New Militia Tactic: 'Paper Terrorism'
Radical groups file bogus liens and set up 'common law courts' as part of growing crusade against government.
Don't like the judge who gave you a speeding ticket? Impeach him. Ticked off at the building inspector who's pressing you on some local ordinance? Slap a million-dollar lien on his property.Skip to next paragraph
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Since the Oklahoma City bombing - now back in the news with the Terry Nichols trial - armed militias have been on the decline around the country.
But other favorite tactics of radical antigovernment types - "common law courts" and the filing of bogus liens - have seen a dramatic increase.
Phony property claims have been filed against government officials in at least 23 states, and there now are an estimated 131 common-law courts in 35 states.
These are not just frivolous or harmlessly wacko operations. And some officials are concerned that the recent pillorying of the Internal Revenue Service for bullying taxpayers could exacerbate the problem by creating more animosity toward government officials.
While their tactics are different, many of those involved are closely connected to violent antigovernment types. The Montana Freemen, the "Republic of Texas," Carl Drega (the New Hampshire man who recently killed a judge, two state troopers, and a newspaper editor before being killed), and Terry Nichols himself - all got their start with what law-enforcement authorities have begun to call "paper terrorism."
Sometimes this bureaucratic bullying turns violent. Stanislaus County, Calif., clerk-recorder Karen Mathews was beaten and threatened with death by nine conspirators whose phony documents she refused to record. (The nine have since been convicted and will be sentenced this week.)
"As strange as it seems, these people honestly and sincerely believe they are at war with the government, and that includes paper terrorism," says Ms. Mathews, who has become a poster child for local officials who see themselves as under attack. "My assailants told me it's one more battle in their war against America."
Meanwhile, authorities are scrambling to catch up. Seventeen states have passed laws dealing with bogus liens. US Rep. Charles Schumer (D) of New York is sponsoring legislation that would extend the federal law against threatening federal judges to cover state and local officials. The chief justices of the nation's state supreme courts are formally studying how to fight common-law courts. And the National Association of Attorneys General is holding a domestic terrorism conference in Missouri next week to discuss the issue. (Karen Mathews will be a main speaker.)
Court of a different kind
One of the most infamous cases involved a Missouri teen-ager stopped last year for speeding. When the judge refused to drop the charges, the girl's father, grandfather, and 18 others convened "Our One Supreme Court," found the judge "guilty" of treason, conspiracy, and fraud, and placed a $1.5 million lien on all of his real and personal property - everything but his wedding ring.
Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon vowed to "send a clear message that we will not tolerate such tactics as retaliation against those who enforce the laws of our land." He filed a lawsuit to remove the liens against Associate Circuit Judge Patrick Flynn's property, and won convictions for "judicial tampering" against 18 of them.