Sovereign Citizen Movement ties to the Midwest

- Gavin Long, the gunman behind the Baton Rouge policemen shooting, identified with a growing Sovereign Citizens Movement – a movement that’s not a stranger to Minnesota.

Sovereign citizens believe they don't have to follow most federal and state laws, including paying taxes and getting driver's licenses. Members of the Sovereign Citizens Movement say nothing in their ideology calls for violence.

There have been a number of high profile cases in recent years.

The FBI considers sovereign citizen extremists to be a domestic terrorist movement and they have strong roots in the upper Midwest with the Posse Comitatus.

Most of the time we hear about the group is when they refuse to pay taxes, or tie up the courts with frivolous claims, but recent events, here and overseas, may be giving the movement new life.

Just days before traveling to Baton Rouge, Long made a YouTube video in a Dallas hotel room.

"When an African fights back, it's wrong,” he said in the video. “When a European fights back, he's right and we've got a holiday."

Last year he filed papers in a Missouri courthouse, changing his name to Cosmo, declaring himself a so-called sovereign citizen, and pledging his allegiance to the United Washitaw, a black separatist group. 

"What's novel here is an African-American man for reasons of racial identity considered himself of a sovereign citizen,” said Joe Peschek, a professor at Hamline University.

Peschek said while it’s too early to determine Long’s exact motivation, it may be a new twist for a very old movement, usually associated with white supremacists.

“Many members of this movement say they're not subject to laws of United States because they're not citizens of the United States," said Peschek.

Sovereign citizens have their own symbols, and share government conspiracy theories, and a bizarre interpretation of the Constitution.

The most notorious is Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Here in Minnesota, there has been Buford Rogers and the Black Snake Militia. The FBI raided his family compound in Montevideo, suspecting him of plotting to bomb a police station.  He was later convicted on federal weapons charges.

Rogers was linked to Keith Novak, an National Guard intelligence officer, who stole information from his fellow guard members to create fake identities for militia members. 

Sovereign citizens in Minnesota have been as varied as a former Minneapolis Police officer Doug Leiter, who is now doing time for tax evasion, and millionaire businessman Robert Beale, who threatened a federal judge.  There were also Thomas and Lisa Eilertson, who filed fake liens against public officials when their south Minneapolis home went into foreclosure.

Sovereign citizens have long believed America is on the brink of social collapse - even predicting race riots.

To them, recent events speak to both their darkest fears, and greatest hopes.

“It leads a lot of people to a fear of apocalyptic collapse connected to their ideologies and lead them to act it out in various ways,” said Peschek.

Up Next:

  • Popular

  • Recent

Stories you may be interested in – includes advertiser stories