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'Sovereign citizen' movement now on FBI's radar

Reporting from Washington—

With the FBI pounding on his door, and his wife and two children barely awake, Shawn Rice allegedly strapped on a bulletproof vest, grabbed a semiautomatic pistol and stepped out his back door on Dec. 22.

But dozens of FBI agents and local police had surrounded the ranch house in Seligman, Ariz., about 80 miles west of Flagstaff, and the only nearby cover was knee-high sagebrush. Rice ducked back inside, and warned the FBI to keep away.

After a tense 10-hour standoff, Rice, 49, was arrested. He now sits in a Las Vegas jail awaiting trial on federal money-laundering charges.

But it wasn't Rice's alleged offense alone that prompted the FBI's interest.

According to court papers, Rice was involved in the "sovereign citizen" movement, a group that has attracted little national media attention but which the FBI classifies as an "extremist antigovernment group." So-called sovereign citizens argue that they are not subject to local, state or federal laws, and some refuse to recognize the authority of courts or police.

Since 2000, members of the movement have killed six police officers, and clashes with law enforcement are on the rise, according to the FBI. The deadliest incident came in 2010, when a shootout with a member left four people dead, including two police officers, during what began as a routine traffic stop in West Memphis, Ark.

Since then, in a notable shift in policy, federal officials have stepped up their attention on sovereign citizens.

"We are focusing our efforts because of the threat of violence," said Stuart R. McArthur, a deputy assistant director in the FBI's Counterterrorism Division.

In two recent unpublished studies, the Homeland Security Department and the National Counterterrorism Center ranked the sovereign citizen movement as a major threat, along with Islamic extremists and white supremacists. The FBI assigned a supervisor to coordinate investigations of the movement last year.

"This is a movement that has absolutely exploded," said ! Mark Pot ok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization based in Montgomery, Ala., that tracks domestic terrorists and hate groups. More than 100,000 Americans have aligned themselves with the sovereign citizens, the center said.

Adherents cite a patchwork of beliefs, including that the U.S. is essentially under martial law, that some U.S. constitutional amendments are invalid, and that dollars have been illegitimate since the U.S. Treasury went off the gold standard during the Great Depression.

Most important, some followers believe they are entitled to use armed force to resist arrest and fight police.

The FBI also is investigating followers for alleged mail fraud and harassment of federal officials through nuisance lawsuits and property liens. Such cases are clogging courts in every state, said Casey Carty, who heads the FBI's sovereign citizen unit.

Until recently, federal officials had steered clear of any extensive focus on right-wing extremist groups. In 2009, some members of Congress complained after a Homeland Security Department report warned that such groups might seek to recruit disaffected military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as others. The report highlighted several groups, including the sovereign citizen movement.

Bowing to the criticism, Homeland Security officials gutted the office that had focused on right-wing extremism. They also canceled planned presentations and shelved a reference guide that the office had produced to inform local police about the movement.

"The topic had become too politically charged," said Daryl Johnson, who headed the team that wrote the 2009 report.

That changed after the West Memphis shootout with Jerry Kane Jr., a sovereign citizen proponent who had traveled the country offering $ 100-a-head seminars that taught spurious ways to avoid paying taxes, among other movement tactics.

Kane and his 16-year-old son, Joseph, were killed in the shootout. Also killed was ! Police S gt. Brandon Paudert, son of the local police chief, Bob Paudert.

Paudert had never heard of the sovereign citizen movement until that day. Now retired, he has spoken to more than 75 law enforcement groups around the country warning of its danger.

Paudert remains angry that Kane wasn't identified as potentially armed and dangerous in the FBI-run database that local police normally access for warrants and other data when they stop a vehicle. He wants the FBI to change the database to flag known sovereign citizen adherents.

"If we had that, [my son] would have immediately called for backup," Paudert said. "He would be alive today."

brian.bennett@latimes.com

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Book review: 'Enemies: A History of the FBI' by Tim Weiner

Each week, the FBI sends reporters an email of "top ten news stories" that it hopes will hit the headlines. The press releases usually highlight crooks nabbed, terrorism plots foiled and convictions notched up by the straight-shooting, gang-busting agents from the world's most famous law enforcement agency.

