Tim Turner says his ‘Republic for the united States’ is all about peaceful change. But recent events have authorities worried
On June 19, 2011, a police officer responding to a domestic violence call shot and killed William Foust, a prominent businessman who ran a marine outfitter with his wife in Page, Ariz. The death was unfortunate — a police call that soured as Foust tried to wrestle away the officer’s Taser during an argument. But it opened a window on Foust and the antigovernment group he helped lead in Arizona.
Foust, it turned out, was a principal of the so-called “Republic for the united States of America” (RuSA) — an Alabama-based organization that in the last year has grown in lockstep with the explosive rise of the “sovereign citizens” movement. In Arizona, Foust was RuSA’s “chief justice,” the man designated to serve as the state’s leading legal officer once the group, as it hopes, finally comes to power.
Conceived during a private meeting last year at a guest ranch in Spring City, Utah, RuSA may now be America’s most prominent group of sovereign citizens, people who believe they are immune from most federal laws and taxes. It certainly is the most ambitious, with preparations to build a national government-in-waiting and 50 state governments well under way. It promises freedom from taxes and other government meddling to all who sign up. And if RuSA’s views seem merely bizarre in the extreme, the Department of Homeland Security nevertheless has warned that some of its demands could be interpreted “as a justification for violence.”
Foust, apparently pumped up with fears of an evil government, certainly seems to have felt that he needed to use violence to resist the officers who responded to reports of a heated argument between him and his wife. And now, reacting to the “execution” of Foust, some members of RuSA are suggesting a response in kind, a notion that worries RuSA’s leader, who frequently denounces violence.
“Many feel angry and may want revenge,” James Timothy Turner, 55, told his followers three days after Foust’s killing this summer. “This is understandable, but this was an isolated incident and will not cause any problems.”
Turner has outlined a plan to “reinhabit” the U.S. government, which he says has been unlawful ever since the Civil War. He describes it as “a bold, achievable strategy for behind-the-scenes peaceful reconstruction of the de jure institutions of government without controversy, violence or civil war.” But in March 2010, RuSA sent letters to all 50 state governors demanding they step down immediately, causing at least one state to beef up security at the capitol, and there apparently are new plans to send similar letters to more than 5,000 sheriffs nationwide. That, plus the fact that sovereign citizens unrelated to RuSA have engaged in numerous crimes, including the murder of two Arkansas police officers in May 2010, has raised concerns.
RuSA, which has gotten the attention of authorities in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida and other states, teaches a whole panoply of practices typical of the sovereign citizens movement — the filing of fraudulent property liens against enemies, ways to halt the foreclosure process and cancel debts, and arcane methods that are intended to wrest millions of dollars from the federal government — all while claiming that the current United States government is utterly illegitimate. But some of what Turner has to say is far out even by the standards of the sovereigns.
“Get ready to hear things that sound absolutely impossible,” Turner’s chief spokesman, Kelby Smith, says regularly at the start of a weekly conference call to several hundred followers that was monitored by the Intelligence Report this spring over a period of several months. All of these impossible things come compliments of one man — a former commercial fisherman and devout evangelical Christian from Skipperville, Ala., who is known to his followers as “Mr. President.”
Birth of a ‘Republic’
Tim Turner burst onto the sovereign citizens scene in 2007, offering a series of highly popular seminars that promised attendees they could pay off their mortgages, credit card debts, and income tax bills using the “power of negative averment” — a technique of turning statements into questions in a bid to shift the burden of argument to opponents. The programs cost an average of around $400 and came with a package of “Freedom Documents,” which were forms and instructions for the filing of bogus liens and dozens of other pseudo-legal documents.
Turner taught clients to file such groundless court documents and, when the opposing parties didn’t respond accordingly, to file absurdly large retaliatory property liens against them. In one foreclosure case in which Turner was not even a party, he personally filed nine baseless liens totaling more than $158 billion against bank and court officials. While he told followers that he won the case, the truth was that the court had actually slammed Turner with a $22,500 fine.
At some point, Turner became a principal in a new sovereign group called the Guardians of the Free Republics (GFR), which had been founded by, among others, Dr. Glenn Richard Unger (alias “Dr. Sam Kennedy”) of Clifton Park, N.Y. Another principal, GFR “elder” Samuel Lynn Davis of Boise, Idaho, last year had $53,000 in outstanding state and federal tax liens against him; this year, Davis also was convicted on 31 counts of bank fraud and money laundering.
