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July 18, 2016

The Washitaw Nation and Moorish Sovereign Citizens: What You Need to Know

GavinLongAfter authorities identified Gavin Eugene Long as the man who shot and killed three police officers from Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge on July 17, unconfirmed media reports claimed that Long (who also used the name Cosmo Setepenra) had connections with the anti-government extremist sovereign citizen movement.

Sovereign citizens believe that a conspiracy subverted and replaced the original U.S. government with an illegitimate “de facto” government, but that people can take steps to divorce themselves from the illegitimate government, after which its laws, taxes, regulations and courts have no more authority over them.

These rumors were soon confirmed—though it is clear that Long’s beliefs also extend far beyond the sovereign citizen movement into other areas as well—with the Kansas City Star unearthing sovereign citizen documents filed by Long that indicated an affiliation with the “Washitaw Nation,” one of many concepts associated with the so-called “Moorish movement,” or “Moorish sovereign movement,” an offshoot of the sovereign citizen movement that combines longstanding sovereign citizen beliefs and tactics with some newer, primarily Afrocentric notions.

Moorish sovereign citizens emerged in the mid-1990s on the East Coast when some people began to merge sovereign citizen ideas with some of the beliefs of the Moorish Science Temple, a religious sect dating back to 1913.  As sovereign citizen notions attracted more Moorish Science Temple adherents, the Moorish sovereign movement was born.  While still retaining most “traditional” sovereign citizen pseudo-historical and pseudo-legal theories, Moorish sovereigns added new ideas, including the notion that African-Americans had special rights because of a 1780s treaty with Morocco, as well as the belief that African-Americans were descended from African “Moors”—and often as well the belief that African-Americans were also a people indigenous to the Americas.

WashitawNationBookThrough the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Moorish sovereign citizen movement grew, generating a large number of groups and gurus to promote Moorish sovereign ideas, it also absorbed other black sovereign groups that had begun independently.  The most important of these was the Washitaw Nation, which began in the mid-1990s in Louisiana, started by the “Empress” Verdiacee “Tiara” Washitaw-Turner Goston El-Bey, who claimed to head the Washitaw Empire.  Washitaw Nation adherents claimed to be descended from the ancient mound-builders of the Mississippi-Missouri Valley and to actually own the Louisiana Purchase.

After the “Empress” retired, the original Washitaw group fell apart, replaced with a variety of different groups and individuals taking up the “Washitaw Nation” mantle.  So today there is not just one “Washitaw Nation,” but many, making it one of the most important wings of the Moorish sovereign citizen movement.

Since 2009, the sovereign citizen movement has experienced a major resurgence, including among African-Americans.  Both Moorish and non-Moorish sovereign citizen ideas have spread rapidly within the African-American community, aided by social media websites such as YouTube and Facebook.   Moorish and non-Moorish sovereign ideas alike have also spread in prisons and jails across the country.

Most sovereign citizens are still white, but in a number of cities with large African-American populations such as Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and others, African-Americans now comprise the majority of sovereign citizens.  Moorish sovereign citizens can today be found in any area with a substantial African-American population.

