanen (1993-1994)
A Brief Catalogue of the Dead II (1994)
The Assassination of John Brennan Considered as a Downhill Motor Race (1994)

Jeder Für Sich und Gott Gegen Alle (1994-1998)

Map: Territorial Control of Northwest Montana (1994)
Interlude: The State of the Unions
A Line in the Sand (1994)
Five Days in May (1994): Part I – The Darkling Plain
Five Days in May (1994): Part II – Catching the Car
Five Days in May (1994); Part III - Suffering Shipwreck with Dignity
Five Days in May (1994); Part IV - the Battle of Chicago
Infobox: the May Crisis
Creating a Reality for Ourselves where the Bleeding is (1994)
Go, Ghost, Go (1994)
Map: Northwest Montana during the Siege of Butte (1994)
maybe SOMEONE will be able to see SOMETHING as it really is WATCHOUT (1994-5)
The Sinews of Peace (1995-1997)
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The Scarecrow and the Tin Man (1924-1940)
The Scarecrow and the Tin Man (1924-1940)

The Minneapolis People’s Hall’s status as a virtually unique survival of American Syndicalism has ensured that it remains a Mecca for interested visitors even today: no itinerary based around “Syndistalgia” can possibly omit it as a destination. While the collapse of the Combined Syndicates of America in the 1990s and the ensuing American “lost decade” saw most other People’s Halls disposed of to the highest bidder, converted to inferior copies of Anglo-Canadian “shopping complexes” or simply carved up into smaller developments, it has been preseverd by the efforts of the Heartland branch of the Syndicalist Union Party as a more-or-less functioning simulacrum of what it once was: it regularly serves as a venue for Party Congresses and commemorative events (most recently the 90th birthday celebrations of Party Secretary and perennial Presidential candidate for the SUP Walter Mondale); the cafeteria still serves the unvarying menu on which 1950s Syndicalist America dined out (soup, meatloaf, hotdish, choice of two vegetables); and twenty-year-old posters advertising the 55th anniversary celebrations of the Combined Syndicates of America’s establishment still adorn the walls. For visitors entirely unmoved by this display of loyalty to an effectively dead political system, the People’s Hall provides other compensations. The brainchild of Finnish immigrant architect Alvar Aalto, the People’s Hall is a superb example of the “People’s Architecture” which became a defining feature of the CSA’s urban landscape from the early 1940’s onwards: while at its worst (the truly horrible Landsend development in Red Hook springs immediately to mind) this style was a crumbling and unhuman advertisement of state power over the lives of the buildings’ inhabitants, here it rises to attain a kind of stark beauty.

The interior’s point of greatest interest from an aesthetic perspective is the cafeteria. The Formica tables and flickering lights can do little to detract from the remarkable series of early 1950s Socialist Realist murals covering the walls: showing sharecroppers and factory workers marching eternally together towards a Syndicalist utopia, they commemorate Minneapolis’ indelible association with the pre-Second Civil War political movement which played an outsize role in the Upper Midwest’s involvement in that conflict and in the immediate postwar politics of the CSA – the Farmer-Labor Party.

While a populist alliance of small farmers and industrial workers arrayed against the forces of Capital had been proposed multiple times in the half-century prior to its foundation, it was at the 1924 Minneapolis-St Paul Conference that this coalition became a genuine political force. Against the backdrop of a ten-year agricultural recession ineptly combated by a series of one-term Presidents and a legal environment increasingly proscriptive of union activity, the Farmer-Labor Party flourished across the pre-Civil War states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas and Montana, furnishing Congress with four Senators and twelve Congressmen by the 1936 Presidential election.

The Farmer-Labor Party found particularly fertile ground in Montana, absorbing the Non-Partisan League almost immediately and exploiting the decades-old tension between small farmers and the wealthy ranchers who sought to appropriate their land for grazing, and made strong inroads with miners and loggers in the wake of brutal industrial disputes which had left several union members dead: smallholder and syndicalist organizer J. W. Anderson won 8% of the vote in the 1924 Senatorial election, while logging union representative David Goodhew managed 17% in the 1928 Gubernatorial election. The high water mark of the Farmer-Labor Party’s success in Montana, however, came from an unexpected source.

