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A major social movement happening in the United States today is a group of people called sovereign citizens. Sovereign citizens in the simplest terms can be described as individuals that believe they are no longer citizens of the United States. Therefore, they believe they do not have to obey the laws of the United States or pay taxes as a sovereign citizen. It is not against the law to declare oneself a sovereign and being a sovereign is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. But, because sovereign citizens do not believe they have to obey the law, a simple traffic stop can escalate and become deadly between law enforcement and sovereign citizens.
THE BEGINNING - POSSE COMITATUS
The Sovereign Citizen story traces its origins to the Posse Comitatus, an anti-tax group founded in the 1960s. Bolstered by close ties to white supremacist and Christian Identity extremist groups, Posse Comitatus organized itself into a potent, yet still loose, force and convinced countless peers that they need not pay taxes, or even listen to the government (Belonsky, 2010). According to the Posse Comitatus, there were two types of citizens: the inferior "14th Amendment Citizens" and the "Sovereign Citizens" who follow the only "true" governments, which were county-based, and local Sheriffs wielded ultimate power (Belonsky, 2010).
Sovereign citizens describe 14th Amendment citizens as subject to federal and state governments, unlike themselves. Because the amendment gave citizenship to freed slaves, a racist variant of sovereign-citizen theory holds that blacks are subject to the governments and that being white is a prerequisite to being a sovereign citizen. Others claim all state citizens were converted by the constitutional amendment to Federal Citizens, who can only be freed by a process known as asseveration (Intelligence Report, 2010).
Former Posse Comitatus spokesman, Roger Elvick took the movement a bit forward by adding a convoluted financial theory called the "redemption movement." The story of the redemption movement goes something like this: the government secretly took out a foreign loan in 1909 and later defaulted on that debt, leading to the Great Depression (Belonsky, 2010). When President Roosevelt signed the 1933 Emergency Banking Act, taking the United States off of the gold standard and centralizing financial power in Washington, D.C., he "mortgaged" citizens via their social security numbers, which are secret "straw man" accounts. The government then uses these accounts, your life, to pay its debts (Belonsky, 2010). Like a true American capitalist, Elvick turned sovereign citizenship into big business and began charging people for classes on tax evasion and other financial frauds against the government (Belonsky, 2010).
Since the movement's inception in the 1980's, sovereign citizen's members, with a few notable exceptions, which are covered later, have stayed out of the spotlight, quietly growing to an estimated 300,000 individuals. Sovereign citizens believe that individuals owe their allegiance to their county first and then their state. The United States simply doesn't exist in their eyes (Belonsky, 2010).
In the early 1980's, tax deniers and sovereign citizens developed fake checkbooks and money scams and sold them to farmers and other United States citizens in debt. Montana Freemen and Republic of Texas used "Comptroller's Warrants" to pay mortgages on properties. Again clogging up the legal system to the point where many got away with paying with false documents (Belonsky, 2010).
By the late 1980's the Posse Comitatus weakens. The Posse Comitatus was mostly a white supremacy faction; with them gone more antigovernment people were included. Now all races could be included in the sovereign citizen movement (Belonsky, 2010).
Indigenous groups in the United States are considered sovereign nations. During the 1990's, sovereign citizen individuals discovered this and exploited the groups, creating their own indigenous groups such as the Washitaw Nation, Moors, and Little Shell Pembina Band. Members of the sovereign citizen groups would conduct seminars to boost enrollment, selling sovereign citizenship cards to illegal aliens for thousands of dollars. Falsely leading the illegal aliens to believe they were now citizens of the United States. The sovereign citizens would also teach seminars on how to conduct redemption schemes. Redemption schemes use elaborate undecipherable legal filings to charge the government and other entities for the use of a sovereign citizen's name (Nelson, 2011).
Sovereign citizens began to stockpile guns and ammunition for the fear of the Y2K scare for the year 2000. It was believed that all of the computers around the world would shut down when the year changed from 1999 to 2000. The reason for this belief is that computer programmers, in order to save time and space on computers, inputted the year as the last two digits only. It was thought that when 1999 change to 2000 the computer would believe it was 1900, thus causing all kinds of chaos. Sovereign citizens believed that it would be the end of the world and wanted to be prepared to defend their property (Potok, 2010).
