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March 21, 2016 4

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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September 1, 2015 0

Deadly Violence, Plots Mark Right-Wing Extremist Courtroom Dramas

Judges and juries in Kansas, Cal­i­for­nia and Geor­gia have ruled in a trio of impor­tant crim­i­nal cases involv­ing white suprema­cists, anti-government sov­er­eign cit­i­zens, and mili­tia groups who engaged in vio­lence or conspiracies.

Brent Douglas Cole

Brent Dou­glas Cole

On Mon­day, August 31, a jury in Olathe, Kansas, con­victed long-time white suprema­cist Fra­zier Glenn Miller (also known as Fra­zier Glenn Cross) on cap­i­tal mur­der, attempted mur­der, assault and weapons charges for his 2014 shoot­ing attack that killed three at Jew­ish insti­tu­tions in the Kansas City sub­urb of Over­land Park.

Miller, who defended him­self, attempted to argue dur­ing his trial that he was jus­ti­fied in killing Jews, because they were com­mit­ting “geno­cide” against white peo­ple. After the jury read its ver­dict, Miller shouted “Sieg Heil,” while giv­ing a Nazi salute.

In fed­eral court in Sacra­mento, Cal­i­for­nia, mean­while, another extrem­ist learned of his fate. Brent Dou­glas Cole, an adher­ent of the sov­er­eign cit­i­zen move­ment, received a 29-year, seven-month sen­tence for his role in a shootout in 2014. Sov­er­eign cit­i­zens believe that the gov­ern­ment is ille­git­i­mate, because a con­spir­acy long ago sub­verted the orig­i­nal gov­ern­ment and replaced it with a tyran­ni­cal one, and that it has no author­ity over them.

In June 214, a Bureau of Land Man­age­ment ranger dis­cov­ered Cole had set up a camp­site on pub­lic land and had a motor­cy­cle at the camp­site that had been reported stolen. When the ranger and a Cal­i­for­nia High­way Patrol offi­cer attempted to impound that motor­cy­cle, as well as one with expired tags, Cole con­fronted the offi­cers. When one attempted to place hand­cuffs on Cole, the sov­er­eign cit­i­zen opened fire on the offi­cers, injur­ing both of them, before sub­se­quently giv­ing him­self up. He was con­victed in Feb­ru­ary 2015 of assault on a fed­eral offi­cer which inflicted bod­ily injury and other charges.

Finally, a fed­eral judge in Atlanta, Geor­gia, sen­tenced three mem­bers of a mili­tia group to prison after they pleaded guilty to con­spir­acy to use weapons of mass destruc­tion. Brian Can­non, Terry Peace and Cory Williamson were mem­bers of a north Geor­gia mili­tia cell that plot­ted ter­ror­ist attacks against the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency and other gov­ern­ment tar­gets, hop­ing that the gov­ern­ment would over-react and, in turn, cause mili­tia groups around the coun­try to rise up in arms.

After an asso­ciate of the three men alerted the FBI to the plot­ters’ inten­tions, the FBI set up a sting oper­a­tion. After Peace told the infor­mant that he needed ther­mite charges and pipe bombs, the infor­mant offered to get the explo­sives for him. In Feb­ru­ary 2014, FBI agents arrested the trio of mili­ti­a­men as the received the (inert) explo­sive devices from the infor­mant. Their would-be rev­o­lu­tion was thwarted.

In many respects, these three inci­dents col­lec­tively high­light the major dan­gers com­ing from the extreme right in the 21st Cen­tury. Miller engaged in a deadly attack directed against Jews, a per­ceived “racial enemy.” The shoot­ing spree pre­saged the even more deadly attack against African-Americans by Dylann Storm Roof in June 2015. Cole engaged in unplanned, spon­ta­neous vio­lence against law enforce­ment officers—one of the major threats posed by the sov­er­eign cit­i­zen move­ment. And the mili­ti­a­men in North Geor­gia engaged in a con­spir­acy to attack gov­ern­ment tar­gets; just the lat­est in a long series of such plots and con­spir­a­cies stem­ming from the mili­tia movement.

