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Sovereign Citizen Arrested as Suspect in Triple Murder in W.Va.

Police have arrested an antigovernment "sovereign citizen" in connection with a triple murder in West Virginia. 

A suspect described as an antigovernment “sovereign citizen” was taken into custody in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, one day after three men were fatally shot with a military-style assault rifle in rural West Virginia.

Erick Shute, 32, was arrested after a multi-state manhunt, about eight hours after he fled the scene of the shooting near Valley High Timber Farm in Great Cacapon, W.V.

Morgan County Sheriff Vince Shambaugh said Shute was a sovereign citizen who had been involved in prior property disputes with the victims, WSAZ-TV in Huntington W.Va., reported.

The victims were identified as Jack Douglas of Great Cacapon, Travis Bartley and Willie Bartley, both of Hedgesville, W.Va. The ages of the victims weren’t immediately available.

An AR-15 assault rifle was used to commit the killings, authorities said.

After the shootings, Shute claimed on Facebook that the men stole from him and threatened him, and that he acted in self-defense, according to media reports.

Shute has been involved in antigovernment activities since at least 2009 when he was at the center of a controversy for hanging an American flag upside down outside his New Jersey home, drawing the wrath of local veterans. He told reporters then that the flag was a symbol that the United States was under distress under the “corrupt policies” of President Obama.

In 2011, Shute was he was indicted by a New Jersey grand jury on charges of attacking a police officer and resisting arrest. 

In Monday’s incident, the three victims were fatally shot, ambush-style, while clearing wood and debris from a roadway adjacent to Shute's property, authorities said. 

Shute was identified as an “end-times prepper” who reportedly was building a survival compound on the rural property he visited on weekends.

A fourth man, who escaped, told authorities that shots were fired from behind an oak tree, about 20- to 25 yards away from where the victims were working.

Sovereign citizens generally believe licensing and tax requirements don’t apply to them and frequently act as their own lawyers, flooding courts with “paper terrorism.” They have been involved in numerous acts of violence, including the fatal shootings of police officers in the past decade.

Sovereign citizens have been identified as a leading domestic terrorism threat by the FBI.

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