Right-wing extremism is gaining new momentum, according to a Southern Poverty Law Center report released today on the Sovereign Citizens movement. The report, entitled “Sovereign Citizen Kane,” claims the group – an offshoot of the Patriots movement – may have as many as 300,000 members.
The Sovereign Citizens movement adheres to a conspiracy theory laden ideology that contends no one is responsible for obeying any government laws. “Sovereign citizens believe most Americans have no obligation to obey laws, regulations or tax codes, especially those imposed by the federal government,” writes the law center. “They justify their beliefs on the basis of decades-old conspiracy theories and intricate, nonsensical legal theories.”
Members of the group have been responsible for killing several police officers over the past decade. “In 1995 in Ohio, for instance, a Sovereign named Michael Hill was killed after pulling a gun on an officer during a traffic stop,” the report says. “In 1997, New Hampshire extremist Carl Drega killed two officers and two civilians and wounded another three officers before being killed”
The Associated Press reports that the movement has bizarre beliefs including the “belief that the 14th Amendment created a class of citizens who had no constitutional rights but were instead slaves to the government.”
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “They also believe the government tricks people into becoming 14th Amendment citizens by signing contracts for privileges such as vehicle registration, Social Security and even fishing licenses.”
The GOP is currently working to repeal the 14th Amendment allegedly because it grants citizenship to children of immigrants.
At the center of the Sovereign Citizens worldview, says the Cleveland Plain Dealer story, is the concept that “the government creates a secret identity for each citizen at birth, a ‘straw man,’ that controls an account at the U.S. Treasury used as collateral for foreign debt.”
The movement has its origins in “anti-government activists going back to the Posse Comitatus movement of the 1970s, which recognized only local governments and no law enforcement official with more jurisdiction than a sheriff. In the 1980s, government protesters exploited the farm crisis by selling fraudulent debt relief programs,” the article reports.
The Cleveland paper says the group is growing in Columbus, Ohio.
Broadly speaking, the corporate-inspired right-wing revolt grouped around the tea party and other movements provides fertile ground for these hate-filled conspiracy theories.
Since the election of President Obama at the height of the recession these theories have gained a fresh wind. “Most experts agree that conspiracy culture has been spreading rapidly in this country – the appearance of large numbers of ‘birthers’ and ‘9/11 truthers’ is testimony to that,” writes Mark Potok, the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Paradoxically the rise of these groups comes in the aftermath of the decline of the religious right, though some feel the right-wingers of the cloth are attempting to gain control of the tea party.
In the lead-up to the tea party convention, Michelle Goldberg of the American Prospect wrote the convention “marks the attempt of the old-school Christian right to take over the tea-party movement. Speakers joining [Sarah] Palin include Rick Scarborough, Roy Moore, and Joseph Farah, men who are radical even by religious-right standards. Their presence shows that the tea-party movement is no longer merely populist, libertarian, or anti-government, if it ever was. It is theocratic.”
An NBC poll today showed that the tea party has a 30-34 percent favorable-unfavorable rating, showing an important decline in public support following clearly racist provocations from its leaders. A 30 percent approval rating, however, shows a lot of work remains to be done.