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June 24, 2016

Law Enforcement: Standing in the Line of Fire

The recent attack on the les­bian, gay, bisex­ual and trans­gen­der (LGBT) com­mu­nity in Orlando that left 49 dead and more than 50 wounded is yet another example of law enforcement standing in the line of fire in the fight against domestic extremism.

From 2009 to the present, at least 64 members of law enforcement have been shot by domestic extremists–including anti-government extrem­ists, white suprema­cists, domes­tic Mus­lim extrem­ists and oth­ers. Eighteen of those shootings were fatal. Additional officers might have lost their lives had they not been wearing protective vests or, as in the case of the Orlando attack, a Kevlar helmet.

Since January 2009, ADL has tracked 68 separate incidents (including seven so far this year) in which shots have been fired between domestic extremists and law enforcement in the United States. These inci­dents include sit­u­a­tions in which shots were exchanged between police and extrem­ists (shootouts), sit­u­a­tions in which extrem­ists have fired at police but police sub­dued the extrem­ists with­out hav­ing to return fire, and sit­u­a­tions in which offi­cers had to use their firearms to pro­tect them­selves against extremists.

The motivations that led the extremists to violence during these encounters vary. Many were simply trying to escape after police officers caught them engaged in criminal behavior unrelated to their extremist ideology. For others the encounter with police became the catalyst for violent ideological action. In some cases, violence escalated to a “last stand” situation in which the extremist(s) had to have known their actions would likely result in their own deaths. The most disturbing incidents, however, are those (like the Orlando attack) in which the encounter occurred as police responded to and confronted extremists who were in the midst of a directed and planned attack. TW-TargetsofAttacks

Fifteen (22%) of the 68 extremist encounters with law enforcement were the result of direct attacks by the extremists. In other words, these encounters started purely due to the extremist’s ideology. In six of those cases, the extremist(s) conducted planned attacks on civilians–including the LGBT community in Florida, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, and employees of the Transportation Security Administration at the Los Angeles airport. In seven cases, the initial attack was directed at law enforcement, and resulted in the assassinations of three officers. In January of this year, an additional officer miraculously survived an assassination attempt in Philadelphia. In the remaining two cases, extremists attacked members of the U.S. military.

Since 2009, officers have encountered domestic extremists in 28 different states. Several states have experienced multiple incidents. Texas law enforcement has endured 10 of the 68 encounters (nearly 15%). In four of the Texas cases, the extremist(s) were linked to the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas or the Aryan Circle, demonstrating the state’s particular problem with large white supremacist prison gangs. In fact, members of racist prison gangs were involved in three of the seven shooting incidents which have already occurred this year—including encounters in Texas, Alabama and Colorado.

Florida has withstood the second highest number of incidents, reaching eight encounters with the addition of the Orlando attack. Colorado officials have faced five incidents, and suffered through the loss of Colorado Springs Officer Garrett Swasey. Swasey, the most recent law enforcement casualty at the hand of domestic extremists, died in the line of duty during a mass shooting by an anti-abortion extremist in November 2015 at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

Unfortunately ideological extremists continue to add to the dangers faced by law enforcement. An untold number of lives were saved due to the efforts of the law enforcement officers who confronted the 76 extremists involved in these 68 incidents. These officers put themselves into dangerous situations in order to protect and serve the communities in which they live.

 

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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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March 21, 2016

Winston Shrout: The Rise and Fall of a Sovereign Citizen Guru

Federal prosecutors in Portland, Oregon, obtained a 19-count grand jury indictment in mid-March against Winston Shrout, a Hillsboro, Oregon, resident and one of the most prominent sovereign citizen gurus in the United States, a man whose videos and seminars have attracted thousands of people to the anti-government extremist movement.

Winston Shrout

Winston Shrout

Shrout was charged with 13 counts of using fictitious financial instruments in connection with an alleged debt elimination scheme. Fictitious financial instruments are bogus checks, money orders, or similar documents that purport to be payments of money but are not in fact genuine. Since the early 1980s, sovereign citizens have been fascinated with fictitious financial instruments, using them for everything from escaping their own debts to perpetrating major frauds and scams, especially against indebted property owners. Passing them became a federal crime thanks to a law passed after the 1996 Montana Freemen standoff; the Freemen having been energetic promoters of such bogus instruments.

Debt elimination schemes are also extremely common within the sovereign citizen movement; sovereigns use their pseudo-legal language and concepts to convince victims that, for a fee, their mortgages or other debts can simply be made to vanish. Often, fictitious financial instruments and debt elimination schemes go hand in hand.

The federal indictment accuses Shrout of creating and spreading more than 300 bogus “International Bills of Exchange” and “Non-Negotiable Bills of Exchange,” instruments with a combined face value of over $100 trillion (but worthless in fact). The indictment claims that Shrout used such instruments himself and also marketed them as a way for others to pay off their debts. Shrout is also charged with 6 counts of willful failure to file income tax returns.

The indictment is a superseding indictment, adding the fictitious instrument charges to the tax charges, which were originally filed against Shrout in December 2015. Since that original indictment, Shrout has declined to use an attorney—a common tactic for sovereigns—and has defended himself using sovereign citizen filings that, among other things, declare his refusal to consent to the jurisdiction of the federal court or to be taxed by the IRS.