After September 11, 2001, most sovereign citizens believed in the conspiracy theory that the federal government blew up the World Trade Center Towers to cause mistrust between other countries. Many websites and books are dedicated to proving the United States government planned and carried out the terrorist attacks on that day (Potok, 2010).
Beginning around 2008, the Presidential elections were a rallying point for sovereign citizens. An African American was running and eventually became the President of the United States. The beginning of the sovereign citizen movement was started by white supremacists. The fact that an African American President is in office began a surge for the sovereign citizen movement that carries on till the present. In April 2010 for example, Navy veteran Walter Fitzpatrick, acting on behalf of a group called American Grand Jury, a sovereign citizen group, barged into a Tennessee courthouse and tried to arrest the real grand jury foreman on the grounds that he refused to indict President Obama for treason (Gellman, 2010).
Immigration issues have become a heated topic in the United States. More and more sovereign citizens join for fear of illegal immigrants coming to the United States. At the same time militia groups increased their numbers too. At the end of 2009, there are one hundred and twenty -seven antigovernment militias active in the United States, up from forty-two from the year before. Many sovereign citizens are militia members, group distinctions are seldom clear because of overlapping memberships and alliances (Gellman, 2010). Sovereign citizens feel that the United States border with Mexico is not properly guarded. These sovereign citizen and militia members have started to patrol the border using weapons. Other groups such as the newly formed Tea Parties helped increase sovereign citizen interest. Presently sovereign citizen activity is increasing and tensions are escalating.
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
In 2010, Sargent Brandon Paudert and Officer Bill Evans from the West Memphis, Arkansas Police Department pulled over a white mini-van with license plates from Ohio. Inside the white minivan, a sixteen-year old juvenile named Joseph (Joe) Kane remained in the passenger seat, while his father, Jerry Kane, age forty-five, stood in front of the police vehicle and argued with the officers. During the confrontation Jerry Kane pushed Officer Evans into a roadside ditch. Joe Kane exited the vehicle with a loaded AK-47 and aimed at Evans. Joe Kane shot Officer Evans several times and turned his attention to Sergeant Paudert, who took cover behind the police vehicle. While Sergeant Paudert was able to fire his firearm seven times he was outgunned as Joe Kane pursued Paudert around the police vehicle, shooting him several times in the head before returning to Officer Evans in the ditch, where, he fired again. The Kane's then got into the minivan and drove away; Joe Kane continued to shoot at the downed officers. The Kane's were eventually found in a Wal-Mart parking lot where a gun battle ensued wounding two more law enforcement officers and killing both of the Kane's. Jerry and Joe Kane were sovereign citizen extremists who traveled around the country conducting sovereign citizen seminars on redemptions schemes and how not to pay taxes (MacNab, 2010).
Other encounters have occurred where violence has broken out during routine police interactions with sovereign citizen extremists. Sovereign citizen extremists are becoming more and more of a problem for law enforcement. Most law enforcement agencies still have no idea of how to deal with them.
PURPOSE OF THE PROJECT
The question for law enforcement agencies is how can local, state and federal law enforcement entities help stop the violence between sovereign citizen extremists and law enforcement officers during encounters and interaction? Two main points to consider, what tools can be provided to front line police officers to use in dealing with sovereign citizens and what can we do as law enforcement to make sure violent sovereign citizens are prosecuted in a court of law (Potok, 2010)?
RATIONALE OF THE PROJECT
With the growing number of sovereign citizens in the United States and the problems that they bring with them, it has become increasingly difficult for law enforcement to make a case against them. The overwhelming amount of paper filings in the court system and their belligerent attitude towards anyone involved with the government to include law enforcement has put sovereign citizens on the radar of officials. The problem with sovereign citizens is how to start a case. Usually no one knows about them until they have done something violent. Criminal charges are hard to file on a sovereign citizen prior to the violent act. This leaves law enforcement in a precarious predicament. And once law enforcement runs into them it usually takes the officer by surprise. Most law enforcement officers have not been taught how to handle a sovereign citizen extremist that tries to confuse the situation.
