Montana violence lands missionaries in jail | WORLD
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Montana violence lands missionaries in jail

Transcontinental walk marred by allegations of aggravated assault

From left: Jesse Michael Boyd, Eric Anthony Trent, and Josiah Boyd Photo courtesy of Jesse Michael Boyd

Montana violence lands missionaries in jail

Jesse Michael Boyd set out for no ordinary walk on Nov. 12. Snow blew across U.S. 287 as he marched along the Montana roadside in the cleft of the Continental Divide. The windchill factor hovered near zero.

Over his shoulder, the 46-year-old Boyd hugged a cross that read “ARE YOU READY?” on the horizontal beam and “REPENT OR PERISH” on the vertical. He’d borne the cross for thousands of miles from Cape Hatteras, N.C.

By nightfall, Boyd and four fellow missionaries were incarcerated, their gospel-inspired walk across America short-circuited. For days, the evangelists representing North Carolina–based Full Proof Gospel Ministries sat in three different jails and state-supervised foster care. And for days, Madison County authorities refused to identify the mysterious Montana man who accused them of aggravated assault. Their roadside clash—a crucible of faith, flag, firearms, and fisticuffs—tests the limits of constitutional freedoms.

Strange encounter

On that snowy Saturday, the mercury inched into the 20s by afternoon. Boyd took a break at a heated highway rest stop near unincorporated Cameron, Mont. On Instagram, he posted a photo of himself brewing a cup of coffee beside a window view of snowdrifts.

His daughter Bethany Grace Boyd, 18, and son Josiah Boyd, 12, joined him, along with Full Proof Gospel missionaries Eric Anthony Trent, 27, and Carter Norman Phillips, who’s 20. All are from North Carolina, save Missouri-based Phillips. They walked with Jesse Boyd or, driving just ahead, manned a vehicle bearing Bibles and supplies.

Full Proof Gospel Ministries follows the “colportage” model for distributing Bibles and religious tracts, a practice that grew out of the Protestant movement in Europe and reached its zenith in the U.S. through 19th-century Bible societies. Full Proof Gospel professes the Bible is blunt truth. In the walk across America, the group carries an upside-down U.S. flag. The intent, they say, isn’t to incite anyone but to awaken everyone to the need for spiritual renewal in a country suffering from sin. 

“We do not deface the American flag,” the Rev. Brandon Gwaltney said. “The flag is upside down because our nation needs to repent and turn to God.” According to the U.S. Flag Code, flying the American flag upside down is meant to be done “as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.”

As the missionaries returned to the chilly highway that Saturday, 12-year-old Josiah joined his father on foot. They caught up with their support vehicle, a silver 2022 Subaru Ascent, about 10 miles south of Ennis, Mont., after 4 p.m. They planned to stay overnight at a cabin across the Idaho border, then resume their walk. But as Boyd packed the back of the Subaru, a dark 2001 GMC Sierra pickup drove off the road from the north. 

Through the cab window, the driver scolded Bethany and the other missionaries. The exchange escalated. Boyd’s first thought as he rounded the Subaru was, “Some people just hate the cross.” Instead, he said, he faced a cursing tirade about blocking road access.

“It didn’t make any sense. He responded with just blasphemous profanity, with my son standing right there,” Boyd said. After he suggested the man wash his mouth out with soap, the driver reached for something in his cab, exited the truck, and came running at Boyd “like a cornerback on the football field.”

“I pulled my sidearm,” Boyd said, referring to a small derringer he’d armed himself with for protection against grizzlies. Montana is a constitutional carry state, so no permit is required to carry a firearm. The driver stopped. Believing the situation resolved, Boyd handed the gun to Trent, who placed it inside the Subaru.

Boyd gave this account of what happened next: He said the driver then renewed his attack, pinning him against the Subaru and screaming in his face, their noses touching: “He told us at that point, there were multiple rifles pointing at us, and if we moved we’d be shot.”

