Feds raid political meeting; fingerprints, photographs, and confiscates cellphones
Feds raid Texas secessionist meeting
Houston Chronicle | February 23, 2015
It seemed like a typical congressional meeting for the Republic of Texas. Senators and the president gathered in the center of a Bryan, Texas, meeting hall, surrounded by public onlookers, to debate issues of the national currency, develop international relations and celebrate the birthday of one of their oldest members.
But this wasn't 1836, and this would be no ordinary legislative conference. Minutes into the meeting a man among the onlookers stood and moved to open the hall door, letting in an armed and armored force of the Bryan Police Department, the Brazos County Sheriff's Office, the Kerr County Sheriff's Office, Agents of the Texas District Attorney, the Texas Rangers and the FBI.
In the end, at least 20 officers corralled, searched and fingerprinted all 60 meeting attendees, before seizing all cellphones and recording equipment in a Valentine's Day 2015 raid on the Texas separatist group.
"We had no idea what was going on," said John Jarnecke, president of the Republic of Texas. "We knew of nothing that would warrant such an action."
The raid was a response to legal summons sent by Republic of Texas members to a Kerr County judge and bank employee, demanding they appear in the Republic's court at the Veterans and Foreign Wars building in Bryan the day the officers stormed in. Jarnecke's group, the subject of a half-hour YouTube documentary, maintains a small working government, including official currency, congress and courts.
"You can't just let people go around filing false documents to judges trying to make them appear in front of courts that aren't even real courts," said Kerr County sheriff Rusty Hierholzer, who led the operation.
He acknowledged he used a "show of force," grouping officers from city, county state and federal law enforcement to serve a search warrant for suspicions of a misdemeanor crime. He said he had worries that some extremists in the group could become violent, citing a 1997 incident when 300 state troopers surrounded an armed Republic leader for a weeklong standoff.
"We've had years of bad press, but we're not those people," said Jarnecke of the '97 incident. "But yes, we are still making every attempt to get independence for Texas and we're doing it in a lawful international manner."
The Republic has a lengthy list of qualms with the federal government, among them that Texas was illegally annexed in 1845. But most of their complaints have to do with the behavior of the American legislature and executive. Robert Wilson, a senator in the Republic, equated politicians in Washington D.C. to the "kings and emperors" of the past, and sees Texas independence as part of a worldwide movement for local control.
"This is the century for colonialist ambitions to be reversed," the 78-year-old pastor said. "I've watched a lot of things happen, and the people of the world are fed up. The spirit of the world right now is: make things smaller, move governments closer to home, take back self-rule."