Alan Lowe, the 59-year-old candidate for Palm Coast mayor challenging Milissa Holland’s reelection, had never registered to vote until February, when he registered ahead of the presidential primary, and before he declared his candidacy. He did not vote in the presidential primary, according to an audit. He voted for the first time in his life in the August primary, when he was on the ballot.
When he was 31 years old, Lowe declared himself a “sovereign citizen” who did not follow the U.S. Constitution, the laws of the United States or the 14th Amendment, according to a “declaration” he filed with the Flagler County Clerk of Court. He declared he was a “foreign state to the United States, as well as a nonresident alien to the political community thereof, and that no judicial, legislative or executive agents had authority over his decision.
Lowe today said he had long ago repudiated his “sovereign” status, calling it “ridiculous” even as he conceded that it was not a youthful mistake–he was 31 at the time. He had embraced that stance. Then he had abandoned it, finding he could grow spiritually by “rendering unto Cesar what is Cesar’s” without losing his faith.
“That’s my past. It is what it is. I own my past,” he said.
Lowe said it was “a very short mindset” that he abandoned, though he stuck to his refusal to take part in the political process, and said today that one of the reasons he jumped back in to run was from being “incensed” that the supervisor of elections’ office had mailed postcards encouraging residents to vote by mail. “I’m not saying voting by mail or absentee voting or anything like that is a bad thing, I’m also not saying that I don’t trust our voting office here, I think it’s spot on,” Lowe said. But the postcards nevertheless incensed him. “I feel it’s important to vote in person,” he said. He also rejects the lockdown approach to coronavirus containment.
Far from a youthful misjudgment, Lowe’s association with the sovereign citizen movement was central both to his convictions at the time, however briefly, and to his battle with the Internal Revenue Service, which was pursuing him over unpaid taxes and through a protracted process. “Sovereign citizens” believe they don’t owe taxes and don’t recognize the IRS as a legitimate agency. But belief and association with the movement then and now carries a virulent hatred for government reflected in Lowe’s language at the time, language that left nothing to doubt regarding his convictions, and echoed in the movement’s violent acts then and since.
Lowe in September 1993 declared himself an “Ambassador for Christ,” following only God’s law. In a subsequent, more wordy “Declaration of Independence for the People of Yahweh,” he declared the American government and its instruments “destructive through the usurpation of the govern,” making it his duty to reclaim his rights and separate from “the abominations” of early politics because the government “has no conscience and shows little mercy, it is an uncontrolled beast that has been loosed to serve it’s [sic] own whims.”
The declaration goes on to outline grievances against the United States, at times incoherently (“You offer due process in your courts yet you control the judiciary… You protect against slavery and trick everyone into vluntarily becoming slaves”), at times hysterically (“Through unrestricted spending you have enslaved the ignorant and sold the labor of their children and their children’s children which are yet unborn to pay for your Beast’s ravenous appetite”), all in the arcane if incendiary language of the sovereign citizen movement.
Lowe said he never officially repudiated his declaration because it was never recognized anyway, and he’d not abjured the rights of citizenship–such as a passport. But he still never registered to vote until a few months ago.
The movement would not have garnered mainstream attention in the early 1990s–Lowe signed his “Declaration” on June 6, 1994–had its tenets not gained notoriety following the Oklahoma City bombing of a federal building that left 168 people dead in April 1995: Terry Nichols, a co-conspirator in the bombing, had declared himself a “sovereign citizen.”
The movement to this day is associated with far-right anti-government militancy that has led to other bursts of violence, targeting government and law enforcement especially, and leading the Southern Poverty Law Center to declare it a hate group and the FBI to declare it a “domestic terror threat.”
“For example, many sovereign citizens don’t pay their taxes,” an FBI bulletin stated. “They hold illegal courts that issue warrants for judges and police officers. They clog up the court system with frivolous lawsuits and liens against public officials to harass them. And they use fake money orders, personal checks, and the like at government agencies, banks, and businesses.” (Federal officials are linking the plot to kidnap and try Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to the movement.)
Nothing suggests violence in Lowe’s past (a misdemeanor battery charge in Flagler and a rstraining order resulting from a domestic dispute in Volusia County were both dismissed). But other similarities between the sovereign citizen’s fundamental tenets and Lowe’s in the 1990s are not a small matter. They defined his conduct toward government at the time.
Lowe’s declaration occurred as he was in a bitter dispute with the IRS over unpaid taxes and liens. (He ended up owing nearly $30,000 in unpaid taxes, according to an IRS lien.) Two letters Lowe wrote the IRS and himself filed as official documents with the Flagler Clerk of Court illustrate to what extent Lowe had asserted his “sovereign” citizenship, objecting to a lien filed against him and accusing the IRS of illegal acts, among them sending documents to his mother’s address. Two weeks later he wrote another letter that “I am not even classified as a taxpayer and that I am not liable for any tax whatsoever.” He claims that he had won agreement from a “Mr. Gear” (his role is never identified in the letters) that “the Internal Revenue Service is not even a governmental agency, bureau, department, section or service of the Government of the United States of America.” He makes explicit his rejection of the IRS’s authority to collect most taxes and demands that the lien be removed. The letters make just as clear his intention not to pay taxes.
