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Domestic Terrorism - "America Unhinged?"

American history is filled with protests and acts against the government. It is our heritage. Starting with the first protests against the King of England in the 1770's and the original Boston Tea Party, Americans have established and exercised their rights to speak out against what they've seen as injustice. Tom Paine's treatise, "Common Sense," spoke to the people, questioning the authority of the British government to rule from afar and openly posed the concept of independence from Great Britain. From those foundations of protest and outcry grew a great Nation.

Today we face a new era of protest. Ironically, the Tea Party Movement, a loosely linked group of citizens speaking out against large government and taxes, is by some, being branded as everything from troublemaking radicals to racists while protesting big government and high taxes. Walking a thinly defined line, former President Clinton raised an uncomfortable parallel between the Tea Party Movement and the unsettled domestic environment that he implied led to the McVeigh-Nichols attack on the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City fifteen years ago.

"This Tea Party movement can be a healthy thing if they're making us justify every penny of taxes we raised and every dollar of public money we spend," Clinton said. "But when you get mad, sometimes you wind up producing exactly the reverse result of what you say you are for."

Terry McVeigh was a militia sympathizer and sought revenge for the earlier FBI confrontation with David Koresh's Branch Davidans in Waco Texas. Suggesting that the Tea Party Movement might lead to another Oklahoma City bombing however, is at best, a premature concern even if it is true that anti-tax and large government protests could lead to civil unrest. At least for now the Tea Party Movement is a political one, seeking to position candidates for local, state and national office who are aligned with and share the anti-tax/large government sentiments.

We have a problem. There have been threats against Congressmen. There are white supremacists, "constitutionalists," tax protesters and religious soldiers determined to kill people to uphold "Christian" values. This problem has been building for some time, however. There is high unemployment, while others find themselves following the rules and paying their bills, yet watch as people who are defaulting on their mortgages and facing foreclosure are being bailed out. Large companies on the brink of failure and bankruptcy have been bailed out by the government. And there is a proliferation of Internet sites that spew hate and unsubstantiated opinion to feed the biases of the masses of people who seek answers or reinforcement for their own slanted ideas. To attribute these protests solely to who is the President of the U.S. is at best, incomplete logic.

The very real problem though, as Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post writes, is that while nearly all people will protest at the ballot boxes in November, there is a danger that the rhetoric of Tea Party Protest could lead one individual to take a radical action. Is there a Joe Stack out there who could be moved to a greater evil because of words heard on the radio or read on the Internet?

Earlier this week the FBI released information regarding a new threat of domestic terrorism, "Sovereign Citizens Movement." Sovereign Citizens are people who believe that they are sovereign from the government of the United States, despite the fact that they live within our borders. The result is that they believe that they do not have to answer to any government authority, court, tax, motor vehicle department or law enforcement.

According to the FBI, "Sovereign citizens" should not be confused with militia movements. While guns are a part of their anti-government, anti-tax agendas, they are not the focus of their movement. However, that view would be different from that of the ADL . According to the ADL, the "sovereign citizens" movement had its origins in the 1970's and has in the past resorted to Paper Terrorism.

The "sovereign citizen" movement is a loosely organized collection of groups and individuals who have adopted a right-wing anarchist ideology originating in the theories of a group called the Posse Comitatus in the 1970s. Its adherents believe that virtually all existing government in the United States is illegitimate and they seek to "restore" an idealized, minimalist government that never actually existed. To this end, sovereign citizens wage war against the government and other forms of authority using "paper terrorism" harassment and intimidation tactics, and occasionally resorting to violence.

The Guardians of the Free Republics have been associated with the sovereign citizen movement.

"Sovereign citizen extremists are individuals who reject all forms of government authority and believe they are emancipated from the responsibilities with being a U.S. citizen," the FBI told the Des Moines Register. "These extremists advocate for their views through the use, support and facilitation of violence or other illegal conduct." The sovereign-citizen movement doesn't necessarily follow political party lines. Stack, for example, criticized President Bush in his antigovernment screed published before his death. The Guardians of the Free Republics website proclaims a "Restore American Plan" that includes a "bold achievable strategy for behind-the-scenes peaceful reconstruction of the de jure institutions of government without controversy, violence or civil war."
One thing is pretty clear. While the Tea Party Movement is demographically narrow, it is also adamant that the system isn't working, at least from their view. Peaceful protest of government policies, programs and positions is our right and part of our heritage. Characterizing protest as radical or dangerous delegitimizes the essence of any valid message of dissent. Yet, the concern over violence is valid. Again, we may well be facing a long hot summer of discontent with the culmination coming in November when the ballot box might speak volumes about the sentiments of the American citizenry.