Defiant, Armed: Idaho Man Rejects U.S. Laws in Radical Trend

PHOTO: Robert Peterson is one of the latest and youngest people to latch onto many of the beliefs of a growing underground movement known as "sovereign citizens."
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It was 8:20 a.m. on a Monday at the county courthouse in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho.

Robert Peterson, then 21, was trying to bring his video camera into the courtroom where he was contesting a minor traffic ticket. When the bailiff told him he couldn't bring his camera inside, Peterson told him to step aside and let him through. When the argument escalated, the bailiff used a stun gun on him. Peterson kept the camera rolling and later posted the incident on YouTube.

Peterson, now 22, said being hit by a stun gun was a small price to pay for his belief that the United States government has no authority over him.

"I'm out to abolish it because there is no salvaging at this point," he said.

It is a belief his mother, Tina Busby, worries could get her son killed.

"My fear is that it's going to end with him getting shot," she said. "That's my ultimate what I think is going to happen."

But Peterson said he is willing to live -- or die -- by his beliefs. Peterson is one of the latest and youngest people to latch onto many of the beliefs of a growing underground movement known as "sovereign citizens," people who, to a greater or lesser extent, do not believe the laws of this country apply to them. Some have disrupted courtrooms, led police on high speed car chases and even engaged in murderous shootouts with authorities.

The FBI classifies sovereign citizens as a domestic terrorist movement and it has had some notorious members in the past. Terry Nichols, the co-plotter of the Oklahoma City Bombing, and Joe Stack, who flew his small plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas, in 2010, were both sovereign citizens.

The movement is estimated to be 300,000 people strong today, and many follow a worrisome progression, from passionate but peaceful to ultra-violent.

"It can be scary because you have individuals where it's just a speeding ticket, for them and their beliefs, that could be very easily be a situation where they go to guns," said Spokane County Deputy Sheriff Craig Chamberlin. "The potential is huge."

After the stun gun incident, Peterson found himself back to the same courthouse in Coeur D'Alene to go on trial, where he was charged with three counts of battery on a court official and one count of contempt of court. He potentially faced two years in jail.

At first glance, he seems like an average young man. He lives in his mother's house with his two younger brothers and rides his bike. But every time he goes out, Peterson straps on his pistol, which is legal to do in Idaho, and he openly declares the local police to be his enemy.

"Unfortunately, yes, they are the enemy of anybody who wants to live free," he said. "They exhibit nothing but evidence to suggest they are a criminal organization bent on stealing from people."

Peterson's long series of run-ins with authorities began when he was 18 and was busted for making fireworks. That's when he said he went online and stumbled into a whole hidden world of sovereign citizen ideology, which argues that the U.S. government is a corporation profiting off of all of us, and that anyone who knows better can avoid paying taxes or even getting a driver's license. Some, like Peterson, declare that they were never a citizen of this country to begin with.

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