On the morning of March 21 at 8:06 am, the self-proclaimed "empress" of the Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah — a bizarre "common-law" group that claims sovereignty over a 30 million-acre empire in Louisiana and neighboring states — was about to sink her teeth into a vegetable omelet.
Then the bell rang.
On the doorstep were 24 agents from the FBI, the IRS, the U.S. Customs Service and the Louisiana state police. They informed Verdiacee "Tiari" Washitaw-Turner Goston El-Bey (once known more modestly as Verdiacee Goston) that they were there to look for evidence of illegal doings in her modest Winnsboro, La., home.
They let her eat her omelet before it got cold, and then proceeded to search the imperial residence and property with a helicopter, several trucks and metal detectors for evidence of tax evasion and mail and wire fraud.
While Goston watched along with four of her followers, one of whom identified himself as a member of the Nation of Islam, agents hauled away evidence including computers and documents allegedly showing that the Washitaw have sold "citizenship" packets to people in 48 states and 10 foreign countries.
The packets of purported passports, driver's licenses and birth certificates are sold to those seeking to renounce their U.S. citizenship, usually in an effort to evade tax and other laws.
Goston, who claims that the lands included in the Louisiana Purchase actually belong to her, has been a target of a multi-agency federal investigation for more than a year.
Although her "empire" is composed largely of black followers, much of its common-law ideology — including the notion that one can separate from the state and not pay taxes — comes directly from white supremacist groups.
No arrests were made during the raid. But agents did leave behind a 13-page inventory of items they took — and a very angry empress.
"This is the straw that broke the camel's back," Goston told The (Monroe, La.) News-Star. "The house is a shambles. Things were just thrown on the floor — my children's school work, gowns that people have made for me — and just trampled on."
Later, she sounded defiant: "This is my land, not theirs. I might go to state court in one of the parishes I own, but I won't be going to U.S. court."
The empress has been a bit down on her luck since the loss several months ago of her "legal adviser," Daniel Joseph Weeks, who is now a fugitive in Florida on charges stemming from an alleged $75,000 fraud.
Last summer, officials in Louisiana tipped their Florida counterparts that Weeks would be arriving on a certain plane. But the fugitive touched down late on a Friday night and local police failed to meet him. Weeks stepped off the plane and disappeared.
The empress, for her part, appears unrepentant. "I haven't paid taxes in years, and why should I?" Goston declared after the raid. "This is my land. I'm not someone who calls herself an empress or says she's an empress.
"I am an empress."