Militias and 'Common Law Courts':
'Patriots' of the Web
In mid-1994, bands of armed right-wing militants calling themselves "militias"
began to appear in several states. Often spouting mistaken interpretations
of early American history to justify their actions, Militia members are
united in their obsession with "protecting" Americans' Constitutional
rights, which they claim the Federal government has trampled. A variety
of activists make up the militia movement. There are those militia adherents
who merely discuss the Constitution and perceived Federal intrusions.
Others trade conspiracy theories at gun shows. At the extreme are members
of heavily armed paramilitary units.
"Common law court" adherents declare themselves exempt from
the laws of the United States. Using pseudo-legal theories based on selective
and often bizarre interpretations of the Bible, the Magna Carta, state
and Federal court decisions, and the U.S. and state constitutions, these
activists present a serious threat to the rule of law by using phony liens,
money orders and documents in an attempt to defy the authority of legitimate
Militia activists and common law court adherents refer to themselves
as "patriots." Like anti-Semites and racists, these "patriots"
have a fondness for historical distortions and conspiracy theories (such
as the contention that the Federal Reserve runs the United States). Elements
of overt anti-Semitism and racism have frequently surfaced in the "patriot"
movement, which has been inspired by the activities of the Identity group
Though many "patriots" deny the movement's racial and religious
bigotry, its intolerance is apparent on the Web. For instance, though
the Patriot Knowledge Base Web site states that "the enemy"
is "not the Jewish masses," it posts the Protocols of the
Learned Elders of Zion, one of the world's most widely circulated
anti-Semitic works. Similarly, the U.S.A. The Republic page links
to the vicious Identity site God's Order Affirmed in Love while
claiming "We Are Not Anti-Semitic."
Even though militia membership dwindled following the Oklahoma City bombing
in 1995, militia members continue to plan bombings and robberies. Meanwhile,
new militia-oriented Web sites continue to appear. Likewise, despite the
fact that legitimate authorities have cracked down on unlawful common
law court activities, common law court advocates persist in threatening
violence and common law Web sites are still active. Currently, there are
more than a hundred "patriot" sites on the Web.
Common law Web sites often post legal jargon out of context and link
to reputable law sources, leading readers to misinterpret actual law.
For instance, Dr. Tavel's Self-Help Legal Clinic, called "The
Disneyland of the web for patriots and freedom fighters!" by the
extremist publication Spotlight, links to online records of state
and Federal rules, procedures, and laws. Visitors are encouraged to interpret
this information based on fallacious common law principles and then use
it in a court of law, even when under oath as part of a jury. The Legal
Clinic posts a document entitled "The Citizens Rule Book - Jury
Handbook," which encourages jurors to judge cases based on their
own understanding of "natural, God-given, Common or Constitutional
You as a juror armed merely with the knowledge of what a COMMON
LAW JURY really is and what your common law rights, powers and duties
really are, can do more to re-establish "liberty and justice for
all" in this State and ultimately throughout all of the United
States than all our Senators and Representatives put together. WHY?
Because even without the concurrence of all of your fellow jurors, in
a criminal trial, you, with your single vote of "NOT GUILTY"
can nullify every rule of "law" that is not in accordance
with the principles of natural, God-given, Common or Constitutional
Numerous common law sites also promote anti-government activists as "sovereign
citizens" answerable only to God and thus immune from state or Federal
jurisdiction. Some offer a racist twist to this formulation, arguing that
there are two classes of citizens: "Sovereign" white citizens,
whose rights are God-given, and "Fourteenth Amendment" citizens,
non-whites whose citizenship is granted only by the Fourteenth Amendment.
|Though many 'patriots' deny the movement's racial and religious
bigotry, its intolerance is apparent on the Web.
Militia Web sites express paranoid fantasies about a power-hungry government
trying to impose tyranny on its citizens, a government often portrayed
as a pawn of the United Nations or the vaguely defined "New World
Order." False depictions of militia members as the true defenders
of liberty and democracy abound.
For instance, one Militia of Montana Web site declares that group
"an educational organization dedicated to the preservation of the
freedoms of ALL Citizens of the State of Montana and of the United States
of America." Yet the militia held "the tyranny of a run-away,
out of control government" responsible for usurping those freedoms.
