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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 who believe they are no longer citizens of the United States. As a result, 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 a deadly confrontation between law enforcement and sovereign citizens. A sovereign citizen who breaks the law to further his or her beliefs is considered a sovereign citizen extremist. Sovereign citizen extremists can become violent with few indicators to help protect law enforcement officers during times they encounter one another. Providing education to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies will help them do their jobs in a professional manner.
Keywords: sovereign citizen, tax defier, activist, extremist, paper terrorism, lien, frontline law enforcement
Sovereign citizens in the United States include approximately 300,000 right wing extremists who believe they decide which laws to obey and which ones to ignore (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2010). Neither, judges, juries, law enforcement or elected officials have authority in the sovereign citizen world. Sovereign citizens do not believe they have to pay taxes. During the past few years the sovereign movement has been growing fast, and its members are clogging up the courts with paperwork in a practice called paper terrorism. When stopped by law enforcement many of them react with rage and frustration. In some extreme cases sovereigns will commit acts of deadly violence. Individuals who believe in sovereign citizen ideology will obtain their information from debt seminars, visiting one of the thousands of websites on the subject, or even in prison (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2010). After they obtain the information, they act on what they have learned. Some will 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 defiers or tax protesters (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2010). Whatever method a sovereign citizen decides to follow, those methods are causing more and more problems for law enforcement
The purpose of this individual research project was to qualitatively describe the growing problem of violent sovereign citizen extremists in the United States today. A better understanding of why and how sovereign citizens conduct themselves will help law enforcement do their duty and stay safe. Providing education to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, thus giving them the tools they need, will help officers do their jobs in a professional manner and stay safe at the same time.
The question for law enforcement agencies is how local, state and federal law enforcement entities can 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 law enforcement do to make sure violent sovereign citizens are prosecuted in a court of law? (Potok, 2010)
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 recognize who they are and how to investigate them. Most all sovereign citizen actions are protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. 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 risky predicament. And once law enforcement runs into a sovereign citizen it usually takes the officer by surprise. Most law enforcement officers have not been taught how to handle a sovereign citizen extremist during an encounter.
In order to give law enforcement officers the tools they need, certain questions need to be answered. The research questions for the project are the following: 1) what is the definition of a sovereign citizen; 2) what indicators do sovereign citizens have; 3) how should law enforcement personnel prepare themselves for a sovereign citizen encounter and, 4) what should a law enforcement officer be aware of during a sovereign citizen encounter that could deescalate violence?
Rationale for the Project
In 2010, Sergeant Brandon Paudert and Officer Bill Evans from the West Memphis, Arkansas Police Department pulled over a white mini-van with a suspicious license plate from Ohio. Inside the minivan, a 16 year old juvenile named Joe Kane remained in the passenger seat, while his father, Jerry Kane, 45, spoke with the officers outside the van (MacNab, 2010). When asked for a driver's license by Office Evans, Jerry Kane provided a stack of papers according to the onboard police dash camera, which seemed to confuse the officer. The documents are a tactic used by sovereign citizens supposedly showing they no longer have to carry a valid driver's license and declare them sovereign, free from state and federal laws. At that time, Officer Evans called for backup. His supervisor, Sergeant Paudert was listening to radio traffic at the police station and knowing his other officers were on a separate call, decided to back up Officer Evans (Paudert, 2011). When Sergeant Paudert pulled up, Officer Evans showed him the stack of papers and the conversation with Jerry Kane soon became confrontational. During the confrontation Jerry Kane tried to flee from the officers, pushing Officer Evans towards the roadside ditch. Joe Kane exited the vehicle with a loaded AK-47 and shot Officer Evans. Joe Kane then turned his attention to Sergeant Paudert, who had taken cover behind a police vehicle. Sergeant Paudert was outgunned as Joe Kane pursued Paudert around the police vehicle, shooting him several times before returning to Officer Evans in the ditch, where, he fired again. The Kane's then fled in the minivan while Joe Kane continued to shoot at the downed officers as they sped away.
