Thursday, June 11, 2009

Lunatic Fringe

There's a phrase that was tossed around in the wake of the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita a couple weeks back, and has now appeared again in conjunction with the killing of a security guard by James von Brunn yesterday at the Holocaust Museum: "sovereign citizen." Both gunmen were self-described Sovereign Citizens, and have left a trail of contacts and presence on right-wing fringe websites.

The first I'd heard of the phrase sovereign citizen was in this Washington Monthly article a litle over a year ago. It's a fascinating read: in recent years, more than twenty African American men charged with violent offenses in Baltimore have invoked their rights as sovereign citizens, claiming not to be bound by the illegal assertion of power by the United States Federal Government. The truly weird part is the origin of the concept, relative to the defendants: the Sovereign Citizen Movement is based in opposition to the Fourteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery. It claims that the 14th converted sovereign citizens, bound by English Common Law, into federal citizens, or something, and that the Government uses federal citizens as collateral in foreign debt (again, or something). Adherents further believe that there is a specific set of legal verbiage, presented in a certain order on certain forms, that can free you from your federal citizenship and return you to sovereign citizenship; this, it should be noted, is drivel.

Anyway, apparently tied to this is the concept of Posse Comitatus, Latin for "force of the county," which asserts that the supreme law enforecement power in the land is that of county sherrifs, and that the National Guard, federal troops, etc., have no power over the local sherrif. According to the Washington Monthly article, this idea derives from an act passed at the federal level in 1878 to take the teeth out of Reconstruction and prevent the government from protecting civil rights in the South.

Very strange and interesting, all, but not at all to diminish the tragedy of these murders. My sympathy goes out to the families of both victims.

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