It's doubtful any of the cases the FBI likes to publicize made it into Tim Weiner's absorbing "Enemies: A History of the FBI." It is a scathing indictment of the FBI as a secret intelligence service that has bent and broken the law for decades in the pursuit of Communists, terrorists and spies. Worse, in his view, the bureau was often grossly inept. As Thomas Kean, Republican chair of the9/11Commission, declared in 2004: "You have a record of an agency that's failed, and it's failed again and again and again."

Weiner eviscerates the FBI in a sweeping narrative that is all the more entertaining because it is so redolent with screw-ups and scandals. Like his bestselling last book, "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA," which documented misdeeds at the CIA, this is a mordant counter-history. It is a compendium of illegal arrests and detentions, break-ins and burglaries, wiretapping and surveillance. Weiner calls it a chronicle of "the tug-of-war between national security and civil liberties," but it's clear to him which side won. The CIA denounced his last book. The FBI won't give him any medals either.

Weiner's genius is finding recurring threads that weave through the decades. Here he sees the FBI employ the same illegal tactics, and often the same hysterical rhetoric, against everyone from 1920s anarchists to Al Qaeda. Much of the story is familiar, but Weiner has mined recently released oral histories and declassified documents, and gleaned grime-encrusted nuggets by the cartload. Presumably the FBI has done some useful things over the years, but they get short shrift here. The Hollywood-beloved takedowns of John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and Bonnie and Clyde, for example, merit one sentence in this 500-plus-page tome. That is one sentence total, not one sentence each.

The sordid story starts in 1908, when the Justice Department set up an investigative unit to help track suspected subversives. New laws banned anarchists from living in the United States. By 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson warned that terrorists and anarchists were the "gravest threats against our national peace and safety," the bureau had begun rounding up radicals, wiretapping conversations and opening mail.

Enter J. Edgar Hoover, who would serve as the FBI's imperious director for nearly five decades. Inevitably, Weiner weaves his tale around Hoover's endless obsessions and hates, and his disdain for the Bill of Rights. Early on, in 1920, determined to crush a "Communist conspiracy," Hoover presided over the so-called Palmer Raids that netted up to 10,000 people without warrants or due process, the biggest mass arrests in U.S. history. Most suspects ultimately were released.

But the pattern was set. The bureau began spying on thousands of suspected radicals, burgling their offices and homes, intercepting their mail and tapping their phones at Hoover's whim. No one was immune, including members of Congress. By the 1930s, bugging, blackmail and break-ins were mainstays of FBI investigations. The bureau tripled in size during World War II, when it began operating overseas for the first time to collect intelligence.

Hoover was determined to turn the FBI into a global espionage organization after the war. But President Harry Truman warned aides that Hoover was "building up a Gestapo." Furious when Truman authorized creation of the CIA in 1947 — one of the few times Hoover lost an internecine battle — he barred anyone who had ever worked for the FBI from joining the new spy service. He spread rumors that William J. Donovan, a key rival, was a Communist sympathizer, while Donovan whispered that Hoover — who had led a malicious crusade to expel gays from government — was a secret homosexual.

Weiner doesn't buy the Hoover rumors. Americans know Hoover, he writes, "only as a caricature: a tyrant in a tutu, a cross-dressing crank. None of that is true." He argues that Hoover had a sexless relationship with his constant companion, Clyde Tolson, mostly because no one can prove otherwise. Overall, he offers grudging respect for the astute cunning and iron will of a man he calls "an American Machiavelli."

Hoover became his most paranoid, and most dangerous, during the early Cold War. Soviet spy rings were real enough. But Hoover fueled the nation's anti-Communist frenzy, warning that millions of Russian children were training as "suicide paratroopers," and that a secret army of domestic Communists secretly plotted to use "weapons of mass destruction," then a new concept, to destroy America. His solution? He proposed detaining 25,000 political suspects in military stockades, setting up secret prisons for U.S. citizens, suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and so on.

During the 1960s, the FBI illegally wiretapped and spied relentlessly on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.and other civil rights leaders, convinced they were under Moscow'sdirection, but ignored the predatory Ku Klux Klan, the most violent U.S. terrorist group of the century. Hoover balked at investigating the Mafia, but happily built voluminous files on the sex lives ofJohn F. Kennedy and others.