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). Their white minivan license plate came back to a church in Ohio which is another tactic used by sovereign citizens to not pay taxes on their vehicles. As far as Officer Evans and Sergeant Paudert knew they were pulling over a father and son in a church van (Paudert, 2011). Either officer had never heard of sovereign citizens and had no idea how to deal with them. If they had, they would probably be alive today (Paudert, 2011).
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. This project will provide information about sovereign citizens and methods used by sovereign citizens to deceive law enforcement, while providing law enforcement officers indicators and ideas on how to deal with sovereign citizen encounters.
The main limitations involved with the project was the lack of information found in peer reviewed journal articles or scholarly publications. The reason is that the use of the term sovereign citizen extremist is fairly recent. Sovereign citizen extremists have come to the attention of law enforcement because of the recent violent attacks due the political climate in the United States. Especially after the May 20, 2010 incident in West Memphis, Arkansas involving Sergeant Brandon Paudert and Officer Bill Evans when they were shot and killed in the line of duty.
Another limitation included previous research prior to May 20, 2010, which grouped sovereign citizens with other Right Wing political groups such as militias and the patriot movement. This lack of distinction put limits on the amount of usable information for the project, only using research that specifically mentioned sovereign citizen.
On the flip side of not having enough information prior to May 20, 2010, there have been several news articles concerning sovereign citizens since that time. The television investigative reporting show 60 Minutes, did a segment on sovereign citizens and many news articles were published, providing a wide array of information.
In order for the reader to have a better understanding of the project certain terms may need additional information or definition. For the purpose of this research project the following definitions were used: Sovereign citizen was defined as an individual who has declared themselves separate from the United States and who does not pay taxes, believing they are no longer bound by the laws of the United States. A tax defier is a term used by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in reference to a sovereign citizen. Tax defier has the same definition as sovereign citizen. An activist is an individual or a group that believe in a certain cause. An extremist is an activist that has crossed a moral or criminal line to further their beliefs. Paper terrorism is a term used to describe a method used by sovereign citizens to inundate the judicial system with volumes of paperwork, thus slowing down the legal process. A lien is a claim against an individual's property by another individual to cover a debt owed. A front line law enforcement officer is a uniformed patrol officer, usually the first law enforcement officer to greet the public. An example of the difference in other law enforcement personnel and a front line officer would be a detective or investigator arriving secondary to a crime scene after a front line officer being first on scene.
Review of Literature
Several sources were used for the literature review. These were journal articles found in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency and the International Journal of Police Science and Management. An article from the website Anti-defamation League (ADL), The Militia Watchdog was also used in the review. The first review was of the General Strain Theory and how it can be used to explain sovereign citizen extremist's ideology.
General Strain Theory
The General Strain Theory argues that strains or stressors increase the likelihood of negative emotions such as anger and frustration. One possible response to anger and frustration is crime (Agnew, 2001). A strain can be defined as an excessive physical or mental tension, also a force, influence, or factor causing such tension (Merriam-Webster, 2010). This is a broad and general definition. To help clarify the definition of strain for this review the following definitions were proposed: an objective strain refers to the events or conditions that are disliked by most members of a given group or individual and subjective strains refer to events or conditions that are disliked by the people who are experiencing them (Agnew, 2001). Subjective strains are strains that an individual dislikes. Another individual when experiencing the same strain may react completely different.
General Strain Theory examines the effects of strain on crime, but since there are many types of strain and stress, it is difficult to pinpoint which strains lead to crime. The four strains that are most likely to result in a crime are: strains that are seen as unjust, strains that are seen as high in magnitude, strains that are associated with low social control, and strains that create some pressure or incentive to engage in crime. Strains that seem unjust are more likely to lead to crime, primarily because they are more likely to provoke emotions conducive to crime like anger. Strain that is high in magnitude influences the ability to cope in a non-criminal matter. Individuals low in direct control, conventional attachments, and conventional commitments generally lack the social supports and resources that facilitate noncriminal coping. Certain types of strains associated with exposure to others who model crime, reinforce crime, and/or present beliefs favorable to crime (Agnew, 2001). The article argues that all four types of strains are equal in causing criminal behavior. The article stated that the reaction to strain is a function of both individual characteristics and the characteristics of the strain that is being experienced. Strain is most likely to lead to crime in individuals that possess characteristics conducive to negative coping and experience types of strain that are conducive to criminal activity. Basically, the impact of stressors and strain on criminal outcome is largely a function of the individual coping skills and social support of the person experiencing the strain (Agnew, 2001).
