The death of 23-year-old Korryn Gaines, after police raided her house to carry out an arrest issued because she failed to appear in court on multiple traffic charges, has shocked the nation. The police allege that Gaines was brandishing a shotgun and threatening them before they opened fire on her– killing her and injuring her 5 year-old-son who was in the home during the hours-long standoff.
Now details are emerging that are shedding light on the case. Though police shut down Gaines’s social media during the altercation, her accounts were since reinstated and reveal that the young mother was, indeed, armed.
Further, the rhetoric used and actions taken (arming oneself) by Korryn Gaines resemble various cases with members of the The Sovereign Citizen Movement, who claim to be sovereign citizens not bound to the constitution or American Government (which they believe is illegitimate)– both a misguided and even terroristic assertion. Per the FBI’s website: “The FBI considers sovereign-citizen extremists as comprising a domestic terrorist movement, which, scattered across the United States, has existed for decades, with well-known members, such as Terry Nichols, who helped plan the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, bombing.”
Gaines posted this video to Instagram on July 19, 2016:
Gotta thank my dad for teaching me how to protect myself (cells) …nd i gotta thank myself (cells) for teaching me who i need protection from. Hope they sending in clones?im waiting tho. They threw me a charge too late, got my “Big Girl” September of last year. Legit w/papers. Thought i was gon have to take out a nigga nd realized i had a bigger problem. Fuck it Let’s dance, i got some rhythm.?
According to the police report, officers stopped Gaines because she was driving with no license plate.
“Officers stopped Gaines’ silver Toyota Camry because it had no license plate — only a rectangular piece of cardboard with the following writing on it: ‘Any government official who compromises this pursuit to happiness and right to travel, will be held criminally responsible and fined, as this is a natural right to freedom,’” police said. “Gaines resisted arrest, throwing the citations issued by the officer out the window and saying officers would have to “murder” her before she got out of the vehicle. She engaged officers in a physical fight as they tried to remove her from the vehicle.”
The details of that interaction were captured by this 20 minute video Gaines recorded herself, where much of the rhetoric the young woman used is seemingly identical to Sovereign Citizen Movement rhetoric. In it, the police try to procure Gaines’s license and registration. After realizing that the car is not insured and does not have plates, they explain the car will have to be towed.
“You have a Delegation of Authority order?” Gaines asked, after the officers asked for her identification.
“Let me inform you of who I am.. I do not participate in any of you guys’s (unclear) laws and things like that,” she continued.
“When you put your hands on me, I promise you, you will have to murder me!” she later exclaims, “so go ahead and get ready to do that.”
She then instructs her son to record the altercation that she anticipates will go down between herself and her son.
An FBI Sovereign Citizen Quick Reference Guide for Courts details the typical arguments presented by the Movement’s participants. When confronted by the court system (or law enforcement), Sovereign Citizen followers typically: 1. “Claim that the court does not have jurisdiction over them Request to read statements that attempt to justify their sovereignty” and 2. “Ask the Judge, court officials, attorneys, and/or witnesses for identification or verification of their authority (will commonly ask for “Oath of Office” or “Delegation of Authority”).”
Clearly, Korryn Gaines was acting under the influence of the Sovereign Citizen Movement. And altercations between its members and authorities these do not typically end well (unless you are Cliven Bundy and a group of armed white men, anyways), often escalating to violence and ending in the death or imprisonment of the movement’s followers.
Per Wikipedia’s page on the Sovereign Citizen’s Movement, here are some of the most recent cases involving its members and run-ins with police or authorities:
“In May 2010, two police officers in West Memphis, Arkansas were shot and killed by Joseph T. Kane after Kane and his father were the subject of a traffic stop. Kane and his father were later identified as members of the sovereign citizen movement.”
On June 6, 2014, Dennis Marx, who was later identified as being a member of the sovereign citizens movement, opened fire on a Forsyth County, Georgia courthouse, injuring one deputy before being shot and killed himself. Marx had become involved in a dispute with sheriff’s deputies in 2011. He had been arrested on marijuana and weapons possession charges. As a result, Marx sued the sheriff’s department for alleged civil rights violations and use of excessive force. The Southern Poverty Law Center asserts that in the suit, Marx filed documents using the pseudo-legal language common to “sovereign citizen” court actions. On the day of the incident, Marx had been scheduled to enter a plea at the courthouse in connection with the year 2011 arrest that had resulted in his lawsuit.
On August 22, 2013, David Allen Brutsche and Devon Campbell Newman were arrested for plotting to abduct, torture and kill Las Vegas police officers in order to attract attention to the sovereign citizens movement. They reportedly attended sovereign citizen philosophy training sessions, bought guns, and found a vacant house for their activities. The two allegedly planned to torture and kill police officers and are alleged to have created videos explaining their actions and why officers had to die. On December 12, 2013, Devon Newman pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, conspiracy to commit false imprisonment, and was sentenced to one year of probation. The trial for Brutsche was scheduled to begin March 10, 2014 but, on February 3, 2014, Brutsche pleaded guilty to conspiracy to kidnap a police officer.On April 7, 2014, he was sentenced to five years probation.
In March 2014, after Cliven Bundy lost a second U.S. District Court case in a 20-year court battle, he sent letters entitled “Range War Emergency Notice and Demand for Protection” to county, state, and federal officials. In his court filings, depositions, and subsequent statements, he said he does not recognize the US Government because he is a citizen of the State of Nevada. In media interviews, Bundy used the language of the sovereign citizen movement as a rallying call, beckoning support from members of the Oath Keepers, the White Mountain Militia, the Praetorian Guard, and other like-minded individuals to join his Bundy militia in a fight against the US Government. Armed militants from Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, California, and other areas responded with a show of force by joining the Bundy militia at a heavily armed militia camp near Bunkerville, Nevada in early April 2014. Approximately 1000 militia members and supporters joined the fight. On April 12, 2014, and consistent with the sovereign citizen credo and without success, Bundy ordered Sheriff Gillespie to confront the federal agents, disarm them and deliver their arms to them within an hour of his declaration.”
With the current explosion of dialogues surrounding police brutality and the mistreatment and even murder of Black men, women and children at the hands of police, it should come as no surprise that anyone would become easily susceptible to a movement that seeks to reclaim individual rights, even if it is terribly misguided or even extremely troublesome. The complexity of this case involving Korryn Gaines must be explored in depth, if we are to provoke honest and critical discussions about it. Korryn Gaines was a Black woman seeking to assert her right to survival and freedom in a state that unfairly and unjustly criminalizes and punishes Black people by death. However, she may have also been a woman misguided by extremism and we need to talk about Black susceptibility to conspiracy and propaganda. There must be a place in the dialogue for both of those narratives. And one should not negate or overshadow the other.