Sovereign citizens use word play to accomplish many of their tactics. One historical example is the Declaration of Independence using the terms Unalienable and Inalienable. In the final draft of the Declaration the term Unalienable Rights is used. The definition of Unalienable Rights is rights that cannot be surrendered, sold or transferred. In Thomas Jefferson's original draft the term Inalienable Rights is used (Kindig, 1995). The definition of Inalienable Rights in this instance is rights that can only be transferred with the consent of the person possessing those rights. Sovereign citizens will argue that Jefferson meant to use Inalienable Rights, proving that they can transfer their rights and no longer be a citizen of the United States but a sovereign citizen. To this day it is still not known which draft Jefferson meant to use as the final draft (Kindig, 1995). This is one argument that sovereigns will use to attract new sovereigns to the ideals of sovereign citizenship.
Sovereign citizens use fake identifications such as passports, driver's license, and law enforcement credentials that look very real. Some sovereigns have attempted to pass their identifications as a valid driver's license with ambassador tags. The license plates look close to the real thing and most cases will pass as the real thing. Only someone with a full knowledge of all the different license plates would be able to tell the difference. If they do have legal tags the tags will be registered to a strange group or unusual church.
Sovereign citizens will try to pass themselves off as law enforcement officers. They use fake badges and credentials. A few sovereigns have attempted to pass security at airports using fake identification and trying to pass themselves off as law enforcement. This leads to confusion and a potentially dangerous situation.
Sovereign citizens will try to pass themselves off as diplomats or ambassadors. If they claim to be a diplomat they will attempt to claim diplomatic immunity. This leads law enforcement to believe they are exempt from local laws and are an ambassador from another country, when in fact they are claiming to be an ambassador from a state such as "The ambassador from the great land of Nebraska." This can be very confusing to law enforcement and the court system. Officers are unsuspecting of diplomats.
Sovereign citizens are clogging up our court systems filing fraudulent paper work including false warrants on officials, false liens on judges, elected officials, and law enforcement officers. An unsuspecting person will never know they have a lien on their property until they try to sell or refinance the property. Then they will have to prove they are the rightful owner of that property by filing documents and hiring a lawyer. The term used for this type aggravation is "paper terrorism".
During traffic stops sovereign citizens will crack the window just enough to be heard. Then they will distract the officer with paperwork instead of the usual driver's license and registration. Sovereign citizens will ask the police officer to recite their oath of office and to fill out any of the forms they are giving to the sovereign citizen such as a summons or a ticket with the officer's personal information instead of badge name and number. The driver will hand the officer a printed "Miranda Warning", stating that the officer does not have the right to give them a ticket. They will also turn around and give the officer a ticket for violating the sovereign's rights. They will bill the officer and agency for copyright violations for using the sovereigns name without their permission. During a traffic stop, a sovereign will attempt to film or record the encounter. They try to test the patience of the officer to the point where they lose their temper. They will then use the recording as evidence in court or post it on the internet. During the traffic stop, while the sovereign citizen is distracting the officer, the sovereign citizen will call for back up, calling other sovereign citizens to the location to observe the traffic stop. Most of the backup do not just observe but also will engage verbally and video record the incident with the officer. This can lead to a potential dangerous situation and would pose a threat to a police officer during a traffic stop. The most serious problem with sovereign citizens is that most are armed, usually with weapons more powerful than the ones law enforcement officers carry.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
VIOLENT SOVEREIGN CITIZEN ENCOUNTERS
Since the 1960's, individuals that have claimed sovereign citizen ideals have been involved in some of history's most famous cases. Through the review of literature, some of the most notable law enforcement incidents and standoffs include the following:
On February 13, 1983, in Medina, North Dakota, state Marshals attempted to arrest Gordon Kahl. Kahl was with a group of family and friends including his son Yorie. The Marshals attempted the arrest at a nearby roadblock as Kahl left a Posse Comitatus township meeting (Reed, 2010). Kahl, according to family accounts, refused to be taken alive and would sooner have been killed. The official report states that a member of Kahl's group fired the first shot. Deputy Marshal Bob Cheshire and Deputy Jim Hopson were both killed, and Yorie was severely wounded and taken to the hospital once the firefight was over (Reed, 2010). Kahl stole one of the Marshals vehicles and fled to Arkansas. On June 3, 1983, fugitive Gordon Kahl again was involved in a shootout in Smithville, Arkansas where Kahl and a Sheriff Deputy were killed. Many accounts of the life and death of Kahl continue to be shared today, especially by those who view Kahl as a martyr who stood against government persecution (Reed, 2010).
