There’s a right-wing extremist movement in the United States called the “sovereign citizen” movement. I won’t go into their whole set of beliefs here but one consequence of their ideology is that they love creating counterfeit entities. They create bogus courts, bogus juries, bogus states, bogus governments, bogus colonies, bogus law enforcement agencies, bogus post offices—you name it, they can create their own counterfeit versions of it. About a dozen years ago, some sovereign citizens created a fake Indian tribe that they dubbed the “Little Shell Pembina Band of North America.”
You didn’t actually need to have native blood to joint his group; for $40, they’d “adopt” you. They were generous that way. They would sell fake tribal license plates, fake drivers’ licenses, and other similar documents. On the back of the Little Shell “identification card,” they listed all the wonderful rights and privileges that members had, including the right to explore the North American continent, immunity from military service, immunity from taxes, and so forth. But my favorite is this: “Every Indian is entitled to purchase a railway ticket at half price.” Now just think about this for a second. You are making up, out of whole cloth, any sort of immunity or privilege or right that your mind could possibly imagine. The sky’s the limit, right? But the person who created this card used up one of his precious magic privilege slots with half-price train tickets! You gotta think, that was one train-loving right-wing extremist, you betcha.
I couldn’t help thinking of this locomotophile sovereign citizen as I encountered a fascinating site while driving back home to Columbus from East Liverpool.
In which our intrepid hero encounters some bad noose…
This year I “celebrate” my 20th year of studying extremists in the United States, something that began as a completely unplanned and odd little outgrowth of my dissertation (which had nothing to do with extremism or, for that matter, the 20th century). By January 1995, I was spending a lot of time looking at domestic extremists and the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing essentially changed my life forever, causing me to focus on extremism and terrorism, first voluntarily and soon professionally. I’ve done that ever since. But my very first encounter with extremism occurred decades earlier, when I was a child.
In which our intrepid hero encounters the ghost of a Confederate general…
The Civil War has long fascinated me. Of course, on one level it should, as I have a Ph.D. in American military history. But it began long before that. I probably have my grandparents to thank for that, because at some point they purchased American Heritage’s Picture History of the Civil War (1960) for my uncle Dennis, when he was a child. This amazing book, containing fascinating diagrammatic paintings of battlefields and text written by famed Civil War historian Bruce Catton, remains today about as perfect an introduction to the Civil War as I could imagine. I soon discovered that they had related gems on their living room bookshelves, including Reader’s Digest abbreviated versions of some of Catton’s histories. These were among the earliest books I read on military history and certainly had a lifelong influence on me. They also produced another effect on me that still lasts, too—a wistful realization of the immutability of history. Sadly, no matter how many books on the Civil War I read, no matter what new material they may uncover, McClellan never manages to take Richmond; Hooker always loses his nerve. It is Groundhog Day, but where Bill Murray never changes.
In which our intrepid hero discovers a three-tiered transport…
One of the fringe benefits of a hobby like this is that it adds an extra flair to many mundane activities. For example, a friend of mine who lives in Troy, Ohio, invited me over on June 8 to play a strategy game. Troy is a town north of Dayton that is perhaps 75 minutes away from Columbus via the Interstate. But if I left several hours early, I could use back roads to get some picture taking before I got there, which is what I did. Now I wasn’t simply trying to get from Point A to Point B, I was also having an experience.
In which our intrepid hero discovers a saintly town…
One thing I discovered very soon after moving to Ohio was that Ohio is a state that steals place names. This is true of many areas of the country, no doubt, but it wasn’t true where I grew up. Place names near me included El Paso, Las Cruces, Canutillo, Anthony, Fabens, Alamagordo, Truth or Consequences (well, that was stolen from something, but not a place), and so forth. But in Ohio? We have Toledo and Moscow and Athens and Brooklyn and Cambridge and London and Dublin and Geneva and Macedonia and Ontario and Oxford and Toronto and many others—none of them even modest enough to throw a “New” in front of their theft. The one that gets me the most, though, is Rio Grande, Ohio, because locals don’t pronounce it the right way, they pronounce it “Rye-Oh.” As someone who used to ride a horse along the actual Rio Grande, that grabs my goat by the balls and twists.