Since his election to the Senate in 1922, Burton K Wheeler had carved out a position for himself on the left of the Democratic Party, butting heads with party bosses in Montana and nationally in the process; by 1934, his increasingly radical and populist rhetoric had poisoned his relationship with the Montana Democratic Party, which succeeded in primarying him in the Senatorial election of that year. If the Party had hoped to force his exit from politics altogether, they failed: although Wheeler was notably silent during the 1934 election (ultimately comfortably won by the Republican candidate) he had spent the remainder of the year cultivating old connections with Non-Partisan League organizers and elected Farmer-Labor Party officials, and announced in early 1935 that he intended to stand for the Governorship of Montana as an “independent Democrat” with the enthusiastic backing of the Farmer-Labor Party.

The 1936 Gubernatorial election in Montana took place in a climate of increasing unrest, as the Presidential election proceeded to its violent and uncertain conclusion: as the summer wore on, violent clashes between Wheeler’s supporters and their Republican and Democratic counterparts became increasingly commonplace, with strikes and lockouts paralyzing much of urban Montana. The violence reached its climax at the Battle of Butte, when striking workers at the Anaconda Copper were met by the Montana National Guard, with multiple fatalities on both sides. As November approached, it was clear that, whoever emerged as victor, Montana would enter 1937 as a hopelessly divided state.

The results of the Presidential election in Montana were fairly unexciting, with 60% of voters supporting Alf Landon’s bid for president: the elections for Governor went down to the wire. As results began to trickle in by telegram on the evening of November 3, it became rapidly clear that the race was between Wheeler and Democratic Congressman Roy Ayers, with the Republicans in a distant third. While the party in the lead changed hands multiple times over the course of the count, by the time the smoke had cleared on the morning of the 4th, Wheeler had been elected Governor of Montana by the slimmest of margins.


Taking office in 1937, Wheeler prepared for a four-year fight to push legislation through a State House of Representatives that was broadly hostile to him, while the State House prepared to stonewall him at every opportunity. This stalemate would be broken by outside events within weeks. While Montana was largely isolated from the worst of the violence which immediately preceded the Second American Civil War, the breakdown of civil authority across much of the Western United States hadn’t escaped observers in the state: consequently, the Chicago and New Orleans Declarations by Jack Reed and Huey Long respectively came as little of a surprise. The House of Representatives (largely loyal to the Washington Government) acted immediately to ensure that Montana remained in the Federalist column: Wheeler was placed (“for his own safety”) in temporary protective custody while articles of impeachment could be introduced. The response from the Farmer-Labor Party (alerted to Wheeler’s predicament by a sympathetic National Guardsman) was instantaneous. As strikes broke out throughout Montana, a column of mineworkers set off from Butte to liberate their Governor. Joined by smallholders and sympathetic industrial workers on the way, it had swelled to a band thousands strong by the time it reached the outskirts of Helena. The interim State government called out the National Guard to disperse the column; the Guardsmen, faced with a choice between joining the column and inciting a massacre, either joined the marchers or fled. Wheeler was reinstated as governor by a chastened House of Representatives within hours.

Wheeler ruled virtually by decree for the remainder of the American Civil War. Although personally sympathetic to the syndicalist cause, he ensured that Montana’s stance was broadly one of neutrality, signing an interstate compact with the governors of North and South Dakota which pledged that state National Guards would not be used other than to defend state borders against troop incursions. The compact notwithstanding, Wheeler was able to provide the Chicago government with a significant amount of quiet assistance: Montana’s food exports alone, channelled to the syndicalists, were essential to the survival of Reed’s government through the winter of 1937.

On the victory of the syndicalists, the Farmer-Labor Party threw its wholehearted support behind the new government: the Montana branch of the FLP sent delegates alongside its sister state parties to Chicago in 1940, forming collectively the largest group in the Chicago Congress. Within a few short years, the FLP would come to regret its embrace of syndicalism.
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This Land is Your Land (1940-1970)
This Land is Your Land (1940-1970)

The first decade of the Combined Syndicates of America’s existence was, on balance, remarkably successful for both the Farmer-Labour Party and its Montana constituents. As a reasonably cohesive body within an intensely factional Chamber of Syndicates, the FLP was able to punch well above its weight in terms of actually influencing policy: even after its merger into the Syndicalist Union Party in 1944 (under incoming Chairman William Z Foster’s “One Big Party” initiative, which converted the SUP into the sole permitted political organization within the CSA) Burton Wheeler’s position as Secretary of the Exterior and LaFolette’s as Agriculture Secretary gave the policies that it supported a genuine chance of implementation.

