Something’s not right with the government

Sacramento members of the Republic are helping form a ‘shadow’ U.S. government. Are these people crazy, or just true-believer conservative activists?

The middle-aged Japanese man is here for one reason: “I came because I heard about the scams in Florida,” he says matter-of-factly, biting into a slice of cheese pizza as he sits in the back room of a Citrus Heights pizzeria one recent Sunday afternoon.

What scams?

“You know, when the FBI corrals everyone into a room and makes them pay up,” he says, eyeing the room curiously.

The topic of the alleged FBI swindles never comes up again, but if it’s talk about government misdeeds this man’s looking for, then he’s in the right place: the monthly meeting for the Sacramento chapter of the Republic for the united States of America.

That lowercase “u” in “united” is intentional—and underscores the heart of the Republic’s mission to create a so-called shadow government that will restore the United States to its “lawful de jure” system by reviving the country’s “original” Constitution. The same Constitution which, according to members of the Republic, was abandoned in 1871 in favor of a new document that took away states’ rights and changed the United States into a business with just one goal: to turn every U.S. citizen into an individual corporation off of which it can profit.

The Republic’s political viewpoints have many asking: Are these people crazy?

Maybe. Certainly law experts and historians say there’s little—if any documentation—to back up the Republic’s claims.

“I’d characterize this approach as the legal equivalent of The Da Vinci Code or Raiders of the Lost Ark,” says John Sims, a professor at the McGeorge School of Law who teaches constitutional law.

“It’s the belief that there’s been this mysterious event in time that changed everything, and now we’ve got this alternative universe, and if they could just somehow point that out, then people would believe them,” he says.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped members of the Republic from plotting to form a new government that they say will be ready to step in once the current one falls.

And they’re already putting the plan into action. Unlike past fringe groups, the Republic is part of a wave of modern anti-government movements that are emerging from backwoods and rural isolation to use the Web and social networking to rally supporters.

In July, the Republic elected an interim president, Alabama’s Tim Turner, whom they consider not just the head of their organization—but the “lawful” president of the united States as well. The group is also currently selecting representatives—senators, governors and ambassadors—in cities across the nation. In January, more than 300 members of the Republic for the united States convened in Newport Beach for a weekend “jamboree” aimed at growing membership and discussing tactics.

You can also apply for membership via the Republic’s website and get an ID card (designed to replace your current, state-issued driver’s license); the site also offers an extensive history lesson on how the Republic believes the government has fooled its constituents into living a lie for the last 141 years.

At today’s meeting, this suburban Round Table buzzes with charged energy as about two dozen people nosh on pizza and discuss such conspiracy theories—particularly how the current “de facto” government is willfully robbing its citizens of their hard-earned money. A thin, older man dressed in entirely in black (with dyed black hair to match) wants to know if the Placer County Republic chapter has the right to buy—or take over—the county courthouse for Republic use. As he talks, another man scribbles figures furiously onto a small legal pad.

Everyone here—except for the Japanese man and his wife—is Caucasian. Most, save a few 20-somethings, are middle-aged or older, and most already know one another. Over the course of the next hour, however, another two dozen people will arrive, including several newcomers who squeeze around the room’s giant, U-shaped table to learn more about the government’s alleged wrongdoings.

Diane Thomas, a Sacramento Republic chapter co-founder and one of its “senators,” addresses the crowd from her seat at the back of the room.

The topic: how, when in 1933 the U.S. government abandoned the gold standard in favor of a paper currency, it also created a system in which it made each citizen a “straw man”—an artificial person created by law at birth. The practice replaced a person’s birthright name with a legal, corporate name indebted to the government simply by putting that name in all capital letters on your driver’s license, Social Security card and birth certificate.

“The United States has created corporations out of each and every one of us,” explains Thomas, a short woman with a round face and reddish brown hair. “By putting our names in all caps—each and every one of us are worth $1.2 trillion to them.”

