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Extremist ‘Patriot’ Pastor Videotapes Another Tense Traffic-Stop Encounter

By Robert Steinback on October 30, 2010 - 8:41 am, Posted in Antigovernment

Radical conservative Pastor Stephen Anderson’s personal antigovernment reality-TV show has unveiled a new episode.

Reprising a “role” he created and played last year, the firebrand leader of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Ariz., once again had a video camera rolling during a routine police traffic stop that turned contentious as a combative Anderson and his passengers defied police officers’ instructions. Unlike last year, when a stop at a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in Arizona resulted in Anderson being tased and thrown to the ground, this week’s tense confrontation in Benson, Ariz., ended peacefully. (The original footage of the April 2009 traffic stop can be viewed here – YouTube account required to view).

But with the surge in Americans claiming to be “sovereign citizens” not subject to federal or state laws or jurisdiction – and who sometimes resist police and government authority with lethal violence – the encounter illustrated anew how readily normal police work can hold hidden peril for officers. In a similarly routine traffic stop in May, West Memphis, Ark., police officers Brandon Paudert and Bill Evans were shot to death by father-and-son sovereign citizens Jerry and Joe Kane after being pulled over for a suspicious license tag. The Kanes fled but were tracked down and killed in a shootout with police an hour later in a Wal-Mart parking lot after wounding two more officers.

Anderson – a sympathizer with “Patriot” groups who last year preached that he hoped President Obama would die, and who has condemned “faggots” to death from his pulpit – seemed to try his best to create his second cause célèbre in 18 months at the expense of cops just doing their jobs. In the latest case, Benson officers Dustin Merrill and Braulio Hammons stopped Anderson’s car because his license tag light was out. As the encounter unfolds on his videotape, Anderson at first refuses to say where he is coming from or going. The officer, apparently Merrill, doesn’t challenge him but instead asks for the passengers’ IDs. Anderson intervenes, saying they don’t have to comply “because this is the United States of America, where you don’t need an ID to sit in a car.” The officer ignores Anderson and asks again, but no one in the car responds.

The officer then asks if there are any weapons in the car. Anderson pauses before arguing that he doesn’t have to answer the officers’ questions. This time, the irritated officer responds that Anderson does have to answer the question about weapons and orders him out of the car. Anderson refuses to get out. The second officer joins the first, and tensions rise as their orders and Anderson’s refusals to follow them are repeated. “What am I being accused of? What crime have I committed?” Anderson screams at one point.

Shortly afterward, Anderson asks again why he has to get out of the car. The officer replies, “For my safety.” Still, Anderson stalls.

Then abruptly, Anderson relents – and finally states that there are no weapons in the car – when it appears the officers’ patience is running out. One apparently pulls out his baton and can be heard on the tape saying, “I’m gonna bust …,” though the rest is inaudible. But now, the previously defiant Anderson adopts a fearful victim posture, declaring that he’s afraid the officer is going to attack him with his “deadly weapon” if he gets out of the car, then points out that the incident is being videotaped. The officers’ remarks can’t be discerned at this point, but Anderson finally does open the door and gets out, saying, “Do not tase me. I am not resisting. I am obeying exactly what you’re saying.” Anderson’s sudden shift from obstinate defiance – which effectively elevated the officers’ adrenalin levels – to obedient compliance, would have made for even more explosive reality TV had the officers lost their cool in the wake of his provocations. They didn’t.

His apparent attempts to provoke the officers notwithstanding, Anderson seemed well versed regarding his rights during a traffic stop. According to numerous Web sources, a driver stopped by police is obliged only to provide a driver’s license, vehicle registration and insurance information to officers. Under normal circumstances, neither the driver nor the passengers are required to answer questions or to consent to a vehicle search in the absence of a warrant or an opportunity to consult a lawyer. Several sites recommend asking, “Sir, am I free to go?” – as Anderson did – which compels the officer to formally detain or arrest the driver if there is cause. However, most sites also recommend being respectful to officers and non-confrontational – advice Anderson clearly did not follow during the early phase of the encounter.

Benson Police Chief Paul Moncada told the Benson News-Sun that the U.S. Supreme Court in Maryland vs. Wilson, ruled that it does not violate a citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights to require a driver to get out a vehicle during a traffic stop.

The parallels between the Kane drama and Anderson’s latest traffic stop are eerie. In both instances, the initial problem was a seemingly minor license tag matter.  In the Kane case, son Joe was allowed to remain in the car as the officers talked to his father outside. Without warning, Joe Kane leaped from the car with his AK-47 assault-style rifle blazing and cut down the two officers. Had the West Memphis officers been as careful about the passengers in the Kane car and the possible presence of weapons as were the Benson officers in Anderson’s case, they might have survived that encounter.

