While the FBI and lawmakers in Oregon decide how to deal with an armed stand-off with a group of extremist ranchers, the ranchers are deciding how to deal with them by appointing a conspiracy theorist judge to implement their own legal system.
Self-styled militants in Oregon who are protesting against extended prison sentences for fellow ranchers have claimed they are ‘sovereign citizens’ and will apply their own ‘legal system’ to boot local lawmakers into jail.
The two week-long stand-off has seen the ranchers use local bulldozers to tear down fences between public and private land, occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and intimate local people.
Their protest is ultimately against the Bureau of Land Management and the way that land is governed, as well as protesting the case of Steven and Dwight Hammond, who were sent back to jail this year to serve more time for setting fire to public land.
The self-proclaimed ‘superior court judge’ Bruce Doucette arrived in Oregon last week to meet with Ammon Bundy's group and help them prepare for a citizen trial against local officials who have supposedly violated ranchers’ rights.
The 54-year-old owner of a computer design and repair shop in Denver told local newspaper The Oregonian that he had been requested to visit and hear the evidence against the local sheriff and lawmakers. He said a privately appointed jury of 25 people would decide whether to charge anyone with a crime.
Mr Doucette is a conspiracy theorist, who believes the ranch belonging to Steven and Dwight Hammond is sitting on natural gas and uranium “that China wants”. According to his Facebook page, he also believes the 9/11 attacks and the Boston bombing are government hoaxes.
“There is no historical precedent allowing a self-styled judge or a citizen’s grand jury [to] have any import on the outcome of the Malheur occupiers' demands to open public lands, other to than to excite those embracing a fringe view,” wrote Bill Morlin of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The same document reveals that the alternative legal system used by the ranchers has roots in the Posse Comitatus movement. It was spun out from the Citizen’s Law Enforcement Research Committee in 1969, started by Henry L. Beach, who had ties with the anti-Semitic “Silver Shirt” movement.
Other ‘sovereign citizens’ share the view of Mr Doucette and the ranchers. An Alaskan woman named Anna Maria Riezinger, another ‘judge’, wrote that the Bundys and Hammonds are exempt from paying tax and should have a patent on their land. In November she ruled that the FBI should arrest members of Congress, the president and the US treasury secretary.
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