James Timothy Turner is an antigovernment “sovereign citizen” and the former president of the Republic for the united States of America (RuSA), once the largest sovereign group in America. Like many sovereigns, Turner spent years peddling theories on “mortgage relief,” which in fact were simply convoluted ways to defraud the government. But his real triumph came in 2010 with the formation of RuSA, which worked to create a kind of shadow government that mirrors the United States’ actual government. Ever the charismatic huckster, Turner appointed himself “president” of the nation and convinced people from all walks of life to reject their U.S. citizenship in exchange for citizenship in RuSA. Within three years, however, he was serving an 18-year prison sentence for his sovereign activities. On March 22, 2013, a federal jury convicted him on 10 tax fraud charges stemming from seminars he held between 2007 and 2009 that purported to teach people how to tap into “secret” government accounts to pay their tax bills.
In His Own Words:
“As I watch the news and see the increase of fires, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, shootings, bombings, explosions, murders, rapes, children molested, drug overdoses, suicides, etc., I realize judgment has already begun in America. These things will increase in frequency and intensity if America doesn’t repent and soon. … America must pay for some of the sins we have committed.”
—In a letter after his trial, April 24, 2013
“I am not in jail for violating the law. I am in jail because I stood for righteousness and truth in government. Pray that God will crumble the foundations and break the power and strength of the corporation and restore his righteous government in America.”
—In a handwritten letter posted to the RuSA website, Oct. 15, 2012
“Most of the diseases that we have today can be easily treated through naturopathic type medicine with no side effects. As most of you know, I had leukemia a few years ago and I was treated by a naturopath and completely cured within a matter of weeks. And I have no leukemia anymore. … And these things are available to the public, but they have been suppressed by the medical community.”
—“What are the benefits of the RuSA for the American People?,” Aug. 27, 2012
On Sept. 18, 2012, James Timothy Turner was indicted on 10 federal felony counts charging that he had defrauded the federal government, attempted to pay taxes with fictitious financial instruments, and failed to file federal tax returns. The charges stemmed from his teaching of antigovernment “sovereign citizens” techniques. He chose to represent himself at trial, feeling that he had complete control of the courts, as he had often told his followers. He was wrong. On March 22, 2013, Turner was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to 18 years in federal prison.
James Timothy Turner was for years the self-appointed “president” of the Republic for the united States of America, which grew to become the country’s largest and most organized group of sovereign citizens — people who wrongly believe that they are exempt from most criminal and tax laws and also think the federal government is illegitimate. Unlike other, small-time sovereigns who largely limit themselves to spouting bogus theories about how to get out of taxes and bankruptcy and traffic tickets, Turner, during his heyday, offered a whole alternative history on the founding of the country wherein the legitimate federal government ended at the onset of the Civil War and never returned. What exists in its place today, he says, is a “corporation” intent on forcing liberty-loving patriots into financial slavery.
Based in the southeastern Alabama town of Ozark, about 70 miles south of Montgomery, Turner burst onto the scene in 2007 with a series of seminars in which he taught his clients sovereign techniques that would supposedly allow them to avoid paying mortgages, credit card and income tax bills. He offered strategies using pseudo-legal declarations he coined “Freedom Documents,” and he had the folksy charm to sell it. But it wasn’t just his alleged ability to solve financial problems that Turner touted. At one point, Turner claimed to have cured leukemia in five days and repeatedly offered vague but electrifying accounts of the federal government’s attempts to assassinate him –– attempts that Turner claimed to have deftly avoided. “It didn’t work out so well, not for them at least,” he boasted to followers after one supposed attempt on his life in Virginia.
With RuSA, Turner went farther than most sovereigns had before. Rather than simply claim the federal government is a sham, he insisted he had the keys to the kingdom, and that it was only a matter of time before the government he created rose to power. “We, the people of the United States of America, are the most powerful force on earth,” Turner said in a video posted online after RuSA was formed. “We’re more powerful than any government on earth. … We are a nation of kings.”