Lowe claimed in an Observer interview that he had no idea there was a lien on his house. The documents he filed with the clerk of court suggest otherwise. Lowe today said he knew of one lien, not of a second one, which may have caused the confusion, and said he eventually paid off one of the liens in 2005, while he lost a home to foreclosure in 1996.
Lowe has been critical of Holland’s misjudgment and what he continuously refers to, without evidence, as her “corruption.” Holland has made misjudgments of her own. In 2017, as an employee of Coastal Cloud, the local tech company, she wrote two ultimately innocuous and fruitless emails that could be interpreted as sales pitches. She wrote them from a city email account with her mayor’s signature. She has owned up to the mistake, though she’s continued to be attacked through innuendo and unsupported claims. Last week, Lowe again attacked her over a television commercial that undeniably included a frame that was racially insensitive in standard dog-whistling fashion. Holland removed the frame.
But if Lowe is casting stones at Holland’s judgment, he’s doing so from a house of glass, opaque though it is: Lowe’s past remains a glaze of questions and shade.
All along in his campaign, Lowe has portrayed himself as a community member of 37 years who “has no other boss other than you, the citizens of Palm Coast,” while distancing himself from what he called “skewed” information in his past, including the unpaid taxes and the record of a misdemeanor charge that was not prosecuted, that an anonymous website compiled. At a forum in late September he said what happened decades ago has no bearing on who he is now. He applied the same reasoning today when asked about not voting all his adult life, and about his “sovereign citizen” days.
“I really never wanted to be involved in politics,” he said. “I never even wanted to pay attention to politics. I don’t like politics. I was living my life and I was kind of happy with the way things were going until the government started interfering with people’s lives, and with President Trump’s election coming up this year, I decided” to register.
He did not himself make the connection between not voting and his sovereign citizenship days, rather placing those days in the context of his “awakening.”
“At that time I began to have a spiritual awakening and began to delve heavily into reading the Bible and so forth, and attempting to learn, I should say, my place in a spiritual world with relation to the Bible.” When he got to the part about being “Christ’s ambassadors,” he realized he was battling his own dichotomy between his civil and his spiritual allegiances. Without counsel or guidance from a minister, he felt he had to “make a decision of which side I ought to be on, and went a little bit overboard in the spiritual realm.” Spiritual awakenings are not uncommon. Renunciations of earthly laws in the name of God very much are.
A few months later, Lowe said, he realized he could have his belief system without rejecting the rest. “I realized that stuff was foolish and not what I wanted to live by,” he said.
Lowe did not let Holland off after she conceded to a mistake with the television commercial last week. Holland returned the favor today.
“The information that has come to light in regards to Alan Lowe is of great concern to me, along with the voters of Palm Coast,” Holland said in a statement issued late this afternoon. “The fact that Mr. Lowe decided to give up his citizenship in an effort to avoid paying taxes while still living in the United States is absolutely unsettling. It seems to explain why he never felt obligated to register to vote, because he did not consider himself an American. For him to suddenly decide to seek public office, after decades of skirting his responsibilities, is abhorrent. It is extremely disrespectful to our men and women in uniform, including my own son who is currently serving overseas, who sacrifice daily for the freedoms we cherish at home in America. Choosing to seek public office means you must answer to the people, and at this point Mr. Lowe needs to address these two matters.”
By Wednesday, Gail Wadsworth, a Holland supporter (she’d appeared in the television ad) and active member of the local Republican Party (both Holland and Lowe are Republicans) had sent a letter to local media about Lowe’s absence from registration rolls all his life. “Alan Lowe,” Wadsworth wrote, “decided to register to vote when it was convenient for him, not when you, the fine people of Palm Coast, actually needed his participation.”
Lowe charged back, calling Wadsworth a liar for “falsely” claiming she had not endorsed Holland (Wadsworth says nothing in Republican Executive Committee rules prevents her from endorsing personally, as she has). “Even worse,” Lowe said, “she has violated Ronald Regan’s [sic.] Eleventh Commandment that reads: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” (The so-called commandment actually originated with Gaylord Parkinson, leader of California Republicans in the 1960s. Reagan adopted it, though in words only as his brutal campaigns against Gerald Ford in 1976 and George Bush in 1980 attest.)
“He’s somewhat out of school and I’m not a liar,” Wadsworth said of Lowe his evening. In a written rebuttal to Lowe, she said: “If he is the staunch Republican he claims to be, why would he have never bothered to vote for any Republicans over the course of his life?”