A direct threat has emerged from within the sovereign citizens movement, an ideologically committed group of people with documented views against the U.S. government, who advocate violent overthrow of existing government structures, laws and call for citizen arrests of high-ranking political officials. It is also referred to in some circles as the “Patriot” movement.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, sovereign citizens are anti-government extremists who subscribe to a wide range of beliefs. A central theme, however, is that although they physically reside in this country, they are separate or “sovereign” from the United States. They don’t believe they have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments, or law enforcement.
In 2009, the United States Department of Homeland Security under the direction of then Secretary Janet Napolitano released a report titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.”
The report warned White supremacist, right wing militias and sovereign citizen groups were gaining strength, becoming more dissatisfied, and that could quite possibly lead to violent incidents. The election of the nation’s first Black president, the country’s significant economic downturn and fears of more stringent gun laws were largely cited as reasons for concern. The report specifically mentioned terrorism, “White supremacists and violent anti-government groups,” and the response from Republican Party leaders was swift and vocal. They immediately objected to the use of the word “terrorism.”
Rep. John Boehner criticized Secy. Napolitano saying the word “terrorist” should not be used “to describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation.” The Republican Party, seemingly always eager to maintain a cozy relationship with racism and bigotry, has continued acerbic and racially charged rhetoric, contributing to the toxic racial climate that exists in the country today.
“I don’t see things getting better in the short term, in fact I think they will be getting worse,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI). Mr. Walid also served in the U.S. Navy. The controlled media’s tendency to ignore militia members and members of the sovereign movement is part of a broader narrative of how White privilege dominates every part of American society, he noted.
“America still cannot have a frank discussion about racism and White supremacy in every part of our lives,” said Mr. Walid. “White privilege shields White male Christians from being called terrorists, and we cannot deal with the mislabeling of Muslims as terrorists until we have the discussion.”
Another more recent report suggests Mr. Walid is correct and that this domestic threat has continued to grow.
The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) ranked the “perceived threat” posed by 17 groups they categorized as “extremist.” Fifty-two percent of law enforcement officials in the study “agreed” and 34 percent “strongly agreed” that sovereign citizens “were a serious terrorist threat” topping the list. Sovereign citizens were ranked as the eighth highest group of concern when this study was conducted in 2006-2007.
“Although Islamic extremists remain a major concern for law enforcement, they are no longer their top concern,” said researchers. “Such changing perceptions about what is a serious terrorist threat is an important finding because identifying and prioritizing a threat is akin to hitting a moving target and evolves as new intelligence, data, and events develop. Law enforcement must be steadfast in identifying major concerns, substantiating the concerns, providing products and resources to better understand the nature of the threat, and supporting efforts to respond to such concerns,” the report concluded.
A definition of terrorism
Domestic terrorism is described by the Federal Bureau of Investigation includes activities that:
-Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
-Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
-Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.
Despite sensationalist news stories about foiled terrorist plots and seemingly non-stop fear mongering from right wing political officials, the real threat to the country’s economic interests and lives of the American people comes in the form of homegrown terrorism. That homegrown terrorism is a threat in and of itself is not surprising. What may be surprising is that the most threatening of these “homegrown terrorists” are not the “radicalized Muslims” often described by Islamophobic Republican Congressman Peter King. Rep. King, a member of the Homeland Security Committee and chairman of the Sub-Committee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence held hearings in 2011 and 2012 while chair of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Many saw the hearings as thinly veiled bigotry targeting Muslims while using politics and patriotism as a shield.
“It is more likely for a suburban White child to join a street gang than it is for an American Muslim child to go and join ISIS,” said Mr. Walid. “Those hearings and even in some of the discourse right now, American Muslims, despite there being no real issues are pressured that we have to wave the American flag and preempt and, or stop a problem that really isn’t an issue in our community.”
Although his views on Islam are questionable, even author and CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen in a 2014 article wrote, “In fact, since 9/11 extremists affiliated with a variety of far-right wing ideologies, including white supremacists, anti-abortion extremists and anti-government militants, have killed more people in the United States than have extremists motivated by al Qaeda’s ideology.”
Focusing on Muslims not Sovereign Citizens
On Oct. 30, Eric B. Frein, a 31-year-old American White man born in New Jersey and living in an unincorporated community in Pennsylvania was captured after being on the run from law enforcement for weeks after allegedly killing a police officer and wounding another a month prior. According to court records, the anti-government survivalist told law enforcement after the manhunt: “He wanted to make a change (in government) and that voting was insufficient to do so, because there was no one worth voting for. He also acknowledged that he shot Troopers because he wanted to make a change (in government) and that the murder of the Trooper was an assassination. The DEFENDANT further acknowledged taking action (shooting the Troopers) to wake people up, because it was all he could do.”
In a letter that appeared to be written to his mother and father, recovered from one of Mr. Frein’s disk drives, he wrote: “Our nation is far from what it was and what it should be. I have seen so many depressing changes made in my time that I cannot imagine what it must be like for you. There is so much wrong and on so many levels only passing through the crucible of another revolution can get us back to the liberties we once had.”
This is only one of the latest incidents of violence by one espousing White supremacists and, or anti-government beliefs. Here are a few others:
– February 2010: Joseph Andrew Stack, who reportedly attended meetings of radical anti-tax groups in California, flew a single-engine plane into an Austin, Texas, building housing IRS offices. He and an IRS employee died and 13 others were injured.
