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Gunman Who Killed Three Police Officers in Baton Rouge Member of Black Antigovernment 'Sovereign Citizen' Group

The man who killed three Baton Rouge police officers over the weekend was a member of a black antigovernment “sovereign citizen” group whose members believe they are indigenous to the United States and beyond the reach of the federal government.

Gavin Eugene Long, 29, of Kansas City, Mo., who went by the name Cosmo Setepenra, filed documents last year declaring himself an antigovernment “sovereign citizen” and a member of the United Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah Mu’ur Nation, the Kansas City Star reported.

Long, a former Marine who was wearing a mask, body armor and covered in all black clothing at the time of the attack, died on Sunday in a shootout with police. He killed three police officers and left another in critical condition after ambushing the officers in what police now say was a coordinated attack. Two more officers suffered non-life threatening injuries.

While the investigation is ongoing –– police have scheduled a news conference this afternoon –– Long’s digital footprint has yielded some clues to his motives, which seem focused on an all-consuming anger he maintained about legal authorities violating the natural law of man –– a common sovereign citizen theme. 

In a video posted on a YouTube channel called “I Am Cosmo” last year, Long ranted against police conduct. “They’re trying to say that the war is being waged against the police when in fact the war is against the people, everybody,” Long said.  “It’s against the people.”

The attack came nearly two weeks after two white police officers in Baton Rouge, La., responded to reports that a man was selling CDs at a gas station. When the officers arrived, they tackled 37-year-old Alton Sterling to the ground and shot him at point blank range. Multiple bystanders captured video of the shooting on their cell phones.

Members of ‘Moorish’ sovereign groups and other black Americans have for years been taking up the ideas of the antigovernment “sovereign citizen” movement –– a movement whose adherents believe they are outside the reach of most law. Ironically, the wildly conspiratorial belief system was originally thoroughly anti-black. But its racist roots have been virtually forgotten by increasing numbers of black Americans who have melded it with selective interpretations of the teachings of pioneer black nationalist Noble Drew Ali, who founded the exclusively black Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) almost 100 years ago.

But The Washitaw Nation, of which Long was once a member, is something different. It employs pseudo-legal language and theories of “common law” –– an ideology birthed by hard-line American white supremacists in the 1970s and 1980s. But the Washitaw are not white supremacists.

In the weird language the groups leader, a woman named Verdiacee Turner –– who called herself Empress Verdiacee “Tiari” Washitaw-Turner Goston El-Bey –– decendants of the “Ancient Ones,” the “black ones," occupied the North American continent tens of thousands of years before white Europeans arrived. Therefore, they fall outside federal authority. 

Cover Image: AP/Max Becherer

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