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Signs of Sovereign Citizens and How Officers Should Respond

Signs of Sovereign Citizens and How Officers Should Respond


By James Weber, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University

In recent years, the sovereign citizen movement has become a concern for the law enforcement community. It is predicted that this anti-government movement will continue to grow as the ideology of sovereign citizens spreads across the country. It is important for officers to be educated about indicators and safety precautions when dealing with sovereign citizens.

Who Are the Sovereigns?

The phrase “sovereign citizens” has been broadly used to describe a variety of anti-government individuals who share common beliefs and behaviors. Many believe that they are separate or “sovereign” from the United States, which exempts them from any governmental authority including courts, taxing entities, and law enforcement.

The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates there are about 300,000 sovereign believers, but this number may not be accurate. This is because there is no central leadership and no organized group that individuals can join.

Sovereign citizens have been known to create their own driver’s licenses and vehicle tags. In some cases, bogus lawsuits and property liens have been filed against their enemies. In extreme cases, they may resort to the use of deadly force to protect their unusual beliefs. Violent altercations have occurred between sovereign citizens and law enforcement officers and other government officials. With that said, most persons who subscribe to this ideology are not prone to violence.

Law enforcement officers must remember that claiming to be a sovereign citizen is not a crime and that many of the activities of sovereign citizens are legal.

Identifying Sovereign Citizens

When making a traffic stop, officers should be aware of the following general indicators:

  • License Plates: Many sovereign license plates have no record. They may be homemade or professionally produced. They may display the names of strange nations, embassies, or tribes, such as Republic of (State), UCC plus numbers, Common Law, or a nonexistent country such as the British West Indies.
  • Bumper Stickers: Bumper stickers advertise their beliefs and are a good indicator to officers. Examples include: “Sovereign Authority,” “Don’t Tread on Me,” “Sovereign Citizen,” “Posse Comitatus,” or other references to UCC – Uniform Commercial Code.
  • Strange Statements: Some sovereigns will self-identify as sovereign citizens, sovereigns, or common law citizens. They may state that it is unconstitutional to require individuals to have a license and suggest that the Constitution or Bible gives them a right to travel. Some may state a belief that they or their vehicle does not “fall under your jurisdiction.”
  • Driver’s Licenses, Badges, Vehicle Registrations: Possession of bogus documents that contain certain words are commonly used by sovereigns. Examples include: Kingdom of Heaven, Right to Travel, Diplomatic Travel Pass.
  • Other Indicators:
    • Subject’s name in all CAPITAL letters,
    • Strange punctuations, such as “FIRSTNAME-MIDDLENAME;LASTNAME,”
    • Signature followed by “under duress/ UD,” “without recourse,” or “all rights reserved.”

Officer Safety Tips for Traffic Stops

When dealing with known sovereign citizens on traffic stops, officers should take a few extra precautions. Before making the stop, the officer should call for back-up and already have a plan and procedure in place with other officers and dispatchers. In addition, he or she should pay attention to pre-incident indicators and be ready to respond accordingly. Although sovereigns present special challenges, the utilization of good officer safety tactics can usually lead to a safe and successful conclusion of the encounter.

sovereign citizensAbout the Author: James Weber has worked in law enforcement for more than 28 years and is currently a police officer in South Florida. Most of his career has involved working road patrol and conducting criminal investigations. In addition, James maintains specialized training in crime scene processing, emergency management, terrorism, and threat assessments. He currently serves as an adjunct professor of criminal justice for American Military University and American Public University. James graduated from the University of Central Florida and obtained a master’s degree in criminal justice. Previously, he attended Barry University and earned a B.S. in professional administration (Human Resource Management). In addition, he holds an Associate of Applied Science degree in Law Enforcement. You can contact him at james.weber746(at)mycampus.apus.edu


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  1. The outrageous behavior of these people are destroying lives, families and personal relationships nationwide. And their language is violent in the extreme. Everyone is free to hate, but Sovereign citizens should not be free to advocate lawlessness and anarchy with objectively determinate lies and propaganda.

    The internet gives the proponents of this philosophy a very loud propaganda opportunity through which they can spread their poison and hate. We need to felonize their outrageous behavior on the internet and in court and get them some serious jail time.

