On May 20th, 2010 police officers in West Memphis, Arkansas pulled over a white minivan during a drug interdiction patrol. The police pulled 45 year-old Jerry Kane from the minivan. A scuffle ensued and Kane’s 16 year-old son Joe emerged from the vehicle with an AK-47. He hit the officers with 25 bullets, killing both of them. Ninety minutes later both of the Kanes were killed in a Walmart parking lot in a standoff with the police. Why did Joe Kane kill two police officers (and wound two others in the second altercation)? Because Joe and Jerry Kane were Sovereign Citizens, people who believe that courts and cops have no authority over them, and who believe they have the right to defend themselves from them, by force if necessary.
The Sovereign Citizen movement finds it’s roots in Christian Identity and Posse Comitatus groups and was first developed by white-supremacist William P. Gale in the 1970s. (Though it is not only white racist groups who hold these beliefs.) Gale believed that the 14th amendment created a separate kind of citizenship and that allows people to be under the jurisdiction of the federal government. SCs claim to reject this type of citizenship and instead claim to be “state citizens” who can only be under the authority of county sheriffs. This means they do not believe they need to pay taxes, possess driver’s licenses, appear in state courts, or have social security numbers.
These beliefs also out them in constant conflict with the legal system. SCs will often refuse to pay taxes and then will file thousands of pages of legal jibberish when they receive judgements against them. They will also file false liens against the property of judges and police officers who they feel have wronged them, and will often file frivolous lawsuits if they are imprisoned. This is called paper terrorism. SCs also claim that they have an unlimited “right to travel” which means they do not have to cooperate with the police when they are pulled over, this often puts SCs in conflict with police during traffic stops and has led to a number of violent confrontations in which police officers were killed. Here is an SC traffic stop video.
Here’s a few key concepts of the SC Movement:
- There is no federal jurisdiction over free citizens. SCs believe that they are not citizens of the United States, but instead are free by Natural Law to do as they wish without interference.
- Federal currency is not legitimate. Because the United States went off the gold standard, it is claimed that US currency is not backed by anything of real value. Sovereigns often create their own currency and articles of credit and attempt to pay debts with them. Often, they will take out a large line of credit and try to pay it back in this manner, which is why they are often charged with fraud.
- All Americans have two identities, their “flesh and blood” self, and a “strawman” created at birth by the federal government that is used to enslave people.
- That there is a special language called Legalese that is denied to brainwash citizens and rob them of their natural rights. SCs have developed a complex language of there own which they use in their court filings.
- That a “gold fringe flag” hung in a courtroom makes that court illegitimate. Sovereigns believe these flags indicate that a court is in a “foreign enclave” so the court has no jurisdiction over them.
- That banks have no legal standing. All banks are part of the Federal Reserve System and Sovereigns consider the Fed to also be illegitimate. One of the most common ways for Sovereigns to fund themselves is buy giving mortgage seminars that teach people in methods to scam banks.
- That citizens have a right to form their own courts and can issue subpoenas, judgements, and warrants.
- That they have the right to carry firearms anywhere, without permits or licenses.
The FBI classifies Sovereign Citizens as a domestic terror threat, which is not surprising considering the number of violent incidents involving them. A few notable ones include:
- In 1996 six members of the Montana Freeman (a Sovereign group) had an 81 day armed standoff with federal officials when they refused to give up their farm for foreclosure. No one was injured and group leader LeRoy M. Schweitzer died in federal prison in 2011.
- Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols held Sovereign Citizen beliefs.
- Andrew Joseph Stack III, who flew a plane into an Austin, Texas IRS building in 2010 held Sovereign beliefs and was angry about changes in the tax code that he believed caused him financial problems.
- Also in 2010 David Russell Myrland of Kirkland, Washington was arrested after threatening federal judges and local politicians because his car had been impounded. He claimed to have the power to forcibly arrest officials whom he claimed had violated his rights.
- Scott Roeder the gunman who killed Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller was involved in the Sovereign movement.
- And yes, Wesley Snipes totally fell for this.
See this extensive list on Wikipedia for more.
Unfortunately, current economic and political conditions have increased the attractiveness of the Sovereign movement and its potential for violence. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates there are around 100,000 active SCs in the United States, and there numbers will probably grow. According to the FBI:
The sovereign-citizen threat likely will grow as the nationwide movement is fueled by the Internet, the economic downturn, and seminars held across the country that spread their ideology and show people how they can tap into funds and eliminate debt through fraudulent methods. As sovereign citizens’ numbers grow, so do the chances of contact with law enforcement and, thus, the risks that incidents will end in violence.
It is this potential for violence that will provide challenges for both law enforcement and political leadership in the next few years. While the Sovereign Citizens may be few in number and may seem crazy to ordinary people, it is their radicalism and commitment to their beliefs that make them especially dangerous.
Image via SPLC.