The article was relevant for needed information pertaining to theoretical perspectives in criminology. The article provided needed background information to determine theory of crime which best fits sovereign citizen extremism ideology and the criminal aspects associated with sovereign citizen extremists. The article is valid in there statistics and there were no known biases made by the authors.
During the research several crime prevention techniques were considered to help decrease violent encounters between sovereign citizen extremists and law enforcement personnel. CompStat was one of the techniques researched. A literature review was conducted on CompStat to determine its usefulness.
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. 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.
Traffic Stop Confrontation
Mark Pitcavage writes for the Anti-Defamation League internet posting called The Militia Watchdog, which is a law enforcement advisory post. One article titled, Flashpoint America: Surviving a Traffic Stop Confrontation with an Anti-Government Extremist, covers the major concerns for front line law enforcement officers when dealing with anti-government individuals such as sovereign citizens during a traffic stop.
The article starts out with a scenario of a traffic stop by a police officer. The officer notices something strange about the license plates on the car, it seems they are home made. The officer has no idea who would make their own plates so he decides to pull over the vehicle. At first the driver ignores the lights and does not pull over. The officer then turns on the siren, the car finally pulls over to the side of the road. As the officer approaches the vehicle he notices bumper stickers with phrases such as "sovereign forever" and "new world order." As the officer reaches the driver side window, he asks for the driver to roll down the window, at first the driver ignores the officer and finally rolls down the window only a few inches. The officer asks for a driver's license and registration, the driver ignores the request and offers a folded piece of paper with bizarre writing stating that the driver is a sovereign citizen. The scenario ends with the question, as a police officer, what do you do?
The article then explains the difference in this type of traffic stop as opposed to other stops that may have criminals involved. Most police officers are taught how to deal with the criminal mindset in a traffic stop, such as a wanted fugitive, drug runners, or even belligerent drunks. With most of these types of stops there are warning signs and the officer is trained to deal with them. In the case of the traffic stop scenario in the article, this is a new type of traffic stop where the situation can immediately lead to a confrontation. In this scenario, the sovereign citizen now believes the officer is no longer a human being but a symbol of a tyrannical and oppressive government. To make matters worse the sovereign is probably armed which increases the possibility of a violent confrontation (Pitcavage, 2011).
Pitcavage continues to state in the article that traffic stops are one of the most violent points of confrontations between right wing extremists such as sovereign citizens and law enforcement. He cites several examples of violent traffic stops between right wing extremists and police officers over the last 20 years some ending in death. He continues to point out if the officers in the examples had known some of the warning signs that they were dealing with a sovereign citizen, then they may be alive today. The warning signs include: Peculiar fake license plates; objecting to producing a current license and registration; strange bumper stickers with anti-government passages written on them; vehicle decorations to include, homemade placards with identification numbers; strange references from the driver concerning "contracts," "freeman," "constitutionalist" or "common law citizen." The driver may refer to the 14th Amendment, the Constitution or the Bible during the conversation. He may read the Miranda Rights to the officer, placing the officer under "arrest" (Pitcavage, 2011). All of these in whole are in part are major indicators the officer is dealing with a sovereign citizen.
