Daniel Ruth

'Sovereign citizens' on a nutty slippery slope

Oh, America, land of the feeble-minded, home of the knave. • Want to have some real fun? You'll love this. • The next time a police officer pulls you over for say, speeding, as the cop is handing you your ticket, sneer derisively and tear up the paperwork while informing the gendarme he has no legal authority over you because you have declared yourself to be a "sovereign citizen" and therefore the government cannot impose any laws regarding your behavior.

Now it's altogether possible the officer will have a little sense of whimsy himself as he hauls your keister off to the hoosegow. And while the lesson here is not to use a routine traffic stop to have a debate over the Federalist Papers, what is clear is there is a growing lunatic fringe of armed-and-delusional-crazier-than-Zelda-Fitzgerald-on-steroids nutballs out there who have more bullets than brains.

As the St. Petersburg Times' Michael Kruse and CBS's 60 Minutes explored over the weekend, the "sovereign citizen" movement, a collection of half-wit conspiracy theory foot soldiers, has swelled to 300,000 grumbling malcontented peasants with Internet access. That's an awful lot of Prozac-in-Waiting.

In essence the "sovereign rube" movement holds that all one has to do is create some gibberish-filled paperwork that makes less sense than Finnegan's Wake declaring one an "American National Sovereign" and you are off the hook when it comes to paying taxes or having a license plate or using a Social Security card or acknowledging the legitimacy of government.

No doubt this has led to many of hilarious knee-slapping moments over at the IRS.

The "sovereign lemming" community also believes there is a secret government-funded "strawman" bank account from which one can pay his bills. Sheesh, this Area 51 of Paranoids makes the tea party crowd seem like a bunch of thoughtful George Will Fan Club adherents.

While the "sovereign three-card monte marks" are made up of disaffected, often financially struggling illiterates, the movement has managed to ensnare folks like former Sarasota police Detective Tom Laughlin, who was forced from his job after signing up with the "driver's license, we don't need no stinking driver's license" cabal.

And that only made sense. After all, it had to be a bit awkward to have a detective on the force enforcing laws he didn't believe he had to honor himself. This chap had to be a defense attorney's dream come true.

At the same time, if you are some loopy gadfly who happens to believe you don't have to obey the civil laws of society and that the president is sitting around the Situation Room conjuring up plans to personally ruin your life, your employability is somewhat problematic.

The country is filled from sea to shining sea with all manner of radical survivalists, klan klaverns, neo-Nazis, birther crazies, UFO believers and black helicopter schizos preying on the insecurities and fears of the populace. Then there are the really certifiable weirdos.

As is often the case with extremist groups, a vast majority of the fellow travelers are content to loll about in their jammies and foil hats while they suck down a beer and listen to George Noory on the radio talk about his latest trip to the Planet Karnac 9 and then complain how SEAL Team 6 is plotting to attack.

It's a living, more or less.

But there is always that fringe group within the fringe group that is willing to take its fantasies just a step further. You could call it the Timothy McVeigh syndrome.

On that score the "sovereign citizen" confederacy of dunces has had no shortage of disciples who have been willing to pull a trigger, most notably Jerry Kane and his teenage son, Joe Kane, who gunned down two Arkansas police officers last year.

One of the leading "sovereign dupes" figures is Alfred Adask, who has argued that if you feel you are being abused by government, then you have the right to declare open season on elected officials.

Adask may well be cozying up to the most outer space limits of the First Amendment by stopping inches shy of actually calling for the assassination of public figures, but that doesn't absolve him from culpability the next time a law enforcement officer or officeholder gets shot.

If Adask and his minions don't want to pay taxes or own a driver's license or recognize the government, there is a perfect "sovereign citizen" utopia waiting for them where none of those issues is of the slightest concern.

It's called a jail cell.

'Sovereign citizens' on a nutty slippery slope 05/16/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 7:15pm]

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