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Memphis Stew

In Tennessee, officials are being overwhelmed with bogus filings from a particularly unusual group of ‘sovereign citizens’

Roane Waring III, senior assistant city attorney in Memphis, Tenn., was sitting in for a vacationing judge when he first encountered Allison DeVante.

Flanked by a pair of black-clad men, DeVante was dressed all in white and crowned with a headdress Waring described to the Intelligence Report as “something you’d see on Queen Nefertiti of ancient Egypt.”

“They marched in, all three of them, [and] handed me this gobbledygook to prove they were ‘sovereign citizens,’” Waring said of his first encounter with the Chakchiuma Sektchi Washitaw Clan, 33rd Tribe of Empire Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah Indigenous Autochthon Nation, which DeVante apparently heads. The “clan” is part of what was once known more simply as the Washitaw Moorish Nation, which, like all “Moorish” groups, was a kind of radical black group with a highly unusual set of religious and political ideas. Like other groups in the swelling sovereign movement, it believes its members are not required to abide by most federal criminal and tax laws.

Scratch the surface and DeVante has all the makings of a Moorish sovereign: a trail of bad debt, a beef with the government (she says she was sexually assaulted by a superior officer at New York’s Fort Drum), and a fondness for dramatic millinery.

It’s the surface itself that’s odd: DeVante is white.

Odd — but not unheard of in the Washitaw Nation, whose leader, the elderly “Empress” Verdiacee Tiari Washitaw-Turner Goston El-Bey, does not play by the same book as other black sovereigns. Though the empress has long asserted that the Washitaw are descended from a race of “black and bushy-headed” shipbuilders who crossed the Atlantic from Africa to become the first people in what is now north Louisiana, the nation she invented has seen its share of white members. Goston El-Bey once even signed a treaty with a neighboring, mostly white “nation” called the Republic of Texas, whose leadership claims that Texas was illegally annexed by the United States in 1845.

In the months since Waring first encountered them in the courtroom, the Washitaw have ramped up their activities in Memphis, assailing the city with a full battery of sovereign scams and tactics. When police pulled a group of them over several months ago for traffic violations, they sued the mayor personally for “allowing” his police to infringe on their “right to travel unencumbered and unmolested.” That suit was dismissed, but the papers keep coming: meaningless lawsuits, bogus liens, forged quitclaim deeds transferring homeownership from vacationing Memphis residents to members of the Washitaw Nation. A group of Washitaw facing home foreclosure has harassed and intimidated one Memphis foreclosure attorney to the point that he requested — and received — a police escort to and from his car at work, officials said.

Back in the city attorney’s office, Waring is frustrated and anxious. Tennessee doesn’t have an adequate statute to stop the meaningless filings where they begin, he said, so they must be dealt with one by one — a costly and time-consuming process.

Recently, the Washitaw asked Waring about the city’s policy toward Native Americans. If they’re mimicking other “indigenous” Moors, they may be planning to request a casino license or claim rights reserved to federally recognized tribes. Memphis had better be prepared.