A well-known member of the far-right movement who is known for his outlandish legal theories has been given the boot as two prominent branches turn on each other.
Members of the far right sovereign citizen movement are best known for their clashes with law enforcement. In traffic stops and courtrooms across the country, sovereign citizens have tried—and failed—to implement their bizarre homemade legal theories when faced with the enforcement of legitimate laws.
But now two prominent branches of the movement have turned on one another, feuding over a lucrative scheme to sell fake license plates for a nonexistent “Republic of Texas.”
The feud pits the citizens of a fictitious entity called the “Republic of Texas” against David Straight, a so-called sovereign-citizen “guru” whose seminars on his legal theories have raked in big money across the country. Complicating the spat further, Straight’s wife was arrested Monday on a raft of charges.
In the past, Straight and the so-called “Texians” have been natural allies. They both subscribe to the eclectic ideas of the sovereign citizen movement which broadly encompasses groups of people who believe they exist in parallel legal universes and can, through elaborate legal filings and careful courtroom rhetoric, evade actual laws.
But the relationship between the Texas sovereign citizens and one of the movement’s most prominent members broke down this month, after the Texas group accused Straight of getting rich by selling fake license plates that sovereign citizens believe would help them avoid police. In total, the group claims Straight may have made nearly $200,000 off the bogus plates.
Straight and the Republic of Texas’ leadership didn’t respond to requests for comment.
For the Republic of Texas, beliefs in their own legal impunity have turned violent. In 1997, one branch of the group kidnapped two people and held them as hostages, demanding the release of a “Republic of Texas” member who had been arrested for pushing fake legal documents. After a weeklong standoff with law enforcement, one of the group’s members was killed after shooting at a police helicopter. The group landed on law enforcements’ radar again in 2015, after its members sent faux-legal documents to a judge, prompting an FBI raid on a meeting.
Straight, meanwhile, has become one of the leading figures of the sovereign citizen movement, often pushing his theories at multiple seminars a month where tickets can cost more than $150. At his well-attended events, Straight rambles for hours about his oddball legal ideas, drawing complex diagrams on a white board and claiming that the American Bar Association is responsible for most of the problems in the United States.
Straight has risen to become a “sovereign citizen guru,” according to the Anti-Defamation League, insisting that his followers can break free of the regular legal system and become free-roaming “American State Nationals” if they just buy the right forms from him.
Since at least March, Straight has been promoting another potentially lucrative plan, offering tiny, nine-foot plots in the “Republic of Texas” for $387. In the twisted logic of sovereign citizens, that would mean anyone in the country could buy a plot and renounce their American citizenship to become “Texians.”
But an add-on deal sold by Straight as part of the land deal went even further, selling a “Right to Travel” package for $512 that offered a fictitious “Republic of Texas” license plate. On his website, Straight claims any driver with the license plates couldn’t be legally pulled over for a traffic stop. Sweetening the deal, Straight claimed a holder of the plates could even sue any police officer who pulled them over for substantial damages, with Straight’s wife as their lawyer.
The license-plate deal angered the sovereign citizens in the Republic of Texas, who appear to be concerned about running. In a pop-up on their website, the group claimed they’ve been deluged with unhappy customers complaining about Straight.
On their website, the Republic of Texas claimed Straight sold the land-and-plate packages for $897 to more than 200 people, making roughly $179,400. But after running afoul of law enforcement in the past, the “Texians” say they want no part of this license-plate operation, warning that anyone with the plates does “so at their own risk.”
“The Republic of Texas will not be held responsible for the potential unlawful ramifications from the sale of these packages,” the website notes.
Amid the fight with the “Republic of Texas,” Straight’s wife, Bonnie Thomas, was arrested Monday outside of Fort Worth. She faces four charges, according to a county jail website: carrying a weapon in a prohibited place, illegal burning, resisting arrest, and assault a police officer or judge. No further details were immediately available, and it’s not clear whether her arrest is related to the fake license plates.
As of this writing, Straight hasn’t acknowledged that he’s been disowned by the fictitious “Republic of Texas” where he’s claiming to sell land. His website still offers the license plates, plus another unusual benefit: access to a future RV park open only to sovereign citizens.