On August 22, 1992, on a remote ridge in northern Idaho, called Ruby Ridge, a week long standoff between white supremacist and sovereign citizen Randy Weaver and federal agents ended in a shootout in which an FBI sniper shot and killed Weaver's wife, Vicky. The Ruby Ridge confrontation began a week earlier when federal Marshals tried to arrest Weaver for failing to appear in court on weapons charges. At that time, a gun battle erupted between the Marshals and Weaver's fourteen year old son, resulting in the deaths of Weaver's son and a Marshal. The Ruby Ridge incident has been used as a rallying cry for many sovereign citizen incidents (Lexis Counsel Connect, 1994).
On April 19, 1993, David Koresh (born Vernon Howell) claimed the lives of eighty of his Branch Davidian followers, including twenty-five children, in what seemed to be their final trial by fire (Ross, 1999). That standoff began February 28th when agents of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms attempted to serve Koresh with a warrant at his Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas. This effort erupted in gunfire. Heavily armed Davidians fired upon federal agents killing four and wounding sixteen Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms officers. The thirty-three year old self-proclaimed "Lamb of God" thus ended a fifty-one day standoff with federal law enforcement. After the shootout Koresh refused to leave the enclosure often called Ranch Apocalypse (Ross, 1999). The FBI assumed control of the perimeter and conducted negotiations. David Koresh repeatedly broke his promises to come out peacefully. Frustrated and exhausted federal agencies subsequently attempted to end the standoff by gassing the compound. Koresh, then forced to choose between his compound Kingdom and certain criminal prosecution, opted to end not only of his own life, but that of his followers as well (Ross, 1999).
GEORGE SIBLEY AND LYNDA LYONS
On October 4, 1993, Sergeant Roger Motley was on his way to Wal-Mart to purchase supplies for the Police Department when a female in the parking lot flagged him down. The female told Sergeant Motley that a child in a car had indicated to her that he needed help (City of Opelika, Alabama, 2010). Sergeant Motley located the car in the Wal-Mart parking lot, and a white male adult, later identified as George Sibley, Jr., and a white male juvenile, occupied it. Sergeant Motley approached the car and asked Sibley for his identification. Sibley stated he did not recognize the government authority and he did not have any identification. He then reached into his car and pulled out a semi-automatic pistol and began firing at Sergeant Motley, who retreated to his police car and returned fire with his service weapon (City of Opelika, Alabama, 2010). While the exchange of gunfire was taking place, Lynda Lyons, Sibley's traveling companion, was on a payphone outside of Wal-Mart. Lyons saw what was happening and ran behind Sergeant Motley's car and started shooting him with a semi-automatic pistol. Sergeant Motley, with multiple gunshot wounds from Sibley and Lyons, got into his car and attempted to leave the area (City of Opelika, Alabama, 2010). Due to his massive injuries, Sergeant Motley was unable to drive off and struck several cars in the parking lot. Sergeant Motley was transported to the East Alabama Medical Center where he was pronounced dead. Sibley and Lyons got into their car and drove off. They were later stopped on Wire Road in Auburn and, after a standoff for several hours; they surrendered to authorities (City of Opelika, Alabama, 2010).
