On Saturday afternoon, my phone was hopping out of its cradle and email started pouring in. A gunman had just shot multiple victims in Tucson, Arizona, including a US Congresswoman and a federal judge, and everyone from friends to press to government employees wanted to know: Was the shooter one of “my guys”?
For more than 10 years, I have tracked, studied, and infiltrated various factions of the right-wing extremist world, including tax protest and sovereign citizen groups. There are approximately 300,000 of “my guys” in the US today.1
It was good question, and considering that 20 people had been shot resulting in six fatalities, it was an important question. Online battles were already raging on political websites and in the comment sections of various news articles. Cable news pundits were bending over backwards assigning blame to their political enemies, attempting to use the dead and wounded to score “points” over their opponents. This made it a smokin’ hot question.
So what’s my answer?
Yes, he’s one of my guys.
I downloaded and watched 22-year old Jared Loughner’s now-famous YouTube videos, grabbed a cache copy of his MySpace pages and postings, and have read as many articles quoting his friends and neighbors as I could find. There are a significant number of pointers that place him squarely within the sovereign belief system, and none so far that suggest that he isn’t a sovereign.
Is he insane? Maybe, and that will be for a judge and jury to decide, but it doesn’t change my answer or even make it any less likely.
Is he as insane as the press, sheriff, and pundits are making him out to be? Probably not. They just don’t speak his language or understand his obscure references, so they reasonably dismiss what they don’t understand as meaningless babble.
For example, James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal writes:
To the extent that the suspect, Jared Loughner, had political views, they were disjointed and impossible to categorize–think John Hinckley meets No Labels.
I disagree with Mr. Taranto.
Ironically, this is what the shooter refers to as “literacy” and “grammar” in his writings. Sovereigns have their own set of complex cultural references and vocabulary, which they think that outsiders are just too stupid to understand.
The Sovereign sub-culture is based on conspiracy theory
In general, 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.
Now, stay with me here.
Sovereigns believe that, if they could just get the combination of words right to expose the conspiracy, we could all live in a world of unlimited freedom with no traffic laws, taxes, debts, child protective services, or nasty ex-spouses. Our individual wealth would magically be unlimited, since people behind the government would no longer be using us to enrich themselves.
Different leaders within the movement sell different secret solutions to their flocks.
- Some believe that if the nation could just return to the gold and silver standard, all economic woes would end.
- Most engage in what I call “Founding Father worship” in which they take excerpts from the Constitution and American Revolution leaders and either misread them or twist them out of context to suit their purposes.
- Many think that the Federal Reserve is run by a secret cabal, and that banks commit fraud every time they loan you money. Therefore, a sovereign believes he’s not legally required to make mortgage or credit card payments.
- Earlier sovereigns focused on income taxes, and that has recently expanded to property taxes.
- Some of the more extreme preach a return to a more “racially pure” time where all community decisions are made by white men.
Sovereigns often don’t have a driver’s licenses or passports, and they may not register their cars or businesses. They often don’t pay income taxes or child support, and they get extraordinarily frustrated – even violent – when law enforcement attempts to infringe on their make-believe freedoms by daring to write them a ticket or file a tax lien on their assets.
Once such recent case of violence by sovereign, was the recent cop killings in West Memphis Arkansas, when 16 year old sovereign named Joseph Kane, fired on and killed two police officers during a traffic stop. Joseph and his father Jerry fled the scene and later died in a shootout where two more police officers were shot and wounded.
The new Sovereignty appeals to all generations and races
While the sovereign movement was started several decades ago by white supremacist leaders in Idaho, Montana, and the Dakotas, in recent years, new joiners have been young and old, male and female, from all races and religions.
- Sovereigns over the age of 60 most likely joined the movement following a personal bankruptcy or argument with government tax collectors.
- Those in the 35 to 60 year old age group likely joined when they ran into trouble with a mortgage foreclosure or other debt problem.
- The youngest and newest recruits are either 1) children of sovereigns who were indoctrinated into this absurd belief system by their family, or 2) they were introduced to the belief system through an online conspiracy source such as the “911 Truth Movement.” This last group believes that the Bush administration was secretly behind the tragic events of 911.
The various YouTube videos posted by Loughner are filled with sovereign-type references.
If he’s like most sovereigns, at some level he knows his beliefs are inherently absurd, so he tries to bolster his conclusions with weak syllogisms, desperately trying to show that it was deductive reasoning that led him to his ideas, not gullible or weak thinking.
His fascination with the meaning of words, what he terms “grammar,” is very common in the movement, and fits into the belief that the secret to freedom can only be accessed through the right combination of words and quotes, a kind of magic incantation.
Many sovereigns suffer delusions of grandeur. Simply put, they believe that they hold the key to the secret knowledge because they’re so much smarter than the rest of us. Loughner labels this as “literacy.”
Faux number theory, the focus on the gold standard, new age practices, and the desire for an alternative currency are all common sovereign concepts.
All sovereigns believe in some form of conspiracy theory. Loughner may have thought that Congresswoman Giffords, as a political insider, knew all about the dark forces behind the government but was ignoring his attempt
to communicate with her using the magic incantation language. In his eyes, this would make her evil and treasonous, and the punishment for treason is death.
Sovereigns believe that they are part of some new American Revolution, and that violence is a necessary part of the revolutionary process. They want to be the spark that triggers the war that leads the nation to freedom.
Violent domestic terrorist such as Timothy McVeigh, tax protester Joseph Stack who flew his place into the IRS building in Austin, and New Hampshire sovereign Ed Brown, who engaged US Marshals in a heavily armed standoff in 2007, all used such language.
And, as for the mental illness issue, no one becomes a sovereign without some factor or triggering event that effectively turns off a person’s common sense switch. In ordinary circumstances, the sovereign belief system is patently absurd, and the ordinary person sees right through the whole conspiracy / magic incantation stuff as nonsense.
But not all sovereigns are mentally ill. In fact, most aren’t, according to the courts. They’re simply gullible, greedy, financially desperate, or anxious to feel powerful and important. And while most people who don’t speak sovereign think that their ramblings are incoherent, they actually follow a complex set of rules that is fairly consistent.
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. Sovereigns tend to be anti-government, but don’t really see much difference between a Republican politician and a Democratic. Both sides of the political aisle are seen as impediments to the sovereign notion of freedom.
Jared Lee Loughner may have acted alone but he is not alone in his beliefs.
1  See my latest article “Sovereign Citizen Kane” in the Intelligence Report magazine, published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and my Congressional Testimony before the US Senate for additional information on my research.