Gavin Long, the gunman who killed three police officers in Baton Rouge in an ambush-style attack, identified with an anti-government “sovereign citizen” movement who don’t believe they’re subject to federal and state laws, including paying taxes or getting a driver’s license.
The 29-year-old resident of Kansas City, Missouri, filed documents in May 2015 declaring himself a member of the United Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah, a group that believes black people were the original inhabitants of the U.S. and changed his name to “Cosmo Setepenra,” according to court records obtained by the Kansas City Star.
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So-called sovereign citizens believe themselves to be above the laws of the land say experts, and have a history of violent confrontations with police.
“[Sovereign citizens] is a social and political group or movement who believe in a variety of conspiracy theories and worldviews that the government is a hostile entity that is out to essentially take away the rights and privileges of law abiding citizens such as themselves,” David Hofmann, an assistant professor of Sociology at University of New Brunswick told Global News.
“A lot of [sovereign citizens] pick and choose what they want to believe, but the overarching theme is they want to disconnect themselves from what they see as a hostile federal or state government.”
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In various social media posts linked to accounts under the name “Cosmo Setepenra,” Long discussed his anger at the recent killing of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police and argued African-Americans should utilize force, not peaceful protests to fight “oppression.”
“100 percent of revolutions, of victims fighting their oppression, from victims fighting their bullies, 100 percent have been successful through fighting back, through bloodshed,” he said in a video
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Sovereign-citizens have been classified by both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Southern Poverty Law Center as extremists, with the FBI labelling them as a “domestic terrorist movement.”
A 2013-2014 survey by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, found that law enforcement agencies perceived the sovereign-citizens movement as the top threat in the U.S., ahead of jihadists.
In recent years there have been several law enforcement officers killed during traffic stops with those identifying themselves as “sovereign citizens.”
In 2012, two deputies were killed and two more wounded in Louisiana after a shootout with several heavily armed suspects tied to the “sovereign citizens” ideology. And in 2010, sovereign citizen Jerry Kane, together with his son Joseph Kane, died in a shootout with police after killing two cops in Arkansas.
Sovereign citizens connected to Freeman-on-the-land?
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A similar ideology exists in Canada known as Freeman-on-the-land. It originated in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, and members of the movement believe they can declare themselves sovereign by cutting all ties with government.
“[Freemen] use pseudo legal documentation and ritualistic behaviour to ‘sever’ themselves from the government,” said Hofmann, who has studied the freeman movement in Canada. “They believe that one has to consent in order to be governed.”
Members of the Freemen movement argue that by opting out of things like health cards and social insurance numbers they are exempt from government laws.
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A declassified 2012 report from the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), described freemen as extremists capable of serious domestic terrorism.
CSIS estimated there were 30,000 freemen in Canada, although Hofmann disputes that number saying it likely includes sympathizers and not just active members.
Hofmann says while the majority of Freeman don’t directly pose a threat to national security there are a few members of the “radical fringe who engage in violence.”
Last year, Norman Raddatz shot and killed Const. Daniel Woodall, and wounded Sgt. Jason Harley in Edmonton before setting fire to his home.
In 2012, two RCMP officers were shot in Killam, Alberta after two men, Bradford Clarke and his nephew Sawyer Robison, refused to allow the RCMP to execute a search warrant for a handgun and opened fire on the officers at the scene.