By James Deater
The sovereign citizen movement occurring across the United States is one that law enforcement should continue to watch carefully. In the past few years, there have been several deadly incidents involving police officers and self-proclaimed sovereign citizens. It is estimated that 300,000 people engage in this kind of anti-government activity.
One of the most difficult things for law enforcement is being able to recognize an extremist before or during interactions. Sovereign citizens tend to blend in with the general population. There are some good articles and videos available on the Internet that educates law enforcement and judicial officials about what to look for before an incident occurs. Some officers are taking it upon themselves to educate each other. For example, two detectives in Greensboro, N.C. have developed a comprehensive training system to educate officers about how to deal with sovereign citizens. You can learn more about their effort here.
One of the articles that I found most helpful was published in Police Magazine in September 2012 titled “A Clear and Present Danger” authored by Rob Finch and Kory Flower. This article gives a great overview of the threat posed to law enforcement by the sovereign citizen movement. The article also details some indicators for patrol officers to look for when stopping cars.
Sovereign citizens do not recognize any laws other than common law, so officers may see homemade license tags, or bumper stickers stating something similar. As explained in the above article, an officer may see words on the tag such as: “Indigenous, Sovereign, Diplomatic, Exempt, Private Property.”
Police must also be aware that during a stop, sovereign citizens will use certain tactics to attempt to frustrate them and inhibit them from carrying out their duties. The sovereign citizen movement also uses “paper terrorism” as a tactic, so don’t be surprised if they attempt to sue you. They try to destroy government official’s credit ratings and place liens on properties. There have been several instances of sovereign citizens placing property liens on law enforcement official’s homes. Therefore, for those working in areas where you routinely come into contact with sovereign citizens you should keep close watch on your credit rating and check with local courts to ensure no fraudulent liens or injunctions have been placed against you or your family.
Recent examples of the sovereign citizen threat to law enforcement were the arrests in Las Vegas of David Allen Brutsche and Devon Campbell Newman for plotting to kidnap and kill police officers. According to the article, “The two shopped for guns, found a vacant house and rigged it to bind captives to cross beams during interrogation, and they planned to subject officers to their form of a trial for civil rights violations.”
The couple planned to capture police by following their cars and seizing them when the officers got out to make a traffic stop. As you can see, these extremists can attack at any moment and, in some cases, go to great lengths to plan out operations to capture, injure and/or kill police officers across the United States.
Increasing encounters with sovereign citizens is not just happening within the U.S. either. The Canadian equivalent of sovereign citizens, which call themselves “freemen on the land,” have been making headlines there recently. Similarly, the freemen on the land movement also aims to confuse and confound police officers. For example, during a traffic stop, they will offer police their own “notarized” documents in lieu of government identification. You can learn more about the Canadian freemen on the land movement here.
There are several training videos to educate law enforcement officers about what to do during an encounter. Chief Robert Paudert, who retired from West Memphis Police Department, has an excellent video titled Sovereign Citizens and Law Enforcement that gives specific examples of threats posed. Unfortunately, one of the main reasons Chief Paudert made the video was due to the loss of his son (police officer) killed by a father/son team who were devout sovereign citizens. Please take the time to watch the video to familiarize yourself with this threat. This valuable information may save your life or the life of another law enforcement official.