Timothy McVeigh, angered by the Waco, Texas Branch Davidian tragedy, decided to enact retribution to those he felt responsible, the federal government. In downtown Oklahoma City, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building held numerous federal agency offices. Planning his revenge for the second anniversary of the Waco disaster, McVeigh enlisted his friend Terry Nichols, A self-described sovereign citizen, and several others to help him pull off his plan (Rosenberg, 2010). In September 1994, McVeigh purchased large amounts of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, and then stored it in a rented shed in Herington, Kansas. The ammonium nitrate was the main ingredient for the bomb. McVeigh and Nichols stole other supplies needed to complete the bomb from a quarry in Marion, Kansas (Rosenberg, 2010).
On April 17, 1995, McVeigh rented a Ryder truck and then McVeigh and Nichols loaded the Ryder truck with approximately 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. On the morning of April 19th, McVeigh drove the Ryder truck to the Murrah Federal Building, lit the bomb's fuse, parked in front of the building, and then walked across the parking lot to an alley, leaving the area (Rosenberg, 2010).
On the morning of April 19, 1995, most employees of the Murrah Federal Building had already arrived at work and children had already been dropped off at the daycare center when the explosion tore through the building at 9:02 a.m. (Rosenberg, 2010). Nearly the entire north face of the nine story building was pulverized into dust and rubble. It took weeks of sorting through debris to find the victims. In all, one hundred and sixty-eight people were killed in the explosion, which included nineteen children. One nurse was also killed during the rescue operation (Rosenberg, 2010).
The Oklahoma City bombing was the worst terrorist attack on United States soil before September 11, 2001. McVeigh was a sovereign citizen that actually attended several militia and sovereign citizen groups. Later members of these groups stated that McVeigh was too extreme even for their groups (Rosenberg, 2010).
In the 1990's, the Montana Freemen set up their own government in what they call Justus Township, based outside the town of Jordan, Montana. The Montana Freeman had their own set of laws, currency and officials. Their system of beliefs is based on teachings and tenets from the Bible, the Magna Carta, common law, the U.S. Constitution, parts of the Montana Constitution and the Uniform Commercial Code. For more than a year, Justus Township has issued its own writs, liens and money. The Montana Freemen embraced a belief in the doctrine of individual sovereignty and rejected the authority of the federal government of the United States (Tharp, 1995).
In 1994, the Montana Freemen fortified themselves in Justus Township in houses and ranches several of the members had lost farms and ranches that had been in their families for generations to foreclosures and sheriff's auctions. They blame intrusive government regulations and greedy banks. Several Freemen were wanted on felony charges. Refusing to turn themselves in, they lived under a loose siege for 20 months, never going to town and living off what they grow and herd, with some help from sympathetic families and friends. The FBI investigated the group and initiated an investigation aimed at one of the Freemen's financial programs, which led to the arrest of two members of the group. The FBI also had warrants for eight other persons suspected to be in the farm, but before they were able to arrest them an armed confrontation developed and the FBI withdrew to a safe distance in order to avoid violence. After several months of negotiations, the Freemen surrendered to authorities (Tharp, 1995).
REPUBLIC OF TEXAS
January 11, 1997, The Republic of Texas, a sovereign citizen group, took a husband and wife hostage in a standoff with law enforcement officers, wounding one of the hostages and sealing off a remote West Texas resort community (Holt, 1997). Richard McLaren, who calls himself the Republic's ambassador, maintains that Texas was illegally annexed into the United States and is actually a sovereign nation. McLaren had several outstanding warrants from state and federal courts and had been hiding out from law enforcement because of those warrants (Holt, 1997). The reason McLaren took the couple hostage is that he wanted their house because it has a commanding view of the valley approaching the highway. The couple's house overlooks the one access road into the community. McLaren described the couple as "two state of Texas agents" (Holt, 1997).
The Republic of Texas leadership has attempted to convince potential followers that they would live in a state free of federal income taxes and outside the jurisdiction of the United States military, the FBI, the IRS and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (Holt, 1997).