RuSA emerged from the rubble of a predecessor antigovernment group, the Guardians of the Free Republics, which briefly raised alarms in 2010 by publicly demanding the resignation of all 50 state governors in letters to each of them. Little came of those demands, aside from increased security measures in at least one statehouse. But they symbolized the renewed energy of a movement whose origins lay in the racist and anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus of the 1970s and 1980s, a group that developed such ideas as the claim that county sheriffs are the highest legitimate law enforcement authority and the idea that certain people are immune to most federal laws. The movement resurged in the 1990s, with the advent of groups like the Montana Freemen and the proliferation of so-called “common-law courts,” which were essentially citizens “courts” with no actual powers. Many but not all of these groups were explicitly white supremacist and/or anti-Semitic, although Turner’s RuSA showed no public signs of such prejudices.
By 2011, RuSA claimed a presence in nearly every state, with members serving as national “senators” and “representatives” to its so-called government in transition. The group held weekly national conference calls, with Turner routinely regaling his followers with fantastic stories of meeting with foreign investors eager to bankroll their brave, new plan, and similar apparent fantasies. In one of his weekly calls, in another example, a follower asked Turner to explain what really happened when an alien spacecraft supposedly crashed in 1947 near Roswell, N.M. His reply was reminiscent of a tabloid headline in a supermarket checkout line: “I’m not going to tell you they [aliens] exist or don’t exist. What I’m going to say is every nation on Earth, or every industrialized nation on Earth at least, has a treaty with them.”
Eventually, Turner’s followers began to question the legitimacy of his claims. In February 2011, a furor erupted among Turner’s followers when he sent them a letter insisting that the future “Republic” he hoped to create would be a Christian nation – an idea many sovereigns did not agree with. He also lambasted a series of nine U.S. presidents, blaming them for everything from an exploding national debt to “rampant homosexuality” and the “intentional poisoning of our people.” And he attacked President Obama: “He is not even a lawful American citizen,” Turner said. “He is a Muslim which [sic] are sworn to kill anyone who is not Muslim.”
In January 2013, Turner filed a federal lawsuit in Alabama that accused Obama, the governors of all 50 states, and the sheriffs of every one of America’s 3,131 counties of libeling him in their characterization of his sovereign beliefs. (The FBI, in late 2011, publicly described the sovereign citizens movement as a “domestic terrorist” movement. Other law enforcement agencies have been equally critical.) Around the same time, Turner announced that he was forming a militant wing of RuSA, to be called the “American Rangers.” Although it remains unclear how close Turner came to forming his Rangers, law enforcement near his south Alabama home said they had seen armed “marshals of the Republic” patrolling in the area, and there were reports of Turner’s cohorts appearing at military training facilities demanding access.
In the end, Turner’s hubris got the better of him, and the federal government moved in on the man who had once said there was not a judge or a bank in the land that he couldn’t best with his knowledge of the federal government and banks. In February 2012, a bank in southern Alabama foreclosed on two parcels of rural land totaling roughly 52 acres after Turner failed to make payments on a mortgage taken on in June 2006. The same day the foreclosure was filed, the land was auctioned from the steps of the Dale County, Ala., courthouse. The bank bought the land, and there wasn’t a peep of protest from Turner, despite the mortgage relief strategies he had peddled for years. By then, the federal government had had enough.
On Sept. 18, 2012, Turner was indicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud the federal government, attempting to pay taxes with a fictitious financial instrument, attempting to obstruct an Internal Revenue Service Investigation and other tax-related criminal charges. At issue was Turner’s attempt to pay his taxes with a fictitious $300 million bond –– the very kind he and his followers would spend Saturday afternoons creating as they huddled around a color laser printer.
On July 31, 2013, Turner was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison after being convicted of every charge brought against him. In his defense, Turner alleged that he had “discovered things that big Washington government doesn’t want you to know. … They’re trying to shut me up.” U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson cited Turner’s vindictiveness in going after federal employees who challenged his legal interpretations as a factor in his receiving an 18-year sentence.