FBI: ‘Sovereign citizen’ cases on the rise

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US Federal authorities are seeing an increase in the number of  foreclosed and unoccupied homes in metro Atlanta, Georgia being seized by members of a sect known as ‘Sovereign Citizens’ — a movement of right-wing anarchists who reject all government power.

Members of the Sovereign movement are found across the USA.

The Southern Poverty Law Center — a human rights organization that tracks hate groups and their activities — describes the movement as follows:

hundreds of thousands of far-right extremists who believe that they — not judges, juries, law enforcement or elected officials — get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore, and who don’t think they should have to pay taxes.

According to the ADL:

The “sovereign citizen” movement is a loosely organized collection of groups and individuals who have adopted a right-wing anarchist ideology originating in the theories of a group called the Posse Comitatus in the 1970s. Its adherents believe that virtually all existing government in the United States is illegitimate and they seek to “restore” an idealized, minimalist government that never actually existed. To this end, sovereign citizens wage war against the government and other forms of authority using “paper terrorism” harassment and intimidation tactics, and occasionally resorting to violence.


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says:

The group believes banks can’t own land or property and that any home owned by a bank — including the thousands of foreclosed properties throughout Georgia — are theirs for the taking. […]

Sovereign citizens don’t believe courts have jurisdiction over them. They don’t believe in paying taxes or acquiring driver’s licenses or car tags.

They do, however, believe abandoned properties are ripe for the taking. They often use quit-claim deeds to take over properties and as soon as they move in post trespassing signs warning people to stay off the property.

The group uses YouTube to educate the public about their philosophy and recruit new members.

The FBI lists Sovereign Citizens as a domestic terrorist organization. The fact that Sovereign Citizens’ believe they are separate or “sovereign” from the United States causes all kind of problems — and crimes, the FBI says:

For example, many sovereign citizens don’t pay their taxes. They hold illegal courts that issue warrants for judges and police officers. They clog up the court system with frivolous lawsuits and liens against public officials to harass them. And they use fake money orders, personal checks, and the like at government agencies, banks, and businesses.

That’s just the beginning. Not every action taken in the name of the sovereign citizen ideology is a crime, but the list of illegal actions committed by these groups, cells, and individuals is extensive (and puts them squarely on our radar). In addition to the above, sovereign citizens:

• Commit murder and physical assault;
• Threaten judges, law enforcement professionals, and government personnel;
• Impersonate police officers and diplomats;
• Use fake currency, passports, license plates, and driver’s licenses; and
• Engineer various white-collar scams, including mortgage fraud and so-called “redemption” schemes.

Sovereign citizens are often confused with extremists from the militia movement. But while sovereign citizens sometimes use or buy illegal weapons, guns are secondary to their anti-government, anti-tax beliefs. On the other hand, guns and paramilitary training are paramount to militia groups.

The Nevada Observer writes:

The sovereign citizen movement is believed to be an off shoot or continuation of the Posse Comitatus of the 1960s.  Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City federal court building bomber is believed to be associated with sovereign citizen as is his partner, Terry Nichols.  […]

Besides McVeigh and Nichols, the man accused of killing George Tiller, the abortion doctor, is alleged to belong to more than one militia group and sovereign citizen organizations.  […]

James Wenneker von Brunn, an Annapolis, Maryland man, walked into the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. recently, armed with a rifle and began shooting.  One guard was killed, and von Brunn was seriously wounded.  On von Brunn’s web site he claims membership in the sovereign citizen movement, and once tried to arrest the board of governors of the Federal Reserve in their building in Washington.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) estimates the sect numbers more than 300,000 nationwide.

It also says:

The sovereign movement is growing fast, and its partisans are clogging up the courts with their indecipherable filings. When cornered, many of them lash out in rage, frustration and, in the most extreme cases, acts of deadly violence.

It is difficult to say precisely how many sovereigns there are in the United States today, in part because there is no central leadership and no organized group that members can join — instead, there are a variety of local leaders with individualized takes on sovereign citizen ideology and techniques. Those who are attracted to this bizarre subculture typically attend a seminar or two, or visit one of the thousands of websites and online videos on the subject, and then simply choose how to act on what they’ve learned. Some start by testing sovereign ideology with small offenses such as driving without a license, while others proceed directly to taking on the IRS as tax protesters. […]

Not all tax protesters are sovereign citizens, and many newer recruits to the sovereign life did not start out as tax protesters. But based on the available evidence, a reasonable estimate of hard-core sovereign believers today would be 100,000, with another 200,000 just starting out by testing sovereign techniques for resisting everything from speeding tickets to drug charges, for a total of 300,000. As sovereign theories go viral throughout the nation’s prison systems and among people who are unemployed and desperate in a punishing recession, this number is likely to grow.

The SPLC has created a video to help law enforcement agencies better prepare for encounters with “sovereign citizens.”

The Sovereigns: Tips for Law Enforcement (SPLC)
The Sovereigns: Leaders of the Movement (SPLC)
The Sovereigns: A Dictionary of the Peculiar (SPLC)
Domestic Terrorism: The Sovereign Citizen Movement (FBI)
Sovereign Citizen Movement (ADL)

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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014