Monday, July 18, 2016

The Baton Rouge Police Shootings: Gavin Long, African-Americans, and the Sovereign Citizens Movement

On Sunday, Gavin Long, ambushed police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, killing three and wounding 3 others. He is African-American, a resident of Kansas City, Missouri, and a former United States Marine. The mainstream--and especially Right-wing--corporate news media will focus on his imagined ties to the Black Lives Matter movement. This is a simple story that fits their preexisting narrative frame and ties neatly into white racial paranoiac thinking.

I would suggest that the most important dimension to Gavin Long's attack on the Baton Rouge police is his connection to the sovereign citizens movement, a Right-wing network of individuals and organizations who believe that the United States government is illegitimate. If true, Gavin Long's attack on police is part of a larger pattern of attacks by Right-wing domestic terrorists on police, firefighters, and other representatives of state authority. The vast majority (if not all) of these attacks have been committed by white men.

In August of 2015, The newspaper The Kansas City Star ran a feature on the sovereign citizens movement--which also attracts white supremacists--and how it has expanded to included African-Americans and other people of color. The story is worth reading in its entirety.

Some key excerpts:
The case made headlines last fall in the midst of the Ferguson unrest.
Two men with ties to the New Black Panther Party were charged with acquiring weapons in what was later revealed to be a plot to kill two public officials and blow up a police station. 
The two pleaded guilty in June and will be sentenced Thursday in federal court in St. Louis. And in a lesser-known twist, one of the African-American defendants is an adherent of a movement that has its origins in racist and anti-Semitic beliefs.
Olajuwon Ali Davis is a “Moorish national” — an offshoot of the sovereign citizen movement. 
Experts and authorities say the case illustrates the changing face of the movement, whose members believe the government is corrupt and out of control and has no jurisdiction over them. 
While today’s movement remains largely white and still has some followers with racist leanings, a surge in the number of nonwhite sovereign citizens is underway across the country. And the biggest growth, experts say, is within an African-American branch called Moorish sovereigns, which is disseminating its ideas to a whole new batch of recruits. 
“It’s a new world,” said J.J. MacNab, an author who for two decades has been tracking anti-government extremists. “And Missouri is like ground zero.” 
The common denominator between sovereign citizens and more left-wing black separatists, MacNab said, is the sense of being powerless and having no voice.
“You have a group of right-wing people who feel voiceless,” said MacNab, who also is a fellow at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. “You look at the angst in Ferguson and you hear a lot of the same things. They would not recognize it in each other, but they have a lot of the same complaints, which is that the world is changing and we don’t get a say in it.”
The Kansas City Star continues:
Bob Harris, a former Federal Bureau of Prisons case manager who teaches law enforcement officers how to identify and handle domestic extremists, acknowledged the irony of a movement with white supremacist roots being joined by an African-American group. But today’s sovereigns, he said, aren’t like those of previous decades. 
“They are much more reflective of the demographics of society today,” he said. “You have white people, you have African-Americans, you have Asians, you have Native Americans. The sovereign citizen movement has really become a melting pot.”
And Moorish nationals are increasingly occupying a bigger portion of the pot, experts say. 
“In the last several years, it’s exploded,” said Kory Flowers, a sergeant with the Greensboro, N.C., police department who trains officers and elected officials on sovereign citizen tactics. 
A Kansas City area sovereign citizen told The Star that he’s not at all surprised to hear about African-Americans taking up sovereign ideologies. 
“It just shows that more and more people are fed up with the government,” said Ken Auman, who has filed dozens of motions in lawsuits around the metro area, accusing city and county officials of corruption, harassment and violating his rights. 
Auman said he welcomes African-American sovereign citizens into the fold.
On Sunday, The Kansas City Star continued its excellent reporting on the sovereign citizens movement as it included these details about Gavin Long and  his association with the Washitaw Nation of Mu’urs:
Long declared himself a sovereign citizen in records filed with the Jackson County Recorder of Deeds last year.
“No doubt at all,” said J.J. MacNab, an author who for two decades has been tracking anti-government extremists. “He’s 100 percent sovereign citizen.” 
MacNab said he falls into the Moorish Sovereign category, more specifically the Washitaw Nation of Mu’urs. 
“This group believes that they are indigenous to the continent and therefore above all federal, state, and local laws,” said MacNab, who also is a fellow at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. “These documents show Long’s attempt to separate his flesh and blood ‘indigenous’ self from his legal entity self.”
Sovereign citizens believe the government is corrupt and out of control and has no jurisdiction over them. Federal authorities consider the movement a domestic terror threat and it continues to swell, with violent incidents erupting on a regular basis.
Long filed the document with the Jackson County recorder in May 2015, saying he was with the United Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah Mu’ur Nation, Mid-West Washita Tribes. 
The document included a “live claim birth” record in which he changed his name to Cosmo Ausar Setepenra.
A story about a "scary", "evil", "crazy" black man who attacked police is far more compelling--and lucrative--to the mainstream corporate news media than a story about how Right-wing domestic terrorists who are now influencing people on both sides of the color line. The second narrative requires nuance and critical thinking; the first narrative is a bludgeon that titillates the White Gaze and satisfies centuries-old white fears about black revenge and negro uprisings.

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