To prove her point, a copy of a birth certificate is passed around the table.

The certificate holder’s name is, indeed, in all caps and, someone points out, there’s the name bank in the certificate’s lower corner. Proof, Thomas says, that Washington, D.C., exerts a financial stranglehold on the rest of America.

“They’ve created a fictional counterfeit in your name—that’s the result of the bonded birth certificate,” Thomas tells the room. “We each have this mirror image in our name.”

The Republic isn’t just about money, however. Founded in 2010, its members say they also aim to, among other goals, restore power to the states, fix the foreclosure crisis and put an end to the prosecution of crimes that lack an “injured party.”

With ideals that are based on Christianity, the Republic boasts thousands of members nationwide and is, its members say, perhaps closest in spirit to the tea party, the latter-day conservative political movement with a strong anti-government sentiment and Libertarian leanings.

There is, however, one significant difference between the two political groups.

“The fatal flaw with the tea party is that they’re saying we need to fix Washington,” says Sacramento Republic ambassador Jon Bowler.

“You can’t fix Washington.”

The Republic for the united States of America are forming a new government that they say will take the old one’s place once it fails. Some local members are (left to right): Diane Thomas, Vicki Warren, Robin Gilmore, DeWain Cummings, Dagmar Bowler, Jon Bowler.

Photo By wes davis

The red pill

To fully understand the Republic’s claims, you must go back more than a century when, on February 21, 1871, the 41st Congress passed the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871, which mandated the organization of a “municipal corporation” to run the day-to-day affairs of the District of Columbia. This act, according to members of the Republic, turned the United States into a corporate entity that, they say, has no jurisdiction beyond the District of Columbia’s 9-mile radius.

“Have you ever asked why D.C. is not considered a state—why it’s a sole, sovereign jurisdiction?” asks Kelby Thomas Smith, a Newport Beach-based ambassador for the Republic and the organization’s media spokesman. “It’s because Congress wanted to make sure that the people wouldn’t have rights over them in that [9] square-mile area.”

As a result, Smith adds, when Congress “abandoned” its government, it also abandoned the spirit of its original Constitution.

According to Republic history, the original Constitution, as adopted in 1787, has lain dormant since 1871, and Americans have followed a “rewritten” document that “unlawfully” shifts power from the states to the federal government.

The result, Smith says, altered the United State’s core makeup.

“The original de jure Congress abdicated session and never resumed,” he says. “Congress walked away [from the government] and left its seats covered in linen and dust, waiting to be reoccupied.”

Linen and dust. Of course, that’s just a metaphor—and not the only one Smith is apt to use.

Smith, like other members of the Republic, is prone to referencing The Matrix, the 1999 Keanu Reeves film wherein the future world perceived by most is, in actuality, a simulated reality created by machines to pacify and oppress humans.

“In The Matrix, Keanu Reeves is offered a red pill and a blue pill—and the red pill brings you to [true] reality,” Smith says.

“[Now,] the red pill you’re about to swallow will help you understand what the Republic is about. The red brings you to reality about what you’ve been lied to about for the last 150, 160 years.”

Jon Bowler remembers the first time he tasted that metaphorical red pill.

The Sacramento resident was driving with his daughter in West Sacramento when he ran a red light. Bowler received a ticket, but instead of paying up as he had in the past, he decided to protest what he saw as a harmless statutory infraction.

The situation got Bowler thinking about his rights—was he really under the law enforcement’s jurisdiction?

“No one was injured, and under common law there is no violation … unless there’s an injured party,” he explains on a Saturday afternoon as he sits in the Rancho Cordova home of another Republic member, clutching a small pamphlet copy of the U.S. Constitution.

“But as far as the state is concerned, there is fee after fee. … It’s simply a means to generate revenue.”

And so the health-care worker started writing letters that, he says, exerted his rights and explained his case.

“I decided … that I consider myself [a] sovereign [citizen],” he says.

So-called sovereign citizens believe they are not subject to most federal, state or municipal statutes or proceedings.

