Armed, often poorly educated and devoutly opposed to any form of government, the largely underground “Sovereign Citizens” movement is coming under heavy scrutiny from law enforcement as reports of plots by the loosely organized anti-government movement are uncovered in increasing number. The group, which is often described as a loose knit movement of individuals who believe they are above or outside of the law, is characterized largely by their wide ranging tactics, which span from simple pranks and stunts for use in social media propagandizing, to outright violence against law enforcement and state agents.
In 2010, Sovereign Citizens militants Jerry and Joseph Kane made headlines when during a routine traffic stop in Arkansas, the two opened fire on police, killing two officers before fleeing in their vehicle. Additional noteworthy Sovereign Citizen militants also include Terry Nichols who was instrumental in Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of a federal office building in Oklahoma City, as well as David Brutsche and Devon Newman of Las Vegas, who were recently found to have been plotting to kidnap, interrogate and possibly kill law enforcement officials as part of a mock trial demonstration.
However not all of Sovereign Citizens’ actions are inherently violent. Through use of what the FBI has come to dub “paper terrorism,” individuals and groups operating under the banner have also been implicated in numerous financial schemes and plots aimed at undermining both confidence in state and federal authorities, as well as the use of bogus and repetitious court filings intended at clogging up court systems.
Throughout the estimated 300,000 members, the roots of the philosophies, ideology and rhetoric can vary, but a concurrent theme which remains consistent is the professed idea that individuals and their own personal interests, stand above all else in the sphere of importance. One self described “Sovereign Citizen,” who would identify himself only as “Joseph,” described the group’s anti-government philosophy in an interview with Fox News, stating:
The irony inherent to such a statement being uttered by a devoted follower of such a short-sighted, self-centered ideology aside, Joseph and Sovereign Citizen are but among the latest frightening examples of the growth of this variety of fringe thinking, declaring individuals as being outside of or above society’s reach or value.
With the growing libertarian movement attempting to dominate the classist, anti-collective Republican party, many worry that outsider groups such as Sovereign Citizen may continue to drag the already unhinged right wing further into fringe territory through use of their romanticized rhetoric regarding armed revolt and hostility towards authority.