Washitaw Nation Comes Under Investigation

The Washitaw Nation, a Louisiana separatist group led by an eccentric 'empress,' has come under the microscope of multiple investigations

It was the night of the "high waters" on the Louisiana bayou when the "empress of the Washitaw" was born. A levee on the Mississippi had broken, and a swirling, stinking flood was raging outside as she burst from her mother's womb onto the cold, cement floor of a public courthouse. Within seconds, the empress says, there was a sign.

"I was born in my placenta," Her Highness explains. "I kicked out of it on my own, and then [the placenta] rolled up on my head like a crown."

And so, on that stormy night 72 years ago, Verdiacee Turner — the woman who would one day call herself Empress Verdiacee "Tiari" Washitaw-Turner Goston El-Bey — came into this world.

She didn't know it then, but after stints as a civil rights activist, a small-town mayor, an accused embezzler and an amateur historian, she would, she says, finally find her rightful place as supreme ruler of the ancient, 30 million-acre empire known as Washitaw De Dugdahmoundyah — the Washitaw Moorish Nation.

Officialdom is not amused. A major, multiagency federal investigation is looking into the dealings of the Washitaw Nation and its principals, and the states of Colorado and Louisiana have opened their own criminal probes.

Authorities are investigating possible money laundering and offshore banking fraud, the sale of apparently illegal license plates and other practices derived from antigovernment "common-law" ideology.

The empress denies any illegal dealings.

Partners with Problems
But difficulties are beginning to crop up around her. Already, her one-time "minister of finance" has pleaded guilty to bank fraud and conspiracy. Officials say her current legal advisor, a man who recently gave her a Mercedes that may have been acquired fraudulently, has a history of larceny and theft arrests. Another associate was convicted in a federal court in November on 11 counts of bank and mail fraud.

Around the country, people have been jailed for using Washitaw license plates and driver's licenses. And although charges were ultimately dropped, the empress, then going by her married name of Verdiacee Goston, was indicted in 1984 for the alleged embezzlement of $150,000 in federal funds.

Like the neighboring Republic of Texas (ROT), a separatist group that claims Texas was illegally annexed by the United States in 1845, the Washitaw's empress claims that the land sold by France to the United States in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase was fraudulently obtained — and actually belongs to her.

Like ROT, too, the Washitaw Nation employs the pseudo-legal language and theories of "common law" — an ideology birthed by hard-line American white supremacists in the 1970s and 1980s.

But the Washitaw are not white supremacists.

They are, in the weird language of the empress, "indigenous" — descendants of the "Ancient Ones," the "black ones" who Goston insists peopled this continent tens of thousands of years before white Europeans arrived.

The empress, a grandmotherly black woman who wears graying dreadlocks, is the living exponent of what her writings describe as the "Emperial" [sic] line of matriarchs, royal women who she says have ruled here from time immemorial.

Driver's Licenses and 'Sovereignty'
This latest empress, a woman who in recent years has developed a fondness for Rolls Royces, Bentleys and Mercedes-Benzes, may have hit on a winning combination.

Using something called the Sanctuary Christian Resource Center as an agent, Washitaw Nation has sold a cornucopia of dubious common-law products — including "driver's licenses" and "registrations" that have turned up in Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Pennsylvania.

A Washitaw birth certificate will run you $65 (send two color photos) and a Washitaw passport (another two photos, please) $250. "To appease those who wish to see a driver's license when you're traveling," there's an "international motorist certificate" for $100, unless you want the $150 commercial model.

Get a two-year "Motorized Conveyance Registration" for $250 ("This procedure," the Washitaw pitch goes, "insulates you from all of the corporate States compulsory insurance laws, licensing and registration requirements, emissions testing, safety inspection and more"). Remember to ship your Certificate of Title to Washitaw's "Ministry of Transportation" once the Registration comes in the mail.

And don't worry about the "corporate" authorities. Washitaw officials will answer the phone if police call, and they promise to make "every attempt" to pacify them.

Another benefit of Washitaw citizenship: no state or federal taxes.

The Washitaw documents, and the theories they derive from, are classic common law, the notion that one can declare one's "sovereignty" and separate from state and federal governments.

Originally, these ideas were propounded by the Posse Comitatus, a violent, racist, anti-Semitic and anti-tax organization that raged across the farm belt in the 1970s and 1980s. Some of this nation's most dangerous terrorists — including Terry Nichols, convicted in the Oklahoma City bombing — were imbued with Posse ideas.

Another aspect of common law used by some Washitaw "citizens" is the filing of false property liens against those perceived as enemies. In June 1997, for instance, self-described Washitaw Ima Deana Conklin, 24, was sentenced to two years in a Missouri prison for her part in filing a $10.8 million lien against a judge who refused to throw out a speeding ticket.

Property liens can prevent targets from selling their homes or other property and can, even if meritless, cost thousands of dollars to clear up.