By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
One of the most popular twists on sovereignty theory in recent years has been the certified-check scam. Montana's Freemen, for example, placed millions of dollars' worth of frivolous liens--legal papers that lay claim to someone else's property--on then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and other public officials. They then printed certified checks, some from real banks and some from made-up institutions, supposedly backed by those liens. Thousands of people bought the fake checks and tried to use them to pay bills, most often tax bills. Some enterprising adherents wrote checks to the IRS for far more than their taxes and demanded refunds for the overpayments, typically tens of thousands of dollars.
In addition to being fraudulent, such schemes are often designed to intimidate the low-level government employees who work in courthouses and county recorder's offices. Often, sovereigns also place bogus liens on county clerks, promising to remove them once the tax liens on the filer's property are lifted. One clerk in California was beaten nearly to death in 1994 by someone who placed a lien on her. Jack Mason, supervisor for internal security at the IRS office in Minneapolis, says that until recently, agency employees frequently found bogus liens on their homes. But now, he adds, most county clerks recognize fraudulent liens and refuse to file them.
The liens are an extension of an extremist theory that goes even further than Granse appears to. It holds that the only legitimate court in the land is a county-level grand jury made up of God-fearing citizen volunteers who read and interpret the law themselves. Such "constitutional courts" frequently "indict" or even "convict" the unwitting public servants who then find liens on their property.
In the Twin Cities, the most prominent recent case involving such a scheme was that of a Fridley man and an Inver Grove Heights couple, who earlier this year were convicted of using counterfeit checks signed by Freemen leader Leroy Schweitzer. When the IRS searched the home of Marilyn and Ronald Kerkvliet, the "clerk" and "notary" of the "Fillmore County Common Law Court," it found thousands of silver coins and stacks of anti-tax movement literature. Two weeks ago, the Kerkvliets were again indicted, this time along with three other people, on charges that they illegally hid assets in offshore trusts. Of the Kerkvliets, Granse will say only that their actions were "wrong," and that he "told them it wouldn't work."
The Nichols brothers, too, put sovereignty theories to use in solving money troubles. In March 1992, faced with a credit-card debt of $32,000, Terry Nichols invoked Posse Comitatus lingo to "revoke" his signature, and on being hauled into court argued with the judge about his authority. By April he announced he was "no longer a citizen of the corrupt political corporate state" of Michigan and the U.S. When the judge ordered him to repay his debts, Nichols wrote something called a "certified fractional reserve check" for $17,861.68.
This phony check was similar to others issued by a group called the Family Farm Preservation, a Posse-related group in Wisconsin that once featured Terry Nichols as a speaker. Last April, its 65-year-old leader, Thomas F. Stockheimer, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being convicted with three others of passing as much as $80 million in bogus money orders during the early 1990s. He was already serving a 16-year sentence for assaulting two cops.
According to testimony at the trial, Family Farm Preservation advertised its money-order scheme through patriot meetings. The blank money orders were sold in designations of from $100 to $500 and supposedly could be redeemed through the group. One man testified he bought $100 worth of the money orders and used one of them to pay off a $1.4 million mortgage that was about to be foreclosed. Another phony money order was used to purchase army assault rifles.
In Stockheimer's defense, his attorney, E.J. Hunt, said his client never defrauded anyone and that the packets of money orders were meant to educate the public about the true nature of the American monetary system. At his sentencing, Stockheimer muttered he was being "kidnapped."
On March 16, 1994, Terry Nichols--by then living in Marion, Kansas--filed an affidavit with the state treasurer's office in which he declared himself to be a "natural-born free adult citizen" and said studies had convinced him that he was not subject to the "internal" government organizations of the United States. And he argued that "under the color of law," he was the victim of a "constructive fraud" by a certain "Criminal Element" that he hoped would be brought to book by a constitutional court.
In challenging this "octopus," he declared himself free of its laws, singling out for special attention IRS agents who he insisted "have no written, lawful 'delegation of authority' knowledge... Their so-called Form 1040 appears to be a bootleg document, lacking both a required [Office of Management and Budget] number and an expiration date."
Like the Nichols brothers, many of the most faithful adherents of anti-tax theories live in economically depressed communities such as Midwestern burgs hit hard by the farm crisis, or Rust Belt towns that have hemorrhaged industrial jobs. They connect with theorists like Granse through the underground lecture circuit and, more recently, the Internet, trading court tactics and information on government outrage. Some discuss active violence; others are more interested in getting government, credit-card companies, and banks off their backs. The IRS's Mason says the schemes continue to gain popularity. "They're just so attractive," he notes. "It doesn't make any difference that it's not viable if someone can avoid giving money to the federal, state, or local governments. I just see people's willingness to believe."