The antigovernment “sovereign citizens” movement is chock-full of homemade prophets and half-baked historians who traffic in alleged theories about conspiracies against the Constitution. And then there’s James Timothy Turner.
With the wry and thin-lipped smile of a conman on the make, Turner is “president” of the Republic for the united States of America (RuSA), probably the largest and most organized sovereign citizens group active in the United States today. But unlike small-time sovereigns who largely limit themselves to spouting bogus theories about how to get out of taxes and bankruptcy and traffic tickets, Turner has adopted a whole alternative history wherein the legitimate federal government went dormant after the Civil War. 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, Turner burst onto the sovereign scene in 2007 with a series of seminars claiming he could help his clients get out of paying mortgages, credit cards and income tax bills using a series of sovereign tricks. He offered strategies using pseudo-legal declarations he coined “Freedom Documents,” and he had the folksy charm to sell it.
But with RuSA, Turner went a step further than his co-religionists, setting out to form a shadow government lying in wait for the day it would be needed. “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 another group, the Guardians for the free Republics, which raised alarms in 2010 by publicly demanding the resignation of all 50 state governors. Little came of its demands, naturally, and the Guardians collapsed within months of the declaration due to infighting. Turner alone pushed onward, selling the myth that the federal government was a sham.
The group’s gubernatorial demand, which prompted at least one statehouse to beef up security, was its first major public action. But it wasn’t the last. This January, Turner filed a federal lawsuit in Alabama that accused President 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.
In February 2011, Turner caused a stir among his followers when he sent them a letter insisting that the future “Republic” he hopes to create will be a Christian nation – an idea many sovereigns do not agree with. He lambasted a series of nine U.S. presidents, blaming them for everything from an exploding national debt to “rampant homosexuality” to the “intentional poisoning of our people.” And Turner focused in on President Obama: “He is not even a lawful American citizen,” he said. “He is a Muslim which [sic] are sworn to kill anyone who is not Muslim.”
Around the same time, Turner announced that he was forming a militant wing of RuSA, to be called the American Rangers. Although it’s unclear if that ever really happened, law enforcement officials near his south Alabama town said they had seen armed “marshals of the Republic” patrolling in the area.
Some of the statements Turner made in weekly calls with his followers were bizarre even for sovereigns, such as his claim to have cured leukemia in five days. He repeatedly offered vague but electrifying accounts of attempts to assassinate him by the federal government. “It didn’t work out so well, not for them at least,” he told followers of one supposed attempt in Virginia.
In one of his weekly calls, a follower asked Turner to explain what really happened when, as some people believe, an alien spacecraft crashed in 1947 near Roswell, N.M. His jaw-dropping reply: “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.”
In February 2012, a bank foreclosed on two parcels of rural land totaling roughly 52 acres belonging to Turner after he failed to make payments on a mortgage dating to 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 having burst onto the sovereign scene in 2007 peddling mortgage relief strategies.