A state Senate candidate in eastern Iowa has abandoned her campaign and released an astounding statement that she has become a “U.S. Senator” in the Republic for the united States of America (RuSA), the largest antigovernment “sovereign citizens” group in the country.
“Let me now announce to everyone in Iowa, I have become aware of the existence of the Original Republic for The United States of America,” Randi Shannon wrote in a letter to supporters. “I have accepted the position of U.S. Senator in The Republic of The United States of America, where I may better serve You and All of The People of Iowa.”
While her announcement might sound benign, what Shannon has done in joining that “Original Republic” is nothing short of diving deep into a fantasy world that has alarmed law enforcement agencies and challenged the rule of law. Sovereigns reject the authority of the U.S. government and generally believe they do not have to pay taxes, get driver’s licenses or vehicle registrations, or follow most other laws. Most do not belong to groups like RuSA.
Formed during a secret 2010 meeting in Utah, RuSA has grown to include representatives in every state, each working to form an alternative government ready to stand up when the federal government falls – an event many in RuSA believe to be imminent. RuSA, led by “president” James Timothy Turner, also promotes a plethora of conspiracy theories that have animated the antigovernment right, including the idea that the federal government is an illegal, corporate entity formed at the end of the U.S. Civil War to enslave U.S. citizens.
In an interview with Hatewatch, Shannon and George “Rowdy” Templer, a leading RuSA official in Iowa, combatively argued that RuSA is the valid and true government. “It’s not about anti-government,” Templer said. “It’s about anti-United States Corporate government. Sovereigns govern themselves. That’s the key to the Republic.”
When pressed for her own views on the matter, Shannon accused Hatewatch of “trying to label sovereigns as being, in effect, somewhat militant.”
“That is not what the Republic is doing,” she said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, however, recently documented a number of cases in which RuSA members were accused or convicted of crimes, mostly involving tax or financial scams – the bread and butter of the movement.
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. The letter, though, raised alarms about the group’s real intentions. Last September, the FBI issued a bulletin to law enforcement agencies that described sovereign citizens as comprising a “domestic terrorist movement.” Five months later, 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.
Historically, traffic stops have been the catalyst for numerous confrontations between sovereigns and law enforcement officers. In May 2010, a father-son team of sovereigns killed two police officers who pulled them over in West Memphis, Ark., and badly wounded two others before being shot to death by police in a shopping center parking lot.
With all that baggage, it’s worth asking why Shannon, co-owner of an auto glass company in Cedar Rapids, would take such a wild leap.
The truth is that other people have been duped into joining RuSA only to have their careers and intentions come under intense scrutiny. A police officer in Sarasota, Fla., was fired after he announced “citizenship” in the Republic, and a husband and wife in Alabama resigned from the Alabama State Defense Force after it become known they were members.
Shannon would not answer questions regarding these facts, instead deferring to Templer, who dismissed any questions about RuSA as agenda-driven criticism.
“We are not a threat,” Templer told Hatewatch. “We are certainly not a threat of violence. We are just here to govern this Republic. We are not the bad guys here. We are the solution to all the problems.”