According to Boyd, the pickup driver punched him in the face, broke his sunglasses, and dragged him to the ground, where the man buried his face in the snow and pummeled him. His daughter wielded the group’s flag, Phillips poked the man with their cross, and Trent eventually subdued the man with a martial arts technique and asked, “Are you finished?”

Boyd said that upon being released, the man reignited the scuffle, tearing Trent’s sleeve and backpack off. Neighbors began approaching the scene, and the missionaries feared for their lives. “He said to us, ‘I know the sheriff in this county. You guys are going to jail,’” Boyd said. “He told the truth.”

Official record

When Deputies Daniel Wyatt and Alec Winn of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office arrived at 4:31 p.m., the missionaries were gone. They’d fled a short distance up the road to call 911. The pickup driver also called 911 and gave his account first to the deputies, whose vehicles the missionaries could see at the crime scene in the distance. Meanwhile, Boyd had sustained a bloody leg that went unnoticed when deputies responded to their 911 call.

The missionaries said they were forcibly handcuffed on their knees at gunpoint, surrounded by a SWAT-like team. Boyd’s 12-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter were hauled away in handcuffs. The four adults were booked on aggravated assault charges and dispatched to jails in neighboring counties.

Official details remained sketchy because the Madison County Sheriff’s Office does not maintain initial arrest reports. In most jurisdictions across the country, arrest reports are filed with the court of record following the arrest.

For decades, Helena attorney Peter “Mike” Meloy has specialized in Montana open records law cases involving media, private citizens, and government officials. When WORLD encountered resistance in securing information about the missionaries’ arrest in Madison County, Meloy insisted the initial arrest report is public record and should be obtainable.

After renewed requests, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office produced only a database log of the four defendant names, the charges, arresting officers, time, and arrest location. The pickup driver’s identity and all other details remained a mystery.

“Our department does not create initial incident reports, therefore there isn’t one to release,” said Christine Keltner, administrative assistant to acting Sheriff Craig Schroder. “Any other information requests will need to be directed to our County Attorney for release.”

After multiple messages requesting information, neither County Attorney Chris Christensen nor Deputy County Attorney David Buchler responded. Multiple requests for information from Kayla Bean, Madison County Justice Court administrator, also went unanswered.

While the missionaries waited to learn the identity of their accuser, they gained an ally in Montanan John Lamb, a recent Libertarian Party candidate for Congress with a history of supporting defendants he deems wrongly accused. On the day after Jesse Boyd and the other missionaries were jailed, Lamb took up their cause.

“I stand with these guys 100 percent,” said Lamb, a farmer, businessman, and father of 12 homeschooled children. “I know their principles and I know their demeanor.”

Justice defined

Facebook chats originally labeled the man who tussled with the missionaries a “rancher.” In Madison County, there are 10 head of livestock for each of the 8,917 persons. Yet not everyone who wears a cowboy hat and drives a truck in Montana is a rancher, Lamb said.

Several days after the fracas, the man’s identity came into focus at the Madison County Courthouse in Virginia City, once Montana’s territorial capital and a mining boomtown of more than 10,000 people in 1870. Today, it’s a historic tourist attraction with fewer than 300 full-time residents.

There on Nov. 15, Justice Court Judge Marc Glines denied requests to release the missionaries on their own recognizance, instead choosing to set bail at $50,000 for each of the four defendants and referring felony aggravated assault charges to Madison County District Court, where 20-year sentences are possible. They have a court appearance scheduled for Dec. 13.

Until then, Jesse Boyd, Bethany Grace Boyd, Carter Phillips, and Eric Trent at their own expense will wear ankle monitors costing up to $1,000 per device and carrying $11 daily monitoring fees. Montana law provides that courts “may require” defendants to pay for electronic monitoring. Glines imposed monitoring costs on the missionaries. That’s on top of their posting the required 10 percent bond payments.

