'Sovereign Citizens' and Government's Monopoly on Crime

by William Norman Grigg

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Robert Paudert refers to May 20, 2010 – the day his son Brandon was killed – as the "worst day of my life, ever." Given that losing a child is the most horrible thing that can happen to a parent, Paudert isn't exaggerating.

Brandon Paudert was an officer in the West Memphis, Arkansas Police Department. At the time Brandon was killed, Robert was the town's police chief; Brandon's partner, Officer Bill Evans, was his cousin. 

Until about 11:00 a.m. on that fatal day, Officers Paudert and Evans, who were assigned to the narcotics interdiction team, had maintained surveillance on what they considered to be a "suspicious" rental truck. It turned out that the vehicle wasn't being used to ferry narcotics; it was filled with household possessions belonging to a pleasant grandmother who was probably puzzled by the unwanted attention she had received from the local police.

Chief Paudert, who had been called to the scene, chided his son and his nephew and told them to "get off their butts and back on the interstate," where they had a better chance of finding a vehicle carrying contraband – or perhaps a sizeable amount of cash that could be seized and "forfeited." Crittenden County, where West Memphis is located, has become notorious for this officially sanctioned variety of highway robbery. 

A few minutes after hitting the highway, Evans spied a white minivan with unusual license plates and conducted a traffic stop. He called Brandon to back him up as he went to interrogate the driver, 45-year-old Jerry Kane. Within a few minutes a scuffle ensued, and Kane shoved the officer into a ditch. 

Jerry Kane was not a drug smuggler. As an adherent of a loosely organized movement referred to as "sovereign citizens," he insisted on exercising his freedom to travel without obtaining government licenses, permits, and similar bureaucratic impedimenta. A former long-haul trucker, Kane traveled the country in a minivan organizing seminars in which he taught dubious methods of avoiding foreclosure. 

Shortly before the fatal encounter in West Memphis, Kane had been arrested – and fined $1,500 – for driving without a license in New Mexico. His money was dissipating even as trouble with law enforcement continued to accumulate.

When the traffic stop degenerated into a shoving match, Kane's 16-year-old son, Joseph, emerged from the minivan armed with an AK-47. Evans reached for his sidearm, but before he could draw he was shot several times. Taking cover behind his vehicle, Brandon got off several shots before he, too, was fatally wounded. Roughly two hours later, the Kanes were killed in a shootout with police that took place in a Walmart parking lot

The funeral for Brandon Paudert and Bill Evans was attended by hundreds of police officers from several states. "I hope that no parent has to suffer through what we've been through," Chief Paudert commented a few weeks after that sorrowful observance. 

There is nothing worse than the death of a child, and every parent who has experienced such an unfathomable loss is entitled to sympathy. It's worth pointing out that there is no record of Chief Paudert extending condolences to Debra Farrow, the mother of 12-year-old DeAunta Farrow, who was murdered by one of the officers in his employ. 

DeAunta Farrow, who was unarmed and was not a criminal suspect, was fatally shot on June 22, 2007 by West Memphis Police Officer Erik Sammis. The twelve-year-old was walking home from a convenience store at about 9:30 PM with his 14-year-old cousin, Unseld Nance. 

Sammis, who was commander of the Special Response Team (the West Memphis equivalent of a SWAT team), had staked out the neighborhood. He and Officer Jimmy Ellis were parked in a dark gray, unmarked pickup truck. They were wearing gray shirts, camouflage pants, and black bulletproof vests. They did not wear badges or other police insignia visible from the front.

As the two boys entered an apartment building, one of the officers saw what he thought was a gun in the waistband of Farrow's pants. In fact it was a plastic toy. The officers came boiling out of the truck, ordering the kids to hit the ground. According to Nance, neither Sammis nor Ellis identified himself as a police officer. Nance also insisted that Farrow, whose hands were raised and whose toy gun remained in his waistband, "was fixing to get on the ground when they shot."

Within seconds of screaming at DeAunta to hit the ground, Sammis fired two shots. 

"It's a toy gun," the fatally wounded youngster told Sammis as he bled to death.

Nance was taken into custody and interviewed the same evening by the Arkansas State Police. Sammis, who sought shelter in the protection of the "Garrity" rule – which dictates that disclosures made by a police officer can only be used for departmental investigations, rather than criminal prosecution – didn't speak for the record about the incident until a month later

Roughly five months after DeAunta Farrow was killed, a special prosecutor announced that there was "insufficient evidence" to charge Sammis with a crime. Debra Farrow filed a wrongful death lawsuit that was immediately challenged on the grounds of "qualified immunity" – the incantation deployed by police and prosecutors to shield themselves from the consequences of culpable misconduct. 

