Most criminal defendants know better than to shout “fuck you” at a judge. But that didn’t stop a South Dakota man accused of stalking his mayor based on a bizarre conspiracy theory that claims courts and laws are fake.
Christopher Bruce, 58, calls himself “The Living Man” on the constellation of blogs and videos he’s left across the internet for years. The name is a reference to the sovereign citizen movement, a loosely organized ideology whose adherents claim to be free of U.S. laws and law enforcement. Sometimes overlapping with other conspiracy scenes and anti-government movements, sovereign citizens have repeatedly run into trouble with the law, mostly out of their refusal to recognize it. In Bruce’s case, that means an escalating pattern of attacks on local officials, this time over his belief in a conspiracy theory about 5G internet service.
On his blog, Bruce supported some core sovereign citizen claims, including that the U.S. is actually a corporation run by the Queen of England, and that its laws do not apply to him. (He signed a lawsuit with red fingerprints, a popular sovereign symbol.) Online, he cast himself as a freedom fighter who was risking his life to blog.
“I, Christopher William, born of the clan of Bruce, a living breathing man, am of very sound mind and very sound body. My cars and home are well maintained, I am in very good spirits and looking forward to a very long and rewarding life,” he wrote in a May 31 post explaining that, if he died suddenly, followers should investigate the death as suspicious.
Bruce claimed he was blowing the whistle on 5G internet, a new service that has become a favorite fear of conspiracy theorists. Although some legitimate meteorologists have called for further study of 5G due to fears that it could complicate weather forecast technology, conspiracy sites like Natural News and Russian propaganda outlet RT have unleashed waves of unfounded claims, accusing 5G of causing cancer, infertility, and autism. Some of the conspiracy theory’s more fringe proponents falsely accuse the technology of being part of a population control plot by shadowy world powers.
Bruce appeared to have bought into the more extreme strains of the conspiracy theory, and promoted RT as the only outlet he trusted. “This reporter, and more importantly, the ties of his station, even REMOTELY, to Russia make this about the ONLY news source you can trust,” Bruce wrote on his blog under an RT video about 5G. “I suggest watching it MORE OFTEN. At least here, you get unbiased news.”
On his blog, Bruce went on to take aim at Mayor Paul TenHaken of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. TenHaken’s administration is on track to give the city its own 5G network, one of the first in the country.
Bruce became a persistent figure at Sioux Falls city council hearings, where he pushed conspiracy theories about 5G.
“The mayor and this council are perhaps less concerned about the possible health dangers that will present with this new technology," Bruce told listeners during a recent meeting, reported by the Argus Leader, adding that local officials "are quite possibly only doing this at the behest of some greater power with their own agenda that we aren’t aware of.”
It wouldn’t be Bruce’s first time fixating on a local official. He lived in Iowa until at least 2016, according to a series of criminal charges against him there. He served 60 days in jail in 2015 for repeatedly harassing local government employees by phone, and another 60 days in prison in 2016 for disorderly conduct and filing a false police report, according to the Argus Leader. (He was found not guilty of stalking, harassment, and threatening to use an explosive device that year.)
Since moving to Sioux Falls sometime after his latest Iowa court date, Bruce allegedly began waging similar campaigns on TenHaken and other local officials. Over the past eight months, the majority of TenHaken’s tenure as mayor, Bruce allegedly sent repeated messages threatening city council members, TenHaken, and TenHaken’s family.
“You can fight city hall, you just need a bigger gun, better bullets and harder armor,” Bruce allegedly wrote TenHaken in one email.
Bruce has been charged with felony stalking over his alleged messages to Sioux Falls officials. Prosecutors enhanced the charge from a misdemeanor after learning about his past stalking cases.
A TenHaken spokesperson told The Daily Beast that “the city takes threats against the mayor and city council members and their families very seriously. The comments he made crossed the line of decorum into substantial threats against them.”
He may have plenty of experience with past criminal cases, but as a “sovereign citizen,” Bruce kept up an antagonistic relationship with the government. He shared a March email on his blog, where he effected a supervillain-type style to accuse the FBI’s Omaha branch of reading his emails and being lead by Robert Mueller (who does not lead any branch of the FBI).
"Dear Omaha Agents:
You play games? I like games…
You folks have been sifting through my email accounts for four years now,” he wrote.
“So the game of the day? I pull email addresses out of YOUR site…and I’ll just send emails to YOUR people….see how you like that. You come off like I’m afraid of you or something. I AM NOT. Nor, have I ever been. You have ZERO jurisdiction over me, or my family, YOU HAVE NO AUTHORITY TO FUCK WITH ME, PERIOD. [...] I called an agent today, and I told him to either arrest me for NO CRIME, SO I CAN SUE YOU…OR STOP GOING THRU MY EMAIL. You know what he said? THANK YOU. And hung up on me. I am tired of you going thru my stuff for nothing. Stop it, NOW, or I will sue the Omaha office…TOMORROW”
During the court appearance last week where he shouted down the judge, he also claimed the court had no jurisdiction over him. The judge increased his bond to $50,000.