The phrase “sovereign citizen” sounds in its way innocuous, even an expression of basic Americanism – of the idea that the highest office one can hold in the United States is that of citizen.
Many people who aren’t familiar with the SC “movement” maybe suckered in by that. But among people who aren’t simply throwing language around loosely, and who are serious about it, “sovereign citizen” carries a very specific meaning. And it’s ominous.
There’s no central SC organization, or even much of a central contact point; its message is sent out in a diffuse network, carried (in the manner of a mosquito) by people who claim a special insight into the conspiratorial origins of the country. There being no core doctrine or document to quote from them, let’s try the Southern Poverty Law Center’s description of how they view things:
“At some point in history, sovereigns believe, the American government set up by the founding fathers — with a legal system the sovereigns refer to as “common law” — was secretly replaced by a new government system based on admiralty law, the law of the sea and international commerce. Under common law, or so they believe, the sovereigns would be free men. Under admiralty law, they are slaves, and secret government forces have a vested interest in keeping them that way. Some sovereigns believe this perfidious change occurred during the Civil War, while others blame the events of 1933, when the U.S. abandoned the gold standard. Either way, they stake their lives and livelihoods on the idea that judges around the country know all about this hidden government takeover but are denying the sovereigns’ motions and filings out of treasonous loyalty to hidden and malevolent government forces.”
The theory gets a lot more elaborate.
You may find in some SC circles (and other circles in their neighborhood) a lot of interest in gold hoarding and the gold standard.
There’s a reason: Many SC advocates believe the end of the gold standard led to the federal government secretly selling the American people into de facto slavery as a prop for the currency. The fact that baby names on birth certificates ordinarily are written in capital letters is held to have a deep significance (its identity is not your identity, in rough terms) as well.
No, I’m not making this up, but they are.
And so what,you ask? Here’s the Federal Bureau of Investigation:
Sovereign citizens are anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or “sovereign” from the United States. As a result, they believe they don’t have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments, or law enforcement.
This causes all kinds of problems—and crimes. For example, many sovereign citizens don’t pay their taxes. They hold illegal courts that issue warrants for judges and police officers. They clog up the court system with frivolous lawsuits and liens against public officials to harass them. And they use fake money orders, personal checks, and the like at government agencies, banks, and businesses.
That’s just the beginning. Not every action taken in the name of the sovereign citizen ideology is a crime, but the list of illegal actions committed by these groups, cells, and individuals is extensive (and puts them squarely on our radar). In addition to the above, sovereign citizens:
Commit murder and physical assault;
Threaten judges, law enforcement professionals, and government personnel;
Impersonate police officers and diplomats;
Use fake currency, passports, license plates, and driver’s licenses; and
Engineer various white-collar scams, including mortgage fraud and so-called “redemption” schemes.
In January 2017 a New Hampshire legislator, Richard Marple, tried to introduce a measure intended to fine state agencies $10,000 per instance if they “don’t buy into sovereigns’ legal make believe.” Such as? One story notes “The bill refers to ‘sovereigns’ as though they were a legitimate legal class, and requires ‘all corporations to disclose all elements of any contract,’ ‘particularly those contracts involving an ens legis or strawman’.”
The terminology is an exercise in pretzel logic, unworthy of your time.
If you hear the phrase “sovereign citizen”, you might ask:
Do you mean by that an informal sense that citizens should be treated with dignity? Or are you talking about a truly bizarre conspiracy theory? There’s quite a difference.