Friday, July 04, 2014

Maine’s Gov. LePage Offers Feeble Excuse for Meetings with Extremist Sovereign Citizens Group

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican elected in 2010 as a “Tea Party” candidate, admits that he held a number of meetings last year with leaders of an antigovernment sovereign citizen group, as revealed in a new book excerpt published this week.

But he now claims that the meetings were not an endorsement of the conspiracy theories and extremist politics that were discussed – rather, he was simply listening to his constituents.

The political storm over LePage’s dalliances with far-right radicals broke on Monday when Talking Points Memo published a key excerpt from As Maine Went: Governor Paul LePage and the Tea Party Takeover of Maine, a new book from political blogger Mike Tipping of Portland. The post described a series of eight meetings over nine months in 2013 that LePage initiated with members of the Constitutional Coalition, a sovereign citizens group based mostly in the state’s northern reaches.

Among the things reportedly discussed at these meetings was whether or not to seek violent retribution against key political opponents. A Coalition member named Jack McCarthy described the meeting on a radio program hosted by a small group of sovereign citizens calling themselves the Aroostook Watchmen:

We also discussed this there, that as far as I know, the penalty for high treason has not changed in 100 years. And, I did not say it, but the governor said it. I never – I never opened my mouth and said the word. The governor looked at us and looked at his buddy and said they are talking about hanging them.

LePage has vehemently denied that he ever discussed executing anyone, let alone his Democratic opponents, with the group, and a spokesperson characterized the meetings as a benign effort by the governor to listen to people across the political spectrum, saying that LePage has met with “hundreds of Mainers hearing thousands of ideas, concerns and suggestions,” adding that “hearing those ideas during constituent meetings does not translate to the governor endorsing the ideas of others.”

Yet as Tipping’s reportage reveals, LePage was more than a mere willing listener in these meetings. He initiated them after members of the Constitutional Coalition submitted a letter, in the wake of the December 2012 mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, complaining that the governor was violating the Constitution. LePage apparently took umbrage to these accusations and invited the group to a series of meetings.

The topics of these meetings evidently revolved around classic antigovernment “Patriot” movement conspiracy theories, including the belief that American dollars are phony “fiat” money and that the Federal Reserve is a hoax. One of the meetings was dominated by discussion, led by noted conspiracy theorist Michael Coffman, revolving around the notion that the United Nations is out to seize Americans’ private property rights and impose a New World Order environmentalist regime.

It’s unclear why the meetings ended, but as Tipping observes, these sessions constituted more of the governor’s time than he has yet accumulated in office speaking with members of the press.

Moreover, it’s unusual for any person holding public office to hold private meetings with members of radical groups of any stripe, since such sessions are seen as legitimizing these organizations and their politics. Had Gov. LePage held a similar private meeting with leaders of the state’s Ku Klux Klan, for instance – an organization that in reality is not significantly more radical than the Sovereign Citizens  movement – the inappropriateness of the governor’s sponsorship of these sessions would have been only slightly clearer.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Man with Alleged Aryan Brotherhood Ties Accused of Shooting Police Officer during Traffic Stop

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

A Washington state man with a long criminal history of legal entanglements – and who has claimed in the past to be affiliated with the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood prison gang – allegedly shot and critically wounded a local police officer Monday in Vancouver, Wash., during a routine traffic stop.

James Todd Sapp, 47, of Vancouver was arraigned this week on charges of attempted murder, robbery, and unlawful possession of a firearm after he reportedly opened fire on Vancouver police officer Dustin Goudschal, a six-year veteran who had pulled Sapp and a companion over in the black pickup Sapp was driving.

Sapp reportedly drove away after the shooting and wrecked the pickup a short distance away. His companion, another Vancouver resident named Timothy Plantenburg, told police he caused the wreck by grabbing the steering wheel, and that Sapp fired his gun at him as he fled the scene.

According to the police, Sapp then attempted to carjack a vehicle belonging to an elderly man, who resisted the robbery attempt and was aided by passersby. Sapp nonetheless was able to drive away in the man’s vehicle, and police caught up to him and arrested him a short time later.

Sapp has a long criminal record, including six prior felony convictions. He has claimed to be a member of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang.
One of his previous run-ins with the law included a 2012 case in Clark County where Sapp allegedly assaulted a 12-year-old boy. The boy told a relative, who confronted Sapp, who allegedly punched the man in the face, breaking his nose, and called him a “stupid (expletive) Mexican.”

When police investigated, they allegedly found an illegal weapons cache at Sapp’s home, amid a room in which Sapp kept a doll collection. Sapp pleaded guilty to assaulting the boy and was given a prison term, but the weapons charges were eventually dropped.

Prosecutors noted at the time that Sapp claimed to be a member of the Aryan Brotherhood. However, even though Sapp indeed has tattoos of swastikas and one reading “White Power,” he does not have an Aryan Brotherhood tattoo, usually one of the signs of actual membership.

Sapp reportedly also told Gresham police, after a 2005 arrest, that he belonged to the Aryan Brotherood.

Officer Goudschal was originally listed in critical condition after the shooting, but was upgraded to stable condition on Wednesday.