By James Weber, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University
In recent years, the sovereign citizen movement has become a concern for the law enforcement community. It is predicted that this anti-government movement will continue to grow as the ideology of sovereign citizens spreads across the country. It is important for officers to be educated about indicators and safety precautions when dealing with sovereign citizens.
Who Are the Sovereigns?
The phrase “sovereign citizens” has been broadly used to describe a variety of anti-government individuals who share common beliefs and behaviors. Many believe that they are separate or “sovereign” from the United States, which exempts them from any governmental authority including courts, taxing entities, and law enforcement.
The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates there are about 300,000 sovereign believers, but this number may not be accurate. This is because there is no central leadership and no organized group that individuals can join.
Sovereign citizens have been known to create their own driver’s licenses and vehicle tags. In some cases, bogus lawsuits and property liens have been filed against their enemies. In extreme cases, they may resort to the use of deadly force to protect their unusual beliefs. Violent altercations have occurred between sovereign citizens and law enforcement officers and other government officials. With that said, most persons who subscribe to this ideology are not prone to violence.
Law enforcement officers must remember that claiming to be a sovereign citizen is not a crime and that many of the activities of sovereign citizens are legal.
Identifying Sovereign Citizens
When making a traffic stop, officers should be aware of the following general indicators:
- License Plates: Many sovereign license plates have no record. They may be homemade or professionally produced. They may display the names of strange nations, embassies, or tribes, such as Republic of (State), UCC plus numbers, Common Law, or a nonexistent country such as the British West Indies.
- Bumper Stickers: Bumper stickers advertise their beliefs and are a good indicator to officers. Examples include: “Sovereign Authority,” “Don’t Tread on Me,” “Sovereign Citizen,” “Posse Comitatus,” or other references to UCC – Uniform Commercial Code.
- Strange Statements: Some sovereigns will self-identify as sovereign citizens, sovereigns, or common law citizens. They may state that it is unconstitutional to require individuals to have a license and suggest that the Constitution or Bible gives them a right to travel. Some may state a belief that they or their vehicle does not “fall under your jurisdiction.”
- Driver’s Licenses, Badges, Vehicle Registrations: Possession of bogus documents that contain certain words are commonly used by sovereigns. Examples include: Kingdom of Heaven, Right to Travel, Diplomatic Travel Pass.
- Other Indicators:
- Subject’s name in all CAPITAL letters,
- Strange punctuations, such as “FIRSTNAME-MIDDLENAME;LASTNAME,”
- Signature followed by “under duress/ UD,” “without recourse,” or “all rights reserved.”
Officer Safety Tips for Traffic Stops
When dealing with known sovereign citizens on traffic stops, officers should take a few extra precautions. Before making the stop, the officer should call for back-up and already have a plan and procedure in place with other officers and dispatchers. In addition, he or she should pay attention to pre-incident indicators and be ready to respond accordingly. Although sovereigns present special challenges, the utilization of good officer safety tactics can usually lead to a safe and successful conclusion of the encounter.
About the Author: James Weber has worked in law enforcement for more than 28 years and is currently a police officer in South Florida. Most of his career has involved working road patrol and conducting criminal investigations. In addition, James maintains specialized training in crime scene processing, emergency management, terrorism, and threat assessments. He currently serves as an adjunct professor of criminal justice for American Military University and American Public University. James graduated from the University of Central Florida and obtained a master’s degree in criminal justice. Previously, he attended Barry University and earned a B.S. in professional administration (Human Resource Management). In addition, he holds an Associate of Applied Science degree in Law Enforcement. You can contact him at james.weber746(at)mycampus.apus.edu