Ernie Wayne terTelgte is a poor man from a tiny village in Montana who believes that nature gives him a license to live. Barack Obama is a wealthy and privileged man residing at the seat of power who believes his position gives him a license to kill. Naturally, the Tolerance Commissars are pretending that the former is a menace to society, because of the contempt he displays for the system that facilitates the crimes committed by the latter.
Last August, terTelgte was fishing at Three Forks Pond with his eleven-year-old son when they were accosted by Adam Pankratz, who is employed as a warden by the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Service.
When Pankratz saw terTelgte reeling in a fish, the warden asked if he had a fishing license. TerTelgte replied that he didn’t need one. Pretending to concede the point, the warden persisted in demanding that terTelgte provide identification. When both teTelgte and his son quite sensibly refused the demand, Pankratz called for assistance, and Three Forks Police Officer Colter Metcalf quickly arrived.
Officer Metcalf made a brief and unsuccessful attempt to learn terTelgte’s identity.
Pankratz later said that he and Metcalf were concerned by the fact that terTelgte’s “body language” was “tense,” that his language was “curt,” and that he kept telling them to “walk away” and “just leave me alone.” This is a description of someone whose behavior was defensive. But Pankratz and Metcalf, as representatives of the coercive caste, insisted on escalating the encounter by arresting him for “obstruction.”
“We didn’t want it to go this far, especially with the son … but we couldn’t identify him,” Pankratz complained, assuming that a tax-funded aggressor is entitled to sympathy because of his occupation.
Since terTelgte had no legal duty to present identification (Montana code authorizes “stop and frisk”-style harassment of citizens, but doesn’t specify that citizens have a duty to identify themselves), the arrest was unlawful. As is the case elsewhere, Montana state statutes authorize police to abduct citizens without legal justification if this is done “under the peace officer’s official authority.”
Plucking a fish from a “publicly owned” pond without a license is considered an offense, despite the fact that entailed no violation of property rights. (If it did, who is the victim, and what injury did he sustain?) Violently abducting a human being who has done no harm to anyone, on the other hand, is regarded as a “lawful” act, assuming that the kidnapper is accoutered in the officially prescribed costume.
To his credit, the victim was non-cooperative but non-violent. This wasn’t true of the assailants, of course. After Metcalf threatened to attack terTelgte with pepper spray, Pankratz kicked his legs out from beneath him.
Rather than mounting a violent defense against his captors, terTelgte simply sat motionless on the ground, forcing them to pick him up and carry
him to the police car.
During his arraignment before Three Forks Municipal Judge Wanda Drusch, terTelgte refused to defer to her authority or play his expected role as a penitent and submissive suspect.
“I was searching for something to put in my stomach as I am … allowed to do by universal law,” he declared. “I am the living man and I have the right to forage for food when I am hungry.”
The “trial” last November — if the proceedings merit that description — was attended by 32 police officers from ten agencies, brought together by shared concern that the defendant’s defiance might prove contagious. TerTelgte was denied the right—supposedly protected by the Constitution – to cross-examine witnesses or to introduce evidence on his own behalf.
To the surprise of nobody, terTelgte was quickly found guilty of the supposed offense of obstructing the unwarranted harassment of armed state
functionaries, and refusing to cooperate in his own abduction. Although his jail sentence was suspended, terTelgte later spent 30 days behind bars for “contempt” after he declined to take off his hat in the courtroom during a subsequent appearance on another charge of “resisting arrest.”
TerTelgte is clearly eccentric; he might even be considered obnoxious by some. It is reasonable to conclude that his actions have been unwise, a violation of the principle that each of us has trouble enough and shouldn’t be seeking to borrow more. But he is patently harmless. There is no evidence that he has ever injured or defrauded anybody, which certainly can’t be said of the government functionaries who assaulted and caged him, or the criminal entity that employs them.
It is the zeal to prolong the pretense of the Regime’s legitimacy that led the Southern Poverty Law Center to identify terTelgte as a public enemy, an exponent of what that self-appointed Stasi calls “sovereign citizen ideology.”
Stated in its broadest terms, the “sovereign citizen” concept holds that some people can exempt themselves from the law through the use of esoteric legal concepts expressed in impenetrable language. From that perspective, people who utter or publish the appropriate conjurations can seize the property of others, issue fraudulent financial instruments, and employ lethal violence against those who seek to hold them accountable.
Assuming that this is an accurate description, at least some “sovereign citizens” are attempting to mimic the criminal behavior of those who presume to rule the rest of us. The SPLC and allied “watchdog” groups offer no objections to the routine practice of fraud and exercise of lethal aggressive violence by the most dangerous element of our society. They simply want to preserve that element’s monopoly on the privilege of committing criminal aggression.
This is why the SPLC professes alarm that outrage over the terTelgte case has prompted some Montana residents to create a citizens’ grand jury to investigate allegations of abuse and official misconduct. SPLC flack David Neiwert breathlessly – and perhaps hopefully – writes that this could lead to a rural “showdown” akin to the April 12 confrontation in Bunkerville, Nevada.
William Wolf, who has organized efforts to create the citizens grand jury, has suggested that his group might arrest Rick West, the Justice of the Peace who sent terTelgte to jail for thirty days on a contempt charge. Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin described this as “unacceptable,” accusing Wolf and his allies of “crossing a line they can’t cross.”