Identifying the individual as anti-government or sovereign citizen is the first part of staying safe. The officer then must make an assessment of the situation to determine the best course of action to take next. The officer must remain cautious at all times not putting himself at risk of violence. The officer should stay alert for the presence of a concealed weapon, and try not to heighten tension or cause alarm from the driver. The officer should try not to argue political philosophy or legal interpretations with the driver. An officer can help diffuse a situation by simply being polite and letting the person talk about their beliefs, this can use up some of the nervous energy sovereign citizens build up prior to a car stop. And finally, in some situations it is best to postpone or walk away from the situation. If an officer is involved in a situation with an angry extremist with high tensions and no backup available. It might be prudent to break off the encounter and approach it another time. No traffic violation is worth the life of an officer (Pitcavage, 2011).
The article establishes and lists warning and indicators involved with sovereign citizen extremists. It gives police officers training and education in what to look for in similar situations. The article was relevant for needed information pertaining to the research. It provided a broad overview of anti-government extremists and their beliefs. The article also covered safety points for law enforcement in dealing with sovereign citizens in a traffic stop encounter.
A qualitative, explorative study was done to examine and describe the following research questions: 1) what is the definition of a sovereign citizen; 2) what indicators do sovereign citizens have; 3) how should law enforcement personnel prepare themselves for a sovereign citizen encounter and, 4) what should a law enforcement officer be aware of during a sovereign citizen encounter that could deescalate violence?
Qualitative research methods look at non-numerical data to attempt to find a deeper understanding of the topics (Babbie, 2010). The importance of qualitative research is that it describes a situation as it exists, without involving a formal hypothesis, but focusing on explaining social processes in great detail (Mauch & Park, 2003, p. 125). Sovereign citizen extremism is considered a domestic terrorism investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. During the project the analysis should show that sovereign citizen extremists fit into the General Strain Theory of criminology. The General Strain Theory argues that strains or stressors increase the likelihood of negative emotions such as anger and frustration. One possible response to anger and frustration is crime (Agnew, 2001).
The General Strain Theory is particularly true of teens and young adults. During this phase of life most individuals have poor coping skills and are heavily influenced by someone they look up too (Agnew, 2001). In the case of Jerry and Joe Kane, Joe Kane had heard the sovereign citizen rhetoric all his life. In one recorded video clip, Jerry Kane is heard saying, "I don't want to have to kill anybody, but if they keep messing with me that's what is going to have to come outâ€¦ I am going to have to kill and if I have to kill one then I am not going to able to stop" (CBS Broadcasting, 2011). Listening to every word was Joe Kane. Joe Kane had assaulted a police officer when he was 14 years old because they were going to arrest his father again, believing it was unjust or unfair. With the stress of his father being arrested again, at 16, he decided the police were no longer going to treat his dad unfairly and killed Sergeant Paudert and Officer Evans on the side of the road. The impact Joe Kane had on his son is evident in his actions on May 20, 2010.
Sovereign citizens exhibit anger towards paying taxes, law enforcement, and the government in general. The average sovereign citizen today is 30 to 35 years old and is in economic dire straits. They have probably lost their job and are divorced. Many are paranoid and most are conspiracy theorists (MacNab, 60 minutes: Sovereign Citizens, 2011). These characteristics can lead to disillusionment in the American dream, which can cause stress and anger to build. The building frustration can lead to a feeling of hopelessness and a need to take matters into their own hands. Ultimately, declaring themself separate from the United States and believing at that point that the laws and taxes no longer apply to them and they will be able to do as they please. The strains of dreams not fulfilled and a future seeming less and less like the one they had imagined can lead to crimes involving not paying taxes, crimes of revenge or retribution and ultimately crimes of violence especially against law enforcement or government officials.