LaFolette’s ambitious program of agricultural reform was wholeheartedly supported at the outset by the Western smallholders who had made up the core of the FLP’s pre-Civil War support: under its aegis, “agricultural collectives” consisting of a dozen or so small farms pooling labour and resources were established and provided with interest-free credit to acquire modern machinery: their agricultural surplus was purchased by central government at a fixed price to be transported East. In tandem with widespread rural electrification projects, this policy paid initial dividends: agricultural production across the West as a whole doubled from 1940 to 1955.

This overall increase in productivity, however, masked significant regional variations. In general, where the Bureau of Agriculture was able to draw on experience of pre-Civil War cooperative farming (most notably in Minnesota and Wisconsin) and where local farming patterns and land use responded well to economies of scale, land reform was an enduring success, with many collectives surviving even the collapse of the Combined Syndicates of America (in a rare bright spot for the CSA’s successor state during the “lost decade” of the 1990s, a Wisconsin dairy collective won first prize for soft cheese in an international competition held in Paris, beating out dozens of French competitors to the embarrassment of the Gallic press). Elsewhere, unforeseen difficulties arose almost immediately.

Montana in particular experienced a troubled rollout of the agricultural reform program. While yields increased somewhat over the first five years of collectivisation, a steady decline in agricultural output had set in by the mid 1950s, increasing towards the end of the decade. The immensely fertile soil which had attracted immigrants to Montana in the late nineteenth century was the product of eleven thousand years of post-glacial accretion: with the advent of modern farming techniques, it had essentially exhausted itself by the middle of the century. It was clear to the dullest Bureau of Agriculture scientist by 1960 that, absent a drastic rationalisation of agriculture in Montana (by now part of the “Grangeland Constituent Syndicalist Republic”, comprising Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and the Dakotas to the West of the Missouri River), much of the Western CSA would become a dustbowl within a decade.

Had the rationalisation happened in 1950, it would have been influenced by former Farmer-Labour Party politicians and conducted with sensitivity towards the FLP’s former constituents. A decade later, however, much of the FLP’s residual power had ebbed away. William Z Foster had been surprisingly adept at reducing factional dissent within the Chamber of Syndicates and constructing an incipient bureaucratic apparatus to support the functioning of the Combined Syndicates of America, but his clearly failing health from the mid-1950s onwards meant that talk was increasingly focused on a possible successor. By 1960 the winner of this factional struggle had become apparent: with James Burnham regularly photographed alongside Foster, it was simply a matter of time before he ascended to the Chairmanship.

Burnham, aided by a narrow coterie of ideological fellow-travellers and clients (most notably Robert McNamara and B. F. Skinner) espoused “managerialist syndicalism” as his guiding philosophy: while an ultimate goal of workplace democracy was desirable, the CSA would require an undefined interim period of rule by a class of industrial and political experts until American workers had been sufficiently educated to assume the reins of power. Against this, the FLP’s populism and support of mass political participation appeared increasingly antiquated to much of the CSA’s leadership.

The progressive marginalisation of the former FLP began with Wheeler’s replacement as Secretary of the Exterior by McNamara, and accelerated through the 50s: although the final sidelining of FLP-sympathetic elements of the Congress of Syndicates would have to wait until 1964, when Hubert Humphrey (one of the few Congressmen first elected after the Civil War with a FLP background) was summarily dismissed as President of the Heartland CSR, Burnham’s manoeuvres had ensured that the agricultural rationalisation inflicted on Montana’s farming collectives would be planned and implemented entirely by bureaucrats rather than politicians.

The 1960s saw harsh but ineffectual measures taken to shore up Montana’s farming and logging industries: with no other real tools at its disposal, the Bureau of Agriculture desperately sought economies of scale by combining collectives into larger and larger units, controlled by expert agronomists out of air-conditioned offices in Helena. Families who had managed to scrape a living from the land for fifty years were driven off their plots, sometimes with virtually no warning, to allow land to be used for grazing rather than farming or simply to recover for a decade. In some cases, rather than face an uncertain future in Butte or performing menial labour in one of the Grangeland CSR’s logging complexes, families sought to fight back: the Grangeland CSR’s internal records for the 1960s contain over a hundred separate accounts of where confrontations between Bureau of Agriculture agents (increasingly supported, as the decade went on, by detachments of People’s Militia infantrymen) ended in gunfire. While such incidents were hushed up to the greatest extent possible, wild rumours of standoffs between entire collectives and the state government percolated into the public consciousness. By 1970, Grangelanders were beginning to wonder if, in supporting the syndicalists against the ranchers, they had simply swapped one autocratic master for another.
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Interesting to see Burnham in this TL; are his views in line with the KX depiction of him or more moderate?
This is excellent, one of the first timelines I've read line by line without skimming in a while. Definitely watching with interest!
The Islands of the Mad (1955-1975)
The Islands of the Mad (1955-1975)