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April 7, 2015 115

Right-wing Terror Attacks in U.S. Approach 1990s Levels

Recent ter­ror­ist attacks, plots and con­spir­a­cies by right-wing extrem­ists in the United States are approach­ing the level of attacks in the mid-1990s when the Okla­homa City bomb­ing occurred, based on a chronol­ogy of such attacks com­piled by the Anti-Defamation League.  The chronol­ogy was released as part of ADL’s com­mem­o­ra­tion of the 20th anniver­sary of the April 19, 1995 Okla­homa City bombing.right-wing_plots_attacks_1995-2014

The list of right-wing attacks and attempted attacks chron­i­cles 120 dif­fer­ent inci­dents between Jan­u­ary 1995 and Decem­ber 2014, illus­trat­ing a steady stream of domes­tic ter­ror inci­dents in the United States stem­ming from extreme-right move­ments over the past two decades.  Tar­gets included eth­nic and reli­gious minori­ties, gov­ern­ment offi­cials and build­ings, law enforce­ment offi­cers, abor­tion clin­ics and their staff, and others.

Exam­ined over time, the attacks illus­trate the two major surges of right-wing extrem­ism that the United States has expe­ri­enced in the past 20 years.  The first began in the mid-1990s and lasted until the end of the decade.  The sec­ond surge began in the late 2000s and has not yet died down.

Dur­ing both surges, the num­ber of right-wing ter­ror attacks and con­spir­a­cies out­num­bered those in the inter­ven­ing period.  From 1995 through 2000, 47 inci­dents occurred, while from 2009 through 2014, 42 inci­dents took place.  The eight-year inter­ven­ing period of 2001-08 pro­duced 31 attacks.  The surge of recent years has not pro­duced a two-year period with as many inci­dents as the years 1995–1996, which had a high of 18 attacks, but it has come close, with 16 attacks for the years 2011-12.

When ana­lyzed on the basis of per­pe­tra­tor ide­ol­ogy, the list shows that the var­i­ous white suprema­cist and anti-government extrem­ist move­ments have pro­duced the vast major­ity of the right-wing ter­ror­ist inci­dents over the past 20 years, with 50 each.  Anti-abortion extrem­ists come in third place with 13 incidents.right-wing_terrorism_by_movement_1995-2014

Inci­dents on the list include ter­ror­ist acts and plots by white suprema­cists, anti-government extrem­ists, anti-abortion extrem­ists, anti-immigration extrem­ists, anti-Muslim extrem­ists, and oth­ers.  The list does not include spon­ta­neous acts of vio­lence by right-wing extrem­ists, such as killings com­mit­ted dur­ing traf­fic stops, nor does it include lesser inci­dents of extrem­ist vio­lence or non-ideological vio­lence com­mit­ted by extremists.

Some inci­dents had per­pe­tra­tors who adhered to more than one ide­o­log­i­cal move­ment; in such cases, the move­ment that seemed most impor­tant to the per­pe­tra­tor was used for cat­e­go­riza­tion.  Cat­e­go­riza­tion was by per­pe­tra­tor ide­ol­ogy rather than type of tar­get, a fact impor­tant to note, as dif­fer­ent move­ments some­times chose the same type of tar­get (white suprema­cists and anti-abortion extrem­ists both tar­geted abor­tion clin­ics, for exam­ple), while some per­pe­tra­tors chose tar­gets that did not closely tie in with their main ide­ol­ogy (such as anti-abortion extrem­ist Eric Rudolph tar­get­ing the 1996 Atlanta Olympics).  The 2001 plot by the Jew­ish Defense League to attack Muslim-related tar­gets in Cal­i­for­nia is not listed, as ADL includes such inci­dents under Jew­ish nation­al­ist extrem­ism rather than right-wing extremism.

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