“So I put the court through an administrative default process by notifying them in writing that I’m not who they declare,” he says.

If the courts didn’t respond, he reasoned, then he’d win his case through simple default.

As it turns out, Bowler didn’t have to utter a single word to fight his ticket. When he showed up to the court, even as others around him protested their fines, Bowler says the judge simply informed him there were no witnesses, the ticket was void and the case was closed.

That was April 2010; shortly thereafter Bowler discovered Tim Turner, the Southern Baptist minister who was, at the time, preaching the gospel of the “Secured Party Creditor process,” a Byzantine process through which people can, presumably, free themselves of credit-card debt, mortgages and various tax obligations by mining the laws for supposed loopholes and language inconsistencies.

At the time Turner was also affiliated with Restore America, an Oregon-based Christian organization that aims to mobilize Christian voters and return the nation to a sovereign-based government system.

In May, Bowler attended a seminar Turner gave in Sacramento; there he met Diane Thomas, the Republic senator, and others who shared similar beliefs—and doubts—about the current government system.

Intrigued with Turner’s ideas, the Sacramento residents acted quickly.

“We made our own local group and started meeting about once a month and got a variety of like-minded people who wanted to learn more and used that as a sharing experience,” Thomas says.

Robin Gilmore, a middle-aged woman with short, tousled brown hair and a wide, toothy smile, was on board right away. Friends with Thomas, she says she experienced an “epiphany” in December 2009 when, while driving down the freeway, she felt anxious and scared as she noticed a patrol car traveling behind her.

“Why was I scared? I wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Gilmore remembers of the incident. “I hadn’t really been looking for [answers], but at that moment I started to question my mindset.”

Gilmore says she’d long had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right with the government.

“My father was a World War II veteran, and I remember as a child he was always writing his [congressional representatives] but never getting any responses, and he’d say, ‘I’m a common man, but my input doesn’t have a place to land,’” she continues. “I’ve always had that feeling in the back of my mind that there was something wrong—why aren’t they listening? And when I finally came across the sovereign movement, it all made sense.”

Today, the Sacramento chapter of the Republic boasts approximately 50 permanent members—a number it hopes to increase via its monthly meetings and social networking.

The challenge—and the goal—is educating others on their beliefs, Thomas says.

“People are afraid of saying anything outside of their norm,” she says. “People who are comfortable in their lives, who don’t have a financial issue and they’re making a living—they’re so busy in their day-to-day lives that they don’t really look outside the box. Sometimes they don’t want to see what’s outside the box.

“A lot of people don’t know about us because they’re not looking for us.”

In the fringes

Many members of the Republic consider themselves to be “sovereign” citizens—people who believe they should not be subject to most federal, state or municipal statutes. One local member showed a reporter a small pamphlet copy of the U.S. Constitution to make the point.

Photo By wes davis

Perhaps people aren’t looking for the Republic because they’re not looking for trouble.

With its talk of shadow governments, straw men and state power, the Republic shares many similar qualities with other so-called sovereign citizen groups that reject the existing United States government, decrying it as illegitimate and unlawful.

From the 1970s-era Posse Comitatus to the Montana Freemen, the Christian patriot group that engaged in an infamous 1996 standoff with the FBI, such groups advocate the Libertarian-esque notion of a “restored” minimalist government.

Unlike Libertarians, however, many of these groups are stridently conservative and steeped deep in religion.

One such group, Restore America, sowed the seeds for the current Republic.

Tim Turner was a member of Restore America, founded in 1999, and spoke on behalf of the group at various seminars before differences caused a small group, including Turner and Smith, the media spokesman and California ambassador, to break away and form a new group in July. That group, known originally as Restored America, later evolved into the Republic for the united States of America.

While Restore America still exists, using an evangelical Christian platform to mobilize voters nationwide, the new Republic now boasts a growing Internet presence and hosts weekly online prayer calls. With plans to continue “seating” government representatives, the idea, says Smith, is to “act and operate like a government” that can slide into power once the current, legal government falls.