In a 2009 ruling, the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, observed that "the officers approached Farrow and Nance without identifying themselves as police officers … the toy gun was tucked in Farrow's pants throughout the entire confrontation … Sammis only said to drop the gun and get to the ground, and … Farrow may have raised his hand or hands while trying to get to the ground before Sammis shot him twice without warning."

Since those facts "could establish the excessive use of force," the court concluded, it would be improper to grant the officers' request for a summary judgment on the basis of "qualified immunity." In April 2011, a federal jury in Jonesboro, Arkansas found in favor of Sammis and Ellis, accepting their claim that the summary execution of an unarmed, cooperative 12-year-old who was not a criminal suspect was, in some sense, "reasonable." 

Sammis, it should be pointed out, was responsible for training other members of the West Memphis PD in the use of deadly force. Chief Paudert described his work in that role as "outstanding."

"It's tragic, but in my mind, it's not wrong," Sammis had told investigators during his belated debriefing in July 2007. "I did what I had to do to survive and protect my partner. I feel confident that any officer in the same position would have done the same thing I did." 

Here's an important question: If Sammis was justified in gunning down a terrified, unarmed, compliant 12-year-old, why was it morally wrong for Joseph Kane to shoot an armed police officer who was perceived as threatening his father?

It might be said that the late Jerry Kane was a con artist, and that his previous run-ins with various law enforcement agencies suggested criminal tendencies. Whatever could be said about the merits of Kane's seminars, there is no evidence that he was a thief. Driving without government-assigned "privileges" may be unwise – as Kane's experiences demonstrate – but this can't be described as a "crime" in any rational sense of the word. 

Sammis, by way of contrast, had a lengthy history of violent misconduct, including behavior that can honestly be described as criminal. 

Before finding employment in West Memphis, Sammis was a "gypsy cop" with a predictably troubled record. He had been reprimanded – and then fired – by the North Little Rock PD for making "untruthful statements." After a short stint in Gould, Sammis was hired by the West Memphis PD. His background investigation noted that Sammis, who was notoriously untruthful and had problems with his temper, would need careful "supervision." 

In 1998, Sammis unleashed an attack dog on a non-violent suspect. Witnesses described the attack as sadistic and unprovoked. The victim required 75 stitches, and the city government discontinued use of K-9 "officers" because of the episode. A year later, Sammis was suspended for a day without pay after insisting on wearing his "battle dress uniform" rather than a conventional patrol uniform. A few months later he was investigated for "abuse of authority" following a "confrontation" with security guards at a Pilot Truck Stop.

At the time of the shooting, Sammis was facing at least two lawsuits for abusive conduct, one of them growing out of an incident in which he was part of a police wolf-pack that beat and handcuffed a man named Tim Howard. After Howard was restrained, Sammis – according to witnesses – grabbed Howard by the hair and unloaded a canister of pepper spray directly into his face. When Howard's mother pleaded with Sammis to stop, the officer slugged the 48-year-old woman in the face, and then assaulted Howard's father as well. Eventually the lawsuit was settled out of court. 

Sammis resigned from the West Memphis PD in December 2007, weeks after the special prosecutor had announced that no charges would be filed against him. 

"The FBI/DOJ investigation, the Arkansas State Police investigation, the independent prosecutor investigation, and the WMPD internal investigation have all cleared me in this tragic event," Sammis wrote in his resignation letter. "I am leaving this department knowing that I did the right thing."

The "right thing," according to the officials who reviewed the incident, was to shoot and kill an unarmed 12-year-old boy who was not a criminal suspect and posed no threat to anybody. 

As a representative of the State's coercive caste, Sammis had an unqualified right to kill DeAunta Farrow, and the child had an unambiguous duty to die. The child's killer is not required to express remorse. The grieving mother isn't even entitled to official sympathy from the Police Chief who hired that killer, insulated him from accountability, praised his performance, promoted him, and extolled him as a role model to others on the force. 

The only substantive "reform" to occur because of the killing of DeAunta Farrow was a municipal ordinance banning the possession of toy guns.

Owing to the fact that DeAunta Farrow was black, and Sammis is white, the child's shooting was exploited by Al Sharpton and similar figures in the Indignation Industry's race-baiting affiliate. One "civil rights" group was conspicuous by its absence: The so-called Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the lucrative quasi-private secret police agency founded by the degenerate fraud named Morris Dees. 

