A New York Tea Party activist says he's being unfairly lumped in with cop killers and domestic terrorists just because he advocates admittedly radical reforms to the legal system.
John Darash, a 61-year-old retired carpenter from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said he was "shocked" to learn the Anti-Defamation League in a news release last week branded him a "guru" of the sovereign citizen movement, a loosely organized and ill-defined group that has been linked to police killings and extreme hate speech. Darash told FoxNews.com he does not consider himself a sovereign citizen and that he's never advocated violence to further his goals.
“I’m very concerned with people talking like this, especially in today’s environment,” Darash told FoxNews.com. “To connect people with other people who kill cops, that’s very, very dangerous … Our principles are very simple. We’re not telling people to do evil things. We’re telling people to do Godly things.”
Darash recently launched a national push to recruit new members to join the National Liberty Alliance, an online group he runs out of his home that has sought to establish so-called people’s grand juries in various counties in Florida, Arizona, Colorado and elsewhere. Mark Pitcavage, the ADL’s director of investigative research, said Darash’s followers have yet to resort to violence, but could pose a threat in the near future.
“They’re just getting off the ground, so we haven’t seen a lot of problems yet,” he said. “But certainly there’s significant concern for law enforcement officials. The last thing we want to see is an attempt by a sovereign citizen to make an arrest or some other kind of confrontation like that. That’s why we’re concerned with what might happen down the road.”
Typically, sovereign citizens become fixated on establishing quasi-governmental entities or even parallel ones to existing agencies. Some have even tried to establish an alternate postal service, Pitcavage said. Nearly all of them possess an “undercurrent of confrontationalism” that guides their anti-establishment actions, he said. Some sovereign citizens believe that by filing enough bogus legal documents, including fake liens and false foreclosure notices, they can effectively game the system.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which released a study on the movement in 2010, estimated that up to 300,000 U.S. citizens consider themselves sovereign citizens, with about 100,000 being seriously involved in its techniques.
Darash said law enforcement officials have no reason to fear him or the grassroots organization he leads. The basis of his belief is a 1992 Supreme Court ruling, U.S. v. Williams, and an accompanying majority opinion by Associate Justice Antonin Scalia stating that grand juries are wholly independent from executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Darash believes people have the right to band together and indict those they deem to have broken the law.
“We are doing what the people should have been doing, self-governing, with the mission of bringing justice back into our courts,” Darash wrote in an email. “We have developed a network across America to facilitate the people in each county to take control of the administrative process of impaneling trial and grand juries for every Common Law court as is our unalienable right and duty secured under the Fifth Amendment to do.”
The idea may be off the wall, but Darash insists it doesn't make him dangerous. But ever since the ADL linked him to the sovereign citizen movement, he said he's worried about his safety. A founding member of the Dutchess County 9/12 Tea Party group, Darash has never been convicted of a crime and denounces the term “sovereign citizen.” He said his organization is not even structured, although its website boasts nearly 2,000 members and nearly 900 county organizers nationwide.
William Jacobson, a law professor at Cornell University, said he was not familiar with Darash or his group. But he said it's a favored tactic of groups like Southern Poverty Law Center to "blur lines in an attempt to portray lawful and mainstream political dissent as somehow 'hate speech' or outside the mainstream."
For Christine Fitzpatrick, a 50-year-old married mother of two living in Arizona, her affiliation with the National Liberty Alliance began in October following a series of frustrating foreclosure cases. The certified paralegal said she quickly became determined to “expose the fraud” perpetuated by U.S. courts.
“We have appeared to have been tricked, for lack of a better word, into believing we’re in a system of fair and equitable justice,” she told FoxNews.com. “However, that is not the case.”
Fitzpatrick, who unsuccessfully tried to institute Common Law grand juries in Pinal County Superior Court, believes judges and prosecutors should perform only administrative functions within the courts. Like Darash, she insists the specter of violence does not exist. And while she also doesn't consider herself a sovereign citizen, she blames groups that purport to monitor hate groups for, in her opinion, distorting the meaning of the term.
“We have nothing to hide; everything is lawful,” she told FoxNews.com. “I can only say this: When the word sovereignty was used 200-plus years ago, it was a powerful word in that it expressed freedoms and liberty from the tyranny. But now if you use the word sovereign, for crying out loud, it’s a dirty word. All I know is I follow the truth and I know who I am.”