The Roger Sherman Institute (RSI) is – or was (it’s a bit unclear whether it’s still running) – an American institution for, well, something that looks like education from a perspective that “is distinctly nationalist, patriotic, biblical, and constitutional;” the institution’s “moral and nationalist perspective” was ostensibly free from government censorship and “political correctness”. Founded in 2012 by former encyclopedia salesman Aaron Bollinger, the institution – named for a 18th century Connecticut lawyer and senator – wouldn’t teach “theoretical physics, double-entry accounting, or Freudian voodoo” but focus instead on promulgating various conspiracy theories and “the sociotheosphere, where you can learn about historical battles between dominant religions and government.” Apparently “[o]ur instructors don’t follow the script written by state and federal governments or specific organized religions about education in the realms of political science, theology, or general studies” – instead, “we allow you to research down whatever rabbit-holes you choose” (unless it is Freud or theoretical physics, apparently). They would also offer courses on other stuff, like the computer class “Intro to Corel WordPerfect”. The school preferred that students pay in silver (seven troy ounces of “Pre 1965 silver coin” for undergraduate courses and nine troy ounces for graduate courses) but will accept “Federal Reserve Notes” (i.e. cash) and postal money orders as well. Bollinger signs his emails as “Disciple Aaron”.
Disciple Aaron has had plenty of experience as a radical-right activist with the antigovernment “Patriot” movement. He has also worked with anti-Semitic far-right organizations like the Committee to Restore the Constitution and Holocaust denier Willis Carto’s Liberty Lobby (Bollinger denies being anti-Semitic: “You know, I study theology and consider myself an Israelite, so if I’m anti-Semitic then I’d be against myself. That’s just ridiculous.”), been a “researcher” for Gun Owners of America, and been involved with the Taliban- and ISIS-inspired group Christian Exodus, a theocratic organization that attempted to take control of South Carolina and, “if necessary,” declare it a sovereign republic based on Old Testament law – it might be notable that Christian Exodus’s webmaster Keith Humphrey was also manager for one of the Sherman Institute’s websites. Bollinger has also enjoyed a career as legislative director for the Patriot conspiracy group Restore the Republic, whose goals are to eliminate the Federal Reserve and the IRS, end globalization, and make it illegal to implantmicrochips in people, and has been part of the advisory board for the far-right Committees of Safety.
Who else has been involved with the ‘school’? At least back in 2012, its faculty included:
- David Irons, an antigovernment activist and 2008 failed candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives on a platform of abolishing the income tax, is one of RSI’s co-founders. (He might be deceased as of 2022.)
- Another co-founder is David Schied, a former movie stuntman and presumably the guy behind this one. And probably a slew of others like it.
- Greg Evensen, a militia sympathizer and former Kansas state trooper. The dean of justice studies, Evensen is otherwise known for various radio broadcasts on endtimes and militia websites, and for claiming that “alien hybrids” pretending to be US troops led an enforced evacuation of 40 million people from the Gulf Coast area in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (He might be deceased as of 2022.)
- Veronica Ann Hannevig (her own spelling ‘Veronica Ann; Hannevig’) as dean of distance learning. A champion of the sovereign citizens movement, Hannevig’s personal website, The Truth Store, prominently notifies the government that she was “born in the United States of diplomatic representatives by hereditary succession of the Kingdom of Heaven” and that she has “the property, rights, privileges and immunities granted to me and my heirs by hereditary succession by Our Father, Y'hw(v)'h, the Creator and sovereign ruler of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them” (and hence she owes nothing to the government).
- Mark Anderson, editor of the American Free Press, an anti-Semitic weekly that bills itself as “America’s Last Real Newspaper”
- Karen Ruff, a South Carolina tea party activist whose course on conspiracies in contemporary politics would cover important things like “the well documented forgery of the birth certificate and selective service documents of Barack Obama” and why global warming is a hoax. (Bollinger himself won’t offer his take – “I’m not a meteorologist”, says Bollinger on the question of global warming, and “How can I say? I wasn’t around” on the issue of birtherism – besides, “[t]he presidency is far less important on the national level than the Vice President. What does the President do? He signs bills. What does the Vice President do? He controls what bills move. The Vice President has as much, if not more, power than the President.” You’ll learn a lot you didn’t know in RSI’s classes)
A couple of familiar miscreants showed up on the faculty lists, too: League of the South member Michael Peroutka was apparently teaching classes at the RSI, and David Whitney, a white supremacist pastor who advocates a second Southern secession and the creation of a “godly” nation run by “Anglo-Celtic” (white) elites, was dean of theology.
Diagnosis: It’s so difficult for ordinary people to imagine such radical confusion about how things work and such struggles to distinguish reality from fevered wishful thinking that it is also hard to empathize with the paranoia and anger such confusion obviously creates in struggling, confused people like Aaron Bollinger. But there are many like him, and apparently some view him as some sort of leader. Dangerous.