The short answer about sovereign citizenship is that the people who claim this status in the United States believe that they are above all laws. The long answer to this topic is a little more complex.
Think about a law right now that you don’t like. It can be anything that you disagree with right now at the local, state, or national level. Maybe you don’t like the idea of paying taxes or conveniently forget to pay for the pet license for your dog.
When you are a member of the sovereign citizenship movement, your approach is to look for any way to justify your choices without suffering any legal consequences from that action. You’ll see people pulling out Bible verses, court cases, or using half-truths or outright lies to convince you that their position is correct.
Once you decide that there is a law that you dislike, then it becomes your patriotic duty to disobey it. If someone tells you otherwise, then they don’t love their country as much – or worse, they might be plotting to destroy it.
List of the Pros of Sovereign Citizenship
1. It places the emphasis on governing authority at the local level.
A majority of the members who are part of the sovereign citizenship groups around the world often look at the top law enforcement agent in their region as being the only person with authority over them. Americans would see this person as the county sheriff. It is a belief that traces back to the Constitutional militia movement and white-extremist organizations like Posse Comitatus, but one that suggests an elected official has more power than an appointed one.
2. Juries did not agree that the movement constituted violence.
William P. Gale is often called the Father of the Identity Movement. He served as a Colonel in the U.S. Army and was an aide to General Douglas MacArthur. Part of his role during World War II was to coordinate the guerrilla resistance that occurred in the Philippines. In the 1970s, Gale would become a leading figure in the sovereign citizenship movement. He once stood trial on several charges, including conspiracy to commit murder of government employees, and was found not guilty for his actions.
3. It promotes the idea of individual accountability.
The idea of being a sovereign citizen is that you are accountable for your actions. It is up to you to provide for your family. You’re the one who gets the job. Instead of being a party to a social compact or contract, the goal of this perspective is to show that there is more complexity to the law so that those who are put into power are held accountable for their actions. Those who support this movement who point out that the IRS labeling the arguments of sovereign citizenship or being free-born as a frivolous claim only points to the fact that there is validity to their argument.
4. It comes with a variety of potential advantages to the individual.
Sovereign citizens in the United States see that there are two different types of people: those who accept the 14th Amendment and those who reject it. The individuals who belong to this movement generally reject the idea found in that text because they believe it creates a contract with the government to abandon their sovereignty in exchange for government-issued benefits.
That’s why you’ll see several potential advantages listed when weighing the pros and cons of being a sovereign citizen. This list is only a partial summary of every potential benefit that some choose to pursue.
- The right to regain all money ever paid to the IRS.
- Elimination of federal and state income tax.
- The inability of another person to sue them in court.
- No obligation to pay a traffic or speeding ticket.
- An ability to discharge debt by issuing bonds.
- The option to dismiss anything in the area of legal business.
- Immunity to statutory, vehicle, and civil law.
5. It is a self-proclaimed declaration.
The only thing that you need to do to become a sovereign citizen is to declare that you want to join this movement. Then you’ll typically declare that the laws do not apply. You might even go to the point where you’ll cancel your birth certificate, Social Security number, and other forms of identification to use ones that you create for yourself. You don’t need to be against the government to live this way, but you might never be an authentic sovereign if you refuse to give up everything that is associated with the 14th Amendment or whatever local laws you feel do not apply in your situation.
List of the Cons of Sovereign Citizenship
1. It creates non-violent retaliation against people who aren’t responsible for unwanted laws.
The non-violent retaliation against law enforcement and government employees for undesirable laws is the most common behavior of sovereign citizens. You’ll see them filing false tax documents, sending threatening correspondence, or suing random people for millions of dollars without any thought to what that might do to that individual or their family. Some will even go to the length of cyber-stalking people who have the audacity to disagree with them publicly.
2. Some sovereign citizens will plot violent revenge.
There are some people who see themselves as sovereign citizens who will take a more violent approach to their desire for revenge. The goal of this behavior is to inspire others to join the movement so that everyone can reach their breaking point even sooner. Joseph Stack is a prime example of this disadvantage, as he flew his airplane into an IRS building in Austin, TX injuring 13 people and killing one tax collector.
