LAS VEGAS — A foiled plot by two self-proclaimed adherents of a sovereign citizen movement to kidnap and execute Las Vegas police officers shows the potential for violence from a growing group that renounces government and is considered a domestic terror group at its extremes, experts and investigators said Friday.
Allegations that David Allen Brutsche, 42, and Devon Campbell Newman, 67, planned to confront police officers during traffic stops and kill them if they resisted illustrated the volatility of official interactions with people committed to the idea of fighting governmental authority, they said.
“You look at their motivation being that the government that gives the officer authority isn’t viable, and if they get a following, it’s a threat to be reckoned with,” said Kory Flowers, a Greensboro, N.C., police detective who studies sovereign citizen groups and teaches police about them.
“Even if it’s a crackpot idea, four or five guys can be a tactical assault team,” he said.
Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., counted seven killings of law enforcement officers by alleged sovereign citizen members in the past 10 years in South Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas and last year in Alamo, Calif.
Other officers have been served with “paper terrorism” arrest documents and bills for millions of dollars, Beirich said, or discovered liens filed against their personal property.
“It becomes, at the end of the day, ‘We hate the government, and the government has no right to tell us what to do,’” Beirich said.
The center estimates there are 300,000 adherents to the sovereign citizen anti-government philosophy around the country.
Former West Memphis, Ark., Police Chief Bob Paudert thinks there may be twice that number.
Paudert blames the 2010 death of his son, West Memphis Police Sgt. Brandon Paudert, on a sovereign citizens confrontation during a traffic stop in their hometown. Another officer also died in that shooting, before suspected sovereign citizen followers Jerry Kane and his 16-year-old son, Joe Kane, were killed a short time later in a separate police shootout in West Memphis.
“They’re willing to die for their beliefs,” said Paudert, who now travels the country talking about the group.
Brutsche is an ex-felon child sex offender who sometimes sold water to tourists on the Las Vegas Strip, while Newman has only speeding, parking and vehicle registration tickets in her background.
The two stood before a judge Friday and told him they didn’t recognize his authority to keep them in jail.
Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen had none of it.
“So noted,” he responded.
The judge made sure Brutsche and Newman read the criminal complaints against them, then sent them back to jail pending a Sept. 9 preliminary hearing on charges of felony conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and attempted kidnapping.
Over Brutsche’s rambling objections, the judge appointed the county public defender’s office to represent him and set bail at $600,000.
Hafen named a lawyer to represent Newman and scheduled her bail hearing for Monday. Newman’s lawyer didn’t immediately respond Friday to messages.
Police allege Brutsche and Newman held training sessions about sovereign citizen philosophy, shopped for guns, found a vacant house to serve as a “jail,” and drilled bolts into wall studs to hold cross-beams on which captives could be bound during interrogation.
A police report alleges Brutsche and Newman recorded and planned to post videos about their actions and sovereign citizen ideology following the first abduction.
Brutsche said he expected to draw a large following once they started because of the publicity, the report said.
Police began investigating Brutsche after he insisted to police and judges that he wasn’t subject to their authority and the laws and regulations of the United States, Las Vegas police Capt. Chris Jones said.
Jones characterized Newman as an acquaintance and roommate of Brutsche who shared his ideology.
Records show Brutsche served three stints in California prisons before leaving a facility in Tracy, Calif., in Sept. 2011. Since then, in Las Vegas, he has faced more than 20 criminal cases on misdemeanor offenses including doing business without a license, obstructing a public sidewalk, driving without a license, driving an unregistered vehicle and failing to appear in court.
Las Vegas police said Friday that Brutsche had 17 bench warrants when he was arrested Tuesday.
Judges noted his declarations that he was a sovereign citizen and continued to move his cases forward, according to court records.
“Each time we came in contact with him, he became increasingly adamant that police had no authority over him or his actions because he considered himself a sovereign,” said Jones, head of the Las Vegas police regional counterterrorism center.
Federal authorities regard sovereign citizen extremists as domestic terrorists.
Beirich, at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said not all people who consider themselves sovereign citizens are violent.
But she called traffic stops involving people driving with fake license plates or without registration or driver’s licenses a “typical flash point between cops and sovereigns.”