|Applying Christian Patriot Theories|
Just prior to
Thanksgiving day, 1995, judges in Madison County, Idaho found themselves served with "Notices of Felony." A group of far right activists demanded their arrest by order of "common law" jurisdiction. The threatening notices, while lacking any legal basis, provided a chilling reminder of the existence of a far-right political underground that has survived -- indeed thrived -- following the Oklahoma City bombing. The notices warned:
Should any person try to cover up the felony complained of herein, BE YOU HEREBY PUT ON NOTICE: You may be indicted."The notice concludes with a palpable threat, stating that
Pursuant to the Law of the POSSE COMITATUS, should you fail in the discharge of your sworn duty, WE the PEOPLE shall bring you to JUSTICE under the Law of the POSSE COMITATUS.
A pattern of events including threats to judges and other officials
a month later, on December 14, 1995, more than one hundred people sat in folding chairs, crammed into a Boise, Idaho meeting room dubbed Freedom Hall. The all white crowd spent the day learning the nuts-and-bolts of forming common law courts, a modern-day twist in a long tradition of racist vigilantism. This particular seminar, sponsored by the Idaho Sovereignty Association (ISA), attracted men and women from twenty of Idaho's forty-four counties, as well as individuals from Oregon, Washington and Utah.
After a few chaotic moments distributing information packets, Gary DeMott, head of the Idaho Sovereignty Association, introduced featured speaker Dick Kegley.
Kegley, a used car dealer from Walla Walla, Washington, stepped up to the microphone, spread out his materials on the inevitable folding table, and proceeded to harangue the audience about sovereign citizenship and the "remedies" offered by common law. "They absolutely work," he claimed, and alluded to many supposed success stories.
Four and a half hours later Kegley finally wound down with a shop-worn Christian Patriot truism: "The principle is this: everything they [judges, bureaucrats] do is a lie."
The political vision of Henry Lamont "Mike" Beach, the Oregon-based founder of the Posse Comitatus (a white supremacist, paramilitary outfit that swept the American plains during the early 1980s) was ever present during this gathering. According to Daniel Levitas, an expert on the Posse Comitatus and author of a forthcoming book on the subject, it was the original "Blue Book" of the Posse, authored by Beach, which provided the initial impetus and road-map for establishing common law courts. Early editions of the Blue Book made it clear what the fate of those who defy common law court authority would be:
He [the guilty party] shall be removed by the Posse to the most populated intersection of streets in the township and at high noon hung by the neck, the body remaining until sundown as an example to those who would subvert the law.
The threats made against judges and other public officials comprise one aspect of a pattern of events which is increasingly important to those concerned about the health of democratic institutions in the Northwest. In the last year judges and prosecutors in Montana and Idaho have been served with warrants of arrest from self-appointed common law courts. Sheriffs have been threatened with violent reprisals if they fail to do their duty -- as interpreted by a growing faction of the far right. The pattern has repeated time and again around the country, from California, where a court leader faces felony charges for veiled death threats to judges, to Florida, where court activists ordered a judge to appear before their "Fugitive Warrants Unit" director.
"Justus Township" is the logical outcome of common law court organizing
linked to militias, common law courts and citizen grand juries are part of a system of parallel institutions which constitute a virtual alternative government. These institutions -- the armed militias, the Posse Comitatus, common law courts and warehouse banks along with political, lobbying and media organizations -- are intended to be the embryo of an exclusive white Christian republic. Far from being an "anti-government" movement, Christian Patriots believe in forming their own.
In the months since the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, increased public attention has been focused on private paramilitary groups calling themselves "citizen militias." The revelation that alleged bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols had attended meetings of the Michigan Militia and shared many of the militias' ideas led to hearings by the US Senate and to a level of media scrutiny not directed at the far right in over a decade.
A variety of tendencies on the American far right -- white supremacists, Second Amendment extremists, anti-abortion advocates, states rights/local control groups and property rights activists -- have seized upon the idea of forming militias as a tactic and a recruiting device. These factions agree on some issues, disagree on others, and are often at odds with each other.
There is no doubt, however, that the heart and soul of the militias is a loose faction of the far right that refers to itself as "Christian Patriot" or sometimes as "Constitutionalist" or "Freeman." Associated with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, racist ideas about citizenship, selective constitutional fundamentalism, and opposition to the income tax and the Federal Reserve Bank, the Christian Patriot movement has supplied leaders for the most influential militia groups and has provided the publications most widely circulated among militias members.
Christian Patriots employ elaborate and convoluted conspiracy theories and pseudo-Constitutional arguments to justify confrontations with law enforcement, public servants and civil rights advocates. Based on racist notions about citizenship Patriot activists file "sovereignty" or "state" citizenship documents declaring themselves immune from federal authority; they create "warehouse" or "alternative" banking institutions to launder money; they form common law courts and citizen grand juries to assert legal authority; and armed militias to enforce their bogus decrees. The Jordan, Montana "Justus Township," led by Christian Identity leaders and Christian Patriots and dug in for armed conflict, is the logical outcome of common law court organizing and the fruits of the white supremacist war for a white Christian republic.
In order to better understand the function of such Christian patriot judicial institutions, and the potential threat they represent to democratic institutions, it is useful to consider the origins of such courts in the Posse Comitatus movement of the 1970s and 1980s.
"Jew communist specially trained Soviet and Cuban agents"
Mike Beach helped launch the early Posse as an organization, credit for inspiring the original concept of the Posse Comitatus really belongs with another man, retired army Lt. Colonel William Potter Gale," according to Levitas. Gale, who served under General Douglas McArthur in the Philippines, was an early leader in the racist, anti-Semitic Christian Identity movement.
