Alleged Waffle House shooter displayed sovereign citizen beliefs

Travis Reinking, 29, who allegedly shot and killed four people at a Waffle House in Nashville, Tennessee, Sunday, proclaimed himself a “sovereign citizen” during an incident at the White House in 2017 and displayed other signs of an interest in sovereign citizen ideology.

Reinking, who was captured by police earlier today in Tennessee, walked into the Waffle House with an AR-15 rifle and killed an employee and three customers. While attempting to reload his rifle, a customer, James Shaw, Jr., grabbed the weapon from Reinking, who then fled the restaurant. 

On July 7, 2017, Reinking appeared outside the White House and demanded to see President Trump, telling officers that he was a “sovereign citizen” and had the right to inspect the White House grounds, according to an arrest report from the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department.

During a May 2016 incident between Reinking and Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office deputies at a CVS in Morton, Illinois, Reinking displayed delusional tendencies, saying the entertainer Taylor Swift was stalking and harassing him. Responding officers checked Reinking’s name in a law enforcement database, which indicated Reinking did “not recognize police authority.” 

Sovereign citizens do not recognize the authority of police and other law enforcement officers, often displaying fake driver’s licenses and license plates to police officers during traffic stops, occasionally ending in deadly shootouts.   

Reinking stated “The illuminati is real” on his Facebook page in March of 2017, referring to the Illuminati, a secret society that conspiracy theorists believe seeks a “New World Order” which will usurp the authority of individual nations and replace it with a “One World Government.” A belief in the New World Order theory is held by millions of ordinary Americans. It is also a key component of both white supremacist and militia doctrine. But discussions involving the New World Order theory, the Bilderberg Group, the Illuminati, and other staples of conspiracy theory are very common within the sovereign citizen movement.

Sovereign citizens are defined by the FBI as “anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or ‘sovereign’ from the United States.” Merely subscribing to sovereign citizen beliefs is not illegal and only a small percentage of the movement (estimated somewhere between 100,000 to 300,000 people in the US) engages in criminal activity. However, the small segment of the sovereign citizen movement planning acts of violence and engaging in other unlawful activity remains one of the highest domestic terrorism priorities for the FBI and its law enforcement partners.

Over the years, some sovereign citizens have joined groups such as the Republic of Texas, the Montana Freemen, and the Little Shell Pembina Nation. These groups and others often form their own illegitimate “Common Law Courts,” which they believe supersede the jurisdiction of federal, state and local judiciaries, government agencies and law enforcement departments. However, most sovereign citizens do not belong to any organized groups. 

The sovereign citizen movement is diverse and attracts a wide variety of people, including so-called “true believers,” people who are financially broke and desperate, tax cheaters, anti-government extremists, prisoners and criminal defendants attempting to jam up the court system with delaying tactics and nonsensical legal arguments, con artists who use sovereign citizen tactics to make a quick buck, and, unfortunately, the mentally ill.

We will learn more about the shooter’s motives over the coming days but it appears that Travis Reinking may fit into that last category. 

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