A law enforcement officer is in the hospital after being shot in the leg and a "sovereign citizen" is dead in Georgia after what could have been an even worse act of domestic terror.
Just before 10am Eastern Time on the morning of June 6, a silver SUV barreled towards the steps of the Forsyth County Courthouse in Cummings, Georgia.
Homemade Spike strips, smoke grenades, and pepper spray grenades flew out of the window of the SUV, then a man jumped out of the vehicle wearing a gas mask, camouflage pants, and a bulletproof vest and holding an assault rifle. The man also carried grenades, homemade explosive devices, zip-tie style restraining devices, and several magazines of ammunition.
As the man began his “frontal assault” on the building, bullets started flying.
A sheriff’s deputy working the door of the courthouse saw the SUV crash into the steps and immediately engaged the man, likely saving many lives. The deputy was shot in the leg before shooting and killing the suspect through the window of the SUV. The man “came here with the purpose of occupying the courthouse,” said Sheriff Duane Piper.
The suspect has been identified as 48-year-old Dennis Ronald Marx, a gun trader who often dressed in “paramilitary attire” and a sovereign citizen well-known to local authorities.
Marx was due in court to plead out on marijuana distribution and firearms possession charges, but was over 45 minutes late for his hearing, according to Ann Shafer, an attorney had represented Marx. Shafer had come to court to remove herself as Marx’s attorney after he had made “veiled threats” recently. Today was the last day for Marx to accept the plea agreement.
At Marx’s home, law enforcement encountered more danger. The sheriff described the location as a “bomb,” saying the house had been booby-trapped with homemade explosives.
In his book, The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right, Daniel Levitas described the emergence of the far-right sovereign citizen ideology.
For decades now, so-called sovereign citizens have engaged in conspiratorial and bigoted ideas, and favored tactics ranging from filing reams of pseudo-legal pronouncements, to threatening public officials, to armed confrontation with law enforcement. Sovereign citizen ideology attacks the very basis of a democratic society: the rule of law.
As the ideological descendants of the Posse Comitatus, sovereign citizens are tainted with a legacy of bigotry. Moreover, even looking beyond the racist books and citizenship schemes, the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and the continued veneration of old time Posse activists, they represent a contempt for and a challenge to the rule of law.
In claiming the authority of law, sovereign citizens reserve onto themselves the right to pass judgment on private citizens, public officials and the law itself. In fact they claim the American judicial system as it actually exists is unconstitutional and therefore without authority.
The worldview holds that the sovereign citizen has a superior brand of rights from non-sovereigns. The sovereign citizen is either implicitly, or more often explicitly, a white male property owner who has their rights granted to them from God, via the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. On the contrary, “state citizens” also called “14th Amendment citizens” have a second class form of citizenship granted to them from the government. This category of citizenship is often described in racial terms in sovereign citizen literature.
Refusing to obtain a driver’s license, register a vehicle, or follow other government regulations is part of that worldview. Filing of bogus liens and other phony paperwork by sovereign citizens is a form of “paper terrorism” against a system they deem illegitimate. These actions are not merely publicity stunts. There is no effort on the part of these activists to reform the existing system or to highlight specific instances of injustice. Rather, sovereign citizens seek to displace existing judicial authority by investing themselves with the power of law and employing private armies–"militias" and "posses"–to enforce their decisions.