In March, eight individuals were arrested along Colorado’s Front Range for threatening and harassing elected officials using a tactic that the FBI calls “paper terrorism.” This tactic included sending Colorado officials — such as judges, county administrators and district attorneys — unofficial versions of subpoenas, arrest warrants and liens.
Those who were charged were all part of a group that calls itself The People’s Grand Jury of Colorado, which assigned itself the mission of ousting government personnel that the group believed to be in office illegally.
The fringe philosophy that underscored these actions is the “sovereign” ideology: a catch-all for individuals who believe that they are only subject to common law, and therefore not to all of the statutory laws of the United States at its different levels – federal, state and local.
As Westword explained in our May 23 cover story: “Sometimes calling themselves ‘constitutionalists’ or ‘freemen,’ individuals who subscribe to a sovereign ideology often don’t believe they are required to follow any regulations drafted and passed by politicians — things like tax codes or driver’s license rules — because the U.S. government has been corrupted and sovereigns are not under contract to adhere to all of its laws.”
That story focused on how the ideology has flared up during disputes between government officials and “off-the-grid” residents who live on rural parcels of land in southern Colorado’s Costilla County.
But sovereign ideology also served as a foundation in the dramatic Bundy standoff in Nevada in 2014, in which cattleman Cliven Bundy refused to let federal agents onto his ranch, and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation in Oregon in 2016, during which armed militiamen, including Cliven Bundy's son, Ammon, seized a headquarters for forty days in protest over control of federal public lands. On December 20, a mistrial was declared in the Nevada Bundy case.
One of the self-proclaimed judges who advised the Bundys, Bruce Doucette, is among the eight individuals who were arrested in March in Colorado. In June, a superseding indictment charged nine people, including Doucette, for actions associated with the People’s Grand Jury of Colorado.
While Doucette is scheduled to stand trial on February 26, a number of other defendants have already accepted plea deals or been found guilty.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has been keeping tabs on the cases, and notes that two defendants, Harlan Smith and Janis Blease, accepted plea deals on the condition that they testify against others named in the indictment.
More recently, Steven Byfield and Stephen Nalty received hefty prison sentences for their involvement with the People’s Grand Jury. The men were tried together during a ten-day jury case in Denver in late September.
Janet Matzen, who is with Occupy Denver and an affiliated group called Denver Court Support, was on hand during some of that trial, and also attended the sentencing hearing for Nalty, which took place on December 6.
"They didn't even pick jurors because they don't believe in the system," Matzen says of Byfield and Nalty’s unusual trial. And not only did they refuse lawyers, but “they wouldn't object or really say much, either," she adds.
Without any defense to consider, the jury found Byfield guilty of 25 of 26 felony counts, for which he was sentenced to 22 years in prison on November 15.
Nalty, who according to the superseding indictment called himself a “grand jury administrator,” was found guilty of all 36 felony counts with which he was charged. Matzen attended Nalty’s sentencing hearing on December 6, and says it was hard to watch. "He said nothing. He just stood there and took it," she recalls.
Nalty was sentenced to 36 years in prison — one year for each count.
Eric Verlo, a Denver activist who publishes the online Not My Tribe, chronicled some of Nalty and Byfield’s jury trial and hearings on his website.
“In every hearing Nalty and Byfield have declined advisements and refused to recognize the authority of their adjudicators. The two sound like broken records about 'oaths' and sovereign stuff, yet the judicial mechanism inches forward,” he wrote.
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Given how things went for Nalty and Byfield, the prospects do not look good for “judge” Bruce Doucette, who is in jail on a bond of $350,000.
In July, Doucette and Nalty had issued a counterclaim to the indictment, in which they presented themselves as representatives of the real United States of America and demanded $350 billion in damages from the federal government. That counterclaim was thrown out by a judge.
“Please remember, this is a spiritual battle, and we need to win this one. We need to free everybody from this corrupt admiralty law and this corrupt government,” Doucette declared on an April conference call to which Westword was given access.
Doucette's court battle begins on February 26.