The sovereign citizen movement is a loose grouping of Americans citizens who take the position that they are answerable only to common law and thus are not subject to any statutes, laws, or proceedings at the federal, state, or municipal levels.  They do not recognize U.S. currency and that they are “free of any legal constraints”. They especially reject most forms of taxation as illegitimate. Participants in the movement argue this concept in opposition to “federal citizens” who, they say, have unknowingly forfeited their rights by accepting some aspect of federal law.

The United States FBI classifies “sovereign citizens” among domestic terror threats as anti-government extremists. In 2010, it was estimated that approximately 100,000 Americans were “hard-core sovereign believers” with another 200,000 “just starting out by testing sovereign techniques for resisting everything from speeding tickets to drug charges.”

They believe that there are two classes of citizens in America: the “original citizens of the states” (or “States citizens”) and “U.S. citizens.”  They assert that U.S. citizens or Fourteenth Amendment citizens” have civil rights, legislated to give the freed black slaves after the Civil War rights comparable to the unalienable constitutional rights of white state citizens.  The benefits of U.S. citizenship are received by consent in exchange for freedom.  State citizens consequently take steps to revoke and rescind their U.S. citizenship and reassert their common-law state citizen status. This involves removing one’s self from federal jurisdiction and relinquishing any evidence of consent to U.S. citizenship, such as a Social Security number, driver’s license, car registration, use of Zip codes, marriage license, voter registration, and birth certificates.   Also included is refusal to pay state and federal income taxes because citizens not under U.S. jurisdiction are not required to pay them.  Only residents (resident aliens) of the states, not its citizens, are income-taxable, state citizens argue.  And as a state citizen land owner, one can bring forward the original land patent and file it with the county for absolute or “allodial” property rights. Such allodial ownership is held “without recognizing any superior to whom any duty is due on account thereof.” Superiors are anyone who can levy property taxes or who hold mortgages or liens against the property.

The concept of a sovereign citizen originated in the Posse Comitatus movement as a teaching of  Christian Identity minister William P. Gale.  The concept has influenced the tax protester movement, the Christian Patriot movement, and the redemption movement, which claims that the U.S. government uses its citizens as collateral against foreign debt.

Besides numerous cases of refusal to pay taxes or conflicts with law enforcement over different statues or laws, sovereign citizens have more notably started targeting law enforcement personnel or anyone else in a position of authority, who they perceived to be part of the federal government.

Convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols was a member of the sovereign citizen movement, having asserted individual sovereignty in at least three court cases.

In May 2010, two police officers in West Memphis, Arkansas were shot and killed by Joseph T. Kane, after Kane and his father were the subject of a traffic stop.  Kane and his father were later identified as members of the sovereign citizen movement.

In September 2010, David Russell Myrland, an associate of a sovereign citizens group, sent emails and placed telephone calls to various officials of the City of Kirkland, Washington, telling them to “keep their doors unlocked”, that they were going to be arrested, and that they “should not resist”.  Myrland also reportedly threatened federal judges and the chief prosecutor of King County, Washington. Myrland’s threat to arrest the mayor of Kirkland came about after he was arrested by police.  His vehicle had been impounded after he was found driving with a suspended license and expired vehicle-license tabs.  An unloaded gun with ammunition nearby had been found on the seat of the car.  Although he was not a law enforcement officer, Myrland had claimed that he had the authority to form a group of private citizens to arrest felons in public office “as permitted by a state statute governing lawful use of force).  On December 2, 2011, Myrland was sentenced to three years and four months in federal prison after pleading guilty in connection with the threats he made, including the threat to forcibly arrest the mayor of Kirkland, Washington.

In March 2011, a central figure in the sovereign citizen movement named Samuel Lynn Davis pleaded guilty to 31 counts of money laundering in Federal district court in Nevada.  Davis was snared in a sting operation after he agreed to launder more than $1.29 million in what he believed to be illicit funds.  Davis accepted $73,782 fees to launder the money, not realizing he was dealing with Federal law enforcement agents.  In October 2011, Davis was sentenced to four years and nine months in Federal prison, and was ordered to pay over $95,000 in restitution.  As of late July 2012, Davis was classified as a fugitive, having failed to surrender to authorities to begin his prison sentence in June 2012.   On August 7, 2012, Davis was arrested by sheriff’s deputies in White Earth, North Dakota.

