East County News Service
April 13, 2016 (San Diego) — Sovereign citizens, a shadowy group of anti-government, anti-tax conspiracy theorists linked to violent attacks on law enforcement officers across the nation, have drawn the attention of Sheriff Bill Gore and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Sheriff Gore has issued a request to solicit a “training provider for Sovereign training courses” to help local law enforcement learn how to identify Sovereign citizens, counter threats and prevent potentially violent attacks, the San Diego Reader reports.
The FBI in November 2010 issued a document describing Sovereign Citizens as individuals who “believe the government is operating outside of its jurisdiction and generally do not recognize federal, state or local laws, policies, or governmental regulations.” As such they often refuse to pay taxes or obey other laws.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, reports that the Sovereign Citizens movement has been “growing at a fast pace since the late 2000s.” SPLC estimates the number of Sovereign Citizens at around 300,000 today.
They hold bizarre beliefs, notably that the common law government set up by America’s founding fathers has been secretly replaced by admiralty law, the law of the sea and international commerce and that the government has secretly pledged U.S. citizens into slavery by selling their future earnings abilities to foreign investors.
Many have clogged courts with “indecipherable filings” arguing that they are not legally required to pay taxes or even such minor fees as dog licenses. None have ever won in court, but the deluge became so extreme in the 1990s, with thousands of pages filed in some trivial cases, that some states passed laws to prohibit “paper terrorism” tactics that have clogged courts and in some cases, attacked government officials with filings of bogus property liens, fake tax filings to ruin an enemy’s credit rating or cause them to be audited by the Internal Revenue Service. Yet hundreds of thousands of tax protesters have failed to file federal taxes, and many are believed to be Sovereign Citizens.
The movement had its roots in racism, but has evolved and today has some African-American members. In search of “redemption” believers attend national conferences and seminars, rely on alternative media consistent with their views and home school their children to indoctrinate them in these beliefs. A common image used by some sovereigns is an altered version of the “Steal Your Face” logo popularized by the Grateful Dead rock group.
Some sovereign citizens denied their goals have lashed out in rage and violence against government officials. According to the SPLC, in 1997, a New Hampshire extremist shot and killed two officers and two civilians, wounding three other officers before he was killed. In Idaho the same year, two brothers pulled over for not signaling killed an officer and wounded another before they were shot and killed. In 2003, two officers were murdered by members of a Sovereign Citizens family in South Carolina. Then in Arkansas in 2010, a father and son sovereign team shot and killed two police officers who had pulled them over in a routine traffic stop. The same year in Las Vegas, Jerry Kane, a guru in the movement who conducted “redemption seminars” offering bogus info on how sovereigns could supposedly get out of paying their mortgages, was pulled over along with his son in Nevada. According to the Anti-Defamation league, the Kanes opened fire and killed two police officers before they were chased down and killed themselves in a shoot-out.
In California, a self-proclaimed Sovereign Citizen camping out not far from Lake Tahoe wounded a Bureau of Land Management ranger and a California Highway Patrol officer after an armed confrontation with law enforcement, and was also wounded himself, SPL reports.
Here in San Diego, Sheriff Gore’s request is for a program to be run by the San Diego Law Enforcement Coordination Center, described as an “all crimes, all hazards fusion center” specializing in high-tech intelligence gathering among other undercover tactics. Gore seeks an instructor with experience instructing other law enforcement or military students on Sovereign Citizens’ beliefs, with “specific emphasis on the radical beliefs.”
Of course, not all tax protesters are Sovereign Citizens, nor are all Sovereign Citizens violent.
Gore’s document has cautioned that the instructor should be sure to caution students that stereotyping and racial profiling “aside from being illegal is a poor strategy.”
The Reader reports that a federally funded fusion center in Utah drew criticism after it warned agents to watch for people displaying “Don’t tread on me” flags during the funeral of LaVoy Finicum, who was killed during the stand-off at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
The FBI, in a 2011 report on sovereign citizens as a threat to domestic law enforcement, concluded “The FBI considers sovereign-citizen extremists as comprising a domestic terrorist movement, concluded that “The FBI considers sovereign-citizen extremists as comprising a domestic terrorist movement” adding, “Although the sovereign-citizen movement does not always rise to violence, its members’ illegal activities and past violent—including fatal—incidents against law enforcement make it a group that should be approached with knowledge and caution. It is important that law enforcement be aware of sovereign citizens’ tactics so agencies can warn the public of potential scams, spot illegal activity and understand its potential severity, and be prepared for and protect against violent behavior or backlash through intimidation and harassment. “