By preparing for traffic stops with video cameras at the ready, and immediately choosing defiance over cooperation when confronted, Anderson seems to be itching for more YouTube-friendly material to advance his anti-government cause. His recent video was edited, with subtexts added at times, before being posted to the Internet.

In April 2009, Anderson was stopped at a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 8 near Yuma. With the camera running, Anderson refused to answer the officers’ questions or get out of his car, Officers finally chose to break his car window and extract him by force, tasing him and shoving him to the ground while arresting him. Anderson sustained facial injuries requiring 11 stitches. Anderson’s video of the confrontation – and subsequent videos of him describing the events, showing off his wounds and talking about the experience before an anti-government crowd – blossomed on the Internet shortly thereafter.

In a jury trial in August, Anderson was acquitted of all charges related to the 2009 stop. He has filed a civil suit against the officers involved in that detention and arrest.

  • Chandler

    Fact – Drug checkpoints are illegal and unconstitutional.
    Fact – All purpose checkpoints are illegal and unconstitutional.
    Fact – On American soil there is no law requiring you to identify yourself or produce ID on command unless the Officer has legitimate probable cause.
    Fact – Passengers are not required to identify or priduce ID unless the Officer has legitimate probable cause that they are all involed in a crime.

    Anderson may be a religous bigot, but on both videos he was well within his rights and broke no laws. Calling him “anti-government” may be technically correct, but not in the sense you are trying to invoke. He stood up to a government that routinely tries to undermine the rights of it’s citizens. If we don’t assert our contitutional rights then we will soon see them nullified.

  • Joshua

    It is despicable of this author to attempt to equate a peaceful citizen asserting LAWFUL RIGHTS with murderers. What you have written here is vile. Your argument is negated when you so dishonestly deal with the circumstances and attempt to make such an extreme connection between law abiding behavior and the worst kind of criminal behavior. Shame on you. You have no honor.

  • Anonymous

    So the SPLC is condoning the unconstitutional and criminal behavior of the police involved in this stop. I’d say the only extremist in this case were the fascist police.

  • JimSpaza

    Extremist?!? The only thing extreme was the police officers’ actions…and the leftist nonsense put out by the communists at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

  • cm

    Glad to see that you’ve produced that LE education video. Maybe it’ll save a life or two. Always appreciate the work you fellows do here.

  • Mitch Beales

    Kate De Braose

    I agree that, “They are behaving like naughty children and ought to be treated that way.” That’s pretty much what happened in the most recent incident and I applaud the restraint and professionalism of the officer involved. In the earlier confrontation with the Border Patrol breaking windows and tazing are hardly appropriate ways to treat “naughty children.” Yes Anderson was ridiculously provocative but frankly the Border Patrol overreacted and the personnel involved ought to be disciplined. I must admit that, when traveling in the southwest, I considered these checkpoints an affront that should be abolished entirely. It does seem that Anderson learned that he should limit his provocation to behavior that will not get him tazed. That’s actually a bit surprising for someone so obstinate.

  • Kate De Braose

    People who have invented a term for themselves in order to appear legitimate are not to be treated as though they are reasonable.

    They are behaving like naughty children and ought to be treated that way. It’s obvious they are spending considerable time figuring out how to get some cash out of the public coffers by agitating and using frivolous lawsuits.

  • Carter

    Most thinking people KNOW someone has to be out there attempting to maintain the laws that are often a miasma of conflicting political agenda. One of the nastiest “no-win” scenarios one can imagine is the Tribal Police agencies. ……Catching crap for all sides.
    The issues are so complex in THAT situation it’s hard to describe.

    In many LE positions the various mistakes result are not only personal travesties; but the continuing “no win” feeling that gets really GOOD law enforcement to either go to smaller agencies or cut it loose all together.
    The best answer for LE is to have robots doing that job but unfortunately that option’s closed. Human’s make mistakes.
    When a human being is called upon to do something that demands the severing of emotional responses, problems always arise.

    A decent doctor who works in an ER long enough & has to deal with split second judgment calls and decisions wherein mistakes result in death generally remove themselves from that type of practice & get a gig where they won’t get sued & deal w/ the aftermath of self-doubt. So society generally always looses the best in high-stress positions; that’s a realistic fact.
    But the good news is that John won’t be coming to Arizona.

  • skinnyminny

    Okay! Here’s where this is controversial, I think if this had been a minority, especially a black man, the police would have seriously injured and/or killed the driver. Then, you would have heard people say, “well, he should have listened to the officers.” So, I would like to know why is it that LE give so much leeway to these type of people, yet, not to minorities. Here I will use the example in Califas, recently, there have been numerous cases of minorities shot in the head – and as the news reports it – they were just suspects, and at least 2 had autism and 1 was reportedly bipolar (this one was a Pakistani, in Hollywood, not shot in the head, but shot numerous times).