On first appearances, Walker Percy is an unlikely candidate for the best-known literary dissident of the 20th century. Born into a prominent Alabama political family in 1916, his medical studies at the University of North Carolina were interrupted in 1939 when he was drafted (despite failing a medical assessment in 1937) into the Army of the American Union State, by now fighting a desperate rearguard action against the Chicago government in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He served as a combat medic through the last terrible months of the Second American Civil War, was captured at the Battle of Seneca and spent eighteen months in a prisoner of war camp prior to his release in 1941.

Barred by his status as a formerly enemy combatant from all but the most menial of jobs in his field, he found work as a medical orderly in a New Orleans hospital, writing for an unlicensed literary magazine on his evenings off, until his family’s links to the ancien regime and his association with persons deemed to be undesirables marked him out as a target to authorities of the Gulf CSR in 1957.

Percy had picked a particularly poor time to be arrested. Just two years earlier, the controversial behavioural psychologist and British exile William Sargant, whose development of the diagnostic category of “social autism” (a psychological condition involving “excessive and morbid individuality” and a lack of “social consciousness”) had endeared him to the highest echelons of the CSA, had been placed in charge of the Mental Hygiene Bureau, in whose eleven original “Mental Hygiene Facilities” in north-west Montana dissidents diagnosed with social autism were “treated”. Sent to Helmville, Percy was subjected over the next twelve years to an intense regime of political re-education, electroconvulsive shock therapy, insulin shock therapy, and massive barbiturate dosing: he narrowly avoided a lobotomy due to a “paperwork error”, likely caused by a sympathetic psychiatrist.

By the time Percy was released in 1969, the Mental Hygiene Bureau’s remit had increased significantly: large areas of north-west Montana had been transferred to the direct control of the Bureau, where an estimated 50,000 dissidents were held. The Bureau’s increasing identification with Burnham, however, was ultimately to prove its undoing – upon the enforced “retirement” of Burnham in 1970 by the Chamber of Syndicates, and the subsequent installation of George Meany as Chairman, the Bureau’s powers were almost entirely removed, with William Sargant being arrested for fraud and malversation of public funds in 1972.

Provided with a Certificate of Rehabilitation and barred from leaving the Grangeland CSR, Percy took a position as night watchman in a warehouse: The Islands of the Mad, exposing the Mental Hygiene Bureau, was written over the next three years and distributed underground as one of many “self-publications” in the CSA until a copy was smuggled to the Pacific States of America and subsequently published to universal acclaim in 1977. Immediately propelled to international fame as a dissident, Percy and his family were ultimately allowed to emigrate to the Pacific States in 1981: the recipient of the Nobel Prize of Literature in 1983, he took up a position in the English Faculty of San Francisco State University, dying in 1990.

Percy was unusually fortunate: many of the other inhabitants of the Mental Hygiene Facilities, irrecoverably broken by the attentions of the behaviourists, were condemned to a twilight existence on the margins of society even after their release, forced into virtual slave labour in the Grangeland CSR’s mines and logging camps. As North-West Montana swelled with regime critics, petty criminals and undesirables, the tinder was slowly laid for a conflagration which would play its role in the downfall of the CSA itself.
This is an incredible timeline. Love the combination of familiar political figures of 20th Century America and Middle American aesthetics/culture with a radically different political regime.
Percy had picked a particularly poor time to be arrested. Just two years earlier, the controversial behavioural psychologist and British exile William Sargant, whose development of the diagnostic category of “social autism” (a psychological condition involving “excessive and morbid individuality” and a lack of “social consciousness”)
It's very hard to explain, but this feels like a uniquely American form of political suppression and self-justification. There's something about pathologizing it, making it clinical and medical, that makes this feel unique and distinctly in-character. Truly excellent writing.
A Mighty Fortress is our God (1975-1987)
A Mighty Fortress is our God (1975-1987)

A nation’s strangest religions have always found refuge in the broken hills and forests of its hinterland, and the far West of Montana in the early days of the American Syndicalist regime attracted the religiously heterodox with the same magnetic power that the “burned-over district” of upstate New York had manifested a century earlier. Utopian communes and polygamist sects flocked to the relative liberty of the Grangeland CSR during the first decade of the CSA’s existence, much to the embarrassment of local government.

