Every blue moon, they make their way into the news cycle: so-called "sovereign citizens" groups. These anti-government crusaders believe they are not subject to laws on the local, state or federal level. That means they often refuse to carry proper ID, or pay taxes, which they deem illegitimate—if not unholy. They don't even recognize United States currency. These types don't much trust police, either, and in that sense, you might expect them to share a kinship—however tenuous—with protesters outside a police department.
But sovereign citizens are also frequently racists, and the people protesting American police in 2015 are often black. Maybe that's why, when a hail of bullets erupted last Monday during a protest headed up by Black Lives Matter and the NAACP outside Minneapolis's fourth precinct police department, the gunfire allegedly came from at least one man linked to the anti-government movement.
Last week, several people suspected of involvement in the shooting were arrested. Among them was 23-year-old Allen "Lance" Scarsella, a former high school football player who allegedly fired eight times into the crowd, injuring five. In his indictment, under a section marked "statement of probable cause," investigators suggest Scarsella subscribed to the sovereign citizen movement, and that he went to the protest with friends to "stir things up" and "cause commotion."
Suffice it to say he got his wish.
The activists had gathered to protest the November 15 shooting of 24 year-old Jamar Clark, who was killed by Minneapolis police with a shot to the head. Not only was he unarmed, but witnesses say he was handcuffed when police fired the fatal shot. Ever since, protesters have encamped themselves outside the police department's fourth precinct, not far from where Clark took his last breaths. They're demanding that a video of the shooting be released, and have vowed to stay put until it is.
This protest apparently rubbed Scarsella and his friends the wrong way, and they made a point to show up to videotape and harass protesters on November 23, according to prosecutors. Scarsella supposedly told his cohorts to dress normally and blend in with the protesters, encouraging them to feel free to carry weapons. Avideo made public shortly after news of last week's shooting shows Scarsella and another man, both wearing masks, talk of their intention to "make the fire rise," at the protest, an apparent reference to a line the villain Bane utters in The Dark Knight Rises that has been adopted by some white supremacists. They sign off by saying, "Stay white."
Once there, protesters quickly tired of Scarsella and his antics, which included videotaping them despite their objections and his refusal to take off his mask or identify himself. A protester threw a punch, a chase ensued, and Scarsella's wish to "cause commotion" was fulfilled in the form of bullets fired from his .45-caliber handgun around 10:40 PM.
A couple hours later, investigators have learned, Scarsella called a police officer acquaintance of his outside of Minneapolis and told him he'd shot the five protesters. That officer advised him to turn himself and his guns over to police, and told investigators of Scarsella's fondness for the sovereign citizen philosophy, and that he knew him to carry guns. Scarsella, the officer told investigators, had "very intense opinions," and "negative experiences with and opinions about African Americans."
Investigators arrested Scarsella the morning after the shooting at his Bloomington, Minnesota, home, which they proceeded to search. They found "numerous guns and ammunition," according to the indictment, including a .45-caliber handgun similar to the one fired at protesters. They confiscated Scarsella's phone, discovering on it texts that further illustrated his alleged plans to disrupt and possibly disband the protest. Also in the phone were several photos of Scarsella carrying guns and some racist images, including his posing with the confederate flag.
Scarsella was charged, along with three other men, on Monday, and his bail was set at $500,000, according to Reuters. At a court appearance Tuesday afternoon, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman slapped the foursome with felony riot charges, and Scarsella with assault with a dangerous weapon.
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