Guardians of the Free Republics’ letters to governors spur inquiry

Governors across the country have received letters from a quasi-religious, anti-government group ordering them to step down from office in three days, in what the group’s website said was the first step to disband parts of the U.S. government.

Homeland Security Department and FBI officials said Friday that there didn’t appear to be an immediate threat, and they were investigating whether the message could be considered dangerous.

The Guardians of the Free Republics describes its plan as a nonviolent and legal attempt to “restore the true Republic.”

The office of Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, one of at least 30 governors to receive the letter, beefed up security. “We just decided that it was appropriate to err on the side of caution,” said Lynn Hettrick, Gibbons’ deputy chief of staff.

Officials in that state closed all but one entrance to Capitol and added metal detectors. Governors in Michigan, Virginia, Louisiana and Utah are among those who reported receiving the letter. Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm’s office issued a statement Friday naming the group and said state police were notified last week of the “threatening letters.” The document was turned over to federal authorities.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not received the letter, said a spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol, which is charged with the governor’s safety. The CHP would not discuss whether changes were made to the governor’s security detail.

Federal law enforcement officials would not comment on the investigation. A source in a governor’s office that received the letter confirmed its wording.

The Guardians of the Free Republics appears to work in the anti-government and anti-tax movement. The group’s philosophy -- rife with its interpretation of arcane federal law -- mingles with the anti-Federal Reserve mantra espoused by followers of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas as well as with anti-tax advocates.

“Everything is going to be orderly and no one is going to be harmed in this movement,” said Billy Ray Hall, who identified himself in a telephone interview Friday as a follower of the Guardians of the Free Republics. “It’s going to be really good. There’s going to be funds enough for everybody.”

Hall said packets containing the letter had been sent to all 50 governors.

The letters arrived as law enforcement officials appear to be closely monitoring anti-government extremists. Some experts have said they’ve seen a rise in right-wing extremist groups, citing the economic downturn. Last weekend authorities arrested several members of a Christian militia group in Michigan and other states. Prosecutors have described the Hutaree militia as a violent anti-government organization planning to kill police officers.

The Guardians of the Free Republics appears to emphasize the peaceful nature of its proposed revolution. The group believes that an act of Congress passed in the late 1800s in effect transformed the United States into a corporation, Hall said. Since then, he said, the American people have been serving corporate masters.