December 8, 2003: Sovereign citizen attack in South Carolina

Self-proclaimed ‘sovereign citizens’ killed two South Carolina police officers in a dispute over land rights in December 2003

ABBEVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA – What is it with sovereign citizens who take the law into their own hands and kill?

Ya gotta hand it to Leonard Casley. In April 1970 the Australian man declared his farm to be an independent nation, which he called the Hutt River Colony, aka the Principality of Hutt River (PHR). This move was apparently sparked by a disagreement over wheat quotas and Mr. Casley dubbed himself ‘Prince Leonard’.

He ruled his principality for 45 years, abdicating to his son in 2017: that would be Prince Graham. Not surprisingly, the Australian government was ‘not amused’ and refused to recognise the colony’s sovereignty. Still, the PHR has its own web site where it issues stamps and coins: the site announced that the borders to the ‘nation’ closed on January of this year. Last August it announced it was ‘rejoining’ Australia due to ‘harsh times’ brought about by COVID-19.

The PHR was always a bit of a joke, and I imagine Prince Leonard was in on it. Others who self-identify as ‘sovereign citizens’ are not so funny. They not only challenge any ‘infringements’ on their jurisdiction but turn violent on occasion.

As happened on this day in 2003.

Arthur and Rita Bixby and their son Steven moved to Abbeville, South Carolina, from New Hampshire in the early 1990s. The property they purchased came with an easement (part of the land could be accessed by the state) and when authorities sought to expropriate ten feet (3 metres) of the Bixby property to build a highway the latter called it an ‘unconstitutional theft of their property’, citing the New Hampshire state constitution (but they were in South Carolina!) and making threats that seemed to indicate they were willing to die for their rights.

When a county deputy sergeant approached the home he was shot at point blank range by Steven – he later died of his wounds. A county constable was also shot dead. After hours of standoff the situation was resolved and all three sovereign citizens were arrested. Upon entering the house for the first time, officers found a total of nine firearms, a large library of legal texts and articles related to militia uprisings, several different wills made out by the Bixbys, and numerous suicide notes.

 Why did I do it? I didn’t do it… [t] hey” [the government] “started it. And if we can’t be any freer than that in this country, I’d just as soon die… When are the people going to wake up…and realize you may be next?

Steven Bixby after his arrest

Steven was sentenced to death for the murders, Rita was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and Arthur, who had developed dementia, was not tried. A portion of the highway was named after the dead police officers.

What is it with ‘sovereign citizens‘? What gives them the right to kill to claim their own ‘rights’? It is one thing to hate the ‘gubmint’: after all who doesn’t at times? But to kill for it?

At any event, this is a form of terrorism: of that there is no doubt.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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