Posse Comitatus (organization)

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The Posse Comitatus (from the Latin phrase meaning "force of the county")[1] is a loosely organized, far-right social movement that opposes the federal government of the United States and believes in localism. There is no single national group, and local units are autonomous.

Posse charters were issued in 1969 in Portland, Oregon, by Henry Lamont Beach, "a retired dry cleaner and one-time member of the Silver Shirts, a Nazi-inspired organization that was established in America after Hitler took power in Germany."[2] William Potter Gale has been described by one expert as the founder of the movement.[3]

Posse members believe that there is no legitimate form of government above that of the county level and no higher law authority than the county sheriff.[citation needed] If the sheriff refuses to carry out the will of the county's citizens:

...he shall be removed by the Posse to the most populated intersection of streets in the township and at high noon be hung by the neck, the body remaining until sundown as an example to those who would subvert the law.[4][5]

Many Posse members practice survivalism and played a role in the formation of the armed citizens' militias in the 1990s. The Posse Comitatus pioneered the use of false liens and other paper terrorism.[6]

Federal taxes[edit]

Members of the Posse Comitatus frequently refuse to pay taxes, to obtain driver's licenses, or otherwise to comply with regulatory authorities. They deny the validity of United States fiat money as not backed by gold, which they claim the Constitution requires.

They have unusual legal documents drawn up and attempt to record them, declaring independence from the United States, or claiming to file "common law" liens against perceived enemies like Internal Revenue Service employees or judges. They are often involved in various tax protests, and have invoked arguments popularized by tax protesters.

Criminal activities[edit]

In 1983, former Posse member (and accused parole violator) Gordon Kahl killed two federal marshals (who had come to arrest him) in North Dakota and became a fugitive. Another shootout ensued on June 3, 1983, in which Kahl and Lawrence County, Arkansas Sheriff Gene Matthews were killed. Other members of the group have also been convicted of crimes ranging from tax evasion and counterfeiting to threatening the lives of IRS agents and judges.

The organization also demonstrated to support its members over other issues such as divorce disputes. On September 2, 1975, Francis Earl Gillings, the founder of a San Joaquin County Posse group, led a group of armed Posse members to prevent United Farm Workers Union organizers from attempting to organize non-union tomato pickers. As sheriff's deputies attempted to arrest Gillings on a traffic warrant, one got into a scuffle with Gillings and a shot was fired, injuring a deputy's ear.[7]

On August 15, 2012, five suspects were arrested in connection to the fatal shooting of two sheriff deputies and wounding two others in St. John Parish, Louisiana. Terry Smith, 44; Brian Smith, 24; Derrick Smith, 22; Teniecha Bright, 21; and Kyle David Joekel, 28 were identified, with Brian Smith and Joekel identified as the shooters in the incident. The men are rumored to be affiliated with a Posse Comitatus group.[8] On August 17, 2012, two more suspects—Chanel Skains, 37, and Britney Keith, 23—were charged with accessory after the fact.[9]

Christian Identity[edit]

Some Posse members embraced the anti-semitic and white supremacist beliefs of Christian Identity.[10] Some believe that the U.S. federal government is illegitimate and in the hands of Zionist Occupation Government (ZOG), an alleged Jewish conspiracy.[11] In 1985, a member of the Posse Comitatus announced: "Our nation is now completely under the control of the International Invisible government of the World Jewry."[12]

Sovereign citizens[edit]

The legal theories of Posse Comitatus have been further developed by the sovereign citizen movement, which claims that a U.S. citizen can become a "sovereign citizen" and thereby be subject only to common law and/or "constitutional law," not to statutory law (including most taxes).[13] The Uniform Commercial Code plays an important part in these legal theories.[citation needed]

While some African-American groups have adopted sovereign citizen beliefs,[14] the movement is dominated by adherents of Christian Identity. Some within the movement see African Americans, who only gained legal citizenship after the Civil War and passage of the 14th Amendment, as "14th Amendment citizens" with fewer rights than whites.[15]

The sovereign citizen movement gave rise to the "redemption movement," which claims that the U.S. government has enslaved its citizens by using them as collateral against foreign debt. Redemption scheme promoters sell instructions explaining how citizens can "free" themselves by filing particular government forms in a particular order using particular wording. The movement "has earned its promoters untold profits, buried courts and other agencies under tons of worthless paper, and led to scores of arrests and convictions."[16]

Alpine County, California[edit]

In the later 1970s, the Posse Comitatus attempted to take over Alpine County, California, by settling there. Alpine County is the county with the least population in the US; winning the election in Alpine County was their best opportunity to take control of a single county. Their agenda was discovered and the Posse Comitatus candidate was not elected. Alpine County is in the Sierra Nevada Mountains east of Stockton on the west and east slope of Ebbetts Pass on State Highway 4. It is the home of Mt Reba Ski Area and the community of Bear Valley. The county seat is Markleeville on the east side of the pass. The population is about 1,000 to 1,100 people.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Solodow, Joseph Latin Alive: The Survival of Latin in English and the Romance Languages, Cambridge University Press, 2010 p.160 "out of the phrase posse comitatus “the force of the county” arose our present use of posse for a group of men whom the sheriff calls upon in a crisis."
  2. ^ Corcoran, James (1990). Bitter Harvest: Gordon Kahl and the Posse Comitatus: Murder in the Heartland. p. 29. ISBN 0-670-81561-6. 
  3. ^ The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right by Daniel Levitas (Thomas Dunn Books, 2002; ISBN 0-312-29105-1).
  4. ^ Terrorism in America: Pipe Bombs and Pipe Dreams by Brent L. Smith (SUNY Press, 1995; ISBN 0-7914-1759-X), pp. 57–58.
  5. ^ "Common Law and Uncommon Courts: An Overview of the Common Law Court Movement", Mark Pitcavage, Militia Watchdog archives, Anti-Defamation League website, July 25, 1997.
  6. ^ Mark Pitcavage (June 29, 1998), Paper Terrorism's Forgotten Victims: The Use of Bogus Liens against Private Individuals and Businesses, Anti-Defamation League 
  7. ^ Merced Sun-Star Aug 9, 1976. Page 1. "Jail Term for Posse Founder".
  8. ^ http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2012/08/picture_of_5_suspects_in_st_jo.html
  9. ^ http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/18/us-usa-louisiana-shooting-idUSBRE87G0ZN20120818
  10. ^ Marks, Kathy (1996). Faces of right wing extremism. Branden Publishing Company. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-8283-2016-0. 
  11. ^ Knight, Peter (2003). Conspiracy theories in American history: an encyclopedia, Volume 1. ABL-CIO. p. 758. ISBN 978-1-57607-812-9. 
  12. ^ Christian Posse Comitatus Newsletter, n.d. quoted in Kenneth S. Stern, A Force upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996) p. 50.
  13. ^ What is a Sovereign Citizen?, Message to Students, Militia Watchdog archives, Anti-Defamation League website.
  14. ^ Are sovereign citizens racist?, Message to Students, Militia Watchdog archives, Anti-Defamation League website.
  15. ^ What is a 'Sovereign Citizen'?, Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report, Winter 2008.
  16. ^ Beyond Redemption, Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report, Winter 2002.

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