The “St Regis Raid” of 1953 is a good illustration of the sometimes fraught relationship between religious immigrants to the region and Grangeland state authorities: a combination of local law enforcement and People’s Militia infantrymen forced entry into a compound operated by a fundamentalist Mormon commune consisting of about 400 people. The commune had been tipped off the night before the raid by a friendly highway patrolman, and ensured that the raid was met by the adult members of the community singing hymns inside the schoolhouse while the children played outside. The entire community, including 263 children, was taken into custody.

Met by a mixed reaction even with non-fundamentalist Grangelanders – as the Helena Union-Leader opined in an editorial, “By what stretch of the imagination could the actions of the Short Creek children be classified as insurrection? Were those teenagers playing volleyball in a school yard inspiring a rebellion? Insurrection? Well, if so, an insurrection with diapers and volleyballs!” – the raid rapidly proved itself an embarrassment for the government, who had quietly released the vast majority of the adults within a week (although the children, in some cases, were kept as wards of the state for up to two years). The Grangeland CSR’s leadership, seeking to avoid any course of action which could lead to an official censure from Chicago, largely left the religious communes unmolested for the remainder of the decade.

So much for the 1950s. By 1960, the bureaucratic capture of the CSA was virtually complete: with those elements within government which drew on the nineteenth-century American tradition of utopian religious communes for inspiration almost entirely marginalised, the sects finding refuge in Grangeland ceased to be regarded as any sort of forerunner to syndicalist governance and began to be perceived as a threat.

Measures for social control followed. The crackdown on independent worship which ensued was far less comprehensive than in the CSA’s Centroamerican and Brazilian fellow traveller states, partly because the Church in America had been less intimately linked with the functioning of the pre-revolutionary State, and partly because the Chicago government was frankly uninterested in burning any political capital on a repeat of Brazil’s Campanha Antiteista of the late 1950s, which had seen the first open and organized resistance to that government and ultimately resulted in a wholesale purging of its relevant departments. Accordingly, most mainstream denominations were able to continue to worship more or less unmolested (and some fairly heterodox, if CSA-supporting, ones, as the Revd Jim Jones proved through the 1970s and 1980s). However, the requirements introduced in 1965 for every place of worship obtain registration documents from their local CSR, to provide the texts of any sermons for pre-approval by the state and for religious communes to present themselves for inspection by officials at any time left a sizeable minority of Grangelanders progressively dissatisfied.

Most of the religious communes and larger communities in western Montana had been dissolved (either through state action or by a simple process of attrition) by the 1970s: inevitably, the vacuum created would be filled by outside actors.

While the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had agreed to halt proselytization in the CSA in 1965 in exchange for the recognition of Mormonism as a religion by state authorities, its various fundamentalist offshoots continued their missionary work, moving from safehouse to safehouse and spreading their gospel to underground congregations in disused barns, abandoned warehouses or simply in out-of-the-way fields and groves. Notwithstanding the sheer risks which the missionaries were running – any unauthorized citizen of the Pacific States of America caught in the Grangeland CSR was liable for summary execution as a spy – a community of fundamentalist Mormons gradually coalesced from the 1970s onward.

Rousas Rushdoony had a similar impact on the Grangeland CSR’s religious life: born into an Armenian family that (according to family legend) had supplied at least one priest in each generation for seventeen hundred years and who had fled to California in the wake of the Armenian Genocide, his religious studies pulled him progressively in the direction of Dominionism, the idea that America should be governed by a priesthood and according to the dictates of Old Testament law (involving, inter alia, death by stoning for homosexuality, adultery, witchcraft and disrespecting one’s father). Rushdoony, who combined absolute fanaticism with undeniable physical and moral courage, bribed a Grangeland border guard in 1964 and managed to infiltrate a hard labour camp with his family: preaching in secret to the prisoners, he had amassed a genuine following both within the camp and in its surrounding logging and mining collectives by the time of his death.

