Authorities now believe that some of the suspected gunmen from last week’s shootout near a Louisiana trailer park are members of the sovereign citizen movement, a collective described by the FBI as domestic terrorists.
Two Louisiana deputies were killed and at least two others were injured following what authorities have described as an ambush at a trailer park near the city of New Orleans on Thursday morning that involved at least 20 shots fired from multiple weapons. Days later, investigators have acknowledged that they believe that several of the suspected gunmen involved in the attack are self-described sovereign citizens, members of an anti-government movement that has attracted criticism from both the FBI and the Anti-Defamation League.
So-called sovereign citizens, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, believe that governments of all kind operate illegally and that the only system of rule worth adhering to is their own.
“Because they believe in particular law enforcement is not legitimate, they can be quite violent. Since 2000, they have linked at [least] six law enforcement deaths to sovereign citizens,” former FBI agent and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett explains this week to the network.
“Although the sovereign-citizen movement does not always rise to violence, its members’ illegal activities and past violent — including fatal — incidents against law enforcement make it a group that should be approached with knowledge and caution,” the FBI explains in an unclassified law enforcement bulletin from September 2011.
Authorities have so far arrested seven suspects in connection with last week’s assault. In response to the one Louisiana deputy who was shot during the ambush but survived, Brian Lyn Smith, 24, was charged with attempted first-degree murder. His father, 44-year-old Terry Smith, was one of four other individuals charged with principal to attempted first-degree murder. Two others were charged with being accessories to the crime.
Though evident to the FBI for decades, the sovereign citizen movement has reentered their radar in recent years, especially after a 2010 incident in West Memphis, Arkansas ended with three fatalities. In that instance, a routine traffic stop that targeted a self-described sovereign citizen and his son triggered the suspect to open fire, killing two police officers.
“We are focusing our efforts because of the threat of violence,” Stuart R. McArthur, a deputy assistant director in the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, told the Los Angeles Times earlier this year.
According to the FBI’s latest report, the bureau expects to see a surge in sovereign citizen members as the American economy continues to remain stagnant and seminar and Internet sites influence others about the ideology.
“The FBI are very concerned about them, both from a violent standpoint and also from a white collar crime standpoint,” ex-FBI agent Garrett adds to ABC.