The two main methods of analysis used in the research were historical and exploratory. These methods provided a progression of sovereign citizen extremism through time, giving a historical background of the movement and an investigation into a relatively unknown topic providing a better understanding of sovereign citizens. One of the main sources of information will be open source documentation from the FBI. Also included will be peer reviewed journal articles obtained through the Regis University online library system and other online scholar libraries such as Google Scholar. A main source of information will come from news articles and periodicals showing the history of sovereign citizen extremists and past information and publications used in previous instructional classes found at Regis University. Television news programs such as 60 Minutes were used for information concerning the definition of a sovereign citizen. The journal, Intelligence Report, published by the Southern Poverty Law Center provided information regarding hate groups and sovereign citizen ideology. Various web searches of not only online research material but also web sites linked to sovereign citizens were used to obtain needed information. The web searches also provided online information form sites such as the Anti-Defamation League, providing law enforcement advisory bullins. The websites provided an alternate view point of sovereign ideology from law enforcement and actual sovereign citizens.
The results of the research led to a historical overview of sovereign citizen ideology, beginning in the 1960's with the Posse Comitatus to present day sovereign citizen extremists. The historical information helps to determine the overall definition of a sovereign citizen and to help lead to an explanation of how a political movement became extremists activities. A further summary of the results establish ideas on how to approach the problem of sovereign citizen extremists and front line law enforcement encounters. The results further provide a plan that can help educate and prepare law enforcement, judges, county clerks and other government officials for sovereign citizen encounters, thus, preparing them to handle the situation in a manner that will keep them safe. And lastly, the results section will give front line law enforcement personnel indicators and a plan to discuss with their department to possibly find the best solution to a sovereign citizen extremist encounter, to where all involved will be safe and secure.
The Beginning - Posse Comitatus
The Sovereign Citizen story traces its origins to the Posse Comitatus, an anti-tax group founded in the 1960s, peaking in the 1970's and 1980's, as the agricultural economy soured. The name means "power of the county" in Latin. The Posse looked to ancient English common law to support its convictions that there were no legitimate forms of government higher than the county, no legitimate law enforcement authorities higher than the sheriff, and no legitimate judicial authorities higher than the Justice of the Peace (Evans, 2012). Because of membership increases due to the sagging agriculture economy, the Posse was increasingly successful in peddling its theories in Middle America. In 1976, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimated the movement had 12,000 to 50,000 members encompassing seventy-eight chapters in twenty-three states, as well as many more supporters not claiming membership (FBI, 1976). Bolstered by close ties to white supremacist and Christian Identity extremist groups, Posse Comitatus organized itself into a potent 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).
The 14th amendment gave citizenship rights to freed slaves after the Civil War. The Posse believes the freed slaves, blacks, are subject to the government unlike themselves. The posse put a racist variant on sovereign citizen theory. They believe that being white is a prerequisite to being a sovereign citizen (Intelligence Report, 2010).
The Posse also derived inspiration from the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which was designed to create a clear division between the military and domestic police forces. The act outlaws any direct involvement by the United States military in any law enforcement operation (Clark, 2007). The Posse believed this inhibited the federal government's ability to use the military on domestic soil to protect African-Americans. Although the organization did respect a strict construction of the Constitution, believing it to be derived from God, Posse members did not believe any amendments passed after the Bill of Rights were legitimate because Jews and other minorities had allegedly corrupted the government.
Former Posse Comitatus spokesman, Roger Elvick tried to advance the movement 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).
In the 1980's, those who followed the Posse Comitatus movement believed that the Founding Fathers intended to create a "Christian Republic" of sovereign citizens. The main issue the Posse Comitatus believed is that in a democracy, the poor could vote to create social welfare programs, but in a republic, the individual is a sovereign entity and the government has no power to enact laws that will take money made by the sovereign individual. During this time the Posse Commitatus was a loosely organized group but they encouraged their members to throw away identification cards and other government-issued documents in an effort to reclaim their sovereignty. One of their beliefs is that social security numbers represents a secret government account through which American citizens were put up as collateral against the national debt. Further, they stated that a person's name on the Social Security card, spelled in all capital letters, represented a fictional legal entity, not a real live person (Evans, 2012).
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).
The beliefs advanced by the Posse remained deeply rooted in the heartland of America, often under the term patriot movement, which included Timothy McVeigh and his associates in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995. After the Oklahoma City bombing, federal law enforcement began paying closer attention to the supremacist and separatist groups that sympathized with the bombers' ideology, including the Montana Freemen, who were the direct ideological descendants of the Posse Comitatus.
