The Federal Bureau of Investigation may be investigating the sovereign citizen movement in Wyoming, an agency spokesman said.
"I can neither confirm nor deny that an investigation exists; this is a very sensitive subject," Dave Joly, spokesman for the FBI's regional office in Denver, said in March.
The region's domestic terrorism supervisor and a supervisor agent in Wyoming told Joly they were very hesitant to talk about the sovereign citizen movement, he said.
"They're very wary of saying anything for the fear of either showing their hand into a potential investigation or information being used for prosecution in the future, if that should happen," Joly said.
In February, a local contractor hinted at the possibility of an investigation when he said an agent called him after he won a bid from Natrona County in November to clear the junk-ridden property of sovereign Ed Corrigan, who has repeatedly said the courts have no authority over him. The contract was later voided after the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality demanded expensive asbestos remediation.
Local sovereign group teacher John Arthur Taylor Jr. said FBI agents interviewed him a couple of years ago about allegedly carrying a gun into a courtroom. "I asked, ‘Where is your proof?'"
Instead of sharing membership in an organization, Taylor and other sovereigns share a philosophy that claims the legitimate United States government was replaced in 1871 by a corporate system with fraudulent courts and laws.
Nationally and locally, most sovereigns maintain they only want a peaceful transition to a "restored republic," according to national websites and interviews with Casper-area sovereigns.
FBI Special Agent Kathy Wright concurs, she said in an interview from her office in Washington, D.C.
But the bureau has kept an eye on the movement because some sovereigns have taken the logical step from belief in the illegitimacy of the current system to acting violently against it, Wright said.
A year ago, the FBI announced the sovereign citizen movement ranks among the nation's top domestic terrorist threats, along with animal rights/eco-terrorism, anarchists, and lone offenders with extremist agendas.
The April 2010 press release stated some sovereign citizens have committed crimes such as refusing to pay taxes, holding illegal courts that issue warrants for public officials, filing frivolous lawsuits and liens and using fake financial instruments.
Many of these crimes occur in and are prosecuted on a state or local level, and they don't receive federal attention, Wright said.
And because the sovereign citizen movement has no membership lists, the FBI doesn't have an accurate count of their numbers, she said. Some movement-watchers, such as Mark Pitcavage of Columbus, Ohio, have estimated sovereigns' numbers to range between 100,000 to 300,000 nationwide.
The FBI press release also stated sovereign citizens are often confused with extremists from the militia movements. Some sovereigns do use or buy illegal weapons, but guns take a back seat to the anti-government philosophy, unlike militia groups.
The boundaries between an anti-government philosophy and anti-government action, however, can be murky.
Sovereigns who have embraced violence or the overt potential for it include:
- Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols in 1995.
- The Montana Freemen in 1996.
- Scott Roeder, who killed abortion doctor Joe Tiller in Wichita, Kan., in May 2009.
- Jerry Kane and his son Joseph Kane, who gunned down two policemen during a traffic stop in West Memphis, Ark., in May 2010.
In March, federal and state authorities arrested four men and one woman in Fairbanks, Alaska, and charged them with weapons violations -- machine guns, silencers, grenades -- and conspiracy to kill a federal judge.
Jared Loughner, who in January killed six people and wounded more than a dozen others, including Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, had used the language and cited causes popular among some sovereigns, according to his writings and video statements, said movement-watcher J.J. MacNab. Some sovereigns locally and nationally have said Loughner's primary target was Arizona Chief U.S. District Judge John Roll because he had recently ruled against a program of President Obama.
The president of the "Republic for the united States of America," Tim Turner, warned those in the movement to avoid violence when they begin informing local and state law authorities about the restoration of the true government in a letter he wrote Jan. 11:
"Respect them as fellow Americans. Do not be belligerent or defiant. They are people just like us; unfortunately the U.S. Corporation has trained and educated them to enforce an unlawful set of codes, statutes and levies on the persons in their jurisdiction."
But peaceable behavior has its limits. "Most law enforcement will want to establish lawful jurisdiction, but a few will have let their power go to their heads and we will therefore have a few incidents," he added.
The Republic's spokesman did not return repeated requests for comment.
Locally, the Wyoming "interim governor," Laddie Wiginton, said at a recent meeting what those fully supporting the new republic may need to deal with the uncommitted: "There comes a point when people who have two feet in [the restoration of the republic] kick the ones dragging off the train."
Some Wyoming sovereign citizens have resorted to violence in the past.
In July 1981, IRS agents obtained a warrant to enter the farm of tax protester Harvey Annis near Alcova to seize equipment to satisfy the debt. As agents and a Natrona County deputy sheriff were about to leave, Annis and four others -- Joseph Afflerbach, John Cotton, Michael Cotton and Murray Watson -- drove their trucks to the farm's entrance. The men, armed with pistols, 12-gauge shotguns and a Colt AR 15 semi-automatic rifle, approached the agents. Afflerbach and the Cottons threatened one IRS agent and the deputy sheriff with violence. The agents were able to leave.
The five men were later indicted on counts of forcibly interfering with or assaulting federal officers, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Afflerbach was sentenced to a seven-year prison term, John Cotton to two years imprisonment, Michael Cotton to 18 months imprisonment, and Annis and Watson to probation.
In November 1996, Taylor carried an Uzi-type weapon on his shoulder while delivering a "declaration of war" regarding a code enforcement dispute to former Lander Assistant City Attorney Keith Gingery. Taylor was sentenced to a two- to four-year term for possession of a weapon with unlawful attempt.
Taylor maintains he wants peace, and a peaceable transition to the restored republic.
"If we go off the deep end, we're no better than they are," he said. "I don't want to see it. Let them fire the first shot."