FBI concerns grow over ‘citizen extremists’

13 Oct 2010

TAMPA – Their numbers are growing in Florida and law enforcement is cracking down against extremists. Over the summer, authorities arrested Josiah Fornof of Hudson. According to the criminal complaint, Fornof, 30, threatened to “bear arms against” two deputies with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office who were trying to serve a warrant.

Fornof posted a video of the incident on the internet called “Sheriff Trespass” which is part of the criminal case against him.

On the video, Fornof is heard saying, “You have produced no warrant, we are in fear of our lives at this moment.”

According to the affidavit, he told law enforcement they had no right to be at the home where he lives with his mother and he yelled, “Sir, if you come back, we may bear arms against you.”

Fornof is being held at the Pinellas County Jail at the request of federal marshals. He is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The FBI is not commenting since the criminal case against him is still open, but threats and actions spelled out in his arrest affidavit certainly fit the criteria the FBI uses to define a sovereign citizen extremist.

“We are seeing a growth in the movement” Special Agent Michael McPherson told investigative reporter Doug Smith. “We are concerned with the sovereign citizen extremist.”

McPherson is a supervisor for the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Task Force who is based in Tampa and responsible for 18 counties in Florida. He told Smith the agency uses a three-prong test to define a sovereign citizen extremist.

“The threat of force or violence, a violation of a federal law and a political, social agenda — that’s when we’d get involved.”

We went to Hudson to visit the property where Fornof was arrested. Careful not to trespass, we were met out front by Nathan Fornof, who defended his brother’s actions.

“We were expecting them to come in here and murder us Nathan told FOX 13. “We’ve been having them come up and threaten us on our grandfather’s property. Next thing we know we get a visit from the FBI dragging him off saying you don’t have the right to defend yourselves.”

Agent McPherson is concerned about threats against law enforcement.

“The anti-government rhetoric can quickly turn to action,” he said.

That’s what the FBI says happen in this case of 45-year-old Jerry Kane and his 16-year-old son when they were pulled over on May 20 during a traffic stop in West Memphis, Arkansa on their way back to Clearwater.

“He tried to present his paperwork to a police officer,” Agent McPherson told Doug Smith. “‘I’m a sovereign citizen you have no authority over me,’ eight pages of legal jargon and legal-speak, which isn’t legal.”

The FBI says Jerry Kane argued with police, then his son pulled out an AK-47 and opened fire. One officer was shot 11 times, the other hit with 14 bullets.

Authorities trapped and rammed their van in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and both father and son died in a shootout with police.

“There’s a small subset who are willing to kill over those theories and we’ve seen that again and again with these groups,” said Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The nonprofit civil rights group tracks the movement and sees a big increase.

Potok says there is no central leadership, but rather an anti-government ideology and sovereign citizens believe they don’t have to pay taxes, carry a driver’s license, or register a car. In fact, they decide what laws to obey and ignore.

“They do not believe the government has authority over them at all,” Potok added.

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