Planned events from people with this perspective include shootings, bombings, and murders. You’ll see armed standoffs happening at times as well. What makes them so dangerous is the fact that most of the people in this situation don’t have a plan. They’re just lashing out.
3. There are hundreds of thousands of people who are in this movement.
The sovereign citizen movement is a loose grouping of Commonwealth and American commentators, litigants, tax protestors, and others who see themselves as only being answerable to a specific interpretation of common law. This issue even causes them to not recognize fiat currencies, maintaining the perspective that they are free of any legal constraints. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that there are about 300,000 people in the United States who intentionally act in this way.
Even if you disagree with the politics or perspective of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the FBI sees sovereign citizen extremists as domestic terrorists. In surveys conducted in 2015, this loose affiliation ranked higher than any other potential terrorist threat, including Islamic extremists, in the view of U.S. law enforcement officials for the danger they present.
4. The sovereign citizenship movement has close ties to white extremism.
Gale might have been found not guilty on charges of conspiracy to commit murder or overthrow the government, but that doesn’t change who his friends were or the organizations that he helped to create. He was a known close associate of Pastor Richard Butler, who would eventually found the Aryan Nations. Gale was also the founder of a leading figure in several paramilitary and anti-tax movements in the 1980s until his death, including the California Rangers.
5. It is a hypocritical viewpoint.
There are several challenges to laws that require driver’s licenses that have come through the American court system over the years. In these situations, defendants have asserted unsuccessfully that there is an inalienable right to drive on highways that the government, which they don’t support or acknowledge, built for their behalf. Some cases have gone all the way to the Supreme Court while being upheld. The problem with the argument here is that by claiming they are sovereign; they’re also claiming no association with what exists around them. If they don’t support the government, then how can one use items issued by the government in the first place?
6. There are targeted crimes that some sovereign citizens perform.
There are several instances where people associated with the sovereign citizen movement filed false notices of liens against homeowners. It’s a practice that some people label as “paper terrorism.” Anyone has the authority to file a notice of lien against property, including vehicles, real estate, or other assets under several laws that include the Uniform Commercial Code. The validity of that filing is not investigated at the time. These liens can impact the credit rating of a property owner, cloud the title, and even make it impossible to obtain a home equity loan or a refinance. It can also be expensive and time-consuming to clear up a fraudulent notice.
7. Most people only use this idea to willingly break the law when they get into trouble.
There are some people who take the idea of sovereign citizenship seriously and do their best to live peacefully with others who support the government. Most of the individuals who embrace this movement do so when they encounter moments of duress in their lives. One such story is that of Jerry Kane.
Kane decided to become a sovereign citizen in 2003 after going through a divorce, a foreclosure, and being unable to find work as a truck driver. He and his son started going across the United States to peddle a scam involving debt reduction as a way to make money. He promised that people could tap into a government account (one that was imaginary) to help themselves find a path to financial salvation.
Kane and his son were pulled over by officers for their vehicle status, and it would be the breaking point. The father got into a scuffle with law enforcement while his teenage son got an AK-47 and started firing at officers. They killed two and wounded two more before being killed in the parking lot of a Walmart.
The issue with the sovereign citizenship movement is that it masquerades under a flag of patriotism. It takes the concept of superiority of belief to a new level, often including religious tones as a reason to justify one’s behavior. It’s the same principle that causes someone to refuse service to an individual because they disagree with that person’s lifestyle, but then also protest and complain if someone does the same thing to them.
That’s why sovereign citizenship is dangerous. The only person that they’ll report to is the county sheriff, and even that is not a guarantee. It is a process that works to restrict free speech by attacking those who hold multiple views, whether it’s on vaccinations or the role of police, so that dissenting opinions will stay quiet.
What is even more disturbing are the political influences that cause members of this movement to act. Although every party has its extremists, you’ll find those who embrace the idea of sovereign citizenship coming under the banner of conservatism. When there are political leaders at the national level who embrace this ideology as well, then it creates a disruptive and potentially dangerous atmosphere for the average person who might disagree.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.