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Real estate agent specializing in relocating conservatives to Montana slapped with lawsuit

by DERRICK PERKINS
Daily Inter Lake | February 22, 2022 7:00 AM

A local real estate agent and consultant that caters to out-of-state conservatives relocating to what’s known as the American Redoubt faces a breach of contract lawsuit in Lincoln County District Court.

Former client Rhona Thompson alleged that Idaho-based real estate agent Todd Savage and his Montana broker John Runkle sold a roughly $3 million piece of property out from underneath her in a lawsuit filed in January. Along with breach of contract, the suit accuses Savage and Runkle of breach of fiduciary duties and negligence, and seeks exemplary damages.

According to the complaint, Thompson, a California resident and trustee of the Delaware-based The Firebird Trust, approached Savage in August 2020 to help find a property to buy.

Savage signed a buyer broker agreement with the trust, entitling him to a 3 percent commission for any property bought. They also signed an agreement restricting Savage from showing the same property to competing buyers, court documents said. In return, the trust paid Savage $32,500 for associated fees and services, which the suit alleged that the Idaho real estate agent has kept.

Visiting Libby that year, Thompson saw two properties, but settled on what is described in court documents as the “Kessler Property,” a 200-acre parcel that included a house, outbuildings and lake outside of the city. Savage prepared the necessary documents and the agreement was executed on Aug. 28, 2020. Thompson put down $50,000 in earnest money for the agreed upon $3.1 million land deal.

Thompson planned to close the purchase on Oct. 6, according to court documents. By then, the sale price had shifted to $2.95 million after Thompson commissioned testing of the property.

The suit alleged that Savage knew she was flying into Libby for the occasion. When she arrived, though, Savage was nowhere to be found.

The complaint accused Savage of spending the day prior showing the property to another potential buyer. It references an email Savage allegedly sent about 12:21 a.m. on Oct. 5 to the seller’s Libby realtor arranging for a trip. In it, he allegedly wrote that he was looking for a backup offer.

The prospective buyer ended up making an offer north of $2.95 million, court documents said. The complaint accuses Savage of executing a handwritten agreement on Oct. 5, which saw him receive a 3 percent commission on the sale. He then allegedly sent Thompson several text messages “indicating the existence of problems with the Kessler Property,” court documents said. Thompson replied that she still planned to arrive in Libby the following day.

Owing to Savage’s unavailability, Thompson failed to cement the agreement by 5 p.m. on Oct. 6. According to the suit, the Kessler Property sold two days later to Snow Shoe Ranch LLC.

The suit holds Runkle of being liable for Savage’s misdeeds as he executed a referral agreement with the seller’s agent on Oct. 8. The agreement, according to the suit, was backdated to Oct. 5, when Savage and Runkle were still under their previous arrangement with Thompson and her trust.

The suit lists “the loss of the opportunity to own a unique $3 million property in Lincoln County, Montana” as the main damage suffered by Thompson after the deal fell through. It asks the court for a jury trial.

Savage is linked to Black Rifle Real Estate, a firm that specializes in relocating like-minded people to Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and eastern Oregon and Washington. In an email interview for a 2021 Montana Free Press article, Savage told reporter Justin Franz that “clients of both my consulting firm and real estate firm simply want freedom.”

“Leftists are not welcome in the American Redoubt,” he wrote.

Franz wrote that Savage’s website at the time described the company as following Fair Housing Act guidelines, but did “discriminate against based upon political and moral beliefs.”

Black Rifle Real Estate’s website now redirects to fleethecity.com. The “About Us” section describes Flee The City as “a consortium of several real estate and consulting firms into one streamlined operation.” Based in Sandpoint, Idaho, its taglines are “history favors the prepared” and “a real estate firm for the vigilant.”

The American Redoubt, named by a prominent survivalist in 2011, initially appeared to appeal to survivalists, doomsday preppers and people seeking a rural lifestyle, and was featured in prominent national media outlets. By the end of the Obama administration and beginning of the Trump years, the movement was getting covered more as a political migration to the region, akin to the Free State Project in New Hampshire.

“The bottom line is that our clients are tired of living around folks that have no moral values,” Savage told The Washington Post in 2016. “They choose to flee tyranny and leave behind all the attributes of the big city that have turned them away.”