Shrout, 67, has been one of the most influential leaders of the sovereign citizen movement in the 21st century. Sovereign citizens believe that, long ago, an evil conspiracy infiltrated and replaced the original “de jure” government with an illegitimate, tyrannical “de facto” government. They claim that the “de facto” government has no authority or jurisdiction over them, which allows them to rationalize ignoring or breaking virtually any tax, law, regulation, or court order. The movement is dominated by a coterie of gurus, the people who come up with the movement’s pseudo-legal theories—as well as its often-illegal tactics—and teach them to their followers.

Shrout grew up in Kentucky but resided in Utah for much of his life before finally moving to Oregon. Shrout has said he is a college graduate but worked various blue-collar jobs such as carpenter, welder, and construction worker until 1998, when, as he put it, “as luck would have it I was able to retire.”

Following this early “retirement,” Shrout encountered the sovereign citizen movement at a time when it was enjoying a burst of popularity. This was due to a new compilation of sovereign citizen theories and tactics, often referred to as “redemption” or “straw man theory,” which swept through the movement in 1999 like a wildfire and still remain quite popular to this day. Longtime sovereign citizen guru Roger Elvick came up with redemption theory—acting on it would eventually land him in prison—and shared it with a group of disciples who became gurus travelling the country, holding seminars and selling manuals and videos explaining redemption theory and its various associated tactics. Many of those disciples are now themselves in federal or state prison.

Shrout has at times seemed to imply that he learned redemption theory from Roger Elvick, but Shrout’s earliest sovereign citizen filings appear to date from 2000, by which time redemption theory was already quite popular in the movement. In August 2000, he filed a notarized document explaining—in sovereign citizen pseudo-legalese—how he had refused to sign or accept a traffic citation from a Washington County, Utah, sheriff’s deputy.

Two months later, Shrout filed his first bogus lien—a common harassing tactic that sovereigns use against perceived opponents or enemies. Shrout filed a $1,340,000 lien dubbed an “Affidavit of Obligation” against Unified Industries, Inc., which is a corporation that holds resources and business enterprises associated with the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB), one of the major fundamentalist Mormon polygamist sects in Utah. The lien stemmed from some sort of dispute Shrout had with El Rancho Motoqua, a subsidiary company of Unified Industries established to create a polygamist community in southern Utah. In such communities, properties are often not owned by individual business owners or residents but rather by a holding company or trust run by the sect. Shrout seems to have been permitted a residence in Motoqua and came into conflict with the polygamists running the community. In the bogus lien, Shrout complained that he had been threatened with “removal” from his house and that he was “excluded from participation in the religious ceremonies and usages” held inside a community building.

Was Shrout himself an adherent of the polygamist AUB? It is not entirely clear from the lien document, though at one point Shrout refers to himself “and several thousand other fundamentalist Mormons.” However, non-adherents have sometimes resided in AUB communities. Some adherents of polygamists sects have gotten involved with the sovereign citizen movement. Shrout’s stepdaughter, April Rampton, was a resident of Motoqua as late as 2012, before she herself was convicted in federal court on nine counts of filing false tax claims while engaged in a common sovereign citizen and tax protest scheme.

Before the end of 2000, Shrout filed a series of redemption-related documents and he soon became a redemption guru, teaching the theory to sovereign audiences. In 2004, Shrout and Patricia Bekken formed an entity called Solutions in Commerce to market sovereign seminars and workshops. Shrout proved to be a popular speaker, with a folksy demeanor that he deliberately played up, referring to it once as “hillbilly shtick.” The debt elimination schemes that Shrout promoted were also popular; one admiring extremist in 2004 referred to Shrout as a “top dawg” among such promoters.

Shrout’s reputation within the sovereign citizen movement grew in the mid-2000s, but it was the social media revolution that really helped propel him to the top ranks of sovereign gurus, as YouTube videos of some of his appearances and seminars began to circulate widely by 2008-2009, bringing him far greater attention and popularity. This same time period corresponded with the beginnings of the great recession and the mortgage crisis, events that helped spawn a major resurgence of the sovereign citizen movement by creating a large pool of angry and desperate people who were potential recruits.

Shrout held seminars across the country but hardly limited his activities to the United States. In the 1990s, the sovereign citizen movement had taken root in Canada, so Shrout spoke to attentive audiences in that nation—until Canadian authorities finally prohibited him from entering the country. But Shrout found other international audiences, holding seminars in Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain, helping to bring the sovereign citizen movement to all of those countries—to the dismay of authorities.

More recently, Shrout expanded beyond strictly sovereign notions to express himself on UFOs and other “New Age” issues, claiming that in the early 2000s he and friends of his have been visited by alien “Pleiadians.” He’s made references to everything from incarnated fairies to “Hollow Earth” theory. Several years ago, Shrout set up a new website, dubbed Exo-Commerce, to provide “insight from a universal perspective,” which appears to be an attempt to blend sovereign citizen theories and tactics with “New Age” beliefs. It is difficult to determine whether these are sincerely held beliefs or merely a cynical attempt on the part of Shrout to expand to another gullible audience.

The new federal charges against Shrout could put an end to such opportunism, cynical or sincere. If convicted on all charges, Shrout may face what could be an effective life sentence.

 

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