The FBI calls them the latest threat to law enforcement, extremists who disregard their U.S. Citizenship, do not pay taxes and blatantly ignore authority.
According to the Counterterrorism Analysis Section of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in the last three years, sovereign citizens have become a growing domestic threat to law enforcement. The FBI believes these particular citizens have a propensity to react violently when confronted with government officials, and because of that, the agency says it will now pay close attention to this latest, additional threat.
The FBI considers sovereign citizens as comprising as any other terrorist movement. They are scattered throughout the United States and have existed for decades with such known members as Terry Nichols, who helped plan the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
The blast tore apart the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and claimed 168 lives, including 19 children under the age of 6, and injured more than 680 people. It was considered the most destructive act of terrorism on American soil until the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center.
Law enforcement officials say sovereign citizens do not represent an anarchist group, and are not part of a particular militia like Nichols, however they have been known to use or buy illegal weapons.
Deputy Assistant Director Stuart McArthur of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division explained, “We started to notice a heightened potential for violence.”
According to the Washington Post, McArthur added, “The thing about generally sovereign citizen extremists is that because their ideology just intrinsically deals with the rejection, complete rejection, of the constitutional authority of the United States or any other government for that matter, that when you have an encounter with law enforcement, we have seen that has a potential to go high and right very fast.”
They operate as individuals without established leadership and only come together in loosely affiliated groups to train, socialize or spread their ideology to other willing participants.
They may refer to themselves as “constitutionalists” or “freemen,” which is not necessarily a connection to a specific group, merely indicating they are free from government control and follow their own set of laws.
While the philosophies and conspiracy theories vary from person to person, their core beliefs are generally the same. They believe the government operates outside their jurisdiction and refuse to recognize federal, state, or local laws, policies and regulations.
While the FBI does not have an official number of sovereign citizens, one analyst estimates there are about 100,000 across the nation. In 2009, 10 were legally convicted. That number increased to 18 in both 2010 and 2011, but most of the convictions were for white-collar crimes.
The FBI notes one particular example of a white collar crime that escalated into a standoff involving a New Hampshire couple convicted of federal income tax evasion, failure to honor federal payroll taxes, and other conspiracy fraud charges.
Elaine and Edward Brown, both sovereign-citizen extremists in their 60s, never appeared at their 2007 trial or sentencing.
In protest, the Browns barricaded themselves in their home during the summer and fall of 2007. The pair received support while issuing militant and threatening statements, and stockpiling weapons and explosives.
The Brown's were eventually charged with weapons offenses after their arrest in October 2007, when law enforcement discovered pipe bombs, improvised explosive devices made of gun powder cans with nails and screws taped to the outside, and a large cache of handguns and rifles that included .50-caliber rifles.
The FBI says sovereign citizens often produce documents that contain peculiar or out-of-ordinary language.
In some cases, they may even speak their own language or will write only in certain colors, such as in red crayon.
Other indicators that are used to help identify these individuals, law enforcement officials say are references to the Bible, the Constitution of the United States, U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and treaties with foreign governments.
Personal names spelled in all capital letters or interspersed with colons such as JOHN SMITH or Smith: John are also indicators along with signatures followed by the words “under duress,” “Sovereign Living Soul” or SLS, the copyright symbol ©, personal seals, stamps, and thumb prints in red ink, as well as the words, “accepted for value”.
Officials say they also may carry fraudulent drivers’ licenses to indicate their view that law enforcement does not have the authority to stop their vehicle.
They may even write “No Liability Accepted” above their signature on the license to signify they do not accept it as a legitimate identification document.