Monty Ervin lived a double identity for many years. In public, he was a wealthy businessman who had amassed hundreds of investment properties across the Southeast that brought in $85,000 a month. But in the shadowed underworld of the antigovernment “sovereign citizens” movement, he was much more — a ranking official with growing influence.
On his properties in Dale County, Ala., Ervin stocked food and compiled what federal authorities described as an “arsenal” of weapons in preparation for the day the federal government collapsed. In his backyard, he buried plastic tubes containing more than $350,000 in gold coins. And when the IRS finally came calling for back taxes on income totaling more than $9 million, he responded with a bold proclamation.
“I, Monty-Wayne, of the family of Ervin, am a sovereign Most Christian Prince,” he wrote in a declaration he filed with the Houston County Probate Court in 2006. “I am not a numbered member of the communitarian welfare benefit trust called Social Security Administration.”
It wasn’t clear at the time, but Ervin’s odd view of the federal government was shared by growing numbers across the country. In South Alabama, men who were part of that movement were laying the foundation for the Republic for the united States of America (RuSA), the largest and most organized sovereign group in the United States today.
Since forming in late 2010, the group claims to have built governments-in-waiting in 38 states and to have membership in nearly every other. When he was arrested last year, Ervin had risen to the rank of “governor” of Alabama. He had long preached his success at avoiding taxes, and he claimed he had no obligation to the United States.
Last November, the courts found otherwise. Ervin and his wife, Patricia, were each convicted of one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and three counts of tax evasion. As of press time, both were awaiting sentencing.
Ervin isn’t the only RuSA member who has run afoul of the law. A woman in South Alabama has been on the run for several months after being convicted of burglary for removing the “For Sale” sign of a home in foreclosure and declaring ownership. A man in Birmingham is scheduled for trial on charges that he filed bogus property liens and other court documents to intimidate anyone he considered an enemy — a sovereign tactic known as “paper terrorism.” Early last year, in Arizona, a so-called “ambassador” for RuSA was shot and killed after he tried to wrestle a Taser away from a police officer. And more recently, in West Virginia, a former “congressman” for the group was found dead with his 9-year-old son in a burned trailer home — a case that remains under investigation but which authorities have said they believe was a murder-suicide.
These are just a few of the many criminal cases arising from the sovereign citizens movement across the country. The vast majority involve tax or financial scams, or defiance of traffic laws, like driving without a license or having fake license plates or IDs. But police are increasingly reporting confrontations with the potential for violence.
Last September, the FBI issued a bulletin to law enforcement agencies that described sovereign citizens as a “domestic terrorist movement.” And in February, the FBI held a news conference to announce it was increasing its scrutiny of the movement. “We started to notice a heightened potential for violence,” said Stu McArthur, deputy director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division.
RuSA’s president, a reclusive figure named James Timothy Turner, insists that members are lawful citizens who have simply uncovered truths about the illegitimacy of the federal government. But the mounting allegations against members of the group are a worrisome sign.
Through interviews with several sources in law enforcement, all on condition of anonymity, the Intelligence Report has learned that RuSA has been under federal investigation for some time.
Law enforcement sources say they fear that the group, which believes the time has come to “re-inhabit” the true government, is becoming more radical and that members are increasingly willing to stand up to defend their views. Several high-profile disagreements within the leadership have led to a large exodus of members; those who remain are a defiant core of sovereigns loyal to RuSA.
“You have people going around and telling lies and saying folks are going to jump out of the car and shoot you,” Mizell said. “They’re lying. … They can’t tell the truth, because they don’t know what the truth is.”
The “truth” is that in May 2010, sovereigns did “jump out of the car and shoot”— murdering two police officers in West Memphis, Ark. Jerry Kane and his 16-year-old son Joseph, both sovereigns, died in a shower of police gunfire less than an hour later, but not before shooting and seriously wounding two more officers while cornered in a parking lot. The Kanes were not known to have any affiliation with RuSA, but they shared many of the same beliefs.
Schemes, Scams and Conspiracies
The next sovereign to die in a confrontation with law enforcement was one of RuSA’s own. William Foust, a prominent businessman in Page, Ariz., and a RuSA “ambassador,” was shot and killed on June 20, 2011, by a police officer responding to a domestic violence complaint. According to the police report, Foust lunged for the officer’s Taser. But within the echo chamber of the sovereign underground, the story was spun to paint Foust as the first victim in the coming confrontation with Washington — the target of federal assassins, Turner claimed.
“What really happened? Because our investigation shows clearly he was murdered,” Turner said in a radio interview late last year. “Of course, the de facto investigators have covered it all up.”
It’s not uncommon for Turner, one of the most charismatic sovereign leaders in America, to bend the facts to match the fantasy. In the past, he has claimed to have cured leukemia, to have cowed judges with magical pronouncements, and to have discovered secrets of history that unveiled the U.S. government as a “corporation” organized to enslave citizens in financial bondage.
Even with his active imagination, Turner might have trouble explaining away the charges against other RuSA members.
Through internal RuSA documents obtained by the Report and interviews with police and district attorneys, the Report has identified several high-profile criminal cases police have associated with Turner’s group.
Janet Tharpe Hancock, an early RuSA follower, was charged with two counts of felony forgery after she drafted a bogus money order from the “Department of the Treasury” in April 2010. She was also charged with forging a check from the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia. More recently, in December, Hancock was convicted of burglary after she removed a “For Sale” sign from a house in Ozark, Ala., and took up residence.
