Many who are enthralled by the idea of sovereign citizens do not realize the reality is much more grim than the selling points
There is believed to be around 300,000 sovereign citizens in America but those numbers are not founded
Most do not agree with the title of sovereign citizen and find it to be an oxymoron
There is no central group of sovereign citizens but there are countless small groups that normally begin from online scams
Sovereign citizens are known for being placed in jail for filing incoherent legal sounding documents against court and government officials
There is no question that America has many areas of the government that are unjust and riddled with corruption. Most people are forced into what at times feels like a never-ending legal battle that can get very costly. Then there is a small percentage of people that have simply decided laws do not apply to them. These people are generally categorized as “sovereign citizens”.
Most sovereign citizens do not call themselves by that name. In fact, they often get angered by being called a sovereign citizen as they feel the title to be an oxymoron. There are believed to be around 300,000 sovereigns in the country but it is hard to be sure since there appears to be no central group of sovereign citizens. Instead, just small groups spread out across the country who are typically lured in by online scams that promise a quick fix for either a legal issue or tax evasion. Those spreading the message often claim to have discovered laws nobody else knows about that can defeat any legal charge, but in reality, their discovery has already failed in courtrooms across the country numerous times and have even put people in prison.
While there has been a history of violence with those in the sovereign community, their most commonly used weapon is paper. Those practicing sovereign beliefs will often file ridiculously long documents consisting of legal word salad to courts, along with putting frivolous liens and claims against judges, cops and other employees of the government. The introduction of these relentless documents has been deemed as “paper terrorism” in a court of law. Due to the bizarre and often outdated language, courts are forced to try and make sense of these documents that are put together in a way to form total nonsense. In 2012, Forbes released an article on sovereign citizens that summed up their legal babble pretty perfectly.
If you’re a member of the sovereign citizen movement, your approach is a bit different. You start by looking for a combination of quotes, definitions, court cases, the Bible, Internet websites, and so on that justify how you can ignore the disliked law without any legal consequences. Be imaginative. Pull a line from the 1215 version of the Magna Carta, a definition from a 1913 legal dictionary, a quote from a founding father or two, and put it in the blender with some official-sounding Supreme Court case excerpts you found on like-minded websites. Better yet, find someone else online who disliked that same law and pay them $150 for a three-ring binder filled with their word salad research.
Et voilà, not only have you proven that you don’t have to obey the law you dislike, heck, it’s your patriotic duty to disobey it, and anyone who tells you otherwise is just plain un-American and is probably part of a world-wide Jewish conspiracy to ensure that Chihuahuas are slaves to the US government.
When you can pick and choose which laws to put through your special blender, you are effectively putting yourself above all laws.
While most sovereign citizens believe their incoherent babble to be a legal golden ticket that nobody has ever used before, the reality is police, judges, and courts have seen these ridiculous legal theories dozens of times after the sovereign movement began to grow in the early 2000s. In the eyes of someone practicing sovereign beliefs, they are in the right, and anybody who dares to question them is a criminal and part of a bigger corruption conspiracy. Police departments around the country have had to tell officers how to deal with a sovereign citizen due to their confusing and invalid arguments.
Don’t get pulled into a battle of wits based upon sovereign citizen rhetoric. Many of them speak as if they are reading from a script. Often, their mantra is intended simply to throw you off your game. Too often our egos kick in whenever our authority is challenged and we end up arrogantly contributing to the escalation of an argument rather than guiding its de-escalation.
I encourage you to be knowledgeable about the Constitution, the laws of your state and your enforcement options. With sovereign citizens, I suggest you try to de-escalate any situation when you have the opportunity. Also, recognize that the sovereign citizen may attempt to videotape your encounter.
Many who start following the sovereign way of life do not realize the racially-charged origins of their bizarre and delusional beliefs. In the early 1980s, the sovereign citizens movement mainly attracted white supremacists and anti-Semites who were convinced Jews were working behind the scenes with banking institutions to take over the American government. Many early members of the sovereigns believed being white was a prerequisite to becoming a sovereign citizen. Their argument was that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution which guaranteed citizenship to African Americans born on U.S. soil also made black Americans subjectable to the prosecution of federal and state laws, unlike them.
A general belief between these different sovereign groups claims the American government was hijacked at some point in time after its founding. While most groups add their own subtle spins, the basic drift is that a legal system referred to as “common law” was replaced with admiralty law, the law of the sea and international commerce. Under their twisted misunderstanding of common law, they are free men with the power to punish corrupt government workers at their whim. Under admiralty law, they are slaves to a secret shadow government hellbent on keeping the people from learning the laws that each sovereign group claims to have discovered.
In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt ended private ownership of large amounts of gold. Governments could still sell gold to the U.S. Treasury at a fixed price until President Richard Nixon ended that practice in 1971. Many in the sovereign movement believe that was when the U.S. government pledged its citizenry as collateral by selling their possible future earning capabilities to foreign investors. Sovereign groups believe that a birth certificate is basically some corporate trust that is connected to a secret account through the Treasury. These birth certificates are said to be valued between $600,000 and $20 million depending on the sovereign group. This backs their belief that when a baby is born their rights are split between their flesh and blood and their name which is actually the identifier for their corporate shell account.
Sovereign citizens believe if they can separate themselves from their corporate shell identity — also referred to as a “straw man” — they are outside the jurisdiction of the country’s laws. Some even believe once freed from their straw man they gain the ability to file lengthy and confusing legal sounding documents in order to access their secret Treasury account. Hundreds have tried over the years but nobody has succeeded. Despite the reality of these secrets accounts being non-existent, sovereigns believe they just have not found the correct order of words to access their accounts. The sovereign community often feels they are competent to represent themselves in court with their newfound understanding of what they believe is the law. Unfortunately for them, time and time again these sovereign citizens find themselves going to prison for practicing their believes.