In some cases, the vacuum was filled by even stranger and less palatable theologies. Ben Klassen, a Los Angeles used car salesman, founded in 1965 the Church of The Creator, a pantheistic religion which espoused beliefs in fruitarianism and the natural superiority of the Aryan race, and in an impending and inevitable “Racial Holy War”, which would see the extermination of all non-White people and the foundation of a divinely-guided world ethnostate. Klassen chose to proselytise through the airwaves: the two radio towers in Idaho that he purchased were able, despite increasingly frantic attempts at frequency jamming by the Grangeland CSR, to beam sermons to every house with a radio from the late 1970s onwards. Even this warped religion found fertile ground for adherents in western Montana: to the dispossessed small farmers, remaining victims of the “therapeutic state” of the 1960s and remaining underground utopians, the concept of an approaching apocalypse seemed more and more convincing as the 80s approached, bringing in its wake a series of commodity shocks and a lengthy recession which reduced living standards for Grangelanders still further. Sheltering from largely ineffectual state efforts at stamping unauthorised religions out, the Grangelanders waited for a single spark to ignite the conflagration which they knew would soon come.

Going Hot (1987)
Going Hot (1987)

The events of 3 May 1987 in Kalispell are virtually unique among the first year of what would become the Western Montana Insurgency, in that their order and nature is known with reasonable certainty: at least one of the participants was still alive in 2016, and was willing to describe what happened under conditions of strict anonymity for British journalist Robert Fisk’s documentary on the Insurgency.

As far as anyone can tell, Officers Frank Clarke and Harry Gunderson were entirely typical of the rural sections of the Grangeland People’s Militia in the late 80s. From the middle-aged Clarke’s perspective, the posting in Kalispell was the end of the line for a career in law enforcement in Omaha marked by a patchy disciplinary record: from the nineteen-year-old Gunderson’s, the job served as a berth against possibility that he would be drafted into the military of the CSA and serve a tour of duty in Centroamerica.

As People’s Militia pay remained constant on paper even as inflation peaked at an annualised 15% in March 1986, they would have experienced the same decline in living standards as the people for whose safety they were responsible. While they appear to have engaged in graft to a limited extent, allowing collective grain and goods surpluses to “disappear” in exchange for kickbacks, they weren’t unusual in this course of action: even if they had heard rumours that whole People’s Militia departments slightly further south were running firearms and drugs into the Pacific States of America, they certainly weren’t capable of copying their example, even if willing. With violence stemming from the land rationalisations of the 1960s and 1970s largely a thing of the past, Clarke and Gunderson had little to do but cruise around Kalispell and its immediate environs, turn in the occasional civilian caught with contraband goods and report the increasing prevalence of the words “NORTHWEST FRONT” and tricolor flag graffiti painted on abandoned buildings to an entirely uninterested Grangeland Bureau of Security.

In the morning of 3 May 1987, the Kalispell Militia Station received an anonymous phone call stating that an unauthorized logging team was working about five miles outside Kalispell. Scenting the opportunity to receive a payoff in exchange for looking the other way, Clarke and Gunderson volunteered to check out the location that morning.

They were driving down a logging road three miles from the Station when they hit an improvised and hidden spike strip, immediately blowing out their vehicle’s front tires. As the car slithered to an uncontrolled stop, three men, concealed behind a ridge above the road, opened fire on the driver’s side: Clarke, hit twice in the chest, was killed instantly. A severely wounded Gunderson managed to exit the vehicle and draw his sidearm: he was in the process of calling in backup before a shot to the head silenced him for good. The ambush party paused briefly to check that both of the officers were dead, search the vehicle for papers and valuables and spraypaint the by now familiar “NORTHWEST FRONT” on the hood of the car, before disappearing into the forest. The bodies were found twenty minutes later by a trucker hauling logs to Kalispell.

Clarke and Gunderson are notable for being the first two official victims of the Northwest Montana Insurgency. Over the next fifteen years, fourteen thousand others would join them.
Very interesting timeline here, going into depth over a single region and giving hints as to how things are in the wider world. Works very well with how you're set it all up. Is there a larger timeline this is connected to, or its own thing?
It's set very broadly within the same universe as Kaiserreich, but intended to be very much its own thing (although it builds off an abortive TL I planned out last summer about the first ten years of the CSA's successor state).