JOHN JOE GRAY
In January of 2000, John Joe Gray was wanted by Texas authorities for allegedly assaulting a police officer. During an altercation at a traffic stop, he allegedly tried to take a Texas Department of Public Safety, trooper's firearm and bit him (Moran & Marsh, 2010). Gray escaped to his forty-seven acres of land on the banks of the Trinity River near Corsicana, Texas. John Joe Gray, a self-proclaimed "freedom fighter," is the man at the center of the standoff. The leader of the religious separatist group and sovereign citizen has warned that any government agents who attempt to remove them from the land should, "bring extra body bags." Gray would fight to the death if authorities came for him (Moran & Marsh, 2010). After almost 13 years, Gray is still on his land with family members. State and local authorities are hesitant to arrest Gray, fearing a violent confrontation. This is the United States longest-running law-enforcement standoff.
ED AND ELAINE BROWN
In 2007, a nine month standoff between Ed and Elaine Brown in New Hampshire ends with both of the Browns being arrested and convicted in Federal court. Brown and his wife were first arrested in 2006 for tax evasion, after the pair refused to pay federal income taxes on more than $1.2 million that Elaine Brown had earned as a dentist. The couple represented themselves at trial in January 2007, arguing that they were not subject to federal taxes or the court's jurisdiction. Brown and his wife, Elaine, were sentenced earlier to serve sixty-three months in prison. The couple, however, insists that there is no law that requires citizens to pay income tax (Goldman, 2007).
When they became convinced the trial was stacked against them, they retreated to their concrete, castle-like home, located on 110 acres and equipped with an observation tower, a year's supply of dehydrated food and an independent water and electric source. Ed Brown promised a showdown with law enforcement, telling his friends that he expected "another Waco" and issuing repeated threats against federal agents, prosecutors and the judge in his tax case (Sanger-Katz, 2010).
In June of 2007 the United States Marshals attempted to arrest Ed Brown but their planned ruse to capture him at the foot of his driveway was foiled when a supporter stumbled upon hidden agents in the woods. It was not until October that the Marshals tried again and succeeded in arresting both Browns without firing a single gunshot (Sanger-Katz, 2010).
When the Browns' were arrested, federal agents found the house filled with guns, bombs and ammunition strategically placed around the property. Ed Brown's bedroom closet featured a rack filled with 22 operational pipe bombs, and dozens of other improvised explosive devices and rifles were scattered throughout the house, most near windows with sight lines around the property (Sanger-Katz, 2010). Exploding rifle targets were found nailed to trees around the property line, and boxes of homemade guns were found, some partially assembled, in the basement. One veteran agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives described the stash as the largest he'd ever seen (Sanger-Katz, 2010). Ed Brown was sentenced to 37 years in federal prison. His wife, Elaine Brown, who was convicted of similar crimes, was sentenced to 35 years in prison (Sanger-Katz, 2010).
Each of the articles were relevant for needed historical information. The articles provided needed background information to determine the roots of sovereign citizen ideology and the violent history associated with sovereign citizen extremists. The articles are valid in there statistics and there were no known biases made by the authors.
In order to solve the problem of violent encounters between law enforcement and sovereign citizen extremists there must first be a starting point. The first places to look should start with data tracking of violent encounters during vehicle traffic stops and determine the frequency and location of those encounters. One method to do this is the use of CompStat. A literature review was conducted on CompStat to better understand this method for the use in the research plan.
CompStat, also known as compare statistics, or commonly known as computer statistics, can be used to plot specific incidents of crime by day, time, and location, revealing unnoticed patterns in criminal activity to help solve crimes. CompStat has also been labeled a police management accountability tool, holding police management accountable for the crime rates in their area.
In the peer reviewed research article by Eterno and Silverman (2010), the authors use both quantitative and qualitative methods to examine CompStat's management environment. The two main concerns in the paper were to examine the extent, if any, of pressures which managers believe they were exposed to using CompStat, as well as how those pressures might have influenced any unethical crime reporting.
