by Janet Novack, Forbes
NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT
YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.
This courtroom drawing shows shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner in court on January 10, 2011 in Tuscon, Arizona. Clarence Dupnik, sheriff of Pima County who is in charge of the probe into the attack on Representative Gabrielle Giffords that left six dead, said the 22-year-old man gunman, who was arrested at the scene, 'has kind of a troubled past, and we're not convinced that he acted alone.' The gunman -- named by media as Jared Lee Loughner -- had a criminal past and was unstable but not insane, he told reporters, adding that the man was not talking to police officers in custody.
In his YouTube videos and postings on MySpace, alleged Arizona shooter Jared Lee Loughner echoed the bizarre beliefs of the extreme anti-government Sovereign Citizen movement. At least that’s the conclusion of JJ MacNab, who for more than a decade has tracked (and infiltrated online) the world of tax protesters and anti-government extremists.
In a post Monday on the mental health treatment and gun control gaps the case highlights, I wrote, “It’s hard to decipher any coherent views from Loughner’s You Tube ramblings.” Hard for me, that is. But MacNab, who I’ve known and respected for years, says Loughner’s weird references to “literacy” and “grammar” which mystify me, are Sovereign markers to her. “Sovereigns have their own set of complex cultural references and vocabulary, which they think that outsiders are just too stupid to understand,’’ she explains on her web site.
If MacNab is correct about Loughner, there are three important implications. First, finger pointing between left and right is off the mark in this case. “The world of Sovereign extremism exists outside of our traditional political spectrum, so labeling someone like Loughner a left-wing extremist or right-wing Teapartier doesn’t make any sense,” she writes.
In an interview Tuesday, MacNab explained that while the Sovereign movement has both white supremacist and tax protester roots, as it has spread (in large part over the Internet) it has also morphed. Newer and younger Sovereigns aren’t primarily white racists; some of the fastest growing Sovereign groups are African American and some Sovereigns even have left wing views. But like their predecessors, current Sovereigns consider the government illegitimate and embrace various bizarre and elaborate conspiracy theories, including that the government was involved in 9/11. (Loughner was reportedly a 9/11 truther.)
So what makes someone a Sovereign? The vast government conspiracy part is key says MacNab, who is writing a book on tax protesters and the Sovereigns. On her web site she writes: “A Sovereign believes that every individual has more rights and power than any government agency or political body, but that sinister forces behind the government have systematically suppressed this secret knowledge in order to better enslave us all as `subjects.’ Depending on the sovereign group, the conspiracy behind the government is run by rich bankers, the Federal Reserve, Jews, Zionists, the Pope, the Queen of England, or in one extreme case, shape-shifting reptiles.” Moreover, she says, Sovereigns have a fixation with words that can expose this conspiracy, which they blame for their various problems—with taxes, debts, ex-spouses, child protective services, and so on.
MacNab notes that not all tax protesters are full-blown Sovereigns and not all Sovereigns have troubles with the IRS. Some Sovereigns have mental problems, some don’t. Overall, she estimates there are 300,000 Sovereigns in the U.S. and she believes that number is growing.
The second implication, if Loughner subscribed to Sovereign beliefs: He could have a tougher time proving he’s not mentally competent to stand trial, is not criminally responsible for his alleged acts, or should receive a lesser punishment (for example, not the death penalty) because of mental illness.
MacNab points, by way of example, to the January 2010 sentencing of Ed Brown, the Sovereign/tax protester who in 2007 holed up for months in his heavily armed rural New Hampshire home holding off U.S. Marshals who wanted to deliver him to prison to begin his sentence on tax charges. Before sentencing for the standoff, his lawyer requested a competency hearing for Brown. A Bureau of Prisons forensic psychologist explained to the judge (according to a transcript provided by MacNab and a report by MacNab who attended the hearing) that Wood’s beliefs, no matter how unusual, convoluted and false, weren’t delusional according to diagnostic standards, because they were also held by “a widespread subculture” — namely the Sovereign Citizen or Patriot movements. The judge found that Brown was competent (despite his belief that he was the target of a conspiracy and that others could hear his thoughts) and sentenced him to 444 months in prison, in addition to the 63 months he was already serving for his tax convictions.
The lesson, in layman’s terms, is that Loughner would be considered less crazy if he got his ideas from Sovereign sites on the Internet, as opposed to from voices only he could hear.
The third implication, if Loughner is a Sovereign: The public debate should be focusing on the ongoing threat to law enforcement officials and every day public servants, and not just threats to members of Congress and elected officials. Loughner allegedly killed six and wounded 14 others in what authorities believe was an assassination attempt against Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who remains in critical condition with a head wound. But Sovereigns believe a vast army of government workers—not just elected officials—are in on the conspiracy. Loughner allegedly targeted Giffords. But police say he wrote both “Die, cops” and “Die, bitch” on a 2007 letter from Giffords found in his home.
In a long article on the Sovereigns MacNab wrote last year, she emphasized that most Sovereigns aren’t violent and promote their oddball views exclusively through paper–elaborate court filings, and letters to IRS and other government officials.
For example, actor Wesley Snipes, who began serving a three year sentence on tax charges last month, sent letters to the IRS advancing theories as to why the IRS was powerless to collect income taxes from him, including “that he was a `non-resident alien to the United States,’ that earned income must come from `sources wholly outside the United States,’ that a `taxpayer is defined by law as one who operates a distilled spirit Plant,’ and that the Internal Revenue Code’s taxing authority `is limited to the District of Columbia and insular possessions of the United States, exclusive of the 50 States of the Union,’’ according to a July appeals court decision. But there was never any suggestion in court that action hero Snipes, the vampire slayer of the Blade series, posed a danger to anyone outside the movies. Sometimes, when their arguments lose (as they almost always do), non-violent Sovereigns respond with still more paper–filing fake liens against judges’ real estate or phony 1099s designed to get their targets audited by the IRS.
But the Sovereigns who have become violent have acted out against all levels of government workers, not just elected office holders. In a report released last month, the Treasury’s Inspector General for Tax Administration concluded that security is now the most serious threat the IRS faces, as “attacks and threats against IRS employees and facilities have risen steadily in recent years.’’
In some cases, attacks linked to Sovereigns have been carefully planned out. “Sovereigns believe that they are part of some new American Revolution, and that violence is a necessary part of the revolutionary process,’’ MacNab wrote in her report last year. She noted that Oklahoma City federal building bomber Timothy McVeigh and tax protestor Joseph Stack, who flew his Piper plane into the IRS building in Austin last February, used such language.
In other cases, a routine confrontation with authority (say a traffic stop) has set off a violent outburst from a heavily armed Sovereign. MacNab points to what happened in West Memphis, Ark. last May, when Jerry Kane’s white mini-van was stopped. As he argued with police, his 16-year -old son, Joseph, emerged from the minivan with an AK-47 and killed the two outgunned police officers. The Kanes fled and died later in a shootout with police. In that case, the connections to the Sovereigns were clear: Jerry Kane was an active promoter of a Sovereign “redemption” scheme—a technique Sovereigns believe can free them from government controls.