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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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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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