Sovereign ideas find role in political arena

Independent gubernatorial candidate supports movement
2011-04-19T02:00:00Z 2013-04-29T18:33:27Z Sovereign ideas find role in political arenaBy TOM MORTON Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

The gubernatorial candidate who came in third in November says he would have replaced the state government as we know it had he won.

Independent Taylor Haynes -- rancher, retired physician and former University of Wyoming trustee -- won the endorsements of disgruntled Republicans, tea party supporters, the Wyoming Patriot Alliance and the Constitution Party.

Haynes also won the endorsement of those in Wyoming's sovereign citizen movement, which holds many of the views of the other supporters with one fundamental difference: Conservatives and tea party activists want to reform government; the sovereign movement wants to replace it.

And he endorses them.

"They are 100 percent correct in their philosophy and approach," Haynes said. "They're right on the Constitution."

He also agrees with their understanding of American history, he said.

The sovereign movement believes the original constitutional government was replaced after the Civil War by an unlawful money-making corporate system. It subjugated people for everything from marriage and driver's licenses to denying property rights through safety codes and federal ownership of land, to the court systems designed to line judges' and attorneys' pockets and to deny justice.

Constitutional scholar John Sims, of McGeorge University in Sacramento, Calif., said despite the obscure documents sovereign citizens may cite to support their assertions, no evidence exists for such a corporate usurpation of the national and state governments. "It's total nonsense."

Erich Frankland, political science instructor at Casper College, said the sovereign citizens movement arose from the posse comitatus movement in the 1970s, which held the belief that the sheriff was the highest law enforcement official in a county and citizens could form militias to assist the sheriff.

The sovereign citizen movement often shares the same views of the tea party movement, and its emphases on the Second and 10th Amendments:

* Opposition to taxes -- especially the federal income tax.

* Opposition to regulations and regulatory agencies.

* Loathing of President Obama.

* "Take America back" rhetoric.

* Christian spirituality.

* And property rights.

"There could be an overlap because of the amorphous tea party movement," he said.

But the the sovereign citizen movement veers away from the goals of the tea party movement because the latter wants to reform American government. The former wants an all-out replacement of it.

"I don't see the tea party talking about a 'viva la revolucion' approach," Frankland said.

Sovereign citizens believe the corporate structure will stymie even the most well-intentioned, states'-rights-focused attempts for reform.

So the only way to fix the corporate structure is to replace it, starting with rewritten state constitutions -- being undertaken in every state -- and to work through the "Republic of the united States" and its interim president and evangelical minister Jeffrey Timothy Turner of Alabama. ("United" is lowercase to indicate it modifies "States," which have greater power than the federal "United States.") Starting March 30, 2010, Turner and the national sovereign movement claimed it "re-inhabited" the legal government with letters mailed to the 50 governors demanding their removal from office.

The political component comes next.

"You need to have a plan before you're elected," Haynes said. "I think that it can be done. Obviously, it still could be done. I'm happy those people are active and recruiting people."

In 2010, many candidates on the Wyoming state and local levels proclaimed the need for states' rights, fiscal conservatism, and curbing the growth of the federal government.

Unlike the Republican, Democratic and Libertarian candidates for governor, Haynes did not appear on the ballot because he didn't gather enough signatures to qualify as a listed candidate and sometimes was not invited to participate in forums.

That didn't discourage 13,796 voters, who gave him 7.3 percent of the total 190,822 ballots cast, putting him behind Republican Matt Mead (123,780 votes) and Democrat Leslie Petersen (43,240 votes), but ahead of Libertarian Mike Wheeler (5,362 votes).

Mead said he has seen the sovereign citizen movement from his political experience and his work as the U.S. Attorney for Wyoming.

He would not comment on specific cases he prosecuted for the federal government, but said they followed similar patterns, he said.

On a personal level, some defendants using the sovereign citizen arguments would file liens -- a claim for a debt -- on public officials' property, and he recalled one lien filed against him ran into the millions of dollars, he said.

As a prosecutor, Mead saw defendants justifying their actions by claiming the monetary system was not backed by gold or federal and state tax systems were illegal.

"They try to find an an excuse for their criminal behavior in our laws," he said.

Some defendants lost money through scams proffered by sovereign citizens who would alter documents, proclaim them official, and sell them.

"Some people had a good-faith belief that they were not breaking the law," he said.

Curiously, the sovereign citizen arguments ultimately were about themselves, Mead said.

"I never heard of people in their situation that argued to the law that inures to the public," he said. "In the cases I saw, it was a very selfish thing."

Their arguments to the law often centered on the 10th Amendment -- all powers not expressly delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states or the people -- to exonerate their behavior, Mead said.

But that doesn't mean the rest of the U.S. or Wyoming constitutions can be ignored, either, Mead said. "The Wyoming Constitution recognizes the U.S. Constitution as the supreme law of the land."

In recent history, federal courts have not considered the significance of the 10th Amendment as much as they should, and he welcomes the healthy debate over the roles of the state and federal governments fostered by the tea party movement, he said.

"We look toward balance," Mead said. "While I'm a strong supporter of the 10th Amendment, I'm proud to be an American."

Sovereign citizens, like their 1970s posse comitatus forbears, have promoted legislation that would make sheriffs the supreme law enforcement authority in their counties. In Wyoming, GOP gubernatorial primary candidate Ron Micheli last year supported such a concept, which drew a sharp warning from Chief U.S. District Judge William Downes.

As U.S. Attorney, Mead said federal agencies often worked with local sheriffs.

But requiring federal officials or state agencies such as the Division of Criminal Investigation to always defer to sheriffs can backfire if sheriffs or other county officials are under investigation, he said. "To say that is an absolute is very problematic."

Some sovereign citizen movements have promoted the next step of secession from the United States, which Mead said he finds especially troubling. "We have men and women fighting for our freedom."

Far worse is the prospect of violence, the logical next step of the belief the legal system has no authority, Mead said.

"I do not condone violence to change laws we don't like," he said. "Once you go down that road, there's no stopping it."

Mead doesn't believe the increasingly heated rhetoric by the sovereign citizens as well as the tea party movement in itself fosters violence, but it doesn't help solve problems, either, he said.

"It's abhorrent and contrary to what we believe in Wyoming," he said.

Haynes said he doesn't believe violence, either. "I don't take that approach."

Nor does he believe a contradiction exists between defending a government system and wanting to dismantle it, he said. "You swear to uphold the Constitution as originally drafted."

If elected governor, Haynes would issue executive orders allowing prayer in schools and encourage bills to roll back federal and state control, he said.

"I see that as a much different approach than walking into the Capitol and say, 'Hand it over.'"

He would want to use the present system and be careful in his approach, he said. "You want a safe sovereign government."

Haynes agrees weaning people off government subsidies and reliance on regulations won't be easy, he said.

"That's not to say there won't be demonstrations over entitlements," Haynes said. "You may have turmoil, but not chaos."

Reach Tom Morton at (307) 266-0592, or at tom.morton@trib.com. You can read his blog at trib.com and follow him on Twitter at GTMorton.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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