– April 2010: Darren Huff, a Georgia member of the Oath Keepers, a group that advocates its members, many of whom are current and former members U.S. military and law enforcement, disobey any orders they receive if they believe them to be in contradiction to the Constitution of the United States was arrested and charged with plotting the armed takeover of a Madisonville, Tenn., courthouse with plans to arrest the local, state and federal officials.
– November 2011: members of a Georgia militia planned to bomb a federal building and to release ricin in Atlanta.
– March 2011: Kevin Harpham, a White Supremacist with a military ordnance background planned to set a bomb off during a Martin Luther King Day parade in Seattle, Washington.
– August 2012: Wade Michael Page killed six and wounded four others at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Mr. Page was a documented White Supremacist and U.S. Army Veteran.
– April 2014: there was the Bundy Ranch standoff, when Cliven Bundy and many of his armed followers refused to vacate federally-owned land. They actually successfully forced the Bureau of Land Management to back down in a dispute that has lasted over two decades. According to a New York Times article, Mr. Bundy was honored at a celebratory party in which many of his supporters wore “domestic terrorist” name tags.
– June 2014: Jerad and Amanda Miller, went on a shooting spree in Las Vegas killing two officers. After killing them, they reportedly covered the bodies with the Gadsen flag, which is now popularly recognized as the Tea Party movement’s symbol. Not only had the couple previously espoused anti-government views, but Jerad Miller was present during the Bundy Ranch standoff.
– April 2014: Frazier Glenn Miller, Jr (a.k.a Frazier Glenn Cross) a 73-year-old Missouri man, U.S. Army Veteran and former leader of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (later known as the White Patriot Party militia) shot and killed three people near a Jewish community center in Kansas.
Many White supremacists, militias and sovereign citizen groups are located in conservative so-called “Red States,” and their existence is well known, however, it would appear that the government is spending more time and resources infiltrating mosques and attempting to enlist high-level informants within the Muslim community in America.
A wide net is cast in the Islamic community and Muslims continue to be under heavy surveillance by the FBI. Around the country mosque officials are asked to meet with FBI agents and then pressed to become informants. It has been documented that informants are being placed in mosques and entrapment has occurred in several sting operations conducted by government agents.
“American Muslim leaders and institutions should maintain positive relations with local and federal law enforcement authorities, but those relations must be built on respect for constitutionally-protected civil rights,” said CAIR Litigation Director Jenifer Wicks. She said all Americans are invested in protecting the nation; but the FBI’s overbroad and coercive use of informants in mosques, reports of outreach meetings for intelligence gathering and other acts of abuse show community leaders should engage legal professionals to ensure the protection of their rights and those of their congregations.
FBI visits to Muslims goes all the way back to the 1930s and 1940s when members of the Nation of Islam received visits.
“You are under no legal obligation to talk to the FBI,” said Abdul Arif Muhammad, general counsel for the Nation of Islam. “Never talk to the FBI because you don’t know if you are a witness against someone or are self-incriminating yourself. Be civil and cordial, ask for their card and tell them someone will get back to them. Let the lawyer engage with the FBI and not you.”
“The FBI are federal police. The minute you start talking to them you waive your Fifth Amendment rights. You don’t know why they are there,” he said.
FBI questioning is just the beginning of the discrimination and bigotry targeting many Muslims today. A report titled “Inventing Terrorists: The Lawfare of Preemptive Prosecution,” by Project SALAM (Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims) found that “the war on terror has been largely a charade designed to make the American public believe that a terrorist army is loose in the U.S., when the truth is that most of the people convicted of terrorism-related crimes posed no danger to the U.S. and were entrapped by a preventive strategy known as preemptive prosecution.”
The 175-page study defines preemptive prosecution as “a law enforcement strategy … to target and prosecute individuals or organizations whose beliefs, ideology, or religious affiliations raise security concerns for the government.”
Inventing Terrorists draws on the metaphor of “lawfare”––the use of the law as a weapon of war––to detail the government’s deliberate use of preemptive prosecution and associated legal tactics.
The study argues the government “has used preemptive prosecution to exaggerate the threat of Muslim extremism to the security of the country,” and compares a list of 399 “official” terrorism cases published by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010 to a unique database of terrorism cases from 2001 to the present compiled by Project SALAM.
An analysis of the 399 cases found that 94 percent were either preemptive prosecution cases or cases that contained significant elements of preemptive prosecution. The study makes a firm distinction between individuals who represented real security threats to the nation and those who were preemptively prosecuted and never represented any threat.
Examples of preemptively prosecuted cases and individuals include the Newburgh 4 (2009) in Newburgh, New York; José Padilla (2002) in Chicago and Florida; the Aref-Hossain case (2004–2006) in Albany; Tarek Mehanna (2012) in Boston; Professor Sami Al-Arian (2003–present) in Florida; and the Holy Land Five (2007–2012), officials of a large Muslim charity in Texas.
“It is almost impossible for a Muslim to get a fair trial in America. The juror is thinking about 9/11, Boko Haram, ISIS, and the Boston Marathon shooter when they hear the case. We’re human beings. Every day we’re reading something negative about Muslims,” said Imam Siraj Wahhaj, during a recent benefit program for the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms.
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call