COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The investigation into the background of Baton Rouge Police killer Gavin Eugene Long has turned up indications he was aligned with an extremist anti-government group. A group that reports say is similar in several ways with a movement that has surfaced from time to time in South Carolina.
There have been at least a couple of cases of criminal acts by people identified with or linked to the sovereign-citizens movement over the last few years in South Carolina. One of them involving attempted murder charges filed in December 2013 against then-52-year-old Yahchanan Christopher Reames, who is accused of shooting two Lee County deputies during a traffic stop. Both deputies survived in part due to body armor.
Reames had been out on bond at the time of the shooting after a fight with Kershaw County deputies. Investigators said Reames was a follower of the Sovereign-Citizens Movement, which in some forms proposes that the federal government underwent a secret transformation to enslave Americans.
In March, a federal jury found five people guilty on tax fraud charges, who were also sovereign-citizens that claimed the government had huge amounts of cash available for anyone who could file the right IRS paperwork. Former US Attorney Bill Nettles oversaw that case.
"There are people that believe that government should be very big and have a huge impact, a huge place in our life," Nettles said. "And there are people that believe that government should be very small. All of those people, that's a discussion that can be had and that tension's probably good for democracy as a whole because we probably wind up with some sort of government that's in the middle, OK? The problem with the state's rights people is they don't even recognize the authority of the government and that is a fundamental difference from the rest of us."
Nettles has both defended and prosecuted followers of the sovereign-citizens mindset. He says not all of them advocate violence, but it can be hard to figure out what they're up to because there are subsets of the movement who don't have central leadership.