Right-wing extremists who question the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency tried to take on local law enforcement recently — and they seem to have come out on the losing end.
First, a Tennessee man was arrested after walking into his local county courthouse to try to effect a citizen’s arrest of a grand jury foreman who had refused to investigate President Obama’s legitimacy to serve — an encounter partially caught on video. That enraged one Georgia-based member of the far-right OathKeepers group. Responding to a call from an extremist leader, he drove to Tennessee with an AK-47 in a bid to get his comrade released — only to wind up getting arrested himself.
The bizarre sequence of events began on April 1, when Walter Fitzpatrick walked into the Monroe county courthouse in Madisonville, Tenn., and approached Grand Jury foreman Gary Pettway. “I’m charging you with official misconduct,” Fitzpatrick calmly told Pettway. “I’m placing you under arrest. You must now come with me.”
Why was Pettway targeted? Fitzpatrick, a retired Navy commander, is a leading member of the American Grand Jury (AGJ), a group of self-declared constitutional experts that seeks to convene a grand jury of citizens to indict President Obama for treason, on the grounds that he’s not a natural-born U.S. citizen. Fitzpatrick had previously tried unsuccessfully to get Pettway, an African-American, to convene a grand jury to investigate charges of voter fraud in connection with President Obama’s election, according to an online account written by Carl Swensson, another AGJ leader. In response, AGJ accused Pettway of violating state laws governing the length of time that a grand jury foreman can serve — giving Fitzpatrick the basis for his attempted citizen’s arrest.
Predictably, Pettway did not agree to be arrested by Fitzpatrick, and it was Fitzpatrick himself who was arrested and jailed for several days.
The episode triggered outrage among Fitzpatrick’s allies. Swensson posted a video of the incident on his website, in which he told viewers that Fitzpatrick was now on a hunger strike, and that he had “put his life on the line for us in very much the same fashion that our founding fathers did.”
“He did this for us,” said Swensson of Fitzpatrick. “What do you intend to do for him, and for this country? If we don’t come to his assistance, if we don’t get to the courthouse, if we don’t call him, if we don’t walk and march on that courthouse and that sheriff’s department, we don’t deserve the freedoms we have.”
Swensson said he planned to go to the courthouse and ask for Fitzpatrick’s release and for the arrest of those involved, and he urged listeners to join him “in mass”. “Get down there, get him out of jail, and make sure that justice is served,” Swensson exhorted his followers.
A number of people responded to Swensson’s call. One was Darren Huff, a former U.S. Naval officer from Georgia who is a member of the Oath Keepers, the fast-growing group of former military and law enforcement personnel stoking fears that the federal government plans to confiscate guns and to round up American citizens and place them in concentration camps (their motto: “Not on our watch”). On the day last month that Fitzpatrick was set to face trial, Huff got in his truck — emblazoned with the Oath Keepers logo on the side — and drove to Monroe County with a Colt. 45 and an AK-47.
Huff was already being monitored by the FBI, a local TV station has reported, and after reaching Tennessee he was quickly stopped by state troopers. They told reporters that Huff made clear that he was armed and that he planned to go to the courthouse and arrest county officials — who he called “domestic enemies of the United States engaged in treason”— in order to turn them over to state police to put in jail. The troopers eventually let Huff proceed to the courthouse, and no violence seems to have ensued that day — though Huff and his allies did not succeed in having county officials arrested. Fitzpatrick’s case was bound over to a June grand jury.
The following day, Huff recounted his conversation with the troopers in a radio broadcast, saying that he had told them: “We’re intending on a peaceful resolution to the issues at hand,” and adding that he had gone on to lecture the cops on his second amendment rights. “Around an hour of that stop was me educating them on what their job is and is not,” he said. The exchange with the troopers was not entirely confrontational, he said. “We were kind of a little bit more on a friendly level, even some Christian conversation came in, which I was glad for.”
Huff said he told the troopers: “I can probably think of five different ways to Sunday that you guys have violated [your] oath,” by stopping him and trying to temporarily confiscate his weapons. “So the reality is I could place you under citizen’s arrest for doing this. But we’re trying to play nice here.”
Huff’s self-congratulatory broadcast was posted on the Crook and Liars website — along with Swensson’s call for volunteers to come to Fitzpatrick’s aid:
But the FBI soon listened to Huff’s broadcast, determined that he had the means and the intent to cause violence, and arrested him. He’s currently under house arrest.
On Tuesday, Swensson posted on his website a letter to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, recounting the episode and asking the justice “to help the citizen’s (sic) of the United States regain our Constitutional Republic by peaceful means.”