The Washitaw Nation, the sovereign-citizenry group that Gavin Long declared himself a member of, was founded decades ago by a black Louisiana woman named Verdiacee Turner, who called herself Empress Verdiacee “Tiari” Washitaw-Turner Goston El-Bey. Its core tenet is that followers are descendants of the “Ancient Ones,” or “black ones," who occupied the North American continent tens of thousands of years before white Europeans.
Turner, now deceased, developed an entire mythology around the idea that land sold by France to the United States in 1803 in the Louisiana Purchase was fraudulently obtained and actually belonged to her. In doing so, she falls into a long line of sovereign citizenry gurus who peddle fantastic realities and myths, said Ryan Lenz, a senior writer at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project.
The Washitaw group, which is made up of African Americans, is part of a larger movement of sovereign citizens in America — a phenomenon that has risen with the economic downturn and the influence of the Internet. Generally, they believe they are above all city, state and federal government laws. They dismiss governments as operating illegally, and they do not believe they have to pay taxes or respect law enforcement officials.
Police believe that Gavin Eugene Long, the gunman who killed three police officers and wounded three others in Baton Rouge, La., on Sunday, was in the city for several days before he carried out his deadly ambush, Col. Michael D. Edmonson, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, said during a news conference Monday.
"It was a calculated attack against those who work to protect the community every single day," Edmonson said.
"We believe that while this individual was in the city he was looking for locations to specifically target police officers," he said. Civilians were walking through the area where Long shot police officers, Edmonson said, and he did not shoot at any of them.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton condemned the killing of police officers in Baton Rouge, La., and Dallas as she addressed the NAACP in Cincinnati, and called for reforms to the criminal justice system.
"Killing police officers is a terrible crime," she said. "Anyone who kills a police officer and anyone who helps must be held accountable."
"Perhaps the best way to honor our police is to follow the lead of police departments across the country who are striving to do better," she continued.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott's office proposed a measure on Monday that would classify crimes committed against law enforcement officers "out of bias against the police" as hate crimes.
“At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the State will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities,” Abbott said in a statement.
Deputy Brad Garafola, 45, had been with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office for 24 years and was working in Civil Processing-Foreclosures. At the time he was killed, he was trying to save one of the wounded Baton Rouge police officers, according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks.
“He was on his way to the officer when he was shot,” Hicks said.
“This guy was just not a kook out there,” Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden said Monday of the gunman in the deadly attack on law enforcement. “If you go back and look at his military background, if you look at how he planned this thing out, some are saying that he was in Baton Rouge several nights even before this happened.
"So we’re finding out somebody that was methodical and planning and really an outright murderer," Holden said in an interview Monday with CNN. "Somebody who knew the movements of police officers, that knew how to position them so they could be within range of then killing them.”
The mayor said some people were coming forward about suspicious activity they had seen, and investigators had received tips on other people who might have been involved.
The gunman who authorities say killed three police officers in Baton Rouge, La., sought to legally change his name from Gavin Eugene Long to Cosmo Ausar Setepenra last year, identifying himself as a member of a largely black separatist sovereign nation.
According to a document filed in May 2015 with the Jackson County, Mo., recorder of deeds, and first reported by the Kansas City Star, Long claimed he was a “vet national of United Washitaw De Dugdahmoundyah Mu’ur Nation.”
Also known as the Washitaw Nation, the Washitaw De Dugdahmoundyah is a Louisiana-based group that claims to be a sovereign Native American nation within the U.S.
Louisiana State Police officials confirmed Monday that the gunman who ambushed officers in Baton Rouge was deliberately and explicitly seeking out law enforcement officers.
"We do believe that he was targeting police officers and this incident was an ambush,” said Maj. Doug Cain, spokesman for the agency.
Cain said investigators had interviewed people who had contact with gunman Gavin Long, and would continue Monday to look for people who could provide information about Long’s motivations, intentions and thoughts.
Gavin Eugene Long, the gunman who killed three police officers and wounded three others in Baton Rouge, La., on Sunday, left a vast and angry online trail documenting his interest in black separatism and fury at police shootings of black men.
Long, whose identity was confirmed by a law enforcement official, was shot to death by police after opening fire on officers on Airline Highway, less than a mile from the city's police headquarters in Baton Rouge.
One law enforcement official described him as “a black separatist.” He carried out the shooting on his 29th birthday, and was from Kansas City, Mo.