(MintPress) – If current congressional approval ratings truly offer insight into the frustrations Americans are currently feeling with the political system, then the swelling number of citizens acting out against the government should be all the more telling. Tax protest, disregard for the legal system and, in some cases, violence —it is a movement rooted on the […]
(MintPress) – If current congressional approval ratings truly offer insight into the frustrations Americans are currently feeling with the political system, then the swelling number of citizens acting out against the government should be all the more telling. Tax protest, disregard for the legal system and, in some cases, violence —it is a movement rooted on the idea of freedom – their idea of freedom. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) labels them as domestic terrorists. The right-wing extremist sovereign citizen movement remains on the fringe, but it is impactful, nonetheless.
The FBI classifies the sovereign citizen movement as “anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or ‘sovereign’ from the United States. As a result, they believe they don’t have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments, or law enforcement.”
The crux of the movement, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), stems from the belief in a conspiracy theory dating back to the Founding Fathers and their implementation of “common law.” The movement believes that under “common law” all citizens are free to do as they please. The intent of this law, they believe, was “secretly replaced by a new government system based on admiralty law, the law of the sea and international commerce.”
This “takeover” of government, they believe, is widely known by federal judges and elected officials. The movement says that for this reason, they are unable to challenge and pass motions through the court system to shed light on the perceived conspiracy theory.
A system of their own
One of the main tenants of a “sovereign citizen” is the dedication to rejecting United States currency and refusing to pay taxes because they feel the government has no right to tax income. Tax protest has been on the rise over the past two decades.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimated that in the mid-1990s, there were approximately 250,000 tax protesters in the U.S. The SPLC estimates today that there are nearly 500,000 tax protesters in the U.S., although not all of them can be identified with the sovereign citizen movement.
The group, while scattered across the country, is relatively organized. Those who follow the way of the “Redemption” are able to attend seminars to hear from others who have succeeded in the sovereign lifestyle. They also have their own media, and encourage members to read specific alternative newspapers and sovereign-oriented magazines. While they may share similar resources, the FBI says they act as individuals and possess no real leadership.
The legal process that sovereigns have created to make their movement work is called “Redemption.” The term describes a legal practice where they differentiate their “corporate” self from their “sovereign” self. By acknowledging that only their corporate shell is subject to taxes, laws and licensure requirements, a sovereign citizen interprets that as having absolute freedom and liberation. The group makes its own vehicle license plates and identifications, essentially constructing an organized, parallel society.
When facing legal troubles for creating falsified documents, sovereigns turn to excess amounts of convoluted court filings that use specific language streamlined by the sovereign community. The SPLC recalls a case in which a sovereign citizen was scheduled to appear in court over a dog licensing fee. The defendant, a sovereign woman, filed 10 extensive documents containing the nonsensical sovereign language. The prosecutor dropped the charges shortly after.
History of illegal activity, violence
The FBI recently said it is seeing a rising threat posed by sovereign citizens and is investing more resources into curbing their actions. The FBI is hoping to avoid a large-scale attack such as the one seen in Oklahoma City in 1995, a bombing that was partly planned by sovereign citizen, Terry Nichols.
Actions in the past, according to the FBI, show sovereign citizens:
- Commit murder and physical assault;
- Threaten judges, law enforcement professionals, and government personnel;
- Impersonate police officers and diplomats;
- Use fake currency, passports, license plates, and driver’s licenses; and
- Engineer various white-collar scams, including mortgage fraud and so-called “redemption” schemes.
“The ideology itself promotes violence and encourages violence,” special agent Casey Carty told The Raw Story.
The SPLC has kept track of incidents where sovereign citizens have had violent outbursts toward police and law enforcement that resulted in fatalities.
In 1997, a sovereign man from New Hampshire shot and killed two police officers and two civilians while wounding another three officers before turning the gun on himself. More recently, in 2010, a father and son sovereign family shot and killed two police officers after they were pulled over during a routine traffic stop. The father and son were later killed in a shootout with police who responded to the shooting.
When a sovereign feels particularly desperate, angry, battle-weary and cornered, his next government contact, no matter how minor, can be his final straw,” the SPLC wrote. “The resulting rage can be lethal.”
The FBI has also successfully investigated fraudulent crime involving sovereign citizens. In California, two sovereign citizens were arrested and sentenced for running a fraudulent insurance scheme after the men set up a company that sold “lifetime memberships” and promised to cover accident claims. The two men collected millions of dollars while paying out very few claims.
Also, in Nevada, four sovereign men were convicted for federal money laundering, tax evasion and weapons charges. Two of the men reportedly laundered more than $1 million.
More examples of convicted sovereign citizens can be found here.