Tuesday, July 19, 2016

‘Sovereign citizen’ movement spreading

‘Sovereign citizen’ movement spreading

By Tammy Webber, - Jesse Holland - and Eric Tucker - Associated Press

Gerald Herbert | AP Millville, New Jersey, police chaplain Robert Ossler prays Monday at a makeshift memorial at the fatal shooting scene in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where several law enforcement officers were killed on Sunday. A former Marine set out to ambush police in Baton Rouge, authorities said Monday.

A former Marine who killed three Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police officers identified with a growing movement that originated among white supremacists and whose adherents believe they’re immune to most state and federal laws, including paying taxes and getting driver’s licenses.

Gavin Long, 29, of Kansas City, Missouri, filed documents last year declaring himself a sovereign citizen, as a member of the United Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah. Members of the mostly black group believe they’re descended from the early Native American mound builders and own the Louisiana Purchase land.

Nothing in that group’s ideology calls for violence; some members have sold fake driver’s licenses, passports and filed fake court documents, according to Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

But individuals who have declared themselves sovereign citizens have become violent, killing several law enforcement officers in the last 15 years or so.

One such incident took place in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 2010, when Sgt. Brandon Paudert and another officer were shot and killed during a traffic stop by sovereign citizen movement member Jerry R. Kane Jr. of Forest, Ohio, and his 16-year-old son Joseph.

Paudert was the son of former West Memphis Police Chief Bob Paudert, who now travels the country warning police officers not to underestimate potential violence from so-called “sovereign citizens.”

“My experience in the last six years is: The more confrontations and the more encounters they have with law enforcement, the more dangerous they become,” he said.

The sovereign citizen movement generally traces its origins to the 1970s, when members were avowed white supremacists. But the unifying ideology was about government rather than race, said Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.

“As a result, over the decades, the proportion of white supremacists became ever smaller and smaller a proportion of the movement as a whole,” Pitcavage said. “That fact opened the movement up to people of all sorts of other backgrounds who had anti-government leanings.”

Potok said the sovereign citizen movement is largely unorganized but growing quickly, especially since the Great Recession, and now involves an estimated 300,000 people — the majority of whom now may be African-American.

“The sovereign citizen ideology became particularly attractive as a result of economic troubles,” Potok said.

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