“It’s not going to be an easy road—we’ve got a minimum of 10 years to gain serious ground,” he says. “But it’s going to happen, [because the U.S.] is a corporation operating without a budget; the dollar is declining rapidly and that will ultimately bring chaos.”

And when that chaos comes, Smith says—“Mark my words, it will happen”—the Republic can take over—peacefully.

Smith, along with other members of the Republic, take pains to repeatedly stress that they are a nonviolent group with no intentions of engaging in an uprising. Indeed, after authorities suggested that a January shooting in Tucson that killed six people and injured 13 others, including Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was politically motivated, many members of the Republic were shaken by the notion that some may see their efforts as extremist.

The key, says Smith, is to proceed lawfully.

“For now, we have to act and operate like a government; we need to have our courts and government in place,” Smith says.

Not so fast, say legal scholars and historians who say the Republic’s claims of an unlawful U.S. government are greatly exaggerated.

And it’s all been said before—without results.

McGeorge law professor Sims says that, in reality, groups such as the Republic take a grain of truth and use it to rewrite history to suit their political beliefs.

“There was no event in history that created a new Constitution—that’s preposterous,” he says. “To the extent that [these groups] say that the resolution of the Civil War [in 1865] and the adoption of post-Civil War amendments altered our constitutional system—yes, that’s true.”

But although new amendments that increased federal powers to prevent states from allowing slavery while denying equal protection and due process were put in place, that hardly forced the “original” Constitution into a dormant state, Sims says.

“This view is just a fantasy used to imagine a way to change the structure of the country to have it be something that they’re more comfortable with,” he says. “They don’t like the way the government operates, and they imagine that there’s a magic button to make it the way they want. There is no such button.”

Dr. Kyle Scott, a lecturer in political science at the University of Houston and author of Dismantling American Common Law, agrees.

“It’s one thing to say that we’ve abandoned the original meaning of the Constitution, but to say that we’re in a government that’s a facsimile of the original—I tend to think that [those who think that] are a bit misguided,” he says.

For Scott, a group such as the Republic isn’t unique.

“I’m not sure if we’re seeing more of these [fringe] anti-government groups, but we’re definitely becoming more aware of them, because it’s easier for them to organize,” he says. “Before TVs and telephones and the Internet, people just withdrew to their own community.”

And like the organizations before them, he adds, the Republic “doesn’t stand a chance in hell” when it comes to achieving its goals.

The strong emphasis on a return to pre-Civil War state of “sovereignty” creates a serious “image problem,” Scott says.

“Any group that says we need to return to a pre-1861 government runs the risk of being seen as racist,” he says.

The only thing that makes the Republic unique, he adds, is that, unlike other sovereignty groups, they’ve denied any desire to secede from the United States.

Which is not necessarily a benefit, he adds.

“They’d actually have a better chance at being a secessionist group than attempting this sort of ‘shadow’ government thing,” Scott says. “As a [shadow] government, they stand to be arrested for treason.”

If the members of the Republic truly wanted to enact change, he adds, they’d do better to align with a group such as the tea party.

“The best chance they for anything would come from forming a third party—which might be viable, because the tea party has become so recognized,” he says. “Become the third party and hope the Republicans become so disenfranchised that they jump ship.”

Sacramento Republic member Robin Gilmore experienced an “epiphany” in December 2009 and has since had the nagging feeling that something was wrong with the government. “When I finally came across the sovereign movement, it all made sense.”

Photo By wes davis

Love thy neighbor

It’s common lore among members of the Republic that, in its short history, the group has already managed to land on the government’s radar.

In March, members of Restore America sent a document declaring the group’s intent to govern in all 50 states, and in the months since, members say, government officials have contacted members of both Restore America and the Republic.

“People have been interviewed by the FBI and the CIA, and they’re wondering where we’re coming from,” says Thomas, the Sacramento “senator.”

