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Sheriff, chiefs warn officers after Web post

Kershaw County Patriots site links to ‘when to shoot a cop’ article

Posted: July 21, 2011 3:53 p.m.
Updated: July 22, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Sheriff’s deputies and police officers are always on their guard. They are trained to deal with the unknown, even when pulling someone over for a minor traffic violation.

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews and Elgin Police Department (EPD) Chief Harold Brown both placed their deputies and officers on slightly higher alert Monday after a local group posted a link to what they said was a disturbing article on its Facebook page July 15. Camden Police Department (CPD) Chief Joe Floyd said he is reminding his officers of their past training regarding traffic stops.

The Kershaw County Patriots -- a group representative Jeff Mattox agreed can be categorized as part of the Tea Party movement -- maintains the Facebook page. While anyone can read what Kershaw County Patriots members have posted, you must join the Facebook group in order to post items or leave comments about posts. On Saturday, a Patriots member posted a link to an article on CopBlock.org by Larken Rose entitled “When Should You Shoot a Cop.” Mattox, who lives in Elgin and is also the co-chair of the Kershaw County Republican Party, “Liked” the post, drawing more attention to Rose’s article.

In the article, Rose compares American law enforcement officers and agencies to Communist and Nazi regimes, calls the war on drugs “fascist” and posts that most Americans are unwilling to face the “tyranny” of lawmakers and law enforcers.

Rose concluded with the following words:

“The next time you hear of a police officer being killed ‘in the line of duty,’ take a moment to consider the very real possibility that maybe in that case, the ‘law enforcer’ was the bad guy and the ‘cop killer’ was the good guy. As it happens, that has been the case more often than not throughout human history.”

That made Sheriff Matthews mad.

 “I found out about this the day before going to a Laurens County deputy’s funeral, so it was especially irritating,” Matthews said.

A Clinton man wanted for shooting his girlfriend shot and killed 29-year-old Laurens County Deputy Roger Rice as he tried to arrest the man July 14. Matthew’s said he attended Rice’s funeral Sunday.

“The article in and of itself doesn’t advocate shooting an officer, but some who read it will get out of it what they want,” Matthews said. “Some warped individuals may get it in their mind that it’s OK to resist an officer to the point of shooting them.”

The sheriff also expressed concern that the Patriots might be linked to the Sovereign Citizen movement. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), on its website, describes sovereign citizens as “anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or ‘sovereign’ from the United States. As a result, they believe they don’t have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments or law enforcement.”

The FBI indicated that belief has led sovereign citizens to decide not to pay their taxes, “hold illegal courts that issue warrants for judges and police officers” and “clog up” courts with lawsuits in order to harass public officials. In addition, the FBI says sovereign citizens have committed murder; threatened judges, law enforcement and government personnel; impersonated officers and diplomats; used fake currency and documents; and engineered white-collar scams including mortgage fraud.

 “I don’t know if they’re aligned with the Sovereign Citizen movement,” Matthews said of the Kershaw County Patriots. I don’t know if they all have the same membership rolls, but they certainly seem to hang together.”

Mattox denied the Patriots is affiliated with Sovereign Citizens.

“There are some Sovereign Citizen movements. I’m not affiliated with any of them -- we’re not affiliated with them in any way,” Mattox said. “There are nut jobs all around the world. There’s so many different groups out there. There’s good cops and bad cops and to label any particular group as bad because of one individual is not the way to look at this.”

Matthews also noted that Mattox himself posted a link to a YouTube video entitled “End of Liberty.” In linking to the video, Mattox wrote “about 30 minutes into the video shows what the cops are doing to us. Robbery!”

At that point in the video, the unidentified narrator begins claiming that some states are making it illegal for citizens to record video of “out of control cops.” A few minutes later, the narrator switches to speaking out about what he says is local governments and agencies “going crazy to collect every penny owed to them.” Specifically, the narrator claims that officers are “waiting behind every tree with radar guns and stopping otherwise law-abiding citizens for seat belt violations” as a “desperate revenue grab.” It then shows a police dash cam video of a driver given a ticket for some type of violation who then drives their car backwards with enough force to actually ride up over the patrol car.

“I think this is all an overreaction to what’s going on in Washington with (President Barack) Obama,” Matthews said. “I’m a conservative myself but they (Patriots) are ultra right wing … extremist. I don’t go to Kershaw County Republican Party meetings anymore because -- and I ran as a Republican -- they have hijacked the meetings.

“They posted this on their Facebook page. I wouldn’t post it. They have the Constitutional right to do so, but there are times when you exercise your rights, you have to do so responsibly.”

Matthews categorized the Patriots’ posting of the links to the article and video as “irresponsible” and “hateful.”

“It makes you wonder what they are doing that they want to isolate themselves from any law enforcement intervention,” he said.

Matthews said he decided to alert his deputies to be extra careful because of the posts.

“I’ve made them aware that there is a group in this county that is reading stuff that says it’s OK to shoot a cop,” he said. “They always have to be careful, but when you get information like this, you need to be more vigilant. That article does suggest that, at certain times, it’s OK to shoot a cop.”