The article defines CompStat as featuring up-to-date computerized crime data, crime analysis and advanced crime mapping. Police managers use CompStat's crime data, analysis, and mapping as the basis for regular crime meetings, and those police managers are held accountable for specific crime strategies and solutions. Initial assessments portrayed CompStat as an effective managerial crime reduction tool, but according to the data presented in the article, CompStat assessments have offered significant reservations regarding CompStat's managerial effectiveness, the reliability of its crime statistics and the extent of its organizational reform (Eterno & Silverman, 2010).
The researchers used a self-administered, mail questionnaire design which permits anonymity of subjects. They also used interviews of retired and current police officers. The combination of the questionnaires and the interviews for the study covered both quantitative and qualitative methods to examine CompStat's managerial environment (Eterno & Silverman, 2010). The article was relevant for needed information. It was written recently in 2010. And, according to other articles I have read by the authors, seems to be reliable. The article is valid in its statistics and there were no known biases made by the authors.
A committee or working group will be made up of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies along with prosecutors, judges and other government agencies, to look at the data and determine the most likely places for encounters to happen. The group will also design a training program for front line police officers to teach them about sovereign citizen extremists. Unfortunately for law enforcement, self-described sovereign citizens do not come with a warning label. In the past, most sovereigns were white supremacists organized into small groups that typically all used the same "private" license plate instead of legal tags. Today, while that is sometimes still true, the ideology of the sovereign citizen movement has spread to the point where supporters hail from any race and are found throughout the nation. And, they do not all necessarily carry fake license plates or bear other obvious markers (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010). The training program should include information that will help law enforcement recognize a sovereign citizen extremist. There are common traits that law enforcement officers can and should be aware of, they include:
License plates with oddball names like the "Kingdom of Heaven" and the "Little Shell Pembina Band," which is a fake Indian tribe that runs redemption scams.
Antigovernment bumper stickers, unusual use of outdated language. A simple question like, "Where are you headed?" may get you a response along the lines of, "I am a free man, traveling upon the land."
An arrogant or belligerent attitude. Sovereigns believe that they have secret knowledge about a complex government conspiracy that most Americans, including law enforcement officials, cannot comprehend.
Anti-Federal Reserve or banking comments, even though all you are discussing is a driver's license, registration tags or traffic infractions.
Anger towards other government agencies such as FEMA, the EPA, the U.S. Post Office and the Census Bureau is common.
Unsolicited anti-Semitic comments, either outright or veiled.
Odd punctuation of names, typically involving colons and hyphens.
The absence of a zip code in supporters' addresses, sometimes, the zip code is present, but placed in brackets (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010).
The presentations will need to be tailored for front line law enforcement and focus on recognition of sovereign citizen extremists and then how to deescalate a situation if the sovereign becomes aggressive. Most encounters with sovereigns will just be a nuisance, but we do not know the individual trigger points and the situation could become violent in a short amount of time.
SAFETY AND AWARENESS
Law enforcement officers have a difficult situation when dealing with sovereign citizens. Proper precautions need to be taken when dealing with sovereign citizens. Law enforcement officers should maintain focus on situational safety. When conducting traffic stops or approaching a residence to do an interview, law enforcement should make a conscious effort to remember their safety training.
Law enforcement should maintain professional bearing. Sovereign citizens will attempt to frustrate and confuse the situation. They want law enforcement to lose their composure and become angry. Officers should apply enforcement as appropriate while maintaining a professional demeanor. In maintaining professionalism, law enforcement officials need to make sure they conduct searches and seizures within legal authority.
Law enforcement officers should make every effort to identify the subjects because sovereign citizens will provide false identification. If necessary, officers will have to obtain sovereign citizens fingerprints to identify. Most sovereign citizens have some sort of contact with the justice system possibly having active warrants.
Whenever dealing with sovereign citizens, law enforcement needs to prepare detailed notes of the encounter. Sovereign citizens have been known to make up and lie about information when in contact with law enforcement. Detailed notes of the contact will help to disprove the story that sovereigns use. Officers should advise their supervisors of the contact. This will give the supervisor notification of future contacts with the sovereign citizens allowing them time to prepare for any other contacts or altercations.
