On June 14, Pennsylvania authorities caught and arrested a fugitive accused of having shot and killed three of his neighbors in West Virginia the previous day. Erick Shute, 29, who allegedly had a long-running series of disputes with the neighbors, reportedly attacked the three (and a fourth who escaped) over a conflict about firewood.
Shute was a minor public figure as the vocalist for the longstanding death metal band Pyrexia, with which he had reportedly been involved since childhood. He also worked as a fire and water damage restorer in New Jersey and was involved with a variety of odd business ventures, involving crowdsourcing, digital currencies, and multi-level marketing, among others.
After the slayings, a woman who described herself as “one of his ex girlfriends” posted on-line that “he has never been [one] for the police or government.” That seems to have been a serious understatement. West Virginia authorities claimed that Shute was an adherent of the extreme anti-government sovereign citizen movement and even suggested that he was building a compound on the West Virginia land reportedly purchased by his mother and used as a weekend home by Shute. Authorities have said they found stockpiles of food, weapons and ammo on the property, as well as “bunkers.”
Actually, Shute’s involvement with anti-government extremism appears to have been more extensive than just the sovereign citizen movement. Rather, to varying degrees, Shute identified with all three major wings of the anti-government “Patriot” movement: the sovereign citizen movement, the tax protest movement, and the militia movement. Shute was also supportive to some degree of anarchism, which is also anti-government, though from a more left-leaning perspective.
Shute’s oldest known extremist ties do relate to the sovereign citizen movement. While living with his mother in New Jersey during the period 2009-11, he subscribed to several sovereign citizen beliefs, especially those rejecting the legitimacy of motor vehicle laws. In 2011, he tried to get a local police department to sign a “peace treaty” with him that would somehow allow him not to have a license or registration. This visit led to his arrest for driving a vehicle with no license plates as well as charges of aggravated assault on a police officer, resisting arrest, and obstruction. Based on a courtroom video he uploaded to the Internet, Shute seems to have defended himself in court—as many sovereign citizens do—claiming that the judge in his case was not a judge but an “executive administrator” and that there had been no judicial courts in America for centuries. Shute was convicted and spent half a year in jail.
Shute also became involved to at least some degree with the tax protest movement, which claims that a conspiracy is hiding the “fact” that most Americans don’t have to pay income taxes. He engaged in argumentative phone calls with IRS representatives and sent hostile letters to the IRS as late as 2015 claiming that he had been given no “proof” he was required to file an income tax return or that the IRS had jurisdiction over him. Judging by some of his on-line remarks, he may not have been paying income taxes for more than five years.
In recent years, however, Shute seems to have identified most strongly with the ideas of the militia movement. The militia movement believes that the federal government is collaborating with a “New World Order” globalist conspiracy to strip Americans of their rights and enslave them. Subsidiary conspiracy theories emanating from the movement include a belief that the federal government is planning to round up citizens and place them in internment or concentration camps; a belief that the government is plotting to suspend the Constitution and declare martial law, perhaps on a pretext such as a terrorist attack or pandemic; and that the government will engage in mass gun confiscations—among others.
Militia movement adherents oppose this perceived government conspiracy. Many, though by no means all, join paramilitary militia groups. Though Shute “liked” a number of militia groups on his Facebook pages, he does not seem to have joined a formal group himself.
However, Shute’s on-line statements clearly indicate an adherence to the movement’s ideology. Responding to a conspiracy article about an employment ad for a U.N. “disarmament officer,” Shute claimed in 2014 that anyone who took such a job “deserves to be killed” by some sort of “painful and horrifying” manner such as being “eaten alive by dogs.” When the governor of West Virginia vetoed a permitless carry firearms bill in 2015, Shute posted that “someone needs to behead this mofo.”
In 2015, Shute expressed happiness at the thought that police officers might be among the first Americans “to get put in internment camps.” He also posted that he could not support the troops “if the troops are training to take you and me away into an internment camp.” Like many other anti-government extremists, Shute became outraged at the military exercises held in the southern U.S. under the name “Operation Jade Helm,” claiming that they were martial law training scenarios.
Shute, an avid fan of anti-government conspiracy websites such as InfoWars, believed in a wide array of standard “Patriot” movement conspiracy theories, from airplanes using “chemtrails” to poison the American people to vaccination programs being part of an agenda “to kill off millions of people.” Shute even claimed to have tried to attend the 2012 Bilderberg conference in Chantilly, Virginia, a magnetic lure for conspiracy theorists who believe that “Bilderbergers” are part of an international conspiracy.
By 2015, it is clear that Shute had developed extreme, and extremely paranoid, attitudes towards government and law enforcement. In February, Shute stated that it was time “to pull the government officials out of their beds at night and hang them from the trees in their front yards.” Urging people to “arm up,” Shute stated in March that everybody should have a gun in every room in their house and that they should even sleep with their guns, so that they would be ready to kill any police officer who came through the door. “This is the time for war,” he wrote, “and if you don’t get prepared to fight, that’s your problem.”
In January and February 2016, Erick Shute became a supporter of the anti-government extremists who engaged in an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon and subsequent standoff, even listening to the live broadcasts by the final few occupiers in the last hours of the standoff, before they were arrested. After their arrest, Shute wrote that he “loved” the occupiers and that “even though we never met, I feel so close to these people now.”
Incidents such as these increased the already extreme hostility that Shute felt for law enforcement. Responding in February 2016 to a news report of one officer who had killed a dog, Shute urged that the officer be tortured and murdered, including being hung over a fire, whipped, teeth and nails pulled out, fingers cut out, among many other violent and gruesome methods. Indeed, so hostile was Shute to law enforcement that he may have well posed a risk to local law enforcement as well as to his neighbors.
Shute will be extradited back to West Virginia to face multiple homicide charges.