At least two of the seven suspects accused of gunning down four St. John Parish sheriff's deputies Thursday reportedly have ties to the growing anti-government "sovereign citizens" movement. It is an extremist group, described by the FBI as a "domestic terrorist movement" that has proven itself so deadly to law enforcement that at least 80,000 officers and agencies have ordered training videos on how to defend themselves against its members.
Terry Lyn Smith, 44, left a stack of papers in a trailer in Tennessee that led police to suspect him as a member of the sovereign group. Smith, his wife, two sons and a girlfriend of one of his sons were all booked in connection with the St. John shootout. Smith's longtime associate, Kyle David Joekel, 28, who was also booked in the attack, has also been linked by authorities to extremist groups, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The sovereign movement is a descendant of the now-defunct, violent Posse Comitatus group, a white-supremacist, anti-Semitic group born in the 1980s, according to Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which studies hate groups. The Posse Comitatus was dismantled and its members shifted to fringe groups, loosely connected via seminars and thousands of dedicated websites and online forums.
"Sovereign citizens" believe that there is no legitimate government authority higher than parish or county government. Individuals, they believe, rather than courts or government, decide what laws a person must follow -- thus they often decline to pay taxes, renew driver's licenses or obey speed limits. They often create fake license plates and print counterfeit money, according to the FBI.
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