“When there are threats like this, not only does it affect that person, it affects their family,” mewled Gootkin in a television interview. “For someone in the family to live in fear, that’s not the way things work. When you start talking about arresting people and kidnapping people … that’s unacceptable and nothing good comes from that.”
It’s appropriate that Gootkin uses the terms “arrest” and “kidnap” interchangeably, given that the latter is properly applied to what was done to terTelgte. The public record is barren of any recognition by Sheriff Gootkin that terTelgte’s abduction traumatized his eleven-year-old son and made him “live in fear.” Apparently the impact of violence on Mundanes and their children doesn’t concern the Sheriff.
Gootkin also berated members of the proposed citizens’ grand jury for “bypassing” the criminal justice system. The real scandal here is the effective destruction of the grand jury, which was intended to be a citizens’ assembly rather than a government entity.
From the Founding era until the early 20th Century, grand juries were bodies that could carry out independent investigations of official corruption and deliver “presentments” to prosecutors in search of redress. Constitutional scholar Roger Roots observes that the grand jury, “in its primal, plenary sense … was a group of men who stood as a check on government, often in direct opposition to the desires of those in power.”
Writing in the Fordham Law Review, Kevin K. Washburn points out that the grand jury “came to us as an institution that was respected for its profound ability to protect local communities – indeed, possibly rebellious ones – from central government authority. It was, in essence, a local check on Crown authority.” In that capacity, grand juries not only conducted rigorous review of facts, but also “nullification of validly enacted laws,” Washburn continues.
During the reign of FDR, an executive branch Advisory Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure – an unaccountable body with no legislative mandate – imposed regulations intended to destroy the independence of grand juries. As a result, “the grand jury is the total captive of the prosecutor, who, if he is candid, will concede that he can indict anybody, at any time, for almost anything, before any grand jury,” wrote federal District Judge William J. Campbell, who urged the formal abolition of the institution in the interests of efficiency.
Judge Campbell offered those observations in 1973. Since that time, the US criminal “justice” system has reached almost Soviet levels of prosecutorial efficiency. Under the reign of Josef Stalin, Soviet procurators were ordered to achieve a 100 conviction rate. In the current federal system, notes Lew Rockwell, the defendant “wins once every 212 times.”
Once the grand jury was re-purposed as an arm of the state, prosecutors were free to commit routine due process violations and destroy what remained of the institution of trial by jury. “Waiving the Criminal Justice System,” a study recently published by the University of Texas School of Law, describes how the adversarial process through which the state must prove the guilt of a defendant has been supplanted with a system of administrative law in which prosecutors extract plea bargains in exchange for relatively lenient sentences. This is why federal prosecutors win well more than ninety percent of their cases through plea bargains, rather than jury trials.
This is a lamentable state of affairs, and, to many observers, a familiar story. This study, however, breaks new ground by showing that prosecutors at both the state and federal levels require defendants to waive due process rights that are vital for post-conviction appeals – such as the right to effective assistance of counsel, and the right to obtain exculpatory evidence that can be used to overturn a conviction or at least obtain a new trial.
In the American tradition, the purpose of a trial was to establish the truth of an accusation against a defendant who is presumed to be innocent. The purpose of our post-constitutional criminal system is to ratify the defendant’s guilt, irrespective of the facts or the law. This is not the doing of eccentrics and “extremists” like Ernie terTelgte, but rather of the respectable people who employ the exercise and the threat of violence to force others to submit to their will – and who can rely on the unconditional support of the SPLC and others of their contemptible ilk.
Roughly a week ago, while the SPLC was pretending that terTelgte and his supporters are a threat to the republic, the US Supreme Court put an end to the illusion that something worthy of being called a republic still exists, or that citizens have any reasonable expectation that, if accused of an offense, they have a right to a trial of some kind.
The High Court refused to hear an appeal filed by Chris Hedges and several other activists challenging a provision of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act under which the president can order the indefinite military detention – without trial or legal recourse — of any U.S. citizen he regards as an enemy of the state.
That provision was struck down as unconstitutional by US District Judge Katherine Forrest, who ruled that it could lead to the seizure and imprisonment of people who exercised rights supposedly protected by the First Amendment. As is their habit, the executive branch’s legal minions greeted that ruling with an indifferent shrug and filed an appeal before a more complaisant federal judge, who ruled that no citizen has legal standing to challenge the NDAA. That ruling was left undisturbed by the Supreme Court.
As a result, summarizes progressive commentator Thom Hartman, the military “now has the power to label us terrorists, capture us, lock us up in jail, and hold us there without any regard for our Constitutional rights to due process or a fair trial.” That power very nicely compliments Obama’s routine practice of executing people without the benefit of trial – including at least one teenaged U.S. citizen.
Ernie terTeglte’s view of sovereignty is that he has a right to feed himself and be left alone. Barack Obama’s view of sovereignty is that of Vladimir Lenin – the supposed right of the Dear Leader to exercise “power without limit, resting directly on force, restrained by no laws, absolutely unrestricted by rules.” Not surprisingly, the SPLC and its allies consider the first view unacceptable, and regard the second as mandatory.