    Every time they do something outrageous like drive unregistered cars with phony non state diplomatic plates, and get away with it, maybe for months, these people think that all the conspiracy theories they have heard are true. When they send strange documents to mortgage companies and judges making outrageous claims, and they don’t get an answer back in 3 days, they think that they have successfully defeated the evil doers (in their minds), because they think silence is acquiescence. You cant talk to these people. When they discharge a credit card debt or utility bill using phony accepted for value process, returning the bill, and are not immediately challenged. And until they are, they put out all kinds of propaganda which is very compelling to the poor, simple minded, and other alienated people of society. That is how the sovereign citizenship poison spreads. And don’t you know Cliven Bundy has done wonders for the sovereign citizen movement.

    I am sure they don’t need no stinking government as they say, and don’t believe in government. They should move to Somalia where if they are big mean tough and ugly enough they can experience the true freedom they crave.

    Let us criminalize this behavior or at least classify it as mental illness and grounds for declaring them psychologically incompetent, disabled, and prohibit them from contracting until cured.

    1. I disagree.

      I’m not sure what behavior you want to criminalize. Being wrong and trying to spread their mistaken views? How is this any different than a person following a religion you don’t subscribe to and proselytizing about it? The fact is that everyone has the right to free speech, even if that speech is wrong, harmful, or just plain evil except as proscribed by very specific laws.

      Sovereign citizens are just citizens, like everybody else. What they believe doesn’t have any effect on reality. If they drive without a license or registration they should face the same consequences as anybody else, but not more just because they have some false beliefs. If they fail to pay taxes they should be charged with tax evasion. If they are violent and that violence isn’t justifiable under the laws of their jurisdiction they should be lawfully arrested, tried and convicted while shouting about how unjust it all is.

      Personally, I like it when someone lets me know their a sovereign citizen. It lets me know right up front and in the open that they don’t know how to distinguish fantasy from reality. It saves a lot of time

  2. Alice, why not stone these people? Why not just give them the electeic chair. What right do these people have to be truly free from oppression an depression? Maybe the rights you are completely unaware of? These people must be in the right if they are able to express these rights and they are treated differently.

    Great minds think alike but so do small minds. And when youre closed minded its like you dont think at all.

    Maybe you should do some real research on the way the world works and how just about everything youre told is a lie.

    Anyone can throw stones but you mind as well hit yourself with them. You overgwneralizing and classifying all sovereigns the way you did only shows ignorance and its words and a mindset like THAT that harms our communities.

    One could easilly say what you said about you. Or maybe the police. We could overgeneralize and classify all police officers as terrorists these days with all the actual events happening right now.

    Does it seem possible that maybe the some things arent true and other thins are. Maybe some police oficers are great honorable people that serve and protect the legal corporation of AMERICA and others are powertrippig ass holes. Just like sovereigns…which in my experience are people just trying to escape being a slave to the system and living like an animal or some kind of non living fictional entity.

    When money or power is at stake, people will say anything to try and keep the ball in their court. They will lie and slander anyone or anything that gets in their way.

    Sovereins are a threat to the government but not in the way you think. The people of the government whom are so concerned about them know exactly why though.

    And they arent the only threats to “national security”
    As “our country” wages war and terrorises people in other countries, they point the finger at anyone and anything they can to stir confusion divide and conquer the masses.

    If you believe.all soveigns are a threat because some people with corporate interets say so, then you should believe that people of all religion, activists, people who try and uphol the constitution and any other groups or types of people on the governments list of “domestic terrorists” are too.

    People like to talk shit in place of not really knowin what to say.
    Im sure you arent doing that but I’m sure if you do real hard research and look under the dusty rug of lies, you’ll find a hole where the truth is burried. And that hole goes deeper every day.

    You seem like youre smart and capable enough to know the difference between real life and bullshit. Everyone is. But if you go by what youre told rather than what you know, youll be blind and ignorant forever.