The DeAunta Farrow case – the murder, by an abusive white cop, of a poor black child – would appear to be perfectly tailored for a "civil rights" group focusing on issues of poverty and racial injustice. This is especially true in light of the fact that in the years prior to DeAunta's murder, the West Memphis PD had been hit with a half-dozen lawsuits alleging civil rights violations, and had lost five of them. 

Obviously, West Memphis was a target-rich environment for the SPLC. Yet the group didn't pay any attention to the town until after Officers Paudert and Evans were killed in an encounter with "sovereign citizens" – that is, political dissidents of a kind who figure prominently in the SPLC-defined official demonology

In December 2007, the West Memphis City Council passed a resolution calling on Bob Paudert to resign, along with Officers Sammis and Ellis.

"Why should I resign?" responded Chief Paudert. "I haven't done anything wrong."

When Paudert finally resigned in 2011, he treated it as a personal triumph that he hadn't been "run out of town" by his critics – including, one assumes, the mother of DeAunta Farrow. He was immediately hired by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a division of the same "Justice" Department that found no "civil rights violation" in Erik Sammis's killing of DeAunta Farrow. He has become an SPLC-promoted evangelist, touring the country to "make sure others who wear the badge don't get murdered by a group of domestic terrorists," in the words of a news account. 

"We as law enforcement officers must recognize this very real threat, so we can protect ourselves," Paudert said in an SPLC propaganda video. He insists that "sovereign citizens" should be regarded as a pervasive threat to officer safety. This refrain is joined by the SPLC and the FBI, who – by way of demonstrating the "deadly threat" posed by the estimated 300,000 members of the "sovereign citizens" – point out that eight police officers have died in encounters with people regarded as "sovereign citizens" since 2000

Although police agencies diligently record the death of every officer, there is no comparable tally of "the precise number of people killed by the police, and the number of times police use excessive force," noted Fox Butterfield of the New York Times about a decade ago. An abortive effort was made in the mid-1980s to collect and publish that data, but was quickly discontinued because "the figures were very embarrassing to a lot of police departments," observed James Fyfe, a professor of criminal justice at Temple University. 

The SPLC describes "sovereign citizens" as people who believe that they alone "get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore." Some people thrown into that category have circulated worthless financial instruments; others conduct business in a "peculiar dialect" that is deliberately opaque and understood only by a small, self-selected population. 

If that description were considered accurate, it would be difficult to distinguish the behavior of "sovereign citizens" from that of the exalted personages who call themselves the "government." Such people take refuge in arcane language to justify law-breaking, including the routine practice of monumental financial fraud involving the public treasury. 

The SPLC accuses "sovereign citizens" of emitting "verbal fog" as a way to distract attention from their schemes. One wonders if anybody with that organization has ever been exposed to the artful gibberish that dribbles down the chin of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke every time he makes a public effort to justify the activities of his criminal cartel. 

The SPLC depicts "sovereigns" as lawless people who are primed to kill and utterly remorseless in dealing with those they regard as enemies. If this is the case they're guilty of mimicking the government they despise. 

Disinterested application of the SPLC's definition would lead us to conclude that Barack Obama is the most dangerous "sovereign citizen" on the planet, given his assertion of the power to imprison or kill anybody on the face of the earth. The SPLC's zeal for the sanctity of the law, and its compassion for "people of color," didn't inspire the organization to protest the murder of 16-year-old Yemeni-American Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was killed, on presidential orders, in a CIA drone strike.

Decades ago, the immortal Albert Jay Nock pointed out that a public functionary who calls himself an "official" will routinely acts that any objective, moral observer would describe as crimes. Such a person can do such things "without any sense of responsibility, or discomfort, simply because [he acts] as an official and not as a man." In this fashion, "once could commit almost any kind of crime without getting in trouble with one's conscience" – or with the public, once it has been properly indoctrinated regarding the mystical concept called "authority."

"Sovereign citizens" supposedly believe that acts of force and fraud are transmuted into justice when accompanied with the proper conjurations. How would that differ, in principle, from the behavior of the governing "officials" on whose behalf the SPLC labors? If “officials” can commit acts of aggressive violence, on what moral basis do we condemn similar behavior on the part of private individuals who declare themselves “Sovereign” as well?

When a "Sovereign" kills a police officer, the SPLC – speaking on behalf of the entire police state apparatus – commands us to mourn and rend our garments. When Officer Erik Sammis guns down a 12-year-old African-American, or Barack Obama slaughters an Yemeni-American teenager with a drone-fired missile, the SPLC maintains a reverent silence in the face of what it must regard as the sacramental exercise of the government's transcendent authority – while it quietly adds names to its ever-expanding roster of dissidents and heretics.