Trial of Militia Group Begins. Is This Evidence of a Growing Threat from ‘Sovereign Citizens’?
On Feb. 13, prosecutors gave opening statements in the trial of seven men who belong to a Midwest militia called Hutaree. The defendants are accused of conspiring to someday ambush and kill a police officer, then attack the funeral procession with explosives, according to an article in the Associated Press.
Prosecutors showed jurors automatic weapons, guns, vests and other military gear that were confiscated from the defendants. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Graveline said the anti-government Hutaree was looking for some type of conflict with police to trigger an attack. “They wanted to start an armed confrontation. … The war to them meant patriots rising up against the government,” said Graveline in the article. “They were ready, willing and able to go to war. They were preparing for war.”
The “sovereign citizen movement” is a growing domestic threat to law enforcement agencies, according to a FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin issued in September 2011, and police officers need to understand their motives and tactics.
As an overview, individuals living in the United States who call themselves “sovereign citizens” believe that federal, state, and local governments operate illegally. As a result, many of these individuals do not pay taxes and are often involved in financial scams and other fraudulent behavior.
According to this FBI bulletin, lone-offender sovereign citizens have killed six law enforcement officers since 2000. The report also states that the sovereign-citizen threat will continue to grow nationwide, fueled by the economic downturn and accessibility to information and resources on the Internet.
As these groups increase in size, so does the risk that they will seek confrontations with law enforcement officers, similar to the alleged plots of the Hutaree members. Therefore, it is critical for law enforcement agencies to be familiar with the motives of these anti-government groups.
Here are some key points from the FBI bulletin regarding sovereign citizen activity (The entire bulletin can be found here):
- Core beliefs of sovereign citizens: The government operates outside of its jurisdiction. Because of this belief, sovereign citizens do not recognize federal, state, or local laws, policies, or regulations.
- Sovereign citizens often operate as individuals without established leadership and only come together in loosely affiliated groups to train, help each other with paperwork, or socialize and talk about their ideology.
- One prevalent sovereign-citizen theory is the Redemption Theory, which claims the U.S. government went bankrupt when it abandoned the gold standard basis for currency in 1933 and began using citizens as collateral in trade agreements with foreign governments.
- The Redemption Theory belief leads to their most prevalent method to defraud banks, credit institutions, and the U.S. government: the Redemption Scheme.
- These philosophies to lead a variety of crimes, most often: mail, bank, mortgage, and wire fraud; money laundering; tax violations; and illegal firearms sales and purchases. They also sell fraudulent documents—including drivers’ licenses, passports, diplomat identification, vehicle registrations, concealed firearms permits, law enforcement credentials, and insurance forms.
It is important for law enforcement officers to be familiar with indicators of sovereign citizen activity. Here is a list of key indicators:
- References to the Bible, The Constitution of the United States, U.S. Supreme Court decisions, or treaties with foreign governments
- Driver’s Licenses often have the words “No Liability Accepted” written above their signature to indicate they do not accept it as a legitimate identification document.
- Personal names spelled in all capital letters or interspersed with colons (e.g., JOHN SMITH or Smith: John)
- Signatures followed by the words “under duress,” “Sovereign Living Soul” (SLS), or a copyright symbol (©)
- Personal seals, stamps, or thumb prints in red ink
- Using the words “accepted for value”
Although not all sovereign citizens resort to violence, it is imperative that law enforcement officers educate themselves about the motives and tactics of such groups.
~Leischen Stelter, Social Media Coordinator for Public Safety at American Military University