Hey, Maybe These 'Sovereign Citizens' Might Be, You Know, Dangerous?
Maybe don't give the White House intruder guy his guns back?
Now that police have arrested Travis Reinking, the suspect in the murders of four people at a Waffle House near Nashville, we may be a little closer to finding out more about his motive, although the New York Times reports that after his arrest, Reinking was refusing to speak with detectives. There's justified speculation that Reinking may be a member of the "sovereign citizen" movement, since when he was arrested trying to barge into the White House last July, he told a Secret Service agent that "he was a sovereign citizen and has a right to inspect the grounds," as the arrest report put it. And as JJ MacNab, our go-to expert on antigovernment groups, pointed out yesterday, in a 2016 incident report back in Illinois an officer wrote, “Travis is hostile toward police and does not recognize police authority. Travis also possesses several firearms,” which has a decidedly sovereign citizen vibe.
However, before we delve into just what a toxic brew of rightwing fantasy and real-world violence the sovereign citizen movement is, one quick word of caution, as Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the ADL's Center on Extremism, points out: It's early going, and despite Reinking's statement at the White House, it's also possible that he has no real ties to sovereign citizen ideology. Pitcavage explains on Twitter that he's seen
other incidents where people used the word sovereign or some phrase containing that word and were confused with being part of the sovereign citizen movement. I have also seen several mentally ill people inaccurately said to be part of the sov citizen movement (including Jared Loughner). It may turn out that Travis Reinking actually was part of the sovereign citizen movement but I would wait to find more concrete evidence of it rather than assuming so based on his one comment.
There may be no greater significance to Reinking's statement than just a general belief that as a citizen, he has the right to wander around the White House. Like Reinking's delusion that he was being stalked by Taylor Swift, it could be a coincidence that he fixated on that pop star, or as we noted yesterday, it could mean he's aware of the "kidding on the square" neo-Nazi meme that Swift is an Aryan goddess of some sort. We just don't know yet. If Reinking insists on running his own defense and files a mountain of paperwork proclaiming the court has no jurisdiction over him because he's "redeemed" himself from ownership by the corporation known as the "United States of America," then we'll know for sure.mock their nutty pseudolegal jargon, in which names (and whether they're written in ALL CAPS, as in legal documents) and language have almost magical properties, a significant minority of them aren't just kooks trying to escape paying their debts or scam money off the government. A not-small portion of sovereign citizens literally believe that since the law and the Constitution mean exactly what they think it means, then they're justified in killing cops and judges and elected officials, who all represent the illegitimate government that enslaves them.
If you're not familiar with the bogus tenets most of these birds believe in, here's a good 'splainer of their beliefs at the SPLC, another by the ADL, and this Guardian article from last summer offering a good overview of violent incidents related to the movement. Without getting into the weeds too much, sovereign citizens believe that, thanks to a massive conspiracy, virtually all law and government is illegitimate, and that the "real" US Constitution is grounded in their own interpretation of English common law. That means that the only laws they recognize are the ones they've personally agreed to follow.
Most also think that if they just employ the right pseudolegal gobbledygook, the government can't tax or arrest them -- as we saw in the trial of the Bundy militia, even though it was plain old crappy lawyering by the prosecution, not Ryan Bundy's insistence that he was only subject to God's law, that ultimately got the charges dismissed.
Let's also not forget Jerad and Amanda Miller, whose identity Yr Editrix actually was the first to publish, because her pal Lisa Wines was good at Facebook. They were the fun SovCit couple who were kicked out of the Bundy militia encampment for being too bloody-minded, then drove from Bunkerville to Las Vegas, where they murdered two cops and killed an armed bystander who was trying to be a good guy with a gun, before Jerad died in a shootout with police and Amanda shot herself. They were bigtime Alex Jones fans and believers in chemtrails, and wouldn't you know it, Jerad even wrote an impassioned essay about the glories of killing cops, who he believed have no legal authority. In addition to being sovereign citizens and murderers, the Millers were also, like many other SovCits, perfect examples of crank magnetism, the tendency of kooks who adopt one conspiracy theory to also believe in any number of other improbable ideas.
So what other fun criming have Sovereign Citizens been up to lately?
- In January, a self-proclaimed sovereign citizen, Mitchell Taebel, 31, fled a traffic stop in Arizona because the cops had no right to pull him over, then, while in the middle of a high speed chase, called the police dispatcher to let them know he felt he had the right to kill any cops who he believed were trying to unlawfully detain him. Before he could get around to any cop killing, however, he crashed head-on into another car, rolling his SUV and sending the other driver, a 47-year-old woman, to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
- In February, Tierre Guthrie of Locust Grove, Georgia, got into a deadly shootout with police and sheriff's deputies who had come to serve him with a warrant for failure to appear in court. Guthrie killed a Locust Grove police officer and wounded two deputies before he was killed by return fire; he was a member of an African-American offshoot of sovereign citizen ideology called the "Moorish Nation." That's a special set of Afrocentric sovereign beliefs that also rejects government authority, claiming that thanks to a secret treaty with Morocco back in the 1780s, most African-Americans are exempt from US law. It's complete rubbish, but one of the rare areas where violent far-right beliefs have been adopted by black people, proving that crazy conspiracy theories can have a universal appeal with the right marketing plan.
- In March, another black SovCit, Melody Gray Domonique Crayton, was arrested after trying to shoot a cop in the head when he stopped to check on her and a passenger after their car slid into a freeway median during a snowstorm. Once the officer noticed the car didn't have license plates, he ran a check on its VIN number and discovered it was stolen, which seems like a real violation of the one thing SovCits claim to value above all else, the sanctity of private property. The cop wasn't injured, but he shot Ms. Crayton in the arm; she's charged with attempted murder.
- In November 2017, Brandon Flowers -- an Indiana man who was not the lead singer for The Killers -- was shot by police after stabbing a woman in a domestic dispute; Flowers had a long list of run-ins with the law, which usually involved his refusal to acknowledge the police had any authority over him. Flowers later died of his injuries.
- Last spring, a group of sovereigns were arrested in New Mexico after trying to use bogus paperwork (from their own imaginary "common law" court) to spring a member of the group from jail. The man had been arrested and was being held for extradition to Pennsylvania, where he'd been convicted of burglary. His pals, posing as US Marshals, showed up at the detention center -- yes, with guns -- but were tricked into pulling their car into the jail's garage so the prisoner could be transferred securely. But instead of driving out with their comrade, they were all arrested by real US Marshals waiting inside, whee. Then they sued Donald Trump for $350 billion (with a b) because they were oppressed.
As we say, it remains to be seen whether Travis Reinking will have his name added to JJ MacNab's tally of extremist anti-government violence, from which some of our examples are drawn; it could turn out that he's actually one of those rare instances of a mass killer who's actually mentally ill -- and there's probably a fair bit of overlap between delusional thinking and the adoption of paranoid politics, of course.
But rest easy: the Trump administration is serious about cracking down on extremist violence. At least the Muslim kind.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.