Key Attributes of the Moorish Sovereign Citizen Movement

  • Moorish sovereign citizens engage in the same criminal activities as “traditional” sovereign citizens do, including crimes of violence (including against police); scams and frauds; and so-called “paper terrorism” tactics, which typically involves the use of various documents and filings to harass, intimidate and retaliate against police officers, public officials, and others.
  • There is still much overlap between the Moorish sovereign citizen movement and the Moorish Science Temple (one reason many Moorish sovereigns add the words –El or –Bey to their names), but not all Moorish Science Temple adherents are sovereign citizens and some vocally oppose sovereign beliefs.
  • There are also African-American sovereign citizens who do not adopt specifically Moorish sovereign beliefs but only “traditional” sovereign citizen notions.
  • Many Moorish sovereign citizens also promote various Afrocentric “New Age” beliefs and concepts.
  • Though the Moorish sovereign movement is primarily African-American in composition, there are a few white people associated with Moorish groups.  Moreover, Moorish sovereign citizens are not necessarily black separatists nor necessarily connected with other black extremist groups (though there is a small amount of overlap).
  • Like traditional sovereign citizens, Moorish sovereign citizens are heavily reliant upon sovereign “gurus,” who come up with and promote the movement’s ideas and tactics.  Some prominent Moorish sovereign gurus include Taj Tarik Bey; Abdul Ali Muhammad Bey; Queen Vallahra Renita EL Harre,Bey; Irving “Hendo” Henderson; and Washitaw Nation figures Wendy Farica Washitaw and Fredrix “Joe” Washington (granddaughter and son of the “Empress” Verdiacee), among others. Many Moorish sovereign citizens may also follow “traditional” sovereign gurus; of these, David-Wynn Miller seems to be rather influential among some Moorish sovereigns.

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June 17, 2016

Alleged Triple Killer had Extreme Anti-Government Views

Erick ShuteOn June 14, Pennsylvania authorities caught and arrested a fugitive accused of having shot and killed three of his neighbors in West Virginia the previous day. Erick Shute, 29, who allegedly had a long-running series of disputes with the neighbors, reportedly attacked the three (and a fourth who escaped) over a conflict about firewood.

Shute was a minor public figure as the vocalist for the longstanding death metal band Pyrexia, with which he had reportedly been involved since childhood. He also worked as a fire and water damage restorer in New Jersey and was involved with a variety of odd business ventures, involving crowdsourcing, digital currencies, and multi-level marketing, among others.

After the slayings, a woman who described herself as “one of his ex girlfriends” posted on-line that “he has never been [one] for the police or government.” That seems to have been a serious understatement. West Virginia authorities claimed that Shute was an adherent of the extreme anti-government sovereign citizen movement and even suggested that he was building a compound on the West Virginia land reportedly purchased by his mother and used as a weekend home by Shute. Authorities have said they found stockpiles of food, weapons and ammo on the property, as well as “bunkers.”

Actually, Shute’s involvement with anti-government extremism appears to have been more extensive than just the sovereign citizen movement. Rather, to varying degrees, Shute identified with all three major wings of the anti-government “Patriot” movement: the sovereign citizen movement, the tax protest movement, and the militia movement. Shute was also supportive to some degree of anarchism, which is also anti-government, though from a more left-leaning perspective.

Shute’s oldest known extremist ties do relate to the sovereign citizen movement. While living with his mother in New Jersey during the period 2009-11, he subscribed to several sovereign citizen beliefs, especially those rejecting the legitimacy of motor vehicle laws. In 2011, he tried to get a local police department to sign a “peace treaty” with him that would somehow allow him not to have a license or registration. This visit led to his arrest for driving a vehicle with no license plates as well as charges of aggravated assault on a police officer, resisting arrest, and obstruction. Based on a courtroom video he uploaded to the Internet, Shute seems to have defended himself in court—as many sovereign citizens do—claiming that the judge in his case was not a judge but an “executive administrator” and that there had been no judicial courts in America for centuries. Shute was convicted and spent half a year in jail.

Shute also became involved to at least some degree with the tax protest movement, which claims that a conspiracy is hiding the “fact” that most Americans don’t have to pay income taxes. He engaged in argumentative phone calls with IRS representatives and sent hostile letters to the IRS as late as 2015 claiming that he had been given no “proof” he was required to file an income tax return or that the IRS had jurisdiction over him. Judging by some of his on-line remarks, he may not have been paying income taxes for more than five years.

In recent years, however, Shute seems to have identified most strongly with the ideas of the militia movement. The militia movement believes that the federal government is collaborating with a “New World Order” globalist conspiracy to strip Americans of their rights and enslave them. Subsidiary conspiracy theories emanating from the movement include a belief that the federal government is planning to round up citizens and place them in internment or concentration camps; a belief that the government is plotting to suspend the Constitution and declare martial law, perhaps on a pretext such as a terrorist attack or pandemic; and that the government will engage in mass gun confiscations—among others.

