The Posse Comitatus

By Ian Geldard

The Posse Comitatus

Posse Comitatus is (or was) an organisation composed of loosely affiliated bands which have been around since 1969. The name Posse Comitatus is Latin for "power of the county", and the Posse believes that all government power is rooted at the county level.

Their ideology is largely based on the Posse Comitatus Act passed in the wake of the Civil War specifically to bar the federal military from interfering in local police matters. In response to President Grant's post Civil War efforts to use troops to guard ballot boxes and prevent election fraud, Congress had ordered that such police powers rest only at the county level. Federal troops were barred from enforcing domestic laws.

Modern Posse adherents assert that the Posse Comitatus principle means that no citizen is bound to obey any authority higher than that of the county sheriff. Paying income tax, making social security payments, using license plates and driving licenses violate this principle. Many, but not all Posse members also believe that the Posse doctrine was divinely revealed by God and therefore to pay taxes is not only illegal but sinful. Some of these "religious" Posse members are associated with the "Identity" churches which believe, among other things, that Jews are the spawn of Satan and that blacks are not humans at all, but animals in disguise.

The formation of the Posse Comitatus "movement" has been traced to Portland, Oregon, when a retired dry-cleaning executive named Henry Lamont "Mike" Beach formed the first Posse chapter, called the Sherriff's Posse Comitatus (SPC) or Citizen's Law Enforcement Research Committee (CLERC). Beach had been a controversial Pacific Northwest right-winger ever since the early 1930s when he was a leader of a group of American Hitler-worshippers who called themselves the Silver Shirts [1]. At about the same time as the formation of the SPC, retired Army Colonel William Potter Gale founded the US Christian Posse Association in Glendale, California.

According to a 1986 report by analysts for the IRS, in the first manual for the Posse, Beach wrote: "[O]fficials of government who commit criminal acts or who violate their oath of office ... shall be removed by the posse to the most populated intersection of streets in the township and, at high noon, be hung by the neck, the body remaining until sundown as an example to those who would subvert the law." The advisory went on to claim that "members associated with some of the Posse groups wear tiny gold hangmen's nooses on their lapels."

Beginning in 1983, the Posse Comitatus became the focus of widespread media attention when Gordon W. Kahl, a longtime Posse member allegedly shot and killed two US marshals and wounded three other law enforcement officers in a shootout near Medina, North Dakota. The two marshals had been trying to arrest Kahl in an income tax case when the shooting occured. Kahl became a fugitive, until he himself was shot and killed by an Arkansas sheriff. In that shootout, when Kahl was killed, the house in which he was hiding went up in flames as the shots were said to have ignited "thousands of rounds of ammunition," and the sheriff was also killed.


[1] The Silver shirts were founded in Asheville, North Carolina, by William Dudley Pelley, a New Englander of "uncontaminated English Stock," in 1933, the day after Hitler came to power. His followers dressed themselves in silver shirts, blue corduroy knickers and gold stockings. I wonder what the Gestapo would have thought of them had they turned up at a Nazi rally in Germany!


This article was originally a February 19, 1995, post by Ian Geldard to the libertarian e-mail list "libernet."