Not every Posse member expressed Gale's particular brand of racism and anti-Semitism, but central to the Posse enterprise were notions that the Federal Reserve Bank, as an instrument of an International Jewish Banking Conspiracy, was the main cause of the suffering of white, Christian Americans, particularly farmers. In fact, it was during the farm crisis of the 1980s that the Posse achieved its greatest successes.
In a decade which saw the demise of fully 25% of owner-operator family farms throughout the Midwest, Posse leaders offered phony loan schemes, bigoted conspiracy theories and, when all else failed, armed confrontation, as the solution to the problems of family farmers. Posse members in the early 1980s engaged in and were convicted of counterfeiting; they operated paramilitary training camps; and they engaged in stand-offs with local law enforcement. In 1983, three members of the Colorado Posse were convicted of manufacturing explosives. Among dozens of incidents of threats of violence, a man identifying himself as a Posse member threatened to bomb a Kansas school unless both the sheriff and undersheriff turned themselves over for execution. In November 1983 over one hundred county sheriffs in Kansas received letters demanding the arrest of ten judges for ordering the seizure of private property. The most famous incident occurred in North Dakota in February 1983, when two federal marshals were killed in a shoot-out with several Posse members led by Gordon Kahl, a notorious racist and anti-Semite. Kahl was eventually killed in a showdown with state and federal authorities in Arkansas.
Another prominent Posse leader of the 1980s was Jim Wickstrom, a Wisconsin-based Christian Identity "minister" and virulent anti-Semite. Wickstrom made radio appearances with Gale and the two conducted paramilitary seminars around the country, including a March 1982 meeting attended by far right leader and contemporary common law court proponent Gene Schroder. In a crude flyer (c. 1983) depicting a Posse-led vigilante hanging and signed by Wickstrom, the Wisconsin leader predicted a future of "guerrilla warfare" against average Americans led by "the Jew communist specially trained Soviet and Cuban agents." The flyer goes on to warn that
The scene at the left [the hanging] will be a very common situation in rural America when and if the above information [Jewish led guerrilla warfare] takes place. The White Anglo/Saxon Posse's [sic] across this Christian Republic await for the opportunity to clear up America of which the Jews and their 'lackey' jerks called politicians have made a GARBAGE DUMP.Wickstrom also ran a paramilitary encampment outside of Tigerton, Wisconsin and was arrested in 1983 on criminal charges for impersonating public officials and in 1988 faced charges of attempting to finance paramilitary groups with counterfeit money.
A contempt for and a challenge to the rule of law
One of the
most important of the precursors to the contemporary efforts to form common law courts was William Potter Gale's Committee of the States, a mid-1980s Posse organization whose leaders were jailed for issuing threatening "Constructive Notices" to IRS officials and federal judges. In its founding "Compact" of July 4, 1984, signed by, among others, Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler, the group declared that under the authority of the Articles of Confederation it was replacing the U.S. Congress as the governing body of the country. Foreshadowing the activity of common law courts, it "indicted" the Congress, stating,
The attached Indictment brought against the Constitutional Congress of the United States of America is brought by this Committee of the States sitting as a Grand Jury of the People.A 1985 document by Arthur Stigall, a signer of the Committee of the States Compact, provides the organization's most detailed discussion concerning the formation of the common law grand jury. Titled "How to Form a Common Law Grand Jury: The Way to Regain a Self Governing Republic," the publication explains the process of impaneling a so-called citizens grand jury. "Twenty-four citizens shall be summoned to attend on the grand jury," Stigall explains, but the "number of jurors is a matter of local regulation." In a section titled "Formation of Grand Juries," Stigall goes on to argue that the "District" or "County" director is legally entitled to select a responsible group of people to act as a "County Common Law Grand Jury if the local sheriff 'abdicates' from his/her duty."
Stigall outlines the steps for conducting "grand jury" investigations, preparing a complaint, delivering it to the clerk of the court, choosing a grand jury and notifying the sheriff and district attorney of the "intention to perform an investigation as a grand jury." After examining the evidence through its power to "subpoena" witnesses and voting "to determine if there will be an indictment," the grand jury then begins the process of enforcing it.
In a section titled "Jurisdiction," Stigall makes clear that "the people's" power extends to arrest:
The power of arrest, law, and jurisdiction of courts rest with the citizens both DIRECTLY and INDIRECTLY through his lawful representives [sic]. The DE FACTO GOVERNMENT called the federal government has no authority other than that voluntarily submitted to by the citizens of THE UNITED STATES...All of these elements in Stigall's guide to establishing a common law grand jury appear in one form or another in the common law courts of today. Conclusion
The emergence of far right common law court activity in the 1990s, like the reemergence of far right paramilitary organizing in the form of citizen militias, is cause for considerable concern on the part of people who value democratic ideals and institutions. As the ideological descendants of the Posse Comitatus, the common law courts, no less than the militias, are tainted with a legacy of bigotry. Moreover, even looking beyond the racist books and citizenship schemes, the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and the continued leadership of old time Posse activists, both common law courts and citizen militias represent a contempt for and a challenge to the rule of law.
In claiming the authority of law, common law courts reserve onto themselves the right to pass judgment on private citizens, public officials and the law itself. In fact, they claim the American judicial system as it actually exists is unconstitutional and therefore without authority. It is important to understand that the actions of the common law courts are neither publicity stunts nor civil disobedience. There is no effort on the part of these activists to reform the existing system or to highlight specific instances of injustice, rather common law court proponents seek to displace existing judicial authority by investing themselves with the power of law and employing private armies -- "militias" and "posses" -- to enforce their decisions.
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Albion Monitor April 15, 1996 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)