CHICAGO (AP) - The former Marine who ambushed and killed three Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police officers identified with a growing sovereign citizen movement that originated among white supremacists and whose adherents believe they're immune to most federal and state laws, including paying taxes and getting driver's licenses.
Gavin Long, 29, of Kansas City, Missouri, filed documents last year declaring himself a member of the United Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah, a mostly black group whose members believe they're descended from the early Native American mound builders and own the Louisiana Purchase land.
Nothing in that group's ideology calls for violence; some members have sold fake driver's licenses, passports and filed fake court documents, according to Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. But other individuals who have declared themselves sovereign citizens have become violent, he noted, killing several law enforcement officers during traffic stops in the last 15 years or so.
One such incident took place in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 2010, when Sgt. Brandon Paudert and another officer were shot and killed during a traffic stop by sovereign citizen movement member Jerry R. Kane Jr. of Forest, Ohio, and his 16-year-old son Joseph.
Paudert was the son of former West Memphis Police Chief Bob Paudert, who now travels the country warning police officers not to underestimate potential violence from so-called "sovereign citizens."
"My experience in the last six years is: The more confrontations and the more encounters they have with law enforcement, the more dangerous they become," he said.
The sovereign citizen movement generally traces its origins to the 1970s, when members were avowed white supremacists. But the unifying ideology was about government rather than race, said Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism.
"As a result, over the decades, the proportion of white supremacists became ever smaller and smaller a proportion of the movement as a whole," Pitcavage said. "That fact opened the movement up to people of all sorts of other backgrounds who had anti-government leanings."
Potok said the sovereign citizen movement is largely unorganized but growing quickly, especially since the Great Recession, and now involves an estimated 300,000 people — the majority of whom now may be African-American.
"The sovereign citizen ideology became particularly attractive as a result of economic troubles," Potok said.
Holland and Tucker reported from Washington.