When FBI agents attended a Turner-hosted Republic meeting last year, they even offered to help, she says.

“They’ve found out we’re peaceful and that we want to work hand in hand and we want to help out, and a lot of them are on our side now,” she says. “They handed [Turner] their business card and said, ‘If you have any trouble, please call us’—they were very friendly.”

It helps that the Republic actively distances itself from other groups that advocate violence, says Smith, the California ambassador.

“The thing that separates us is our declaring of peace,” Smith says. “We don’t walk the streets with guns or intimidate people—we are peaceful.”

The Republic is firmly grounded in a nonviolent Christian ideology, he adds, but being a Christian isn’t a requirement for membership.

“A lot of people don’t want to hear [about a] Republic … that brings up God or a relationship to God,” Smith says. “The Republic, as were our Founding Fathers, is a primarily Christian-based government, but that doesn’t mean anything but the freedom to worship God in any way [you] want—you have the freedom to do that without persecution.”

Another key distinction between the Republic and other groups, Smith adds, is that while the group espouses many similar ideals, its members don’t want to be seen as part of a bigger sovereign-citizen movement.

“The term sovereign has a negative undertone,” he says.

Unlike other sovereign-citizen groups, he says, the Republic denounces militia building, the printing of bogus currency and white-supremacist sentiments.

“We honor and obey God in what we do, [but] we also obey the law—even the de facto law.”

McGeorge School of Law constitutional law expert John Sims characterizes the Republic’s approach as “the legal equivalent of <i>The Da Vinci Code</i>.” “There was no event in history that created a new Constitution—that’s preposterous,” he said.

Photo By william leung

The simple life

Turner speaks to most of his constituents from a tiny YouTube window, calling on supporters to “rebuild America.”

“We have reinhabited the Republic of the united States of America—we have noticed the world and the world is watching,” he says in one such clip, recorded in November.

“The future of our children and grandchildren depend on what we do. … Not only are we fighting for America, we’re fighting for many countries around the world. We’re fighting for the survival of many civilizations that will be destroyed if we fail.”

Lofty words—but they don’t really get to the central point of just how, exactly, the Republic plans to accomplish its mission.

There is talk, of course, about building more websites (including one for the Sacramento chapter) and social networking, as well as fully “seating” its government.

When asked, however, about a concrete and specific action plan, the answers are, at best, vague.

The Republic’s solution to the foreclosure crisis (a topic that comes up repeatedly in group meetings and seminars), for example, is decidedly imprecise and confusing.

It’s the Wall Street “good ol’ boys network,” Bowler explains, that’s directly responsible for foreclosure crisis.

“We can direct you to websites, articles, documents,” Bowler says. “They knew exactly what they were doing and what was happening. … The housing boom and bust—all of that was contrived; it was planned.”

Perhaps—but the Republic doesn’t offer a tangible resolution.

“The average person can’t do anything, [but] they can know their rights,” Bowler says.

In truth, the most specific piece of advice the Republic seems to give its members is to stop the paper trail that, they say, places citizens into a state of government-controlled indentured servitude.

“Before all this, life was simple. We recorded birth, marriages and deaths in our Bibles,” Smith says. “There was no need for certificates and deeds and government documents.

And so, still, the questions linger: Are members of the Republic deluded, chasing down an imaginary, magical red pill?

Are they crazy?

“What’s wrong with a little crazy?” asks Gilmore, the Sacramento Republic member. “But prove to me that I’m wrong.”

Bowler takes a slightly different approach. For now, he says, members of the Republic are content to ignore the criticism and just quietly continue in their quest.

“This is a grassroots movement,” he says. “We’re not preaching; it’s a matter of finding like-minded people who are already in the process of waking up to what the difference is between the U.S. government that’s a corporation and the real government—what this country was founded on—which has been abandoned or shelved somewhere.”

“We’re trying to reinstate that and give the power back to the people.”