After Gavin Eugene Long killed three police officers and then was slain himself in a Baton Rouge shootout yesterday morning, MSNBC reported that he may have belonged to the sovereign citizen movement. This led to some misleading chatter on social media from people who assumed this was incompatible with the other major narrative floating around Sunday, in which Long was believed to be a black militant upset about abusive policing. The sovereign citizen movement originally emerged from the white far right, and a lot of people still associate it exclusively with militia types.
But there are black militants who have adopted a great deal of the sovereign-citizen worldview, many of them (though not all) associated with offshoots from the decades-old Moorish Science movement. It's a fringe of a fringe, but it's out there, and it looks like Long fits the description. If you click here, you can read a document he filed with the Jackson County, Missouri, recorder of deeds last year, announcing that he was changing his name to Cosmo Ausar Setepenra. It is filled with language drawn from the sovereign/Moorish mashup that is the United Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah Mu'ur Nation, which clearly was among the stew of influences that the Missouri Marine was marinating in.
That doesn't exhaust the shooter's worldview: As is often the case when a lone figure gets into a violent confrontation with the government, he espouses a hodgepodge of beliefs that place him on the far end of the political long tail. In addition to the Washitaw Nation stuff, Long/Stepenra appears to have been influenced by everything from the "principles of the Alpha Male" to the belief that he was a "targeted individual" pursued by shadowy "gangstalkers." (The gangstalking conspiracy theory was the subject of an interesting recent New York Times story, which you can read here.) Like many far-from-fringy people, Long was outraged over the recent deaths of several black men at the hands of the police; in a much less mainstream stance, he expressed support for Micah Xavier Johnson, the sniper who killed five officers in Dallas earlier this month. That raises the possibility that this was a copycat killing, but a great deal about yesterday's events remains unknown; as always, a state of intense agnosticism is wise.