Distrust of government is nothing new.
But a Charlotte group called T.I.G.E.R. — Truth in Government, Everyone’s Responsible — has taken that distrust to exceptional lengths. Under the leadership of the group’s founder, carpenter John C. Ainsworth, T.I.G.E.R. has formed its own state: the North-Carolina American Republic.
“We’re trying to get freedom back in America,” Ainsworth declares. “The issue is freedom.”
Freedom, maintains Ainsworth, is being eroded by the federal government. His group is making an effort to regain it by re-establishing the state of North Carolina under the constitution it had before the Civil War, when the federal government had less control over the states. T.I.G.E.R. views the new republic as a sovereign state.
Although the seat of this new republic is in Charlotte (at Ainsworth’s house, for lack of a better place), Ainsworth says an unspecified number of the republic’s citizens live in Western North Carolina.
An intense and well-spoken man, Ainsworth pitches his political convictions with passion. Still, it’s not as though he’s oblivious to how his views might sound to the uninitiated. In fact, he didn’t mention the creation of the republic until about two hours into a recent interview at a Charlotte restaurant.
“The information I have is not popular,” says Ainsworth. “It scares people.”
In a nutshell, Ainsworth argues that North Carolina’s government became unconstitutional in 1868, when Gov. Jonathan Worth was replaced by William Woods Holden — a move Ainsworth describes as surrendering North Carolina to the U.S. military. To bolster his case, Ainsworth cites a letter he found in the N.C. State Archives in Raleigh, written by Worth on July 1, 1868 to protest his removal.
“I do not recognize the validity of the late election, under which you and those cooperating with you claim to be invested with the Civil Government of the State,” Worth wrote. “You have no evidence of your election, save the certificate of a Major General of the United States Army. I regard all of you as, in effect, appointees of the Military power of the United States, and not as ‘deriving your powers from the consent of those you claim to govern.'”
Worth went on to say that he was surrendering his office under “military duress,” and he questioned the constitutionality of Holden’s actions.
“What was surrendered here weren’t just offices — it was the constitution of North Carolina,” Ainsworth asserts.
The problem, he says, was reinforced by the federal Reconstructionist Acts, which he also views as unconstitutional (and which, he notes, were passed over the veto of President Andrew Johnson). With those acts, Congress annulled North Carolina’s Constitution, Ainsworth explains, adding that, in essence, the federal government re-created the government of North Carolina, making it a satellite government of the District of Columbia.
In fact, Ainsworth views the Reconstructionist Acts as permanent articles of war designed to take away Americans’ liberties.
Although his main focus is on North Carolina, Ainsworth also is concerned that the U.S. Constitution is not being followed. Among a sheaf of documents he has amassed to support his views is one called “The Williamsburg Resolve” (adopted at a 1994 Republican governors’ conference), which charges that the federal government has exceeded its jurisdiction under the U.S. Constitution.
“What we’re getting is a consensus that the Constitution is not being abided by,” Ainsworth maintains. “Government is instituted to protect people’s rights … not to oppress us.”
Not surprisingly, Ainsworth’s views are given little credence by some in official circles.
A spokesman for Gov. Jim Hunt took issue with the group’s assertions about North Carolina’s faulty constitutional foundation.
“The governor would beg to differ with their opinion,” offered Hunt spokesman Tad Boggs, adding that groups like this pop up from time to time, wanting nothing much — just the dissolution of the state of North Carolina.
(For the record, Ainsworth’s group notes — in a proclamation on its Web site — that the current state government under Hunt is a “valid government for all militarily subjugated people who freely and voluntarily participate in it.”)
A constitutional scholar also scoffed at Ainsworth’s conclusions.
“All this stuff — I’ve encountered it in various ways — it’s a lot of garbage,” declared John L. Sanders, a lawyer who’s retired from the Institute of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill.