    So again, he (Anderson) was doing what some say is accurate, however, I truly believe that if a minority did this, the charges would not be dropped, and he/she would be prevented from filing a lawsuit.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Yes Bob, I am aware that the Constitution does not permit police to do whatever they want, but the Constitution doesn’t permit you to drive with a license or license plate you designed yourself in your garage. The Constitution does not say that police organizations have no jurisdiction over you.

    And yes I agree that Americans are cowed serfs, which is why you NEVER see any protests in America of any kind, at least since that undetermined time in the past when they became cowed serfs.

  • Bob

    Ruslan: It is not civil disobedience to act as the Constitution allows. It is being an American…granted, an American in the old sense of the word, not the cowed, craven serfs of today. The police do not and should not have blanket authority to order a citizen to do whatever they wish…the Constitution restricts THEM, not the citizen.

  • DC Hart

    IIRC this crackpot never finished high school. He never did acquire the intellectual curiosity necessary for critical thinking.

    Frankly, though, he makes no less sense than the average Tea bagger and they will all be pulling levers tomorrow.

  • Hatewatch

    CM and others,
    We will be releasing a roll-call video for police departments soon. Sovereign citizens have been involved in several violent traffic stops and officers need to know the potential risks.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    The supreme irony of sovereign citizens is that in their quest to attain total freedom as they see it, they end up actively doing things which make conflict with Law Enforcement inevitable. Then they whine and cry when they get arrested and hauled into court. Perhaps they should realize that when you practice civil disobedience, you must be prepared to face the legal consequences of your actions. This seems to be something most radical conservatives are unwilling to do. They threaten overthrow of the government, brandish weapons, do military training- then they whine when the feds put extra scrutiny on them, or in the case when they cross the line- arrest them.

  • john

    Thank you Robert Steinback for bringing this case to my attention. I never would have watched the entire trial on youtube otherwise.
    Carter, did you know this Pastor’s case was dismissed? That’s right he won. Your letter is full of idle threats, ie… “You had better do what law enforcement tells you to do in this state: period”. Did you mean like “give me a BJ and I’ll let you go”? Carter, I’ll bet you are in law enforcement; and thank you for your warning. Now I can add Arizona to my list of places not to go hiking, along with Iran, North Korea, Burma….

  • Carter

    As a resident of Arizona I can attest to a few things.
    You had better do what law enforcement tells you to do in this state: period.
    Arizona is NOT California or many other states. If the law enforcement Stop was out of line, then make your case LATER, in court.
    I don’t know this “Pastor” or much anything about him but I could tell by the video that he was going to catch some serious trouble. I don’t even need my psychic powers.

    If citizens are prepared to cooperate w/ the enforcement element (City, County, State, Federal) here in AZ, they generally have little problem. but you mouth off and don’t cooperate & you can expect some “active” interaction.

    If this is not for you; stay OUT of Arizona. There are U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints at various areas around the Southern area of the State. Those officers were Federal so they were gentle & only acted after they said they were going to act. Other times if an individual gives a non-cooperative agenda to a Sheriff, State Highway Patrol officer, City Policeman, etc there is very little “warning” that they WILL be made to cooperate.
    If you enjoy taking a non-cooperative stance with law enforcement; Arizona may not be the best place for you.

    Aside from everything else; I actually don’t understand what this guy was trying to prove. The dog alerted, the normal procedure is to check on what the dog alerted for…..what’s the big deal?
    If it was a small amount of marijuana; the sheriff usually just throws it out. If it’s hard drugs; the likelihood is that it’s a misdemeanor charge (small amount). But if the guy has large weight [of drugs] or some other thing the dog would be trained to sniff; he’s going to be taken to a facility.
    If he has nothing, he would be on his way in a few minutes. Dogs alert occasionally by mistake. It’s not a big deal.

  • john

    I have to agree with cm
    The police should be “highly” trained on the law. When you threaten someone with a gun in plain view, there had better be a good reason. Woman and minorities are most affected when an officer is ignorant of the law. There is such a mistrust of the police in certain minority communities, that a “code” has been created to never talk to them. We need the police. We need to build trust with each other. Spend the money on the training now.

  • cm

    I watched a bit of the video, and although Anderson seems quite interested in provoking the officers, they didn’t seem entirely equipped to handle him. I wonder if there’s any sort of training specifically to help interacting with sovereign or quasi-sovereign believers? Like this video:

    I kinda felt bad for the cop involved, because he clearly can’t even get where the guy is coming from. I can’t help but think, if we are indeed seeing a rise in this sort of thing, that law enforcement needs to be better equpped to safely and effectively interact with sovereigns.

  • David

    The other side of all this is that citizens in Arizona can be stopped at checkpoints — as if they were Palestinians or former residents of the Soviet Union. If people complain about it, this kind of abuse is likely to occur. I thought it was interesting that the officer stated he was placing the subject under arrest, but would not say for what reasons.

    Even though the pastor may be a loon, perhaps we should recognize that “first they came for the loons…”

    Then they came for…