Two weeks ago, an Idaho Falls courtroom saw a rather unique spectacle.
The case was the State of Idaho vs. Brent Larry Klingler. Klinger was pulled over for driving without a license, with an unregistered vehicle and without having the required insurance.
These are either infractions or misdemeanors and because Mr. Klingler was pulled over in the City of Idaho Falls, he was prosecuted by Jeff Thomason who is with the City Attorney’s office.
Klingler is a resident of Moore and he vigorously defended himself.
I found out about the case because someone in my office was called up for possible jury duty on the case (and was not selected). She reported that Klingler had declined to stand for the judge overseeing the case, Judge Stephen J. Clark. That caught my attention so I did a bit of digging, confirming that Klinger is a devotee of the so-called “sovereign citizen movement”.
These folks believe they are not subject to local, state or federal laws based on a variety of theories, the most common one claiming that people in the United States are either A) sovereign citizens who aren’t bound by the legal system or B) 14th Amendment citizens who are. Supporters believe this means that if you don’t subject yourself to laws by consenting you are free of the requirement to pay taxes, pay creditors or follow traffic laws. This convenient reasoning is, of course, complete nonsense that has never been upheld by a single American court.
I was intrigued enough by the case to step over to the Bonneville Clerk’s Office and pull the file. I also spoke with the prosecutor, Jeff Thomason. Klingler is in the county jail so I decided that I would let his court filings speak for him.
Two of his filed documents, in particular, caught my eye.
One was entitled “DECLATORY JUDGMENT, IMPEACHMENT, AND MANDAMUS”. Now, generally, a judgment is the document issued by a court in a civil case awarding money and other relief to a winning party. As far as I know, and I don’t do criminal law, it is not part of the criminal process.
This purports to be a ruling that the District Court (he actually was before the Magistrate Court) is an “inferior court not of record and has no jurisdiction over Counterplaintiff Brent Klingler and may not extra judicially proceed. The Court finds for CounterPlaintiff Brent Klingler.” That is a rather startling claim considering at the point it was filed Klingler had not been brought to trial. I flipped to the last page to see which judge had signed this rather self-important document. The signature specifies by “The Court” but the signature is that of Klingler himself. I’ve not seen an order ever signed by a party to an action. There is also some odd seal affixed bearing the word “SEAL”, a tree (tree of liberty?) and, I think, a snake (don’t tread on me??). It seems rather presumptuous for a defendant to be signing the orders of the court. But, Klingler did exactly that.
The second document is named “CONTEMPT BY AN INFERIOR COURT, BARATRY (sic) AND CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT TRESPASS VI ET ARMES BY OFFICERS OF THE INFERIOR COURT, ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE.”
I took several college-level Latin courses and I recognized that “vi et armes” means by “force and arms”. I’ve also learned, after a bit of research, that “barratry” includes when one attorney in a law firm prosecutes a case and then turns around and defends the same person (on appeal?). I can’t fathom how that relates to someone who is a public prosecutor.
The choicest paragraph of this document is the following:
“Trespasser’s English/Spanish translator, presumed to be named ____________’, (Hereinafter referred to as Translator) approached Counterplaintiff and demanded next time they say “all arise” you need to stand for the Judge. Counterplaintiff asked why or by what authority? Translator replied because we said. Counterplaintiff said If (sic) the Judge is my agent then I don’t understand. Why must a Principal stand or arise at the order of his Agent? Translator gave no response just walked away and sat down for a minute then went to a man with a gun (hereinafter referred to as Hitman) and conspired with him to exceed the limits of their jurisdiction to compel a People of Idaho to obey their unlawful orders and thereby trespass on the rights of a people of Idaho and injure him thereby. In fear for his Rights Counterplaintiff took a defensive stance. When they said all arise Counterplaintiff remained in his defensive stance and when they said please be seated Counterplaintiff declared “It is my wish to sit.” Translator did not view this and later inquired of her Hitman what happened and he told her that Counterplaintiff was already standing when they called out all arise, this proved the act of lying in wait to effect the object of the combination or conspiracy.”
I presume the court bailiff is the alleged “Hitman”. I feel sorry that the translator didn’t even merit a mention by name. The rest of the claims are . . . unique.
The jury wasn’t too impressed by Klingler’s arguments. I understand they took less than 10 minutes to find Klinger guilty on all three counts. He was sentenced on two counts to 180 days in jail (with 120 days suspended) plus various fines. As I mentioned above, he is currently cooling his heels in the county jail.
His designated prosecutor, Thomasen, told me “When faced with these type of challenges, I always make an attempt to gain an understanding of the defendant's primary concerns and try to see if we can reach a resolution to the case while also being sensitive to the defendant's constitutional ideologies. If a resolution cannot be reached, then the only option available to the parties is to have a trial; whether the defendant is agreeable to that solution or not.”
All of this may sound like the actions of someone who is just off on a rather extreme (and, frankly, rather silly) tangent.
But, the sovereign citizen movement has a more sinister side. The Federal Bureau of Investigation considers the movement a serious threat: “The FBI considers sovereign-citizen extremists as comprising a domestic terrorist movement, which, scattered across the United States, has existed for decades, with well-known members, such as Terry Nichols, who helped plan the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, bombing.” They note six law enforcement officers have been killed by supporters since 2000. You can read the FBI overview of the movement here.
This last May, the Idaho State Journal covered a presentation by Ben Byrne, a North Carolina anti-terrorism instructor, who was the keynote speaker at the Idaho Highway Safety Summit held in Pocatello.
Byrne cited a 2014 survey by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism that reported that U.S. law-enforcement agencies across the country call the sovereign citizen movement “the single greatest threat to their communities, coming in way above Islamic terrorists.”
Byrne encouraged law enforcement to be aware of the movement and be careful when interacting with supporters because of a history of violence.
Idaho’s most prominent sovereignty movement ally is former four-term State Rep. Phil Hart. He lives in Athol in North Idaho and famously built his home from logs owned by the school children of Idaho. He tried (unsuccessfully) to get in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on various sovereign citizen arguments to justify his failure to pay income taxes. You can view his web site on that issue here. After that effort failed, he tried to fend off the IRS through repeated and ultimately unsuccessful bankruptcy filings. Hart also flamed out with the Idaho Supreme Court where he tried to assert that “legislative privilege” meant he could file an appeal concerning a court order to pay state income taxes three months after the bar date for that action. He recently committed to buy back his home at an IRS auction but failed to pay his bid amount when due.
There are other sovereignty folks scattered around Idaho. At the conference covered by the Idaho State Journal above, 25 out of 200 Idaho law enforcement attendees reported interaction with sovereignty movement supporters. I hear of filings like Klingler’s from time to time in both our state and federal courts.
What is the risk of violence from this movement in Idaho? I honestly don’t know. A few years ago, a supporter in North Idaho was tasered by court officials after repeatedly declined to turn off a camera when entering a courtroom. But, I don’t believe we’ve had an incident of serious violence linked to the movement. For that, we should be grateful.
My hope is that most Idaho sovereign citizen advocates follow Klingler’s example. He thought his novel theories could be used as a shield, pushed them vigorously and now is bearing the consequence of his actions based on the determination of a jury of his peers.