Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, they’re not. Self-styled antigovernment “sovereign citizens” with dreadlocks, looking for a videotaped confrontation with law enforcement and a quick lawsuit settlement to fund their lifestyle – well, that comes closer to the real picture.
That assessment, anyway, comes from authorities in Ontario County, N.Y., who are prosecuting three sovereign citizens — people who do not believe that most federal tax and criminal laws apply to them and who often employ legal jibberish in their court filings — who were arrested for marijuana possession, endangering the welfare of a child and other charges.
The trio was arrested in late July in their van in a parking lot after a rock concert by the band Further – a group formed by two surviving members of the Grateful Dead and named after author Kesey’s colorful, drug-infused touring bus of the 1960s. (Ah, the early days of the antigovernment movement!) “They appeared to be living out of the van,’’ Ontario County investigator Matt McDonald said Monday when asked about the three defendants who remain in the county jail in Hopewell, N.Y., pending trials.
Asked to further describe the trio, the investigator said: “Dreadlocks, dirty and unclean in appearance. Yeah, I would say they’re hippie-looking.”
Ontario County sheriff’s deputies encountered the trio on July 26 because they were illegally selling items out of their van and appeared to be prepared to stay in the parking lot of the Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center in Hopewell, N.Y., in violation of local laws, McDonald said.
When the trio refused to leave and deputies began making arrests, a man who identified himself as “Sovereign Godsent” began to resist arrest, while his friends or associates began to videotape the episode, the investigator said. McDonald said he has since confirmed that Sovereign Godsent is an alias for John Pugh, 41, of Ithaca, N.Y.
A videotape of the incident, apparently taken by other associates who weren’t arrested, has not surfaced. “But I hope it does surface because it would help us prosecute this case,’’ McDonald said.
Godsent claims to be the “founder of the Sovereign Family Network and member of the Republic of New York.” He promotes the “ultimate handbook on how to live free without government interference in your life!” It was unclear if a copy was in his van.
Police in Ithaca and in Connecticut and Massachusetts also have had encounters with members of the same “sovereign citizen” group, and there have been other arrests.
“This is the first time we’ve arrested people with this group” in Ontario County, McDonald said. “They claim to be sovereign citizens – people who say they’re each their own nation and the laws of the federal government and states don’t apply to them.
“It appears to us that their plan is to create some sort of conflict with law enforcement, videotape it and then file a lawsuit or claim, hoping to get a quick settlement with a municipality,’’ McDonald added. “I think that’s how they finance their lifestyle.” While the defendants remain in jail, their supporters have sent out Internet postings claiming the three sovereign citizens were “kidnapped by foreign agents of the State of New York County of Ontario corporation.”
The posting was authored by “Chewie the Rook,” another self-proclaimed sovereign citizen who referred to Sovereign Godsent as the “Prince Jonah of New York,” and claimed he suffered a broken arm injury during his arrest.
“This participation in human trafficking of American State Citizens matches the pattern and practice we have seen exhibited by agents of numerous divisions of the foreign STATE OF NEW YORK and UNITED STATES federal corporations,” said the posting, which employed the unusual capitalization and the notion that governments are private bodies that are typical of the sovereign citizens movement.
It continued: “While the cops thought they were preying like usual on anonymous victims, the Sovereign Family Network mail list actually reaches over 5000 people.”
Also arrested with Pugh – or Sovereign Godsent, as he prefers to be called – were Christine “Raven” Bleich, 31, of Ithaca, N.Y., and Jesse A. “Bucket” Kelso, 23, of Rutherglen, Va. They also were charged with endangering the welfare of a child, resisting arrest and unlawful possession of marijuana.
The sovereign citizen group posting said the arrests are “similar to what the case would be if the French embassy in New York was holding someone hostage and pretending the hostages were French citizens being lawfully detained. But France is not holding our friends. The UNITED STATES CORPORATION is holding our friends, our fellow Americans, on statutory violations outside the due process guaranteed under the common law.”
The group’s venom also is being directed at the prosecutor and judge handling the case. “We suspect a scheme along the standard pattern we have seen whereby the DISTRICT ATTORNEY and JUDGE intend to collude to administrate certain estates for the overall financial gain of their parent company and its international creditors without having lawful letters of administration for the estates.”
At a court hearing last week, the defendants called the proceeding “estate appearances” and presented “notarized Affidavits of the Living American Citizen status of our leader and friends. The TOWN OF CANANDAIGUA COURT ignored the living statuses, hence contracting with Sovereign Copwatch for an investigation of their public servants.”