Militia movement adherents oppose this perceived government conspiracy. Many, though by no means all, join paramilitary militia groups. Though Shute “liked” a number of militia groups on his Facebook pages, he does not seem to have joined a formal group himself.

However, Shute’s on-line statements clearly indicate an adherence to the movement’s ideology. Responding to a conspiracy article about an employment ad for a U.N. “disarmament officer,” Shute claimed in 2014 that anyone who took such a job “deserves to be killed” by some sort of “painful and horrifying” manner such as being “eaten alive by dogs.” When the governor of West Virginia vetoed a permitless carry firearms bill in 2015, Shute posted that “someone needs to behead this mofo.”

In 2015, Shute expressed happiness at the thought that police officers might be among the first Americans “to get put in internment camps.” He also posted that he could not support the troops “if the troops are training to take you and me away into an internment camp.” Like many other anti-government extremists, Shute became outraged at the military exercises held in the southern U.S. under the name “Operation Jade Helm,” claiming that they were martial law training scenarios.

Shute, an avid fan of anti-government conspiracy websites such as InfoWars, believed in a wide array of standard “Patriot” movement conspiracy theories, from airplanes using “chemtrails” to poison the American people to vaccination programs being part of an agenda “to kill off millions of people.” Shute even claimed to have tried to attend the 2012 Bilderberg conference in Chantilly, Virginia, a magnetic lure for conspiracy theorists who believe that “Bilderbergers” are part of an international conspiracy.

By 2015, it is clear that Shute had developed extreme, and extremely paranoid, attitudes towards government and law enforcement. In February, Shute stated that it was time “to pull the government officials out of their beds at night and hang them from the trees in their front yards.” Urging people to “arm up,” Shute stated in March that everybody should have a gun in every room in their house and that they should even sleep with their guns, so that they would be ready to kill any police officer who came through the door. “This is the time for war,” he wrote, “and if you don’t get prepared to fight, that’s your problem.”

In January and February 2016, Erick Shute became a supporter of the anti-government extremists who engaged in an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon and subsequent standoff, even listening to the live broadcasts by the final few occupiers in the last hours of the standoff, before they were arrested. After their arrest, Shute wrote that he “loved” the occupiers and that “even though we never met, I feel so close to these people now.”

Incidents such as these increased the already extreme hostility that Shute felt for law enforcement. Responding in February 2016 to a news report of one officer who had killed a dog, Shute urged that the officer be tortured and murdered, including being hung over a fire, whipped, teeth and nails pulled out, fingers cut out, among many other violent and gruesome methods. Indeed, so hostile was Shute to law enforcement that he may have well posed a risk to local law enforcement as well as to his neighbors.

Shute will be extradited back to West Virginia to face multiple homicide charges.

 

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April 13, 2016

Firearms Increasingly Weapon of Choice in Extremist-Related Killings

extremistkillingswithfirearms1970-2015In the popular imagination, the bomb is the weapon typically associated with terrorists or extremists—but in the U.S. extremists seem to be killing more people with firearms than with any other weapon, and that use may be increasing.

It is certainly true that many of the high-profile terrorist attacks in the United States over the past century have been bombings, including the 1919 anarchist bombing campaign, the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, among many others. Extremist serial bombers such as the Weather Underground, “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, and Eric Rudolph have all gotten their share of headlines.

However, extremists use a wide variety of deadly implements to commit their crimes, terrorist-related or otherwise, from fists and boots to airplanes. The most common tool of violence seems to be the simple firearm, a weapon that extremists can use when committing terrorist acts, hate crimes, assassinations, armed robberies, and all manner of traditional crime. In the United States, firearms are easy to obtain and easy to use. American extremists of all possible types, from the far left to the far right, as well as religious extremists, have used firearms to commit deadly acts.

