Dennis Marx, a former TSA employee and member of the 100,000-plus “sovereign citizen” movement, planned to lay siege to a Forsyth County, Ga., courthouse and take hostages before he was killed by a sheriff’s deputy on Friday.
Throwing smoke bombs and tire spikes, Marx attacked the Forsyth County Courthouse on Friday morning, striking a sheriff’s deputy in the leg with a bullet. The deputy, 25-year veteran James Rush, returned fire, and Mr. Marx was killed after a brief gun battle on the street, which was joined by a local SWAT team.
According to Forsyth County Sheriff Duane Piper, Marx had in his possession buckets of homemade explosives, ammunition, smoke grenades, as well as food and water – clues that “he came here with the purpose of occupying the courthouse.” Sheriff Piper added that Marx’s “intention was to get in that front door and take hostages.”
Sovereign citizens believe that most of the US government is illegitimate and cannot act with force of law, and Marx had made specific complaints about what he thought were illegal searches of his home that led to several drug and gun charges. He was scheduled to plead guilty to those charges on Friday, but instead he assaulted the courthouse.
Marx’s trouble with the law dates back to at least 2011 when he was arrested on a number of felony charges. Those arrests led to the government attempting to seize his property under federal asset forfeiture laws. Law enforcement filed paperwork in order to seize 24 handguns, 71 gun magazines and $24,311 in cash.
His counter-complaint, filed last year, said the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department engaged in excessive force and illegal searches when targeting his activity. He also complained about the use of flash grenades during a raid.
Marx said the government’s activities had made it difficult for him to find work. The TSA acknowledged to CNN that Marx worked for the agency for a short time in the early 2000s. He was also a master Glock armorer.
The numbers of sovereign citizens, a movement that dates back to the 1970s, has increased in recent years as the US has struggled under recession, poor economic growth and high unemployment. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, shooters associated with sovereign citizen movement have killed seven police officers. Such violence usually ensues when a sovereign citizen’s demands are ignored by US law enforcement.
Members of the group are classified by the FBI as domestic terrorists, though most of their agitation is through paperwork. Since they don’t acknowledge banks can own property, they’ve been known to occupy foreclosed homes and gum up the legal system with paperwork in order to stay. That’s led to a number of racketeering charges against sovereign citizen members across the US over the past few years.
Sovereign citizens also don’t believe US citizens have to pay taxes, acquire a driver’s license, or follow US laws. Many also believe that the US government builds a “straw man” for each US citizen – a second identity assigned a specific monetary amount at birth.
Marx was known to local law enforcement because of his legal battles with the county. Sheriff’s deputies took extra precautions before searching Marx’ home after the shooting, but did not find any booby traps.
Forsyth County saw a near race riot in the early 20th century that resulted in 98 percent of black people in the county moving away. In recent years, the area has become a popular Atlanta suburb, ranked in 2008 as the 13th wealthiest county in the US.