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Militias expand attempts to file bogus legal claims


Tactics now seen in urban areas

April 5, 1997
Web posted at: 11:05 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Rusty Dornin

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- County recorders have faced harassment and even physical assaults in recent years from right-wing groups trying to file bogus legal claims such as phony property liens.

Now there's evidence that militia-style organizations are expanding the use of these tactics. The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks incidents of harassment, is finding that they are taking place in urban areas as well as rural outposts.

The league's Barbara Bergen advises local governments to act "to make sure that we provide some protection to people like county recorders and other public officials, who should not have to worry about this kind of domestic terrorism."

County officials seen as only true authority

The job of a county recorder -- which involves recording births, deaths, marriages and property deeds -- would seem, on its face, rather noncontroversial.


But a growing number of county recorders say right-wing groups are coming to their offices trying to file bogus legal claims. These even can include attempts to revoke someone's U.S. citizenship.

Many of these groups don't accept the authority of state or federal governments and believe county officials are the only legitimate authorities.

For instance, the Montana Freemen, the group involved in a lengthy standoff with federal law enforcement agents last year, wrote liens and put pressure on public officials to accept them.

California recorder assaulted

In California's Stanislaus County, southeast of San Francisco, County Recorder Karen Mathews was knocked down and beaten after refusing to record a document. Nine men are on trial in federal court for the attack, allegedly carried out by a man hired by militia members angered by Mathews' refusal.


"Recorders are being faced with activities from simply being harassed and annoyed beyond belief, by people insisting on having documents recorded that are not in fact recordable, to being intimidate and frightened," Bergen says.

Mathews, for her part, remains undaunted.

"I will not be threatened or bullied bribed or beaten into doing anything that I feel is wrong," she says.

Enacting new laws to protect local officials could help. Then again, groups that believe themselves exempt from the law still may not pay attention.


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