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Threats To Judges Are Another Warning Sign Of Rising Right-wing Extremism

One of the most significant and troubling manifestations of the real extremism of the "Patriot"/militia movement of the 1990s was the sharp spike in t

One of the most significant and troubling manifestations of the real extremism of the "Patriot"/militia movement of the 1990s was the sharp spike in threats against local officials from the law-enforcement system -- particularly judges. There was practically a pandemic of threats against judges in the interior West (particularly Montana).

The threats were a direct outgrowth of the Patriot movement's ardent adoption of the concept of "sovereign citizenship" -- the fantasy belief system built around the idea that the federal government was a run by a secret cabal that for decades had usurped public power for their own nefarious purposes, and so by filing the proper kind of "constitutionalist" documents, one could declare oneself a "sovereign" who was not subject to the restraints of federal laws, including paying taxes and observing land-use ordinances.

This belief system originated with the old Posse Comitatus organization, a racist and radical movement that originated in the 1960s and whose followers had a long record of extreme violence. In the 1990s it was promoted most notably by the Montana Freemen -- but after they began to fade earlier this decade, so did the threats against judges.

Now, that trend is rapidly reversing:

According to the U.S. Marshals Service, the number of threats against federal judges and prosecutors has mushroomed from 500 in 2003 to 1,278 in 2008. It is on track to go even higher this year. There are no statistics on the number of threats against state and local judges.

The problem was examined in some detail last week in the Washington Post:

The threats and other harassing communications against federal court personnel have more than doubled in the past six years, from 592 to 1,278, according to the U.S. Marshals Service. Worried federal officials blame disgruntled defendants whose anger is fueled by the Internet; terrorism and gang cases that bring more violent offenders into federal court; frustration at the economic crisis; and the rise of the "sovereign citizen" movement -- a loose collection of tax protesters, white supremacists and others who don't respect federal authority.

... Hundreds of threats cascaded into the chambers of John M. Roll, the chief U.S. district judge in Arizona, in February after he allowed a lawsuit filed by illegal immigrants against a rancher to go forward. "They cursed him out, threatened to kill his family, said they'd come and take care of him. They really wanted him dead," said a law enforcement official who heard the calls -- which came from as far as Richmond and Baltimore -- but spoke on condition of anonymity because no one has been charged.

You may recall, in fact, that the man who murdered Dr. George Tiller in Kansas on Sunday was in fact a "Freeman" who had previously filed his own set of "sovereign citizenship" papers. Leonard Zeskind has even more details on this at Huffpo:

Scott Roeder, who is being held in a Wichita jail as a person of interest in the murder of Dr. George Tiller, is widely known for his anti-abortion zealotry. Less understood is his connection to the so-called Christian common law courts and the militia movement. In the mid-1990s, Roeder associated regularly with both Kansas militiamen and he declared him self a "sovereign" citizen, immune from the responsibilities of paying taxes or driving with a registered license plate.

The notion of "organic sovereigns" was first promoted by the Posse Comitatus, best known for its tax protest politics, but imbued also with the racist and anti-Semitic ideology known as Christian Identity. According to this doctrine, Jews are satanic creatures and people of color are less-than-fully human. And the Posse found a number of devoted followers in Kansas. At an August 1983 outdoor meeting in Cheney Lake State Park, farmers mixed with Wichita residents who believed that white Christians who renounced their ties with the "Zionist-controlled" government were "sovereigns." Their rights trumped those they declared to be "Fourteenth Amendment" citizens--meaning people of color and non-Christians. It was an arcane theory which promoters sometimes used to justify tax protest, embezzlement and larceny. But its central tenets placed it at the heart of the white nationalist movement, which contended that the United States was, or should be, a white Christian republic rather than a multi-racial democracy

These ideas reached their apotheosis in the mid-1990s, when a group calling itself the Freemen, set up an armed encampment on a farmstead in Montana. A noticeable nest of Freemen had established itself in Kansas, and authorities noted Roeder's association with the Freemen at that time. After the Montana group surrendered in 1996, this particular iteration of white nationalism was pushed aside as other forms, some more openly national socialist in their orientation, took its place at the front of the movement.

... These are not simply isolated instances. Rather they represent the tip of a social movement that is completely alienated from the culture, society and government of the multi-racial, multi-ethnic American people. Their allegiance is to another set of laws and values, one in which the color of their skin is a badge of their national identity. Not all are violent, and many hope to someday win a following among a majority of white people and reclaim the country that they believe belongs to them alone.

Moreover, the CNN report on the threats points out that mainstream right-wing talkers play a significant role in all this:

But Walton has his own theory on why the volume of threats has increased. "I think the unfortunate reality is our society has become so partisan ... that when you have hot-button issues, people take it to the extreme."

He places some of the blame on talk show hosts. "The type of vicious attacks sometimes that you see coming from certain players in the media, I think contributes to the problem."

When asked what can be done about the situation, Walton responds: "It will take societal change, I think," and heaves a deep sigh.

"Sovereign citizens" see themselves living outside the realm of mainstream politics, which in their view is irredeemably corrupted by "liberal" influences; indeed, they see figures like Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck -- seen by most Americans as far to the right themselves -- as "liberals."

So when Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck go on the air and report as factual or truthful these beliefs that are seen even by their adherents as well outside the mainstream, it not only has a powerful validating effect for them -- even the "liberal media" are reporting it! -- it actually is a kind of hyper-validation: If the "liberal media" are reporting it, things must be even worse than we thought! This then becomes an urgent call to action -- often violent action.

And that's a very disturbing trend indeed.


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