Who are the Guardians of the Free Republics?

A fringe group says its Restore America Plan requires governors to get on board -- or resign

Published April 2, 2010 7:03PM (EDT)

Any minute now, all 50 governors should begin implementing a plan to eliminate mortgages, waive auto registration requirements, abolish the IRS, and generally restore the proper constitutional order circa December 1860. Either that, or resign.

That's the gist of the demand letters sent to statehouses around the country this week -- which have gotten the FBI extremely interested -- by a group calling itself "Guardians of the Free Republics." Either governors agree to go along with the group's "Restore America Plan," or the group's "de jure grand juries" will remove them from office. Authorities say they don't anticipate any danger from the actual group's threats, but worry that the declarations against all the governors could provoke someone else to react violently.

The Restore America Plan, as laid out online, basically involves dismantling most of the federal government. The "territorial jurisdiction United States Federal Corporation, posing as the de jure United States of America," for instance, would be "terminated." So would marriage licenses, which the group says give too much power to courts that aren't established properly under the Constitution, and birth certificates. (Don't worry, though; according to one like-minded Web site, "Social Security payments will not be interrupted.")

The Guardians of the Free Republics philosophy, basically, is a jumble of paranoia about the government, about banks, about corporations. (Which probably means that Fox News will be calling them leftists soon.) Above all else, though, courts come in for special scorn.

With restoration of the de jure judicial institutions in Phase 2, we are also enacting the: Bill of Rights of Law to prevent once and for all the "legal" franchise perversions of law into at-law, territorial, admiralty/military aberrations.
There will be no such entity as a non-Article III court, even when administering the admiralty law venue for genuine issues of the high seas and international commerce.

That particular bit of rambling shows where the Guardians are coming from. For years, the truly paranoid have distinguished themselves from ordinary skeptics of government power by insisting that the flags on display in courtrooms somehow prove that something weird is going on there. And they base it all on admiralty law. The decorative gold fringe many flags sport, apparently, indicates that the courtroom is under martial law. Military flags, see, are required to have gold trim. At some point, someone decided that meant any flags with gold trim are, therefore, military flags. Which makes courts military courts (which is why federal judges are appointed by the president, instead of elected directly). By misreading some obscure portion of international admiralty law, the people behind this theory have deduced that any room with a military flag flying is subject only to military law. "When you enter a courtroom displaying a gold or yellow fringed flag, you have just entered into a foreign country, and you better have your passport with you, because you may not be coming back to the land of the free for a long time," one Web site dedicated to the notion declares.

Federal courts receive a constant, low-level barrage of filings insisting that they're entirely illegitimate because of the flag, and also because the people they're trying to prosecute or sue are "sovereign citzens," or "flesh and blood people," and therefore not subject to the courts' laws. That theory is rooted in the far-right Posse Comitatus movement; essentially, adherents think the government came up with some way during the Civil War and Reconstruction to deprive citizens of the rights they were supposed to have. Before the 14th Amendment was passed, no one was a citizen of the U.S., but rather of whatever state they lived in, according to the theory. Which is the way it's supposed to be. By returning to the way things were before then, you can reclaim your proper rights from the government that's usurped them.

Of course, it doesn't take a lot of digging to see a certain problematic racial angle to all of that, especially when those theories lead to demands that the governors act against the federal government while the first black president is in office. Indeed, groups that track extremists note that some adherents of the "sovereign citizenship" doctrine claim blacks are only 14th Amendment citizens, not sovereign ones. (Though, recently, despite the theory's origins in right-wing white groups, some black defendants have started using it in federal drug and murder cases.) Which is one reason why authorities took the demand letters seriously when they started arriving in the last few days.

But don't worry; the best part of the Restore America Plan is that most people will be able to enjoy the benefits of a restored America without having to do anything at all to bring it about. "With thousands of you consumed with vision and hope, most of those who have contacted us thus far WILL NOT NEED TO TAKE FURTHER ACTION AT THIS TIME," the Guardians Web site declares. "You can literally sit back and await the changes that are coming, and be ready if we should contact you." Chances are, you literally can't. It's the best conspiracy theory of them all -- one that takes care of itself.

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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