CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — A former Iowa and Minnesota man who was at large for almost eight years before he was arrested on Montana's Crow Indian Reservation will be allowed to act as his own attorney to challenge federal gun charges stemming from a 2011 incident.
U.S. Marshals said Michael Duane Strain, 62, formerly of Lime Springs and Elma, Iowa, ascribes to sovereign citizen beliefs — claiming laws don’t apply to him.
And since his July arrest on a ranch in Montana’s Crow Indian Reservation, Strain has been largely silent during his appearances in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids.
He called the proceedings against him a “kangaroo court” and once answered a judge’s question by asking, “Should I be intimidated by you communists?”
That changed during a Sept. 9 hearing where the matter of his ability to represent himself in court came up.
According to court records, Strain told the Magistrate Mark Roberts he had completed five years of law enforcement training although he had never worked in law enforcement, and he said he represented himself in state court in Minnesota.
Roberts found Strain knowingly waived his right to an attorney and understood the possible consequences of acting as his own attorney. Roberts also appointed attorney Samuel Cross to be a standby for Strain’s case.
Another Minnesota man, Joseph Howard Yennie, attempted to intervene in Strain’s case. Yennie, who signed his name “Joseph Howard; of the Yennie Family” on a writ of habeas corpus challenging jurisdiction, asked to present facts and documents and “end the damages occurring to Michael Duane; of the Strain Family.”
A magistrate turned down Yennie’s motion, calling it “incomprehensible” and saying the section of the United States code it referred to doesn’t exist.
Strain also filed a lawsuit alleging he was being held unlawfully, backed by a notice of expatriation he filed in Minnesota in 2000. A judge dismissed the suit.
Court records show Strain’s current legal troubles have roots in a March 2001 traffic stop in Pine Island, Minnesota. A state trooper tried to pull over his Chevrolet pickup for expired license plates. The truck kept going for about half a mile until it stopped at a home on a gravel road where Strain’s passenger lived. The trooper found Strain had a revoked driver’s license and an unrestrained child in the vehicle.
Strain told authorities he didn’t pull over because he was “sovereign,” and he talked about the government’s inability to tax him and require a driver’s license, records state.
That resulted in charges of fleeing, intent to escape tax, driving after revocation, and driving without insurance.
A jury found him guilty during a trial in which he acted as his own attorney, and when authorities detained him following the verdict in Red Wing, Strain said he had a handgun in his truck and wanted to call his brother to take possession of the gun.
Deputies responded by having a K9 officer check his vehicle, and officers found a .357 Ruger with “Strain” engraved on the barrel, a .22-caliber handgun, a foot-long piece of capped PVC pipe, and a smoke bomb.
A bomb squad was called in from St. Paul, and an x-ray determined the pipe was packed with black powder and utility blades, according to court records.
Strain initially told authorities the pipe was filled with sand for weight, but when police indicated they intended to cut it open and asked if that would be safe, he admitted it held gunpowder. He said it was packaged that way to keep it dry, court records state. Investigators noted such precautions aren’t needed to store black powder, and it didn’t explain the razor blades.
Officers said the blades were likely designed as shrapnel to injure people, and noted the smoke bomb fuse could have been inserted in the pipe to detonate the device.
A subsequent search at Strain’s home turned up a short-barrel shotgun, according to court records.
Strain was arrested on explosives and firearm charges, and a jury found him guilty. When it came time for sentencing, the state noted the Minnesota state trooper who originally pulled him over in Pine Island and a judge had received bogus lien abatement documents despite a court order barring Stain from filing illegal liens and judgments.
Strain was sentenced to prison.
After prison, Strain had a few minor driving citations in Minnesota, and records indicate he had moved to Lime Springs, Iowa, by 2009.
Details about the current charges that landed Strain in federal court weren’t available. Court records show he was ticketed for a seat belt violation and arrested for misdemeanor interference in Howard County, Iowa, in a July 14, 2011, incident.
What followed on July 29, 2011, was an apparent search warrant through which authorities found 13 firearms — revolvers, shotguns, a bolt-action rifle, and a semi-automatic pistol — allegedly in violation of law prohibiting Strain from possessing guns because of his prior convictions. A federal grand jury handed up an indictment in connection with the firearms in October 2011, but Strain was apparently nowhere to be found.
In the years that followed, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms placed him on its top 15 most-wanted list for the agency’s Kansas City Field Office, and there were sightings in Minnesota, Wyoming, and Utah.
Federal marshals appealed to the public for information in June 2019.
On June 26, 2019, ATF agents received a tip that placed Strain in Montana and contacted the marshals.
Strain was detained without incident around 6 p.m. on July 3, 2019, on a remote ranch near Garryowen on the Crow Indian Reservation in southern Montana, a few miles south of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, according to Marshals.
Court records indicate authorities found numerous guns on the Montana ranch, as well as ammunition and several go-bags packed with essentials in the event of a hasty retreat.
In addition to the charges from the 2011 Iowa case, Strain faces charges for the weapons found when he was arrested in Montana. An indictment unsealed last week in U.S. District Court in Billings charges Strain with possession of firearms and ammunition by a person who had previously renounced United States citizenship. He was also charged with being a fugitive in possession of firearms and possession of firearms by a person with a prior conviction.