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Antigovernment Radicals in Louisiana Charged With the Murder of Two Deputies

People believed to be connected to the “sovereign citizens” movement have been charged in an August shootout that left two sheriff’s deputies near New Orleans dead.

It’s happened again. People believed to be connected to the so-called “sovereign citizens” movement — a radical antigovernment movement whose members think they do not have to follow most federal tax and criminal laws — have been charged in an August shootout that left two sheriff’s deputies near New Orleans dead. If the killers were indeed sovereigns, that means that movement activists have murdered four law enforcement officials since 2010.

The killings happened in St. John the Baptist Parish, after a gunman fired shots that wounded an off-duty sheriff’s deputy providing security at a parking lot used by refinery workers. Officers tracked a car seen speeding away from the site to a nearby trailer park. When they knocked on the door of one of the trailers, one person emerged to talk to the deputies, but seconds later gunfire erupted. Two deputies, Brandon Neilsen and Jeremy Triche, were killed by assault weapon fire.

Authorities initially leveled lesser charges against seven suspects: Brian Lyn Smith, 24, for attempted first-degree murder; Terry Smith, 44, Derrick Smith, 22, Kyle David Joekel, 28, and Teniecha Bright, 21, for being a principal to attempted first-degree murder; and Chanel Skains, 37, and Britney Keith, 23, for being accessories. Later, the charges against Brian Smith and Kyle Joekel were upgraded to two counts each of first-degree murder. They could face the death penalty.

It’s not clear how many of those accused were connected to the sovereign movement, which has grown explosively in the last three years. “The intelligence information we got is that Terry Lyn Smith is one of those sovereign citizens,” Lt. Robert Davidson of the DeSoto (La.) Parish Sheriff’s Office told the Intelligence Report after the shooting. “But these people run together and think together, so it’s likely the others have those leanings, too.”

Other officials said it appeared that Joekel also had ties to the sovereign citizens movement. At the time of his arrest, he was being sought on state charges in both Nebraska and Kansas, officials in those states said.

The August slayings were the first fatalities linked to sovereign citizens since May 20, 2010, when Jerry and Joe Kane, a father-and-son team of sovereigns, murdered two police officers in West Memphis, Ark., before being shot to death themselves. But accounts of run-ins between law enforcement and sovereigns have been legion of late. Here are a few examples from just the last few months:

Brian Ln Smith, Terry Smith, Derrick Smith, Kyle David Joekel, Teniecha Bright, Chanel Skains and Britney Keith
  • James Timothy Turner, the self-proclaimed president of the Republic for the united States of America, a major sovereign organization, was indicted in September in Alabama for tax crimes. According to the federal indictment, Turner attempted to pay his own taxes with a fake $300 million bond and assisted others who wanted to get out of paying taxes with similar bonds ranging from $10 million to $300 million. He was arrested in Ozark, Ala., where he is based.

  • A federal grand jury indicted 44-year-old Devitoe Farmer of Memphis, Tenn., in March on charges that he forged documents in order to steal homes. U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton III told WMC-TV that Farmer knowingly used fraudulent “quit-claim” deeds to essentially steal foreclosed properties. Quit-claim deeds are legal instruments used in the transfer of property ownership.

  • In Nevada, Shawn Rice, a leader in the sovereign citizen movement and a former fugitive, was convicted in July in a $1.3 million money-laundering scheme involving the forgery of official bank checks. He was found guilty of one felony count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and 13 felony counts of money laundering. Rice, 49, a self-proclaimed rabbi and lawyer, represented himself during the federal trial. Earlier, Rice’s partner in the scheme, Samuel Davis, now 58, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 57 months in prison, three years of supervised release and $95,782 in restitution.