'Sovereign Citizenship': Not Just For White Supremacists Anymore

(Via The Alyona Show at YouTube) What do you get when you mix the mushy-headedness of libertarianism with the nuttiness of right-wing extremism, all juiced up in the right-wing populism of the Tea Party movement? Well, one of the outcomes


(Via The Alyona Show at YouTube)

What do you get when you mix the mushy-headedness of libertarianism with the nuttiness of right-wing extremism, all juiced up in the right-wing populism of the Tea Party movement?

Well, one of the outcomes is the rise in "sovereign citizens" -- those folks who believe in tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories about the government, including the notion that all you have to do is magically sign some documents an voila! You're no longer subject to the jurisdiction of the federal government and its laws!

Indeed, as you may recall, this even allows you to move into mansions that are in foreclosure and proclaim them your very own. And as we saw in the case of Jerry and Joe Kane, there is a dark, violent side to this as well.

This was why, last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a study on sovereign citizens reporting a sharp increase in the numbers of people who were claiming sovereign citizenship:

As many as 300,000 people identify as sovereign citizens, the Southern Poverty Law Center found in a study to be published Thursday that was obtained by The Associated Press. Hate group monitors say their numbers have increased thanks to the recession, the foreclosure crisis, the growth of the Internet and the election of Barack Obama in 2008.

Adherents expect the current American system of government to end one way or another.

"I'm the Patrick Henry of the 21st century. I'm here to regain our freedom," James McBride said in a jailhouse interview. "I'm going to, or die trying."

At the heart of their belief system: The government creates a secret identity for each citizen at birth, a "straw man," that controls an account at the U.S. Treasury used as collateral for foreign debt. File enough documents at the right offices and the money in those accounts can be used to pay off debt or make purchases worth thousands of dollars.

The movement is based on a form of "legal fundamentalism," said Michael Barkun, a retired Syracuse University political science professor who researches anti-government and hate groups.

"These people really seem to feel that filing certain kinds of legal papers that are connected to their theories will somehow also magically have the power to alter relationships and grant things that otherwise would be unobtainable," he said.

Experts say sovereign citizens are the latest manifestation of anti-government activists going back to the Posse Comitatus movement of the 1970s, which recognized only local governments and no law enforcement official with more jurisdiction than a sheriff. In the 1980s, government protesters exploited the farm crisis by selling fraudulent debt relief programs.

You can read the full SPLC report here.

The ADL issued a similar report last week full version in PDF here:

In the summer of 2010, Americans have witnessed a wave of anti-government sentiment sweeping the country. In the mainstream, this has manifested itself in ways ranging from the spread of anti-incumbent electoral trends to the growth of anti-government movements such as the Tea Party movement.

On the fringes of American society, the growth of anti-government sentiment has helped spawn the proliferation of extreme anti-government conspiracy theories and the resurgence of anti-government extremist groups and movements, most noticeably the militia movement, which has grown from 50 groups or so in 2008 to nearly 200 in 2010.

However, there is another anti-government extremist movement that has also grown considerably in size and activity, though this growth—and, indeed, even the existence of the movement—has largely escaped public attention. This is the anti-government “sovereign citizen” movement, which has exhibited a marked increase in activity in the past several years. The sovereign citizen movement is actually larger than its cousin militia movement, and has also engaged in more violent or confrontational incidents in recent years than militia groups have, yet it has attracted at best a fraction of the attention.

Part of the reason for this lack of attention is that the ideology of the movement is complicated, its tactics and activities are unusual, and adherents of the movement typically do not form organized groups that can draw more attention. Usually, the movement operates “under the radar” of public attention; even when attention is drawn to the activities, often criminal, of adherents, the media often does not understand their connection to an organized movement.

Of special note is this point -- namely, that while "sovereign citizenship" started out as a way for white supremacists to undermine the federal government, its clientele has broadened as it has spread. From the SPLC report:

In recent years, however, most new recruits are people who have found themselves in a desperate situation and are searching for a quick fix. Others are intrigued by the notions of easy money and living a lawless life, free from any unpleasant consequences. (Moreover, many self-identified sovereigns today are black and apparently completely unaware of the racist origins of their ideology.) When they experience some small success at using redemption techniques to battle minor traffic offenses or local licensing issues, they're hooked. For many, it's a political issue. They don't like taxes, traffic laws, child support obligations or making banks rich, but they are too impatient to try to change what they dislike by traditional, political means.

In times of economic prosperity, sovereigns typically rely on absurd and convoluted schemes to evade state and federal income taxes and hide their assets from the IRS. In times of financial hardship, they turn to debt- and mortgage-elimination scams, techniques to avoid child support payments, and even attempts to use their redemption techniques to get out of serious criminal charges. Jerry Kane, who'd suffered a series of personal defeats in life, specialized in teaching a mortgage-elimination technique that had no basis in the actual law.

Once in the movement, it's an immersive and heady experience. In the last three decades, the redemptionist subculture has grown from small groups of like-minded individuals in localized pockets around the nation to a richly layered society. Redemptionists attend specialized seminars and national conferences, enjoy a large assortment of alternative newspapers and radio networks, and subscribe to sovereign-oriented magazines and websites. They home school their children so that a new generation will not have to go through the same learning curve that they did to see past the government's curtain to the common-law utopia beyond.

While the techniques sold by promoters never perform as promised, most followers are nonetheless content to be fighting the battle, and they blame only the judges, lawyers, prosecutors and police when their gurus' methods fail. While most have never achieved financial success in life, they take pride in engaging the government in battle, comparing themselves to the founding fathers during the American Revolution.

In recent months, their movement has grown to the point where a group called the Guardians of the Free Republics is attempting to assemble its own common-law-based, alternative government on a national scale. Already, the group, which earlier this year demanded that the governors of all 50 states step down, claims to have set up a common-law court in every state. At least 1,350 people have signed up to serve as jurors on these pseudo-legal judicial bodies.

This is why you'll find folks like the scary black dude in Georgia who was using sovereign citizenship to scam his way into homes. Likewise, another black couple in Georgia were arrested by police for engaging in a similar scam.

And it attracts believers like this hapless Canadian fellow, Curtis Nixon, who as you can see in the video atop the post was having trouble answering the reporter's questions through the post-bong haze.

Of course, most of them are harmless. Jerry Kane was too. Until a cop pulled him over. And then all bets are off.

Unfortunately, no one has taken this phenomenon very seriously as long as it only involved white people. Maybe now that will start changing.

About David Neiwert

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