By Leischen Stelter
The sovereign citizen movement is a growing problem in the United States with an estimated 300,000 people engaging in anti-government activities. This group of people generally believes they exist outside the jurisdiction of government authorities and are not subject to government regulation. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that there has been a huge increase in sovereign organizations in the U.S., growing from 149 in 2008 to 1,274 in 2011.
There have also been significant changes in the composition of these groups. While sovereign citizens were once dominated by white supremacist groups, the demographic has changed rapidly to include the black community. In North Carolina, for example, there have been increased growth in black sovereign citizen groups, with many new members being introduced while in the prison system.
Despite the increasing threat and number of incidents involving sovereign citizens, many law enforcement officers are unaware and/or poorly trained about how to deal with this group. Because of this, two detectives in Greensboro, N.C. have taken it upon themselves to develop a comprehensive training system to combat this problem. [You can read the article in full here.]
The detectives recognized the need for such a program after an increased number of frivolous lawsuits were filed against officers in the state. Often sovereign citizens will file fraudulent liens against officers, referred to as “paper terrorism” tactics, where they file false legal documents in order to intimidate or harass people. Many times these tactics can be more threatening to officers than physical violence, according to the article, because officers are afraid of the potential legal ramifications when false liens are filed against them and their personal property.
When an officer encounters someone they suspect to have sovereign citizen ties, it is advised that they speak with him or her in a nonaggressive manner. The detectives estimate that while 60%-70% of sovereign citizens are not combative, the “active” sovereigns will openly resist arrest and will be combative.
Sovereign citizens have recently adopted other tactics to interfere during traffic stops. This article discusses how sovereign citizens are using mobile phones to summon other sovereigns during routine traffic stops so they can document the situation with video cameras. This tactic is intended to goad officers into acting aggressively, which could then used against them in a lawsuit. This situation certainly jeopardizes an officer’s safety and they are advised to request backup.
That’s why it is important for officers to be trained to see the signs of an “active” sovereign citizen so they can anticipate a potential physical confrontation. Training is not just important for law enforcement officers either. The detectives emphasized the importance of greater education and awareness training for various public officials including clerks of court, district attorneys, judges, fire inspectors and others who might come into contact with sovereign citizens. They also train everyone from parking enforcement to dispatchers to be aware of signs of sovereign citizen affiliations.
There has been growing recognition of the threats involved with sovereign citizens, including an ABC Nightline segment that I blogged about earlier this year. During this segment, law enforcement leaders called on the federal government to improve how they share information about active sovereign citizens and what threats they pose to law enforcement officers.
Have you received training about sovereign citizens? What’s the best way to handle a situation involving someone who is a sovereign citizen?