“It’s a chunk. We’re already out 20 grand,” said the Rev. Brandon Gwaltney. A Full Proof Gospel Ministries board member, Gwaltney pastors Pleasant View Baptist Church in Harmony, N.C. “I do firmly believe that our missionaries acted out of self-defense. When we walk across America, we do not provoke people. We are there to proclaim the gospel and move on.”

On their journey, called #thelongwalkusa, the missionaries encountered thousands of people. Until the Montana incident, none erupted into violence, Lamb said.

Still, Glines issued a protective order preventing Jesse Boyd and his co-defendants from going near their accuser, which they had no interest in doing. Until that moment, they had no idea who the man was. The court order, though, required the name of the protected party: 56-year-old Bradley “Brad” Dean Terrell.

The accuser

The man whom the missionaries say spewed epithets at them and exclaimed “You’re not welcome in Montana!” had transplanted his business from Colorado in recent years.

Terrell registered his Dream Drift Flies LLC business with the Montana Secretary of State in July 2019. In August 2020, Terrell opened a U.S. 287 convenience store and physical location for his online fly-fishing business. Two years later, he opened an eight-room motel that incorporates those businesses. Lodgers praised his fly fishing expertise, hospitality, and the rustic comfort of a motel outfitted with a convenience store.

That picture prompts a question: Why would the owner of a popular business upbraid a tiny band of Christian missionaries? Lamb, who lives near Ennis, questioned people in the area and said the altercation likely stemmed from a strong sense of property rights.

Reached in North Carolina, Jesse’s brother Matthew Boyd said the missionaries had pulled off U.S. 287 where it intersects Cameron Drive, a small road leading to multiple driveways that includes one to Dream Drift Motel, the first drive on the left.

Snowbanks lined both sides of the highway Nov. 12, so the missionaries parked on the highway apron for Cameron Drive without blocking traffic, Matthew Boyd said. There, they waited for Jesse and Josiah Boyd to catch up with their cross and flag.

Then Terrell arrived.

“The key,” Matthew Boyd said, “is this gentleman was in his vehicle, decided to exit his vehicle, and come at Jesse. To me, that says everything we need to know. He could easily have driven off. By getting out of his truck, he became the aggressor.”

Reached Friday at his Dream Drift business, Terrell said he’d love to tell his side of the story but “I’ve been kind of instructed [by attorneys] not to say too much.” Details of the incident should be in police reports, he said.

Asked who initiated the incident, Terrell replied: “Let's just say there’s four of them went to jail, and I didn’t. How’s that?”

The future

The court order prevents Full Proof Gospel Ministries from resuming the walk across America where it left off near the Dream Drift Motel.

The missionaries will have to clear their names first. In 2008, Jesse and Matthew Boyd were arrested for distributing religious tracts at a public event on Union Square in Hickory, N.C. Vindication came swiftly but expunging the arrest record took two years.

Matthew Boyd wakes up in the night praying for his family and friends in Montana. He can’t fathom the prospect of a 20-year sentence.

“Jesse mentioned, ‘I just don’t want to bring a reproach on God’s name,’” Matthew said. “That’s our desire. Eric, Jesse, Carter, Bethany—they’ve all had opportunities to share Christ with people they were in jail with. People they would never have met had God not put them there.”

By Thursday, the mission team had gained release from jail and made ankle-monitor arrangements. They’re staying with a Christian family in Bozeman, Mont., while Lamb helps them assemble a legal team to fight the aggravated assault charges. Back in North Carolina, Gwaltney is praying.

“God is sovereign,” he said.

Gary Perilloux

Gary is a native of Hammond, La., and an alumnus of Southeastern Louisiana University and Louisiana State University. Over three decades, he worked as an editor and reporter in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, and as communications director for Louisiana Economic Development. A 2022 graduate of World Journalism Institute, he and his wife reside in Baton Rouge, La.


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