Hoover died in his bed in 1972, and Congress belatedly imposed oversight and reforms on the FBI. Yet the bureau barely changed. Scores of Soviet spies were unmasked in the mid-1980s, including a senior FBI agent, Robert Hanssen, and Aldrich Ames, a senior CIA officer. They had sold Moscow a catastrophic collection of national security secrets. Weiner's assessment of the breach is perhaps his most pitiless.

The traitors thrived for so long because U.S. counterintelligence "had become a shambles," he writes. "The FBI and the CIA had not been on speaking terms for most of the past 40 years. The sniping and the silences between them did more harm to American national security than the Soviets."

The last few decades largely follow the headlines, including FBI errors prior to the 1993 World Trade Tower attack, the Oklahoma City bombing, and other fiascoes. When Al Qaeda emerges in force, Weiner finds senior FBI and CIA counterterrorism specialists "too busy making war on one another" to focus on Osama bin Laden until it is too late. Sadly, one is given little reason to assume the FBI will do better in the future.

bob.drogin@latimes.com

Drogin is the deputy bureau chief of the Times Washington Bureau.

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What the FBI did to American citizens is beyond what most people realize today.

What the FBI did to American citizens is beyond what most people realize today. COINTELPRO discussed with Former Vice President Walter Mondale, Walter Huddleston and others. From the Church Report on US Spy Agencies. representativepress.blogspot.com

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Tony Blair’s Wife Cherie Sues News Corp. - Bloomberg

Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair's wife Cherie sued News Corp. (NWSA) and a former private investigator who hacked into celebrities' voice-mail messages to get stories for its now-defunct News of the World tabloid.

The lawsuit, filed yesterday against the company's U.K. unit and Glenn Mulcaire, comes as News Corp. prepares for the first civil trial over the scandal, scheduled to start Feb. 27 in London. The company has already settled phone-hacking claims by Blair's former press chief, Alastair Campbell, and former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch shuttered the News of the World in July in a bid to contain public anger after it was revealed the tabloid hacked into the voice mails of a murdered schoolgirl. While most of the current lawsuits have settled, the company still faces possible claims by more than 800 likely victims identified by police.

"If it is true that a former prime minister's family have been targeted by Rupert Murdoch's hackers, then it is clearly a significant moment in the scandal," Tom Watson, a Labour Party lawmaker who is on a parliamentary committee investigating the scandal, said in an e-mail.

A message left with the press office of News Corp.'s U.K. unit, News International, wasn't immediately returned. Mulcaire's lawyer, Sarah Webb, didn't immediately return a call seeking comment. Full details of the suit aren't yet available.

Tony Blair's representatives referred calls to Cherie Blair's lawyers at Atkins Thomson Solicitors in London, who didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

Campbell Testimony

Campbell, the former press chief, told a judge-led inquiry into U.K. media ethics in November that, in light of the number of stories published about Cherie Blair, he accused her assistant Carole Caplin of leaking stories. Caplin has since been told her phone was also hacked, he said.

"We were very concerned about how many stories about Cherie and Carole were getting out," Campbell said at the inquiry.

London-based News International paid 130,000 pounds last month ($ 204,000) to settle hacking claims by the actor Jude Law and 50,000 pounds to settle a complaint from his ex-wife, Sadie Frost.

News Corp. has agreed to pay out $ 15.6 million to phone- hacking victims, settling at least 54 lawsuits out of 60 that were filed by October.

Police, Judicial Probes

The scandal has resulted in separate legislative, judicial and police probes. Five journalists at News Corp.'s Sun tabloid in London were arrested on Feb. 11 as part of a related investigation into bribes to officers and government officials.

"I hope Cherie Blair will also establish whether she was a target for covert surveillance and computer hacking," Watson said. "And I hope Tony Blair comes forward to condemn Rupert Murdoch's failure to deal with the criminal wrongdoing that went on over many years at News Corp. U.K."

News International will release a Sunday edition of its Sun tabloid this week, overseen by Murdoch. The 80-year-old News Corp. chairman flew into London last week to announce the new newspaper and reassure staff after 10 reporters were arrested as part of the police investigation into bribery.

He will stay in town for "several weeks" while the new edition gets off the ground. The tabloid will fill the hole left by the News of the World.

Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, competes with News Corp. units in providing financial news and information.

The case is Cherie Blair v. Newsgroup Newspapers, High Court of Justice Chancery Division, No. HC12C00657.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Larson in London at elarson4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

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