One Man Is An Island

Virgil Kesterson Cooper used to be a mainstream Mormon salesman in Scottsdale with a wife, seven children and an excellent income in the computer business. Now he's a computer virus, trying to zap his way to freedom while bugging a government he considers "a giant, colossal fraud."

Blending his personal brand of Mormon theology with an absolute refusal to pay taxes or "do business" with the billions of other people on this planet, Cooper has sent judges, cops, ex-governors, bureaucrats, his church and his wife and kids scurrying for cover.

Cooper's not the only antigovernment protester in Arizona, but he may be the most dogged and influential courthouse pest.

Unlike the usual grim-faced rebels who circle the wagons when revenooers approach and either picket or get dragged off to jail, Cooper has used honey, not vinegar, to win friends and influence people.

Ignited by tax bills he says he won't pay and fueled by an obsession over a divorce he won't accept, he peddles his paper rebellion to various clusters of disgruntled Arizonans. He wins praise from "patriots" who pray for a "Christian nation" and gets respect for his tactics against Big Brother.

And now that Virgil Cooper's a virus, he just keeps spreading.
It's odd. He's a well-spoken, mild- mannered, middle-aged farm boy from Phoenix who laces his conversation with self-effacing grins and chuckles.

Virgil Cooper is memorable because his ideas clash with his personality. He's a jalapeno pepper in a bowl of oatmeal.

His demeanor brings to mind Howard Sprague, the town clerk of Mayberry. But one government official calls him the Heinrich Himmler of Arizona's far-right fringe.

Crowds of people have listened to Cooper. He has a measure of fame in some circles. Most people, however, don't know or don't want to know the origin and depth of his frustration, envy and racial views. Those are topics Virgil Cooper usually doesn't talk about.

Cooper would rather talk about the Constitution. He insists he's his own man, fighting government to claim his Anglo-Saxon heritage as a "sovereign state citizen" and "natural individual."

A tireless researcher, he pours his knowledge into liens, judgments, orders and other documents that he and other "patriots" have filed from a court that doesn't exist to "alien jurisdictions" like Superior Court, the IRS, the INS, the DOR, the MVD and every other alphabet agency.

Although he tries to sentence judges to jail and floods the government with paperwork, Virgil Cooper's goal is to make the government forget him.

He says he likes it when people call him a "nonentity." "Yes, that's right," he told one bureaucrat last August. "What I want is when the state puts my name in the computer, I want the screen to come up blank."

At age 47, he's drifting farther and farther from his previous life. He's lost his relationships with his wife and their seven children. He hasn't even seen his first grandchild, who's nearly a year old and lives in Mesa. A Mormon high priest, he has sunk into deep trouble with his church.

Increasingly isolated, Virgil Cooper says he really can't understand why people would call him a misfit.

In fact, he denies he's a rebel. "Years ago, back in the days when I was a mainstream Republican, I had friends of mine who would come to me and discuss the John Birch Society," he recalls. "I thought they were radical wackos. I never joined. I never got involved with them. They seemed like extremists to me. Heh-heh-heh-heh."

If there were a machine that could measure political extremism, Virgil Cooper would make it sizzle and smoke.

MENTION VIRGIL COOPER to certain lawyers and bureaucrats around Phoenix, and you hear groans. "Even as we speak," says Assistant Attorney General Michael Prost, who has prosecuted a civil case against Cooper, "he's probably suing me for a thousand grains of silver."

Cooper and his allies, acting out of what they call an "Article III Justice Court"--a court that exists only in their minds--have issued liens, fines and jail sentences.

The targets of these "court orders" have included a host of judges from Superior Court and Municipal Court, various lawyers, Phoenix police chief Ruben Ortega and several police officers. He demands payment of "fines" in silver because the green stuff the rest of us use isn't really money.

Virgil knows documents.
After huddling with deadbeat dads or selected legislators like Senators Wayne Stump and Jerry Gillespie, he buries his head in volumes of administrative law, trying to dig up ways they all can fight the "system" more effectively. He cracks law books that no one else ever reads. Then he emerges from libraries to file documents and share new techniques with his friends.

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Ward Harkavy
Contact: Ward Harkavy

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