In 2014, 44-year-old Cherron Phillips was sentenced to seven years in prison for filing bogus multibillion-dollar liens against top court officials. Phillips refused to adhere to the court’s rules until the reality of jail time was presented. It was at that point Phillips asked U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan if she could speak to her court-appointed attorney, which up to that point she had refused to listen to and ignored during previous court proceedings.
According to Phillips’ attorney Lauren Solomon, her irrational ideology ruined whatever chances she once had of having a promising life. Instead, Phillips — who began going by her sovereign name of River Tali Bey — was convicted on June of 10, 2014, for “filing the bogus “maritime” liens in 2011 on then-U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, several judges and other top federal court officials,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Phillips filed the liens with the Cook County recorder of deeds after she was barred from the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse for disrupting her brother’s drug trial.
Before her sentencing, Phillips once again denounced the legitimacy of the court in her quasi-legal incoherent terminology. Phillips claimed her incarceration was “an unauthorized punishment that is not recognized by Congress or the Constitution.” In a message to the sovereign community, Reagan sentenced Phillips to six months longer than prosecutors had requested.
Despite what adjustments a sovereign group may make to their overall beliefs, the results are always the same. They fail when presented into the real legal system. In 2016, 44-year-old Anthony Williams was charged for practicing law without a license. In his argument with the judge, Williams claimed he had “never given legal advice, and there’s a difference between legal and lawful,” a common misunderstanding pushed by those with sovereign ideals. “You’re arguing apples and oranges,” Judge Andrew Siegel replied. Siegel sentenced Williams to 180 days in jail, 22 years probation and ordered him to turn over his badges and ID.
The list of sovereign citizens placed in jail while trying to practice their ridiculous common law beliefs goes on and on, but one of the most noted cases is that of 57-year-old Bruce A. Doucette. Doucette was a self-appointed “Superior Court Judge of the Continental uNited States of America”. In court, Doucette told jurors he “wanted to restore the Republic and remove corruption that has enslaved” Americans, and said his laws were based upon that of the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, Yahweh and the 10 Commandments.
Doucette was charged as being the guru behind a large paper terrorism scheme against court officials he and his group felt to be corrupt. Prosecutors requested a sentence of 45-years in prison, but the former computer repair shop owner from Littleton, Colorado ended up receiving 38-years in prison. Due to his age, Doucette’s sentence that will most likely be a life sentence. In total, Doucette was sentenced to 20 years for participating in a racketeering enterprise likened to organized crime. Doucette received an additional consecutive term of four years for retaliation against a judge; five years for retaliation against another judge; five years for attempting to influence a public servant and another four years for retaliation against a judge.
Doucette’s group would first try to influence police, lawyers and judges that were dealing with their associates. If influencing did not work, the group would often threaten arrest against public officials under orders from the “Continental uNnited States Marshals.” The group would also wear their own fraudulent badges hanging around their necks. At one point the group even interrupted court proceedings causing sheriffs to clear the courtroom. When all else failed, the group would then begin “retaliatory behavior” which included filing liens against different officials in multiple Colorado counties.
While law enforcement knew of the existence of sovereign citizens and mainly looked at them as a joke, that all changed on May 10, 2010, when Jerry Kane and his 16-year-old son killed Sgt. Brandon Paudert and Officer Bill Evans during a routine traffic stop. After Kane lost his house to a foreclosure in 2003 he became a sovereign citizen. Kane took his son across country peddling a debt reduction scam. Kane claimed that he could teach people how to tap into their secret government account to achieve financial salvation. “It fits in all kinds of situations. It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about…traffic ticket, IRS, mortgage, credit card, hospital bill, child support. Whatever it is,” Kane promised at one of his seminars.
By 2009, Kane was still flat broke but trying to give the impression to potential victims that he was doing great due to what he was teaching to those who would listen. Kane had his vehicle registered to a phony nonprofit organization and he would not carry a drivers license, causing routine traffic stops to lead to arrests. These arrests inevitably lead to more frustration from Kane towards figures of authority. His tone even began to change in his seminars and became more extreme.
I don’t want to have to kill anybody. But if they keep messing with me, that’s what it’s going to have to come out, that’s what it’s going to come down to is I’m gonna have to kill. And if I have to kill one, then I’m not going to be able to stop.
By the time the two were stopped in May 2010, Joe had an extremely unstable upbringing based off his father’s scams and sovereign teachings. The Kane’s minivan was pulled over on I-40 by two West Memphis, Arkansas. Police dashcam caught what happened next.
When Kent got out of the vehicle, instead of giving officers a driver license he handed over a declaration of his sovereignty. While the officers seemed confused by the document, a scuffle broke out. During the scuffle, Joe hopped out of the vehicle with an AK-47 and opened fire. Paudert died instantly after being shot in the head. Between the two officers, they were hit by a total of 25 bullets. Roughly 90 minutes after the fatal shooting, the Kanes were cornered and shot and killed in a WalMart parking lot.
Many facing legal situations would like to believe there is some magic bullet that can beat any law in any court across the country, but the reality is, there is no magic bullet. If someone is making this claim, and especially if they are online-based or asking for any money, chances are you are seeing a scam in action. Becoming sovereign will not fix your legal problems, and in all actuality will most likely get you in more legal problems than you were originally facing. Especially if you begin filing bogus paperwork based off these sovereign beliefs.