On November 4, 2011, a federal jury in Montgomery, Alabama found Monty Ervin guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States and tax evasion.  His wife Patricia Ervin was also found guilty of various related charges.  According to a news release by the U.S. Department of Justice, Ervin and his wife had acquired hundreds of investment properties over a ten-year period, had received more than $9 million in rental income, but had paid nothing in federal income taxes. The Ervins reportedly claimed that they were not United States citizens, that they were “sovereigns,” and that they did not consider themselves subject to federal or state law. Ervin and his wife had also filed documents in probate court attempting to renounce their U.S. citizenship. In one filing, Ervin declared himself to be the governor of Alabama.  On May 29, 2012, Monty Ervin was sentenced to ten years in prison, and Patricia Ervin was sentenced to five years of probation, with the condition that she spend 40 consecutive weekends in jail.

On February 1, 2012, Timothy Garrison, an accountant from Mount Vernon, Washington was sentenced to three and a half years in federal prison after having pleaded guilty to tax fraud.  He admitted to having filed about 50 falsified tax returns.  Federal prosecutors contended that Garrison’s actions cost the IRS over 2.4 million dollars in tax revenues.  Prosecutors also stated that the sixty-year-old accountant had described himself as a “sovereign citizen” beyond the reach of state and federal law.  Garrison had previously served time in federal prison in the 1980s in connection with fraud against investors in a cattle ranch.

On June 18, 2012, Francis August Schaeffer Cox, who had asserted that he was a sovereign citizen, was found guilty in the United States District Court in Anchorage, Alaska, of several felony charges including conspiracy to commit murder. On January 8, 2013, Cox was sentenced to 25 years and 10 months in prison.

On June 20, 2012, Anson Chi was arrested by federal authorities for allegedly trying to blow up a natural gas pipe line in a residential area of Plano, Texas,   On June 3, 2013, Chi pleaded guilty to a charge of attempting to destroy a natural gas pipeline used in interstate commerce, and to a charge of possessing a non-registered explosive device.  Chi is projected to serve over 20 years in federal prison.

On July 19, 2012, Martin Jonassen, who had described himself as a sovereign citizen, was found guilty by a jury in a federal court of kidnapping his 21 year old daughter, who he allegedly had sexually abused, and of obstruction of justice.   During the incident, the daughter escaped from a hotel room where Jonassen had been holding her, ran naked into a store and begged for help. Jonassen was caught on surveillance footage chasing her, dragging her out of the store and pushing her into his car.   The daughter reportedly “had never been to school and only read books about religion, history and the government approved by her father.”  She had seen a doctor only once in her life.   On February 19, 2013, Jonassen was sentenced to forty years in federal prison.

In December 2011, Shawn Talbot Rice was arrested at his home at Seligman, Arizona, after a ten-hour standoff with FBI agents and other law enforcement personnel.  On July 24, 2012, Rice was found guilty in federal court in Nevada in connection with the same money-laundering scheme that resulted in the conviction of Samuel Lynn Davis.  The guilty verdicts came on one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, thirteen counts of money laundering, and four counts of failure to appear in court in connection with time that Rice spent as a fugitive.  Rice, who had also falsely claimed to be a lawyer and a rabbi, was described as “a leader in the anti-government ‘sovereign citizens’ movement.”  During the trial, Rice tried to argue that the presiding federal judge had no authority to render a judgment against Rice.   On March 20, 2013, Rice was sentenced to 8 years and 2 months in prison, and was ordered to forfeit over $1.29 million.

On August 16, 2012, two sheriff’s deputies were shot to death and two others seriously wounded after having been ambushed near LaPlace, Louisiana.  Authorities arrested seven suspects, two of whom have been identified by law enforcement as members of a sovereign citizen’s group.

