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December 17, 2014

Apparent Extremist Threatens Police Officers and a City Employee


Bran­don D. Gibbs

Earlier this month, an apparent anti-government extremist in Louisiana allegedly threatened to pepper spray police officers after they attempted to serve him with an arrest warrant for purportedly threatening a city employee.

On December 2, Brandon D. Gibbs, 29, of Gonzales, Louisiana, allegedly attempted to walk towards a police officer with a pepper spray can before officers arrested Gibbs on aggravated assault, resisting an officer, possession of marijuana, unlawful use of or in possession of body armor, in possession of narcotics and improper telephone communications. Wearing a face mask, a helmet with pepper spray attached and a knife strapped to his full body amour suit, Gibbs barely opened his door and asked police officers to show their hands before he walked out of his house at the time of his arrest. This incident presumably stemmed from a disagreement regarding his city water service.

Prior to his arrest, Gibbs reportedly called the city’s utility department and threatened a clerk for the department’s decision to turn off his water after he didn’t pay his bill. During the call, Gibbs purportedly claimed that “if you come back on my property, I’m going to put a bullet in a tire or in somebody’s head.”

According to statements Gibbs made to police officers and to activity on his Facebook account, his actions towards law enforcement and public officials appear to be influenced by anti-government extremist beliefs. After police officers charged Gibbs with resisting arrest in May 2013, he allegedly told officers that he trained every weekend in Maurepas, Louisiana, with a 500-person militia on shooting and military techniques. In one of his Facebook posts, Gibbs claimed that he studied abroad “in @ home” to learn “emprovised [sic] weapons specializm [sic] and “hand to hand combat” in order “to defend myself and my land against any treat [sic]” and to “make your entinctions [sic] absolutly [sic] clear shoot to kill.” The likes on his Facebook page include eight different militias and he is part of the “Three Percenters for Constitutional Troops and Law Enforcement” Facebook group, which harbors anti-government extremist beliefs.

Former militia movement adherent Mike Vanderboegh of Pinson, Alabama, created the Three Percent concept in 2008, based on the belief that only three percent of Americans will not disarm during a future revolution against the alleged tyranny of the American government. The concept itself is based on a historically incorrect myth that only three percent of the American population fought against the British during the American Revolution. In 2012, Georgia militia man Frederick Thomas claimed that Vanderboegh’s on-line novel Absolved, a “technical manual” to overthrow the so-called totalitarian government, inspired him to plot to kill government employees and blow up government buildings.

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March 30, 2012

Hutaree Militia Verdict Shows Sedition Charges Risky

In a rebuke to federal prosecutors, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts on March 27 threw out seditious conspiracy charges against seven Michigan militia members whom the government had accused in 2010 of plotting to start a war with the U.S. government.

Only weapons charges remained against two defendants–David Stone, Sr., the leader of the so-called Hutaree Militia, and his son, Joshua Stone—and they pleaded guilty the following day to possessing a machine gun. According to Roberts, though there was evidence to conclude that “something fishy” was going on, the government did not present enough evidence to prove that defendants had “reached a concrete agreement to forcibly oppose the United States government.”

The Hutaree case illustrated vividly how problematic the very issue of sedition—currently defined in U.S. law as a conspiracy to overthrow or destroy the U.S. government, to oppose by force its authority, or to delay by force the execution of U.S. laws—is in the United States. From the very first sedition law, the Sedition Act of 1798, such acts have been highly controversial. One of the major problems has always been distinguishing between speech and conduct—it is for this very reason that current sedition law specifies “by force,” though it has not made attempts to implement the law much easier.

In recent decades, another reason why sedition trials are often problematic is that increasingly jurors find it difficult to believe that defendants could have possibly thought they could successfully wage war against the government. After the Hutaree trial, one of the jurors told a reporter that “I was shocked by their effort to bring the defendants to trial…Do you think a group that small can go up against the mighty U.S. government?”

The modern track record of sedition cases in the United States has been relatively poor. In 1941, the federal government indicted 28 union activists and left-wing extremists for violations of the Sedition Act and a related act, the Smith act, but the jury acquitted all of the defendants of the sedition charge. In 1944, 30 right-wing extremists and Nazi sympathizers were accused of violating the same acts, but their lengthy trial ended in a mistrial. In one of the few successful sedition cases, a number of radical Puerto Rican liberation activists were convicted of seditious conspiracy in the mid-1980s for an extensive terrorist campaign.

However, in 1987, 14 prominent white supremacists charged with seditious conspiracy were acquitted in what came to be called the “Fort Smith Sedition Trial.” In 1995, Omar Abdel-Rahman, the so-called “Blind Sheikh,” and nine other Muslim extremists were convicted of seditious conspiracy for plans to commit a variety of terrorist acts in the greater New York area, as well as other violent acts actually committed.

The history of sedition cases in the United States suggests that other types of conspiracy or other criminal charges might well be a better prosecution strategy when dealing with extremist-related plots and conspiracies.

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