    If you listen to words that stem from hate or corporate interests rather than love and the pursuit of happiness, you will live the rest of your life a slave to the system in debt, unhappy and unsatisfied deep down inside. You dont even know who you are. You dont even know what you are. So before you go throwing stones and spreadig the propaganda that you have such a problem with, make sure you know what youre talking about. Your great writing skills are being used for evil when you can use them for good. And if you have any questions or even if you want to reem me out or tell me how wrong I am, I encourage you to email me devina920@gmail.com or find me on facebook with that email. Thanks for reading and have a great day 

  3. No article referencing anything from the Southern Poverty Law Center has any validity. A leftist, anti-Catholic, anti-veteran, pro-homosexual, anti conservative/republican group who somehow are used as a determining clearing house of who is a terrorist.

    Dr. Ben Carson was a terrorist to them (ooops, since changed due to pushback). SPLC hates veterans (too white/military/Constitutional respecting).

  4. who does a sovereign call when their lights go out? When their house catches fire? Or when someone steals their unregistered automobile? I understand the PREMISE but the LOGIC is severely flawed. If they dont recognize the GOVERNING BODY….then how can they then, run to the SAME government hoping to sue or enact some type of fraudulent lien? All just seems like trolling to me.

  5. actually not all sovereign citizens are like that what you are being told about them is only the radicals like the christians have radicals muslims have radicals there are radicals in everything and every where but do we punish all for the radicals in their groups like lets say a christian radical kills a bunch of people for not being a christian. so do we now punish all christians?

  6. I have been studying sovereign citizens and their offshoots for a bit of time now. Both in video and in court documents and filings. I won’t waste time debating every incorrect point they use as a defense as I would be here all day. I have come to the conclusion that they fall into 3 different variations.

    1: Scam artists
    These are the ones selling the ideals to the rest of the public. They sell “kits”, commit fraud, and are involved in what is referred to “paper terrorism”

    2: The ill-informed
    These are the ones who believe it will work. That the information they were taught is accurate, and that they can be protected by all the rights, while not having to obey the laws.

    3: The zealots (for lack of a better term)
    These are the true believers and anti-government. They know that they are legally in the wrong. They attempt to plug up the system with needless court work, sometimes employing the efforts of type 2.

    In any case all three are a danger in one way or another. It is one thing to disobey the law and be punished for it. It is another matter entirely to believe you are right even after being proven wrong, and blame everyone else for your own criminal action.

    Court case after court case I have seen them quote quasi-legal arguments, and vast misunderstandings, while demanding everyone take their word as gospel. Ignorance is never something one should demand be spread on the world, and that is exactly the kind of ignorance a sovereign citizen subscribes to.

  7. I have been studying sovereignty in detail over the past year. Scam artists, Ill-informed or Zealots are not what I would use to describe them. I have two questions for all of you… Have you read the Federal Constitution and the Bill of Rights in its entirety? Do you comprehend and understand what our Forefathers were trying to protect America and its people from?
    With all do respect, I don’t believe any of you would stake claim to the comments above after reading and understanding the meaning and purpose of these very important documents.

    I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it. If a nation expects to be ignorant and free…it expects what never was and never will be — Thomas Jefferson on Freedom.
    History has shown that as a government grows, liberty decreases. Thomas Jefferson also stated, “Does the government fear us? Or do we fear the government? When the people fear the government, tyranny has found victory. The federal government is our servant, not our master!”

    With regards to Drivers Licenses and License plates and the sovereign people, here is what they reference when stopped by police:
    “No state shall convert a liberty into a license, and charge a fee.” — Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319
    U.S. 105.
    “If the State converts a right (liberty) into a privilege, the citizen can ignore the license and fee and
    engage in the right (liberty) with impunity.” — Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, Alabama, 373
    U.S. 262.
    Their argument is they have a right to travel. That they are not driving, they are traveling. The act of driving is commercial and therefore requires a license. I’m not saying that I agree, I’m simply trying to rationalize their argument and see their side of their argument. I come from a family of public servants including a father who was a training officer for the No. 1 law enforcement dept in the US…LAPD (my opinion). My father had a way about him that he could debate quickly with sovereigns where both he and the sovereign would walk away laughing and still issue them a citation for no license, tags, etc.

    The sovereign believes in the Common Law, the law America was founded on. They believe there is no crime without a victim. The state is not a victim. Therefore, this is the foundation of their argument whether you agree or not is up to you. Just do the research yourself then decide what you believe.


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