On August 27, 2012, Lonnie G. Vernon and Karen Vernon, an Alaska couple who were described as “followers of Schaeffer Cox”, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit murder of U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline, who presided over a federal income tax case based on sovereign-citizen theories which had cost the Vernons their house.  They also admitted that they had planned to kill Beistline’s daughter and grandchildren, and an Internal Revenue Service official. The Vernons bought a silencer-equipped pistol and hand grenades in March 2011; but the seller was a confidential informant, and the Vernons were arrested as soon as the transaction ended.  At the sentencing hearing on January 7, 2013, Lonnie Vernon continued to assert that he was denying the authority of the court, the judge and the prosecutors.  Karen Vernon was sentenced to 12 years in prison.  Lonnie Vernon was sentenced to over 25 years in prison.

On September 10, 2012, David B. Graham of Gwinnett County, Georgia pleaded guilty to violation of the Georgia racketeering statute.  After losing his home in a foreclosure, he moved back into the home and filed a fraudulent quitclaim deed in the country property records in an attempt to transfer the ownership of the home back to himself.  He was one of approximately a dozen so-called “sovereign citizens” who had been indicted on racketeering charges “for essentially stealing 18 high-end homes in eight counties….” At the hearing, Graham’s attorney disclosed to the Court that Graham had been “influenced by the sovereign citizen group – individuals who believe that they each make up their own sovereign state or nationality, and are thus immune to federal, state and local laws….”

On September 27, 2012, 71 year old Phillip Monroe Ballard, who at the time was being held in Federal custody in Fort worth, Texas, facing a trial on Federal tax charges scheduled to begin on October 1, 2012, was charged with offering $100,000 in a plot to kill U.S. District Judge John McBryde, the judge who was scheduled to preside over the trial.  Federal authorities alleged that Ballard gave a fellow inmate detailed instructions to kill Judge McBryde with a high-powered rifle from a building across the street from the federal courthouse.  Ballard allegedly said the killer could shoot the judge as he entered the courthouse. The FBI also alleges that Ballard had a backup plan to have his accomplice plant a bomb in the judge’s vehicle.  Ballard, who claims to be a “sovereign citizen” who is immune from all U.S. laws, was convicted in 1987 of a federal tax charge in connection with his seizure by force of a Mercedes automobile that was subject to a federal tax lien.   In 2011, Ballard was also charged with falsely holding himself out as an attorney.

On December 11, 2012, Jeniffer Herring of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina allegedly led officers on a chase of up to 70 miles per hour while she was talking by cell phone to a 911 dispatcher as she allegedly refused to stop for the police who were trying to apprehend her.  Herring told 911 dispatchers she would pull over for deputies for $300,000.   A law enforcement official indicated that Herring was a member of the “sovereign citizen” movement.  Herring eventually was stopped, and was charged with driving while intoxicated, felony flight to elude arrest, driving with a revoked driver license, reckless driving, and driving left of center.  Herring also faces a separate charge for failure to appear in court in another case involving a charge of driving while intoxicated.

On December 29, 2012, dentist Glenn Richard Unger, alias “Dr. Sam Kennedy,” was arrested in Ogdensburg, New York, after having been indicted by a federal grand jury.  He is charged with filing more than $36 million in fraudulent federal income tax refund claims.  On January 2, 2013, a federal prosecutor asserted in a court hearing for Unger that Unger was a danger to the community and that Unger had stated that he would rather die than become subject to the government.  Unger has been identified as a leader of the sovereign citizen movement.  The indictment alleges, among other things, that in June 2011 Unger submitted false documents with the Clerk’s Office of Saratoga County, New York, in an attempt to release an $116,410.43 federal tax lien against him, for taxes and penalties for years 2004, 2005, and 2006.  Prosecutors also allege that Unger filed no valid federal income tax returns between 1999 and 2005.  On May 23, 2013, the court ordered a mental competency hearing for Unger after he referred to himself as being “deceased.”

Finally in today’s news, David Allen Brutsche and Devon Campbell Newman were arrested for plotting to abduct, torture, and kill Las Vegas police officers in order to attract attention to the sovereign citizens movement.  They reportedly attended sovereign citizen philosophy training sessions, bought guns, and found a vacant house for their activities.  The two allegedly planned to bind police to cross beams and to create videos to explain their actions and why officers had to die.

I have had a past history with some of these same people, while in corrections, and they are a very scary and dangerous group of people.  They absolutely hate anyone in law enforcement or anyone in all levels of government and they are not afraid to use violence to prove their beliefs.

 

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