In March 2010, the GFR made national headlines when it mailed letters to the governors of all 50 states demanding they step down. Although the letters did not spell out what would happen if they did not, the state of Nevada, at least, decided to add metal detectors to the Capitol and closed all but one entrance. “We just decided that it was appropriate to err on the side of caution,” an official said then.
That same month, the GFR issued a rambling list of its goals and maxims that it called the Restore America Plan. It vowed to end “unjust” taxation, destroy the Internal Revenue Service, and dismiss all constitutional amendments after the 13th, which abolished slavery (the 14th made the freedmen citizens). It said a “European prince” had promised to fund a new government. “These are the words of Tim Turner,” it added, “an intelligent, courageous Sovereign man of God.”
On March 29, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI sent police agencies a confidential “Intelligence and Analysis Note” about the GFR’s demand that governors step down. “[L]aw enforcement should be aware that this could be interpreted as a justification for violence or other criminal actions,” it said.
That May, a veteran Sarasota, Fla., police detective heard about Turner and his promises from his brother. Det. Tom Laughlin went on to file documents in the local courthouse calling himself an “American National Sovereign.” Two weeks later, on May 20, 2010, two police officers were murdered by a pair of sovereign citizens in West Memphis, Ark., an event that drew national attention to the nature of at least some sovereigns. Laughlin was fired as a result of his filing.
Renaming the Revolution
In the months that followed, Turner cemented his leadership role in the GFR and ultimately pushed Unger out of the group. Then, in a secretive Nov. 13, 2010, gathering in Spring City, Utah, Turner and other GFR “delegates” decided to change the name of the group to the Republic for the united States of America. (Many sovereigns believe if they do not capitalize the “U” in United States, they will avoid acknowledging the federal government is legitimate and thus capitulating to it.)
This February, 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 that 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 have seen armed “marshals of the Republic” patrolling in the area.
This spring, Turner told his followers that he would soon be leaving the country to consult with prime ministers and princes in 80 countries, all of them supposedly promising to financially back Turner’s new government. On each weekly phone conference, followers asked how preparations were progressing. During one, Turner said he would be leaving “in a few days. We’ve been held up because of paperwork. … But the Lord is delivering that situation right now.”
Turner disappeared from the weekly calls in the middle of March, and his associates told followers that he had finally left the country. But local officials say he simply stayed at home with his wife on a secluded piece of property, holding meetings in a rundown mansion some 10 miles away.
Many of Turner’s followers didn’t swallow his story. They asked about the promised foreign money, and about the status of the developing Republic. Dozens left as more and more of them began to question Turner’s representations.
Turner fired back in April. “There are many out there who accuse me of being a liar,” he said. “But if every one of those people go back and analyze the words that I’ve said, I’ve not lied to anybody. … God will vindicate me on [sic] the time that I’m supposed to be vindicated, and that time is getting very near.”
Is James Timothy Turner a prophet or a confidence man?
It seems clear that some of his followers are beginning to suspect it’s the latter. And it’s certain that some of what Turner associate Kelby Smith refers to as “things that sound absolutely impossible” are, in fact, clearly untrue. And that’s not even counting Turner’s predictions, promises, and bogus legal theories.
Turner has said that he cured leukemia in five days.
He repeatedly regales his followers with 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. “But you have to remember, these attacks, even though they appear to be personal, really don’t have anything to do with me. It’s an attack on the Republic.”
Earlier this year, he promised followers he would disclose certain “state secrets” following an economic collapse he predicted would happen by March. March came and went, but Turner never revisited the subject.
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.”
And he regularly claims to have “hundreds of thousands” of followers.
At press time, RuSA was still roiled with anger at the death of William Foust, who many Turner followers believe was purposely murdered by the police. In late June, Kelby Smith made a plea to increasingly angry acolytes. “I formally ask everybody to stand down,” Smith said. “We are a law-abiding people that simply know the truth, and our job is simply to share it, even with the cops.”
For his part, Turner keeps pressing on, apparently unfazed by the death of Foust, the bank fraud conviction of Samuel Lynn Davis, the questions about his own leadership, or even the rising talk of violence among his members.
“We may be in a hard place due to the power of the [government] that seems to care little for the law or the American people,” he wrote his followers recently. But, he said, “We will overcome their violence and oppression… . If we remain faithful to the principles even in these hard times, God is faithful and will deliver this Republic into its proper place among the governments of the world.”