The "Articles of the Alliance Of the Southeastern States Militia"
claim that group's members "stand against all enemies of the Constitution
and Bill of Rights, both foreign and domestic."74 The
group appears to consider the government one of these "enemies":
it pledges to actively resist whatever it feels constitutes "unconstitutional
use of our armed forces...against the America people" and promises
to "fight the New World Order, and any of its proponents, to the
Many militia Web sites provide resources to help their readers become
more active. For example, the Citizen Soldier Web site contains
a "Militia/Survivalist" post exchange page, which links to the
Web sites of weapons suppliers, as well as military manuals that cover
topics including "combat training." The Minnesota Minutemen
Militia site allows supporters to "enlist" online by filling
out a simple form. The American Patriot Network and California
Militia Web sites, among others, feature real-time chat rooms in which
"patriots" can communicate with each other, and the United
States Theatre Command Web site maintains the "Eagleflight"
electronic mailing list, which often contains messages urging violent
action from various militia members across the nation.
|Militia and common law court
propagandists on the Internet have
openly expressed sympathy for
'patriot' activists on trial for
committing, or planning to commit,
acts of violence.
Militia and common law court propagandists on the Internet have openly
expressed sympathy for "patriot" activists on trial for committing,
or planning to commit, acts of violence. These sites lend credence to
the anti-government movement by focusing on those who have actually come
face to face with the government. Militia and common law Web sites have
provided biased accounts of trial proceedings involving North American
Militia of Southwest Michigan member Bradford Metcalf and the Montana
Freemen, among others.
On November 18, 1998, members of the Montana Freemen, a group of common
law court adherents notorious for their 81-day standoff with the FBI in
1996, were convicted on criminal charges including bank and mail fraud
and armed robbery.75 During the trials that led to these convictions,
the Fully Informed Grand Jurors Alliance (FIGJA) Web site, maintained
by Georgia common law guru Elder Burk Hale and former Militia of Montana
member Kamala Susan, kept Web users abreast of the latest happenings "at
the request of family and friends of the 'Freemen' prisoners." Erroneously
citing laws in support of the Freemen's cause, Hale posted photos of Freeman
Ralph Clark, who he alleges was "tortured" by his jailers, as
well as "Common Law Affidavits" written by other incarcerated
On the same day as the Freemen decision, Bradford Metcalf was convicted
of conspiring to possess machine guns; threatening to assault and murder
Federal employees, and plotting to damage and destroy Federal buildings
using explosives. As with the Freemen case, anti-government Web sites,
such as Patriots Under Siege and Caged Patriots: An American
Disgrace, kept militia sympathizers updated on the trial's progress
and voiced support for its defendant.
In April 1996, Oklahoma Constitutional Militia leader Ray Lampley, his
wife, Cecilia, and their friend John Baird were convicted of plotting
to bomb ADL's Houston office, the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama,
welfare offices, abortion clinics and gay bars. Also the leader of the
Universal Church of God in Hanna, Oklahoma, Ray Lampley has expressed
intensely anti-Semitic and anti-government views and visited Elohim City,
an encampment on the Oklahoma-Arkansas border associated with the Identity
Writing on the Web about the Lampley trial, Indiana-based militia figure
Linda Thompson declared that the trials of Lampley and other militia figures
were fixed by what she sees as a corrupt Federal government that pays
informants to help convict anti-government activists:
At the defense table, the jury will see the "nut" or target
and his "co-conspirators" and the jury will hear the babbling
and crazy "confidential" tapes played, as they look at the
"nut" and his "friends" while the "good-guy
informant" tells them how all these folks were planning to do nasty
terrible things. The "good-guy informant" of course will be
backed up by "good-guy law enforcement" who will parade a
lot of evidence, whether it is relevant or not, to support this public
bastion of integrity, their informant, emphasizing how good his work
was. The Ray Lampley case is a good example of this that most are familiar
Two weeks prior to his arrest, Ray Lampley told a group in Tulsa, "If
you want to have freedom in this country, you are going to have to shed
somebody's blood for it." He also suggested that he had been attempting
to acquire bomb-making materials. "I only wanted one bag [of ammonium
nitrate fertilizer,]" he said, "because I realized that one
bag is enough to blow up several Federal buildings if you know the right
Where did Lampley learn the "right thing" that told him "one
bag is enough" to blow up several buildings? According to law enforcement
authorities, he likely retrieved this information from bomb-making manuals.
Several of these are available on the Internet.