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Affirming his group’s embrace of antigovernment “Patriot” ideology, League of the South (LOS) President Michael Hill on Monday sent members an E-Mail declaring the federal government an “organized criminal enterprise” led by “domestic terrorists” and telling his followers to prepare for a fight.
“I discourage the formation of private militias except as a last resort,” he wrote. “If your State and local officials refuse to serve the citizens and to protect them by the historic means of Nullification, Interposition, or Secession, then you may have reached the ‘last resort.’”
It’s not especially shocking that a group that advocates secession and sees the Civil War as an aggressive attack on a peaceful people would articulate these ideas, particularly in an era that has seen a significant rise in Patriot activity overall. The LOS has been drifting in this direction since at least 2007, and the rhetoric at its July 2011 national conference stressed Patriot and survivalist themes more than ever.
What is surprising, however, is how deep into Patriot territory the LOS has apparently lurched. Amidst the usual condemnations of Abraham Lincoln and talk of using states’ rights to oppose the federal government, Hill declared, “We can also use our counties as bulwarks against the criminal class. The County Sheriff is the principal peace officer in his jurisdiction. As such, he can lawfully tell the Feds to ‘Go to Hell’ and stay out of his territory. He also can deputize as many of the county’s citizens as he wishes and have them armed to the teeth. No one can over-rule him within his boundaries. Make sure your current Sheriff knows his authority and to whom he answers (you and your neighbors). If he is unwilling to use his authority for the good of the people of his jurisdiction, replace him at the first opportunity.”
These ideas come straight out of the playbook of the Posse Comitatus, a racist, anti-Semitic group that raged through the Midwest in the late 1970s and 1980s. A precursor to the modern “sovereign citizens” movement, the Posse Comitatus believed that sheriffs were the only legal law enforcers in the country.
It makes sense that Posse Comitatus and sovereign citizen ideology would appeal to the LOS. Most sovereigns base their belief they are not bound by most laws on the idea that they are “organic citizens” whose rights are God-given, as opposed to “14th Amendment citizens,” whose rights derive solely from the U.S. Constitution. Unsurprisingly, the LOS despises the 14th Amendment (which expanded the concept of citizenship to include anyone born in the United States, including blacks), calling it the most “nefarious consequence of the Reconstruction” and claiming that its ratification was illegal. (In fact, the ratification of the 14th Amendment did involve strong-arm tactics. After the Civil War, Southern states were granted re-entry into the Union only on the condition that they ratify it. Of course, America at the time had just fought the bloodiest war in her history over the issue of slavery, and extending citizenship to newly freed slaves was a vital component of Reconstruction.) Sovereign ideology allows whites to reject the 14th Amendment and proclaim themselves the true Americans, free from what they perceive as an overweening and downright criminal federal government. For the racist LOS, it would be a way to simultaneously affirm whites’ superiority over blacks and reject the portions of the Constitution they despise.
The LOS has not fully adopted sovereign citizen ideas – yet. But in mid-March, the group’s Georgia chapter will hold a symposium on “The 14th Amendment and it [sic] Legal Transformation,” exploring such topics as citizenship and “[h]ow the 14th amendment transformed our political status and system of law.” One of the speakers will be Roger Sayles – presumably, the same Roger Sayles who declared himself a sovereign citizen in 1992 and believes that the 14th Amendment applies to “the citizenship of the Negro,” not whites. Another presenter will be Pat Shannan, a conspiracy theorist who in a recent column for the anti-Semitic American Free Press praised the Montana Freeman, a heavily armed antigovernment group that in 1996 engaged in the longest police-standoff siege in U.S. history, for embodying “true Americanism.”