Speaking after Hancock was convicted, Dale County District Attorney Doug Valeska said she had filed numerous documents identifying herself as “janet tharpe-: for the family hancock” to contest the jurisdiction of the charges, declaring that “dominion to the land” was subject only to “the will of the creator.” (Such language and punctuation of names is typical of sovereigns.) She was sentenced to three years in prison, but did not appear for her sentencing. At press time, her whereabouts were unknown.
In Connecticut, John McGowan, a public television host and former candidate for mayor in Danbury, led a quiet life until the fact that he was a “senator” with RuSA came to light during a trial on charges he forcibly had sex with a woman with whom he was involved. He was convicted of first-degree sexual assault and sentenced to four years in jail. During trial, the woman, whose identity was protected, described him as a “monster.”
Law enforcement sources in Alabama say several other RuSA members also have been arrested on tax charges in recent months. And they have documented instances in which RuSA members attempted to buy machine guns, in one case, and armor piercing bullets for a 10 mm pistol in another.
Defiance and Death
The rise of RuSA is very much part of the resurgence of the antigovernment “Patriot” movement. In May 2009, some 30 self-styled “freedom keepers” convened a meeting at a resort on Georgia’s Jekyll Island. That “continental congress” appears to have played a key role in reinvigorating the Patriot movement, which had languished in obscurity since the late 1990s. Since the meeting, the movement has exploded — rising by more than 750% in three years, from just 149 groups in 2008 to 1,274 by the end of 2011.
The Report has learned that nine people who are identified as RuSA “congressman” in internal group documents were delegates at that 11-day meeting, which was hosted the Patriot group We the People.
RuSA was formed the following year at a secret 2010 meeting in Utah. In early 2011, RuSA sent letters to every sheriff in the nation, ostensibly to introduce the group as a peaceful, grassroots organization demanding political reforms. In reality, though, the letter raised alarms about the group’s real intentions.
Recently, as members have grown restive about a perceived lack of action against the government, Turner’s rhetoric has veered ever closer to the realm of insurrection. Even so, he incessantly describes his followers as law-abiding citizens. During one recent radio interview with RJ Hender, host of the Patriot radio show “Morning Liberty” and a member of RuSA in Texas, Turner said the problems with America were, at root, the result of its political system. The time has come, he said, for a new government.
"I’ve said it a thousand times, and I’ll probably say it another thousand times: Washington cannot be fixed. Period. It was created in deception,” Turner said, his voice never rising above a steady calm.
It’s worth noting that Turner has never openly called for an insurrection, and he has not condoned the criminality of his followers. But he also has not publicly condemned it. His actions suggest he is willing to let the cards fall where they may — no matter the tragic mess such beliefs may sometimes help produce.
David Hutzler, a one-time RuSA “congressman,” is a prime example of that tragedy. In January, he was found dead with his 9-year-old son James, known as “Mack,” in the charred remains of a trailer home in Glengary, W.Va. Each had been shot in the head, and investigators found accelerants used to start the fire scattered around the property. An autopsy later determined that one bullet had grazed the young boy’s chin before a second took his life — a detail that left terrifying questions.
Exactly what happened that day remains clouded in mystery. But what is known is that Hutzler was tightly connected with Turner’s group before he left, disappointed with Turner’s inaction confronting the federal government. He didn’t give up the mission, though, or abandon Turner’s message. Instead, he littered the Internet with tirades claiming the Constitution needed a “reset.” Laws didn’t matter, he mused, not when the federal government was tyrannical.
On Jan. 3, Hutzler posted a rant on the popular antigovernment forum “Weekly Geo-Political News and Analysis.” He warned that the federal government was systematically dismantling U.S. currency — a theme widely circulated throughout RuSA — and said it wouldn’t be long before enlightened Patriots had no choice but insurrection. “The moment the first [person] is picked up, taken into custody or ‘disappeared’ by any law enforcement organization or military department (including special ops) … it’s gonna be ‘game on’ for a lot of folks,” he wrote.
Three days later, he was dead.
The same month Hutzler died, Turner filed a federal lawsuit in Alabama accusing President Obama, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and a dozen Alabama sheriffs of malfeasance, misfeasance and libel for their characterization of sovereigns and RuSA. The complaint also named Bob Paudert, the former West Memphis, Ark., police chief whose son was one of the two officers killed by the Kanes during a traffic stop in 2010.
Among the allegations: Turner “is being subjected to a series of well-planned and well-executed smear campaigns while being branded an anti-government person.” The complaint went on to reference John the Baptist and to quote the Atlantic Charter of 1941, the Federalist Papers and John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. The lawsuit demands $650 million in damages for the “public humiliation, hatred, contempt, [and] ridicule” Turner has allegedly suffered.
Turner declined several requests to be interviewed for this article, as did Navin Naidu, a sovereign “ecclesiastical” attorney who Turner described as his personal counsel.
But as RuSA lurches forward into an uncertain future, it is clear that Turner and his associates have not blanched in the face of recent events that have drawn significant law enforcement attention. Instead, it seems the group is as defiant as ever — and prepared to make a stand, if needed.
Several RuSA members in rural Alabama are in the midst of property foreclosures. In February, the People’s Bank in Dothan, Ala., 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 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.
Law enforcement officials in Alabama have told the Report that they are concerned. Because Turner didn’t act to forestall the loss of his land, it is unclear what, if anything, he has planned. Is he preparing to make a stand? Has he lost control of the house of cards he has spent two years building?
The answers to those questions remain unclear. But there’s little doubt about Turner’s unswerving dedication to his radical ideology.
“We have got to move this thing forward,” Turner said recently during an address to his followers. “Our time is very short. … We the people of the United States of America are the most powerful force on earth. We are more powerful than militaries. We’re more powerful than any government. … We are a nation of kings and queens.”