Politicians have denounced the Jared Lee Loughner You-Tube video as lunatic nonsense. However, according to journalist Justine Sharrock, who reports on militias and other right wing fringe groups, Loughner’s video sounded very similar to the rants of the Sovereign Citizens movement. This group, which has an estimated 300,000 followers, believes the government is illegitimate. And many are willing to kill in their war against it. They have retaliated against judges, IRS agents and cops, primarily through “paper terrorism,” that is, by filing bogus liens against them, though some have also shot cops. Terry Nichols (one of the Oklahoma City bombers) was a sovereign.
Sovereign citizens refuse to follow government laws, even traffic laws or carrying a drivers license. They refuse to pay taxes or permits, including gun permits. They believe that social security numbers make us slaves to the government. The movement really took hold in the 1990s, but is making a comeback today due to the vitriolic rhetoric of shock jocks and Tea Party politicians, which share many common themes with the philosophy of the Sovereign movement.
Tea Partiers, of course, are distancing themselves from Loughner, but not from the vitriol. Sarah Palin issued an unapologetic and inflammatory statement yesterday telling media and pundits they “should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the hatred and violence that they purport to condemn.” Aside from the anti-Semitic and provocative nature of her rant, it was an attempt to make it seem like she was the victim, rather than the provacateur. She even went so far as to pretend that her comments were peaceful and legitimate: “When we ‘take up our arms,’ we’re talking about our vote.’” Of course you are, Sarah, and of course all your angry, gun-toting followers understand that.
Despite Palin’s violent rhetoric, there are important distinctions between Tea Partiers and Sovereigns. While Sovereigns, and Loughner, share some ideas (and enemies) with the Tea Party movement, they openly support the demise of the U.S. government, whereas Tea Partiers believe they are acting to save it. Loughner’s act, according to Sharrock, was distinct from most other Sovereign acts of violence (Nichols excluded), which have tended to be in “self-defense” (e.g., shooting back when getting stopped for a traffic violation). And it was distinct from the typical behavior of Tea Partiers, which tends more toward hysterical press conferences and public rants. The connection is that the rhetoric of many Tea Partiers, Sarah Palin included, has become more violent and aggressively anti-establishment, paralleling that of right wing groups, like the Sovereigns and targeting many of the same public figures, including Gabrielle Giffords and Judge John Roll, thus creating a sense of legitimacy for those like Jared Loughner, who are crazy enough to turn violent threats into action .