It’s true that Holden replaced Worth as governor — but only after an election, Sanders says. And North Carolina’s legitimacy was clearly established by congressional action when the state regained representation in Congress after the Civil War, he adds. That was after North Carolina (and the other states that had seceded from the Union) adopted both new constitutions — with a provision granting voting rights to all men over 21 — and the 14th Amendment.
Since then, the courts have consistently recognized the legitimacy of the state’s government, says Sanders, adding that he regards Ainsworth’s challenge as a “fanciful theoretical argument” without substance.
“North Carolina is a legitimate state government,” Sanders proclaims. “People may regret that fact or applaud that fact, but it’s a fact.”
Creating a new government
Nonetheless, on Dec. 1, 1997, Ainsworth and his group re-established the state of North Carolina under its constitution of 1776. They chose the name North-Carolina American Republic to distinguish the new governmental unit from the more widely known state of North Carolina.
“To avoid confusion, we did some name changes,” explains Ainsworth, the republic’s first chief magistrate (a position equivalent to that of governor). Ainsworth now serves the republic as a senator.
Besides the name changes, citizens of the new republic also made some other modifications to the historic document, such as giving women and black people the right to vote. But they didn’t change the part declaring North Carolina to be a Christian state (although voting rights are not contingent on citizens being Christians).
In June 1998, Ainsworth wrote to several higher-ups, including President Clinton and Gov. Hunt, to inform them of the group’s action. The next month, they got a response.
“They didn’t totally ignore us,” Ainsworth reports. “They sent a police officer to my house. I told them all we’re going to do is fight this in court. We are not a threat.”
But Ainsworth maintains that one of the officers did issue a veiled threat, suggesting that if Ainsworth were stopped for a traffic ticket, he shouldn’t resist, because it could easily result in someone’s death.
“We are absolutely peaceful,” stresses Ainsworth.
Most of the republic’s citizens live in the Charlotte area, although Ainsworth says some reside as far west as Asheville and Black Mountain. He declines to reveal the republic’s population, however, beyond saying that there are “not enough” citizens.
Doug Stehling, who owns a house in Black Mountain, joined the republic last year. He prefers to use an alternate spelling of his name (Douglas-Raymond:Stehling) to differentiate himself from the identity on file with the federal government. He even has a North-Carolina American Republic photo ID, which he uses to cash checks.
“It works just fine,” he says.
Like Ainsworth, Stehling believes that the courts and the state are not legitimate.
“They’re all committing treason by not recognizing the Republic of North Carolina — the re-established republic,” Stehling declares.
Anyone who wants to become a citizen of the republic simply needs to sign an affidavit. Ainsworth carries his own worn copy with him, encased in plastic. Among other things, the affidavit asserts that those signing it are Americans but not U.S. citizens, and that they don’t plan to use Social Security numbers (although they don’t specify how they’ll get around that particular requirement).
The North-Carolina American Republic has its own seal and collects taxes from its citizens (21 silver dollars a year — they also accept 1-ounce silver coins).
Ainsworth dislikes labels, although he says he could be considered part of the Patriot movement, if Patriots are defined as people trying to figure out what’s wrong with the United States.
But he differentiates his group’s aims from those of the common-law court movement and militia groups. “Whose laws are they enforcing?” he asks.
Ainsworth says he’s been looking into constitutional issues for the past six or seven years. Around 1993, he formed a constitutional study group under the auspices of another group — Citizens for the Reinstatement of Constitutional Government, which met in Monroe and Matthews, N.C.
Although press reports (including Time magazine) labeled that group a “citizens militia” in the mid-’90s, Ainsworth ridicules the notion. When the Time article came out, group members “sat there and laughed,” he recalls.
“I’ve never been involved in a militia, ever, but I’ve been labeled it,” says Ainsworth, adding, “I don’t even know where one is.”