After an eighty-one day standoff with the FBI at their compound between March and May 1996, the FBI arrested members of the Montana Freemen. The prosecution that followed faced an array of bizarre documents citing the Federal Reserve Bank, the gold standard, the 14th Amendment, and the Uniform Commercial Code, not unlike those cited by sovereign citizens today. Despite their conviction and imprisonment, those who sympathized with the Montana Freemen continued to distribute these materials, in part through the publication circulated by prison inmates that supported an antigovernment, white supremacist philosophy (Evans, 2012).
Though the Freemen brought the ideas of the Posse Comitatus back to national prominence, the small-time legal activities of the Posse have never fully gone away. Along similar lines, the phenomenon of common law courts spread during the 1990s, giving Posse Comitatus members an outlet they viewed as legitimate for the claims against them. These courts sprang from the Posse's assertion that common law was a separate, parallel legal and judicial system, one independent from and not subordinate to statutory or written law (Evans, 2012). Far from the actual legal meaning of common law, the Posse's common law was a hodgepodge of Biblical quotes and doctrines, misplaced quotes from cases, leftover concepts from early legal doctrines, self-serving readings of the Constitution and other sources of law, and definitions from legal dictionaries that were no longer in circulation. In some states the common law courts were largely dormant, whereas in other states, such as Texas and Florida, the false common law courts were a plague on the judicial system (Evans, 2012). In appearances in actual courts, adherents to the movement unsuccessfully insisted on the strict use of their common law.
Another tactic considered indigenous groups in the United States such as American Indian groups or tribes. 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).
At the end of millennium, 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).
Many sovereign citizens are true believers of conspiracy theories. A conspiracy theory explains an event as being the result of an alleged plot by a covert group or organization. It is the idea that important political, social or economic events are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public and produced by the government (Goertzel, 1994). 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 ran and eventually became the President of the United States and was recently re-elected for a second term. The beginning of the sovereign citizen movement, the Posse Comitatus, 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 the American Grand Jury, a sovereign citizen group, burst into a Tennessee courthouse and tried to arrest the actual grand jury foreman on the grounds that he refused to indict President Obama for treason (Gellman, 2010).
At the same time of the election of President Obama the economy began to collapse, fueling more anger and resentment not only for the current administration but also for the loss of jobs and the wages. Sovereign citizen numbers began to rise due to the amount of people not working. As more people were out of work and not making money they began to attend "get out of debt" seminars. Most of these seminars were run by sovereign citizens peddling their redemption schemes. More and more people were becoming disillusioned of the American dream leading to the Strain Theory. As more people did without and their dreams fading away they began to believe the sovereign citizens and adhered to the same ideology.
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 are intermingled 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. There are certain tactics used by sovereign citizens that can help law enforcement use as indicators when dealing with them in an unknown situation. These indicators can help alert front line law enforcement to the presence of a sovereign citizen extremist.
Tactics Used by Sovereign Citizens
Sovereign citizens use several tactics to help confuse a situation. These tactics are learned from one sovereign to another. The tactics are methods that have worked in the past and in some cases are actual beliefs of the sovereign citizen. One major tactic is word play.
Sovereign citizens use word play to accomplish many of their goals. 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.
Another favorite tactic is the use of fake identifications. 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 (Potok, 2010).
Another scary tactic used by sovereign citizens is the use of fake law enforcement badges and credentials. Sovereign citizens will try to pass themselves off as law enforcement officers, using fake badges and credentials. They have used the badges to get out of traffic stops, bypass court security and carry weapons. Sovereign citizens have attempted to bypass security at airports, with a few actually breaching secure areas. This tactic has led to changes in security procedures for law enforcement personnel flying armed. The use of fake badges and credentials has led to confusion and dangerous situations (Potok, 2010).