Elgin’s Chief Brown said he has alerted all his officers to use more caution after learning about the links. The Kershaw County Patriots group is known to hold its meetings inside the town of Elgin.

“It’s in the best interest for my officers to be very careful right now, because people with that opinion (that shooting cops is OK) can prove to be very dangerous. We take this very seriously,” Brown said.

The CPD’s Floyd said traffic stops can be among the most dangerous of contacts.

“We do a lot of traffic stops,” Floyd said. “We can have people driving through from (anywhere), so we keep our training on our guys’ minds.”

Floyd said Matthews contacted him about the posts Wednesday.

“With this new information, we’ll reinforce that training for them. We make a lot of traffic stops and all our cars have radar. Therefore, they are all trained about the dangers surrounding that type of contact. This will provide a united front along with the sheriff and (Elgin) chief.”

Mattox said the Kershaw County Patriots is not advocating anyone shoot a cop by posting a link to Rose’s article.

“We may not support all the views in there. We don’t filter (the Facebook posts). It’s an open group,” Mattox said during a telephone interview Wednesday. “I support his right to say what (Rose is) saying. He does have some good points. Although we don’t advocate shooting cops, it does create a discussion.”

That, Mattox said, is what the Kershaw County Patriots Facebook page is for.

“It’s so people can post things and start discussions. Hopefully, that defuses any questions that people have. It’s just a community thing where they can converse,” he said.

Mattox said he agrees with some posts his fellow Patriots post, others he does not. In some cases, such as the link to Rose’s article, he agrees with portions of a post. He also said he understands concerns expressed by members of law enforcement over the link to the article.

“Police sometimes do overstep their bounds,” Mattox said, “but advocating shooting a cop? No. It’s just kind of a conversation.”

Still, Mattox doesn’t shy away from criticizing Matthews and the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office. In fact, Mattox claimed that Matthews said during appearances before Kershaw County Council that license checks are unconstitutional.

“Now, these unconstitutional acts are being perpetrated in our county,” Mattox said.

Matthews said Mattox is half-right.

The sheriff said that, in his mind, narcotics checkpoints are “definitely” unconstitutional. On the other hand, he said he believes vehicle safety checkpoints -- which he said include not only checking to make sure a car’s headlights, for example, are working right but can include checking a driver’s license and insurance -- are constitutional.

“I have not, am not and will not have narcotics checkpoints,” Matthews said. “What you have to guard against is that you’re not using (safety checkpoints) as a pretext for narcotics. You can’t have all your narcotics agents at a location under the guise of a vehicle safety checkpoint.”

Matthews said what he said to council in January was that he questioned the “practicality” of stationary checkpoints.

“But I never questioned the constitutionality of checking someone’s license. There has to be some type of lawful traffic stop. Since I took office, we have not conducted and have no plans to conduct any checkpoints. I just don’t like them. They hassle a lot of people who are doing nothing wrong,” he said.

In speaking of the “End of Liberty” video, however, Mattox insisted law enforcement conducts speed traps and “unconstitutional license checks” as a “way to fund themselves.”

“It’s kind of like the tax man,” Mattox said. “The IRS is unconstitutional. Taxation, at its root, is robbery. For free people, that kind of taxation is not the way to liberty. So, when you look at the way law enforcement handles speeding tickets … they are arbitrarily deciding where that line is. They can move that line at any time necessary in order to generate funding. So goes the theory, anyway.”

Mattox pointed to county council’s Jan. 4 meeting when Matthews and Councilman Jimmy Jones agreed to make the sheriff’s new traffic enforcement unit “revenue neutral.” At that meeting, Mattox had urged council not to fund any of Matthews’ initiatives in order to “break the cycle of government growth and a movement towards a police state.”

Wednesday, Mattox asked if the traffic enforcement unit’s goal is to slow people down or generate revenue.

“As more and more counties are forced into ever increasing revenue due to decreases in other revenue, this (traffic units) may become a more important way to raise revenue. These are always questions that have to be brought up,” he said.

Mattox said the Kershaw County Patriots believe in limited government, living within one’s means and that government should be accountable and be “by and for” the people.

Following Wednesday’s interview, Mattox posted again to the Patriots’ Facebook page, noting that “some posts on this page have offended” some people.

“Good!” he wrote and posted a link to another YouTube video title “The Philosophy of Liberty.” “If one is offended let them defend their position and not complain to others. If one does not have the courage of their convictions and the courage to express them in open debate, then let them remain silent.”

In responding to someone else’s comment under that post, Mattox added, “Those who would suppress free speech because it offends are the very ones who will try to force their views on others.

“Force always, ALWAYS, is met with an equal but opposite force. Einstein’s Theory, not mine.”

Elgin Mayor Brad Hanley said while he knew the attitudes espoused by the Kershaw County Patriots was a growing problem within the U.S., he never expected anything so close to home.

“I’ve been aware this was becoming a bigger national problem,” Hanley said, “And the fact that it appears to be in our own backyard is disturbing.”

(West Wateree Chronicle Editor Keri Todd Boyce contributed to this report.)

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