How common is such firearms use in the United States? The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism examined 890 murders committed by domestic extremists in the United States from 1970 through 2015—both ideological and non-ideological killings by extremist perpetrators—and discovered that around 55% of these killings involved use of a firearm; all other weapons combined made up the other 45%.

This figure signifies both the popularity of firearms among extremist movements in the United States, especially right-wing extremists, as well as the fact that attacks with other types of weapons may be less likely to end in death. Attacks using knives or fists, for example, may possibly result in non-fatal injuries more often than firearms. On the other end of the scale, bombings are more difficult to carry out—with many extremist bombing plots detected and prevented by law enforcement from ever being executed.

When one breaks down the numbers by decade, it appears that, after a dip in the 1980s and 1990s, firearms are becoming more popular than ever as the deadly weapons of choice for American extremists. Not only have the numbers of domestic-extremist related killings in the U.S. increased over the past 20 years, but so too has the frequency of firearms as the weapons in such killings.

In the 1970s, extremists—primarily coming from the far left—used firearms in 61% of domestic extremist-related killings in the United States. Many of these incidents involved members of left-wing extremist groups such as the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army attacking police officers.

The percentage of firearms use in extremist-related killings dipped in the 1980s, to only 46%, then dropped drastically in the 1990s, down to 20%. This latter figure is greatly distorted by the Oklahoma City bombing, which itself resulted in 168 deaths, but even if the bombing were left out of the calculations, the new number would only be 42%. There are several reasons that seem to account for these lower figures, including the rise of white supremacist prison gangs committing murders behind bars and the growth of the racist skinhead subculture in the United States, whose adherents often eschewed firearms for beating and stabbing attacks.

However, in the 2000s, firearms once more were the deadly weapons in the majority of killings, with 62% of the killings between 2001 and 2010 involving one or more firearms. So far in the current decade, the percentages are even higher, with 72% of the domestic-extremist related deaths from 2011 through 2015 involving firearms.

What accounts for this increase? Several factors seem to have played a role. One is the increased use of firearms by several extremist movements. Racist skinheads seem to use firearms with greater frequency in the 2000s than they did in earlier decades, while the growth of white supremacist prison gang activity on the streets—as opposed to behind bars—has allowed their members much greater access to and use of firearms.

Even more concerning is the apparent gravitation of domestic Islamic extremists towards firearms as a weapon of choice. In the early years of this movement, following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, much of the energy of those extremists with violent impulses were directed at elaborate plots involving bombs or even military weapons—plots typically stopped by law enforcement before they could ever be carried out.

Since 2009, however, there have been a number of high-profile incidents in which Islamic extremists have used firearms to conduct shootings (and one instance, the Boston Marathon bombing, where the perpetrators used both bombs and firearms), including shootings at Ft. Hood, Texas; Little Rock, Arkansas; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and San Bernardino, California.

The rise of ISIS in the past several years may have contributed to the increase in attempted small arms attacks; Al Qaeda generally favored high-spectacle and symbolic attacks, whereas ISIS has been more practical, urging adherents to commit any attack they think they can pull off.

Most of the Islamic-related shootings were mass shootings, which may be the final piece of the puzzle. Though most extremist killings continue to take one victim at a time, the number of multiple victims in deadly extremist-related incidents (both ideological and non-ideological) has certainly grown. Since 2001, there have been 24 domestic extremist incidents in which at least three people were killed—and firearms were the weapons used in the vast majority of these cases, including such deadly shooting sprees as the 2012 Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting and the 2015 Charleston church shooting.

The increased number of multiple victim incidents by extremists is also one of the reasons why the death toll has been rising. From extremists on the right such as white supremacists and anti-government extremists to religious extremists such as domestic Islamic extremists, gun violence seems more likely to increase than decrease in the coming months and years

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