The North-Carolina American Republic isn’t the only group attempting to forge a new government. Members of the separatist Republic of Texas made national news in April 1997 during a 6-1/2-day standoff with the Texas Rangers and other law-enforcement officials at Fort Davis, according to news reports. The militia-style outfit maintained that the state of Texas was illegally folded into the Union in 1845 — and was instead a sovereign nation, according to a 1997 Time magazine account. Even though Republic of Texas members lost the standoff (they surrendered), the Republic lives on, offering its constitutional arguments via the Internet. The Web site (www.texasrepublic.com) bills itself as the only official Web site of the Nation of Texas, also known as The Lone Star Republic.
Ainsworth, however, made no reference to the Republic of Texas. And Stehling suggested that members of the Texas republic had gone about re-establishing their state in the wrong way.
Another aspect of the North-Carolina American Republic involves renouncing U.S. citizenship. According to Ainsworth, citizens of a state have a right to self-government, while federal citizens are subject to the laws of Congress, yet aren’t protected by the Bill of Rights and aren’t subject to the U.S. Constitution.
Although Ainsworth admits that “it sounds loopy” to say he’s not a U.S. citizen, he maintains that he’s renounced his U.S. citizenship for a reason: “I don’t want to be subject to Congress.”
Ainsworth spent several years working on the citizenship issue. In 1995, he notified the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections that he considered himself a North Carolina citizen, not a U.S. citizen. The result?
“My voter registration was cancelled,” notes Ainsworth.
He says he asked the Board of Elections for official definitions of U.S. citizen, resident and residence, but “they sidestepped it.” Then he went to the Charlotte City Council to ask for the same definitions. The Charlotte city attorney wrote a letter to the state attorney general’s office requesting the definitions, and Ainsworth says that’s the last he’s heard about it.
“People need to question the form of government they live under when the truth is what the government wants to hide more than anything else,” proclaims Ainsworth.
Getting their day in court
T.I.G.E.R. has made good on its promise to take the fight to the courts. The opportunity came when one of its sympathizers, Patricia P. Honeycutt, received a traffic ticket in Gaston County on July 4, 1999 for running a red light, which she denied having done.
During a court appearance last year, Ainsworth and Honeycutt argued that the state of North Carolina didn’t have jurisdiction in the case, because the state itself is unconstitutional.
“Our basic premise is, your police officer’s job wasn’t created constitutionally, because the state of North Carolina, who he works for, is not a constitutional entity,” Ainsworth explains.
They even went to the trouble of hiring a court reporter to provide them with a transcript of the case.
“We flustered the judge a little bit,” he recalls.
Ainsworth says he cited a legal precedent holding that once jurisdiction is challenged, the state has to prove that it has jurisdiction.
“They entered nothing,” Ainsworth says, referring to a lack of evidence offered up to prove the state’s jurisdiction.
Honeycutt was found guilty, and she appealed the case to Superior Court. But to Ainsworth’s dismay, the district attorney’s office dismissed the case, citing judicial economy.
“We consider this an avoidance of the real issues of the law,” Ainsworth says. “They are still maintaining the overthrow of the lawful state government.”
Undaunted, however, group members plan to bring up the issue again in traffic court. A couple of other traffic cases are pending in Gaston and Mecklenburg counties, he says.
Ainsworth notes that the North-Carolina American Republic is willing to cede the power to enforce existing laws to the state of North Carolina. He says he’d like to open up negotiations with the state and reach some sort of reciprocal agreement.
“Realistically, I don’t think anything would stand in the way of them being extremely violent or evil towards us,” Ainsworth says about the powers that oppose the republic, adding, “That’s our risk.”
Ainsworth spends much of his time addressing groups that invite him to speak, noting that South Carolina’s Southern Heritage movement has been a boon in terms of speaking engagements. Ainsworth also broadcasts his views on cable TV in Charlotte, as well as via shortwave radio. And he says he gets inquiries on what he’s doing from around the country.
“I can’t guarantee success,” asserts Ainsworth. “If people want their rights back, it’s up to them to exercise it.”
For more information on T.I.G.E.R. and the North-Carolina American Republic, check out the following Web site: http://skyboom.com/T.I.G.E.R.network/.