Domestic Terrorists: The Sovereign Citizens Movement
In August, seven people were arrested after a shootout in a trailer park outside of New Orleans. The shootout took the lives of two police officers who were pursuing suspects of a prior shooting that had injured two other officers. These suspects have now been linked to the sovereign citizens movement, and makes this the latest in a growing number of incidents with sovereign citizens which have left law enforcement officials dead or injured. Members of this movement believe that government has no legitimate power over them, and that they are in fact above the law. Both Terry Nichols, a co-conspirator in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and Joe Stack, who in 2010 flew his plane into an IRS office in Austin, Texas, identified with the movement. Sovereign citizens have also wreaked havoc on the courts, whereas they are notorious for filing lengthy false lawsuits or legal motions, creating
and using false documents, and engaging in white collar schemes. This has led the FBI to label sovereign citizens as domestic terrorists.
Unlike military militias, which the group was previously linked to, the sovereign citizens movement has no leadership structure and its’ members are not united for a military purpose, but unite based on a loosely based legal theory. This legal theory is based on a skewed interpretation of the Constitution which holds that they are above the laws of the United States. Despite the fact that the Constitution applies to everyone within the United States, they believe that at some point the United States secretly switched from the system the founders set up, referred to as common law, to a system based on admiralty law, the law of the sea and of international commerce. “Under common law, or so they believe, the sovereigns would be free men. Under admiralty law, they are slaves, and secret government forces have a vested interest in keeping them that way.”
Some sovereign citizens point to when the United States switched from backing the dollar with gold to the “full faith and credit” of the United States as an example of how Americans are enslaved by the government. They believe that when a baby is born, a birth certificate is issued, and parents are required to apply for a Social Security number, the government uses the birth certificate to set up a straw man corporation in the baby’s name for a secret Treasury account. Since a person’s birth certificate has all of the letters in a person’s name capitalized, i.e. JOHN DOE, sovereigns believe that this account is under the same name. They then believe that a person’s rights are split between this straw man and the actual person. A person can sever the connection with this straw man through a fake legal process called redemption.
This belief is used not as a cause to take up arms for, but as both a legal defense to and justification for their behavior. For example for taxes or any bill from a company they don’t want to pay, they believe, under a twisted reading of the Uniform Commercial Code, that if they write “accepted for value,” the bill will just be paid for by their secret straw man account. Other tactics include, how to save money on car repairs using red ink on legal documents and filing false documents. Asides from not paying taxes, sovereigns have also used their false legal beliefs: to use fake money, checks, passports, license plates and driver’s license; to hold illegal courts to issue warrants for judges and police officers; and even impersonate police officers and diplomats. Sovereigns have also been involved in white collar crimes using their redemption practice.
While not every action of a sovereign citizen is a crime, the real problem starts when one of these sovereign citizens is charged with a crime or involved in a legal proceeding. Since the basis of the movement is rooted in law, albeit a false one, they will clog the courts with motions and paperwork in an effort to obstruct the court. When that inevitably fails, they also tend to file frivolous lawsuits and liens against any government official, police officer, or judge who rules against them. However, that might just be the beginning. Hard-core true believers have gone on to threaten the lives of judges, law enforcement, and government personnel. The most extreme individuals have carried through on these threats, targeting and killing such officials.
It is important to recognize that this movement is a threat, and thanks to the internet a fast growing threat, with nearly 300,000 members. Although only about a third of those are hard core members, they all may pose a threat to anyone who conflicts their skewed view of federal sovereignty. Since it is a movement of individuals with no set structure it is difficult for law enforcement to confront the problem before they strike. However, just like any other terrorist group, it is important for law enforcement to identify and prevent potential attacks.