Law enforcement should keep a witness list when dealing with sovereign citizens. Again, sovereign citizens will attempt to discredit the law enforcement officer. The more factors an officer has such as witnesses and video to counter the sovereign citizens claims the better off the officer will be (Potok, 2010).
During the presentation several questions will be asked to determine if the information is being processed. Also, near the conclusion of the presentation there should be a role playing or case study scenario included. The scenario will place the police officer in a realistic encounter with a sovereign citizen, forcing them to use the information provided and to think about what actions they should take to protect themselves and keep the situation calm. The questions and scenarios will be assessed qualitatively, with immediate feedback (Trochim & Donnelly, 2007). A survey would be presented after the presentation. Each question on the survey will carry a rating 1 through 5, 1 = totally disagree to 5 = totally agree. Once the surveys are returned each question will be analyzed and tabulated. The results will be published in format easily readable. The surveys will be anonymous with no identifying information. All surveys will be counted and scored at a separate time. This will help the presenter and the student to determine if the information in the presentation was useful and can help shape future presentations for better understanding.
After the presentation an evaluation will be handed out with instructions not to place identifying information on the evaluation. The evaluation will have questions with ranking answers concerning the presentation. It will also contain open ended questions such as:
Did the instruction meet your needs and expectations? In which ways?
Do you feel that based on this course you can recognize and respond accordingly to sovereign citizen extremists? Please explain.
What would you add to or delete from this course to make it more effective?
What overall concerns, comments, or suggestions do you have regarding the course or instructors?
The data from the evaluation and survey will be measured quantitatively and qualitatively giving an objective assessment of the presentation and information provided (Trochim & Donnelly, 2007).
The second part of the strategic plan is to find the best method to prosecute sovereign citizen extremists. Depending on the jurisdiction, local, state or federal, and the laws being broken will determine who prosecutes the sovereign citizen extremist. Establishing the working group made up of different law enforcement agencies representing the different jurisdiction can help alleviate the problem. Included in the working group will be prosecutors from different jurisdictions, they will also be able to determine the best fit for each case. With the different agencies working together they will be able to determine the best avenue to take.
In recent news sovereign citizens have been taken to court and losing their court battles. According the Texas Court of Appeals, it is not a defense for a speeding ticket to claim that you are a sovereign citizen (The News Paper, 2010). Austin Police Officer Tammy Barrett had pulled over Justin Wayne Gray after he passed through a school zone while allegedly driving forty-four miles per hour in a twenty mile per hour zone on December 4, 2008. When Barrett asked Gray for his license and registration, his response was, "I am Texas Republican sovereignty, and I do not recognize this as a legal traffic stop." Gray then handed Barrett a piece of paper with his name and date of birth. Barrett verified this information and found that Gray's driver's license had been suspended. Barrett then arrested Gray. Before the trial, Gray filed an "Affidavit of Truth" that asserted he was a "sovereign man" and "a living, flesh and blood son of God by the Christian name of Justin Wayne Gray." As a sovereign, he argued that the state of Texas had no jurisdiction to put him on trial. A Travis County jury found Gray guilty, and the Judge sentenced him to forty-five days in jail and a $250 fine (The News Paper, 2010).
On appeal, Justice Bob Pemberton found no merit in Gray's argument. "Gray characterizes himself as a sovereign exempt from the laws of this state," Pemberton wrote. "We disagree. A 'person,' as that term is defined by statute, means an individual, corporation, or association. An 'individual' means a human being who is alive. Gray is a person subject to the laws of this state."
After the presentation has been provided to as many police agencies as possible by either a formal presentation like the one described above or a fifteen minute shortened presentation during role call at a police station, a meeting will be held with the working group to determine if it is working. CompStat data will be run again to see the data results and to determine if any change has occurred from the initial data. Also, the group will determine if the presentation is effective. Possibly changing the method and/or the information provided, continuing to fine tune the presentation to get the word out to as many law enforcement agencies as possible (Trochim & Donnelly, 2007).