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The Growing Threat of Sovereign Citizen Groups

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

The F.B.I. calls them domestic terrorists. They’ve killed dozens of peace officers and wounded scores more. Nearly half of the killings occurred during traffic stops or during process serving. Their beliefs are far-fetched, almost laughable, but the danger they pose to law enforcement is deadly serious. They call themselves “sovereign citizens.”

What Do Sovereign Citizens Believe?

Sovereign citizens believe in a complex conspiracy theory that ignores or rewrites history and misinterprets the law. They believe that when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, it turned all Americans into slaves of federal and state governments. They believe Jewish bankers overthrew the government in the late 1800s and turned it into a corporation. They believe that when the United States went off the gold standard, the country pledged each of its citizens as collateral.

They also think that almost any government-issued document can be a tricky way for the “illegitimate” government to force a person into citizenship. They believe there are secret trust accounts established in the Department of the Treasury with vast amounts of money set aside in each citizen’s “straw man” account. They believe that if a person revokes his or her citizenship in the “illegitimate” federal and state governments, that person can get free money from those accounts.

What Type of Crimes Do Sovereign Citizens Typically Commit?

Sovereign citizens refuse to get identifying documents, such as driver’s licenses and car registrations, but they believe they have the right to drive on the roads anyway.

In their attempts to get free money from non-existent “straw man” accounts, they sometimes find ways to fraudulently get governments and banks to give them money.

They file fraudulent liens against property owned by law enforcement officers, judges, and other governmental officials. They also target these officials by filing fraudulent tax documents with the I.R.S. to make it appear that these officials have failed to pay taxes or have otherwise violated the tax laws. They also organize vigilante courts that issue threats to government officials.

They have a propensity to violence, especially against law enforcement officers. They are quick to pull out a firearm during a traffic stop, they ambush officers, and sometimes they try to blow up court buildings.

They commit a wide variety of property crimes. They also commit racketeering (organized criminal activity).

Recognizing Sovereign Citizens

Some signs that a patrol officer is dealing with a sovereign citizen are:

1. Strange license plates that claim to be issued by the “Republic of” some state or by an oddly-named entity.

2. Anti-government bumper stickers.

3. A fake driver’s license that has hyphens and colons in the name, that references the Uniform Commercial Code, or that states the words, “without prejudice.”

4. The driver asks to see the police officer’s “delegation of authority” and says the officer has “no right to question a sovereign.”

5. The driver hands the officer strange documents signed in red ink or with a red thumbprint.

Interested in learning more?

PLS offers police online self-study legal training link: on a wide variety of practical issues to help police officers make good decisions in challenging situations.

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