The man accused of setting the Southern California fire last week that has scorched thousands of acres of national forest is a sovereign citizen who appears to have a Kansas connection.
Forrest Gordon Clark has described himself on social media as an “interim congressman for Republic for Kansas” and has been involved in an organization that believes the U.S. government is not legitimate, according to J.J. MacNab, an expert on anti-government extremists.
Clark, 51, was arrested Aug. 7 and is charged with aggravated arson, arson of inhabited property, arson of forest, making criminal threats and resisting arrest. He is being held on $1 million bond and faces a life sentence if convicted.
The blaze, called Holy Fire, started Aug. 6 in Holy Jim Canyon. It has burned more than 22,000 acres of Cleveland National Forest and forced tens of thousands of residents to flee their homes, making it one of the most destructive wildfires of 2018. As of Sunday night, the fire was about 52 percent contained.
The area’s volunteer fire chief said that the week before the fire started, Clark had sent him text messages threatening to start a fire and that Clark had run screaming through the area. He’d also been involved in a longstanding feud with a neighbor and other cabin owners in the area, the fire chief said.
MacNab examined eight years of Clark’s social media posts and determined he’d been promoting sovereign citizen arguments since at least 2010.
Sovereign citizens say the government is corrupt and out of control, so they do not recognize local, state or federal authority or tax systems. Not all are violent, but in recent years the FBI and other government agencies have come to consider them a top domestic terrorism threat.
MacNab, a fellow with the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, said that in 2010, Clark was active in the Restore America Plan, which she said later became the Republic for the united States of America (RuSA). The RuSA, she said, is an alternative-government organization that believes the real U.S. government ceased to exist in 1871 and that an “imposter” or “de facto” government has been in power ever since.
To remedy this situation, MacNab said, RuSA created a substitute government and is waiting until the current government collapses so it can step in and take control.
Clark was such an enthusiastic supporter of the RuSA, MacNab said, that in 2010 he traveled to the first real gathering of the group in Colorado. His Facebook page contains a photo of a grinning Clark wearing a shirt with a large sunflower on it and a nametag that says, “Forrest Clark Representative Kansas.”
In a notice dated Sept. 16, 2011, and posted on his Facebook page, Clark says “I Am A Sovereign Man” and calls himself a “Kansas free state — Interim Representative” and “DeJure grand Juror in service for the Lord, you, our republic, our nation.”
In another post, he describes himself as “a general contractor/builder, a medical missionary, and a interim congressman for Republic for Kansas, trying to save America for those who are worthy & take the time to learn of freedom. Freedom is not free.”
It’s unclear why Clark was representing Kansas in the alternative-government organization. Online searches show he has lived in Ohio and California.
MacNab said that Clark’s exact beliefs are hard to label.
His Facebook posts include pushing such conspiracy theories as 9/11 was an inside job and insisting the FBI has murdered witnesses in the 2017 Las Vegas sniper shooting that killed 58. The site also contains posts about cannabis, religion and numerous close-up photos of what he says is skin cancer on his face and leg. It also suggests that he was involved in a dispute with a neighbor who he says was cooking meth.
“Based on his social media pages,” MacNab said in a Twitter post, “Clark is a sovereign citizen who believes in just about every kooky conspiracy out there, including QAnon, Pizzagate, Jade Helm 15, flat earth theories, NESARA, Jesuit conservancies, shape-shifting lizard overlords. You name it, he believes it.”
Clark appears to have a history of financial and personal troubles, according to the Palm Springs Desert Sun. In addition to multiple credit card collection cases, he was a defendant in a civil breach of contract case, accused of defrauding an employer of about $85,000. The lawsuit claimed that Clark and his co-workers were paid for landscaping work that his company never completed, the Desert Sun said.
And in 2012, the Desert Sun said, Clark’s mother filed a restraining order against him for elder abuse, and his brother filed a restraining order against him for verbal abuse and property destruction.