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Kansas City Man's Anger At Law Enforcement Fit Into Sovereign Citizen Beliefs

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Police Sunday searched a home linked to Baton Rouge shooter Gavin Long.

Gavin Eugene Long, the Kansas City man suspected of killing three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers Sunday, projected a number of different identities both virtually and in the real world. 

YouTube videos show him lecturing as a self-styled nutritionist. Self-published books on Amazon delve into an esoteric personal philosophy centered on the values of being an "alpha male." 

And according to documents filed with Jackson County, Long wanted to change his name last year to Cosmo Ausar Setepenra.

He claimed he belonged to what's referred to as a "society of indigenous people" called the United Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah Mu'ur Nation. The document goes on to say the group has no obligation to respect the laws of the United States of America. 

Leonard Zeskind is an expert on such groups, which often have links to other extremist and hate groups. He recently talked with KCUR about the so-called sovereign citizen movement. We have condensed that conversation and Zeskind's responses below: 

What are the origins of the so-called sovereign citizen movement? 

"The Fourteenth Amendment promised equality before the law, and made everyone a national citizen, as opposed to a citizen of their state. It was passed after the Civil War. The Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery; the Fourteenth made everyone a citizen. Sovereign citizens of all stripes, all colors, deny that the Fourteenth Amendment applies to them. So, these black folks [in sovereign citizen groups] are denying any basis of any kind of Civil Rights law."

Does [the sovereign citizen movement] reflect at all the mood of members of the wider black community who often think government is not serving them?

"No, it doesn't reflect the mood of the black community. Everybody understands that data show there is a differential in the way police approach black people and white people, and that black folk get targeted. That's different from asserting sovereign citizenship. That's the sad part: they've opted for sovereign citizenship as some sort of solution. The courts don't recognize sovereign citizenship. If they are desperate to achieve some measure of equality, they are choosing exactly the wrong approach." 

How widespread is the sovereign citizen movement among blacks? 

"No very. Not widespread, but in Kansas City there have been several interracial groups that have risen and fallen with this sovereign citizen notion. It's a sad situation. They're poor whites and poor blacks, who have been historically had access to legal representation. They opt for this sovereign citizen philosophy as a way out."

Is there an intersect between blacks who choose the sovereign citizen route and the black nationalist movement? 

"A very small one, which you see in the Washitaw Nation. They are nationalists of some sort, but it's a mythical formulation. But when the struggle for equality dies, then black nationalism usually rises up. And there are white people who are always eager to take shots at black folks, and sometimes bad things happen and whites get a chance to point fingers. Linking this individual to a wider black struggle is not a solution either." 

The aired version of this interview was conducted by Laura Ziegler, KCUR's community engagement reporter. 

Kyle Palmer is the editor of the Shawnee Mission Post, a digital news outlet serving Northeast Johnson County, Kansas. He previously served as KCUR's news director and morning newscaster.
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