Guardians of the free Republics: Could threats spark violence?

More than 30 US governors have received subtly threatening letters from a group called Guardians of the free Republics. Investigators fear the broad call for removing top state officials could inspire others to act out violently.

By , Staff writer

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    As of Wednesday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), shown speaking to a joint legislative session Monday, is one of the governors who had received letters, from a group called Guardians of the free Republics, demanding they leave office within three days or be forcibly removed.
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Subtle threats against dozens of US governors by a Texas-based group called Guardians of the free Republics could be enough to spark violence in a tense and polarized country, the FBI says.

This week's threats against at least 30 governors are another example of antigovernment sentiments making waves in the United States in recent months.

As of Wednesday, governors – including Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican – had received letters demanding they leave office within three days or be forcibly removed, according to an internal intelligence note by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security, according to the Associated Press. Local newspapers have reported heightened security at several state capitols.

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Investigators say they do not see threats of violence in the message sent by the Guardians of the free Republics, but they fear the broad call for removing top state officials could inspire others to act out violently.

Fear of words turning to violence has been a theme in national discourse since the healthcare-reform vote. Last week, several Democratic lawmakers said they were threatened or attacked over passage of healthcare reform. Tensions heightened as Republican leaders fought back against suggestions that they were somehow responsible.

In addition, a Philadelphia man has been charged with threatening the life of Rep. Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia and his family.

The arrests this week of suspected members of the Hutaree militia in Michigan have also put law enforcement and many Americans on edge. Earlier this year, Joseph Stack drew attention to antigovernment sentiments when he crashed a plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas.

The Guardians of the free Republics is a group that has 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. Mr. 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."

Michael Barkun is author of "A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America." He says, "In terms of the Guardians of the free Republics, I would see this group as a group that is alienated from the political system and, therefore, is completely outside of partisan affiliations of any kind." Adds Mr. Barkun, who is a political scientist at Syracuse University in New York: “These are people who essentially organize around deviant legal doctrine, conceptions of the Constitution, and legal system that are at complete variance with even highly conservative conceptions of the Constitution and the law."

A key figure in the sovereign-citizen movement is Sam Kennedy, host of the "Take No Prisoners” program on Republic Broadcasting Network in Round Rock, Texas.

In a mass e-mail two months ago, Mr. Kennedy vowed to use his show to present a "final remedy to the enslavement at the hands of corporations posing as legitimate government." He pointed to a plan to "end economic warfare and political terror by March 31, 2010.” In two months, he said, “we can and WILL, BE FREE with your assistance."

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