Sovereign citizens will claim to be an ambassador or diplomat from another country. Since they believe they are no longer United States citizens but still living in the United States, then they must be diplomats, falling under diplomatic immunity. Sovereign citizens will then try to pass themselves off as diplomats or ambassadors, believing this will allow them to do illegal activity and not have to pay the consequences.
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 make few contacts with diplomats and know that different rules apply when dealing with them. This will cause officers to be more sensitive to the proper handling of the situation (Potok, 2010).
Sovereign citizens use several tactics during a traffic stop. They believe driving a vehicle is a god given right and has nothing to do with the law. That they are able to drive anywhere and how ever they want. 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 (Potok, 2010). Some of the examples of attempts to distract the involved officer include: 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 (Potok, 2010). 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 other likeminded individuals for back up, calling other sovereign citizens to the location to observe the traffic stop. Most of the likeminded individuals used for 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 (Potok, 2010).
One of the most serious problems with sovereign citizens is that most are armed, usually with weapons more powerful than the ones law enforcement officers carry. They are firm believers in the Second Amendment of the Constitution, the Right to Bear Arms. Most have nothing left to lose and believe the government and law enforcement are out to get them. This has led to police officers and government workers being shot at and killed while doing their duty.
If all of the mentioned tactics do not work, sovereign citizens have found ways to slow the judicial process down. Sovereign citizens will clog up the court system, filing fraudulent paper work including false warrants on officials, false liens on judges, elected officials, and law enforcement officers. Basically, filing mounds of bogus paperwork in the courts in an attempt to get their cases thrown out. A judge or court clerk may not have the training needed to recognize the paperwork as fraudulent, leading to hours and hours of wasted time and money on trying to sort out all of the paperwork. The false liens can lead to unwanted troubles years down the road. 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 tactic is "paper terrorism," and it has been very affective (Potok, 2010).
Finally, when a sovereign citizen has exhausted all their perceived avenues for their beliefs they will lash out violently. They become angrier and angrier as they perceive the system as working against them and they have no recourse to accomplish their goals. They are out of money, they are facing criminal charges, or they just cannot deal with society as they see it, sovereign citizen extremists will turn to violence. The reason for this project is to help protect front line law enforcement from a violent and deadly attack.
Violent Sovereign Citizen Extremists Encounters
Since the 1960's, individuals that have claimed sovereign citizen extremists ideals have been involved in some of history's most famous cases. Some of the most notable law enforcement incidents and standoffs include the following:
Gordon Kahl was a North Dakota farmer and World War II veteran who believed in the Posse Comitatus ideology. He refused to file his federal income taxes on the grounds that the American government operated under the Communist Manifesto and violated his religious principles. After over a decade of militant tax evasion and a year in prison, Kahl was shot during an attempted arrest in Smithville, Arkansas by Lawrence County Sheriff Gene Matthews in an incident that made national headlines as the "Smithville Shootout." Kahl's life and the circumstances of his death has since become a popular subject for conspiracy theorists and those on the far right of the political spectrum (Reed, 2010).
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 to arrest Kahl at a nearby roadblock as he left a Posse Comitatus township meeting (Reed, 2010). Kahl told family members he would refuse to be taken alive and would rather be killed. During the arrest attempt the 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. The story of Kahl's life and death continues today, especially by those who view Kahl as a martyr who stood against government persecution (Reed, 2010).
The author used a descriptive qualitative method to show the history of Gordon Kahl ending in his death and subsequent martyrdom. The perspective of the author is from the final violent act in what was known in Arkansas as the "Smithville Shootout," as it occurred in Smithville, Arkansas. The article was found in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, which is an online publication. The article was relevant for needed information pertaining to historical information. The article provided needed background information to determine the roots of sovereign citizen ideology and the violent history associated with sovereign citizen extremists. The article is valid in its statistics and there were no known biases made by the author.
The report details the results of the Ruby Ridge investigation and traces chronologically the events that occurred. On August 22, 1992, on a remote ridge in northern Idaho, called Ruby Ridge, a week long standoff between Randy Weaver and federal agents ended in a shootout in which an FBI sniper shot and killed Weaver's wife, Vicky (Lexis Counsel Connect, 1994). According to the report, The Ruby Ridge confrontation began a week earlier when federal Marshals tried to arrest Randy 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 (United States Department of Justice, 1994).
The report was written in response to an investigation of allegations of improper governmental conduct in the investigation, apprehension and prosecution of Randall C. Weaver and Kevin L. Harris. It used investigative techniques closely associated with qualitative methods of research. The investigators used a research system consistent with a typical FBI investigation, the methods include interviews of individuals involved, reading of case reports, analyzing information gathered and making findings and recommendations. The report showed many flaws with how the situation was handled by law enforcement and the United States Attorney's Office, which led to more questions and angering sympathizers (United States Department of Justice, 1994).
The article was relevant for needed information pertaining to historical information. The article provided needed background information to determine the roots of sovereign citizen ideology and the violent history associated with sovereign citizen extremists. The article is valid in its statistics and there were no known biases made by the authors of the report.
George Sibley and Lynda Lyons
On October 4, 1993, Sergeant Roger Motley of the Opelika, Alabama Police Department was flagged down by a female in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart where Sergeant Motley was going to purchase supplies for the Police Department. He was told by the female that a child in a car had indicated he was in need of help (City of Opelika, Alabama, 2010). Sergeant Motley located the juvenile in a car in the Wal-Mart parking lot with a white male adult, later identified as George Sibley, Jr. Sergeant Motley asked Sibley for his identification. Sibley stated he did not recognize the government authority and he did not have any identification (Pitcavage, 2011). 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. While the exchange of gunfire was taking place, Sergeant Motley was met by Lynda Lyons, Sibley's common law wife; she ran behind Sergeant Motley's car and started shooting him with her own semi-automatic pistol (Pitcavage, 2011). Sergeant Motley, with multiple gunshot wounds from Sibley and Lyons, died later at the hospital after attempting to leave the area. Sibley and Lyons got into their car and drove off. They were later stopped and surrendered to authorities (City of Opelika, Alabama, 2010). If Sergeant Motley had known the signs and indicators of sovereign citizens he may be alive today (Pitcavage, 2011).
On April 19, 1993, David Koresh led 80 of his Branch Davidian followers, including twenty-five children to their deaths (Ross, 1999). That standoff began February 28, 1993 when federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) attempted to serve Koresh with a warrant at his Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas. When agents approached gunfire erupted. Heavily armed Davidians fired, killing four and wounding 16 ATF agents. The 33 year old self-proclaimed "Lamb of God" as a consequence began a 51 day standoff with federal law enforcement agents (Ross, 1999). The FBI and ATF took control of the perimeter and conducted negotiations. David Koresh repeatedly broke his promises to come out peacefully. Federal agencies subsequently attempted to end the standoff by gassing the compound. Koresh, then forced to choose between his compound and certain criminal prosecution, chose to end not only of his own life, but that of his followers by setting fire to the compound and burning it to the ground with everyone in it. (Ross, 1999).
The article was relevant for needed information pertaining to historical information on the Waco incident. The article provided needed background information to determine the roots of sovereign citizen ideology and the violent history associated with sovereign citizen extremists. The article is valid in its statistics and there were no known biases made by the author of the report.
Oklahoma City Bombing
Timothy McVeigh, angered by the Waco, Texas Branch Davidian incident, decided to take it out on those he felt were 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 called 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 individuals 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, a self-described freedom fighter, sovereign citizen and Republic of Texas member 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. Gray has warned that any government agents who attempt to remove him and his family 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. The standoff is the longest in United States history between a wanted fugitive and law enforcement.
Ed and Elaine Brown
In 2007, a nine month standoff between Ed and Elaine Brown in New Hampshire ended with both individuals being arrested and convicted of Federal charges. Brown and his wife were 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. They argued 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 insisted that there were no laws that require citizens to pay income taxes (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 food, water and an electrical 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