June 07--Law enforcement is learning how to deal with the emergence of a new subculture of people who are calling themselves 'sovereign citizens.'
Area police officers attended a recent training session at Richmond Community College on how to handle these individuals.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's website, the FBI considers sovereign-citizen extremists "as comprising a domestic terrorist movement, which, scattered across the United States, has existed for decades, with well-known members, such as Terry Nichols, who helped plan the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, bombing."
It goes on to say sovereign citizens do not represent an anarchist group, nor are they a militia, although they sometimes use or buy illegal weapons. Rather, they operate as individuals without established leadership and only come together in loosely affiliated groups to train, help each other with paperwork, or socialize and talk about their ideology. They may refer to themselves as "constitutionalists" or "freemen," which is not necessarily a connection to a specific group, but, rather, an indication that they are free from government control. They follow their own set of laws. While the philosophies and conspiracy theories can vary from person to person, their core beliefs are the same: The government operates outside of its jurisdiction. Because of this belief, they do not recognize federal, state, or local laws, policies, or regulations.
"Sovereign citizens believe that when the U.S. government removed itself from the gold standard, it rendered U.S. currency as a valueless credit note, exchanging one credit document (such as a dollar bill) for another," said the website, www.fbi.gov. "They assert that the U.S. government now uses citizens as collateral, issuing social security numbers and birth certificates to register people in trade agreements with other countries. Each citizen has a monetary net worth, which they believe is kept in a U.S. Treasury Direct account, valued from $630,000 to more than $3 million. These accounts, they claim, are in a third-party's name, a 'strawman,' that they can access, which they commonly refer to as 'freeing money from the strawman.' In essence, it is extorting money from the U.S. Treasury Department. Sovereign citizens file legitimate IRS and Uniform Commercial Code forms for illegitimate purposes, believing that doing so correctly will compel the U.S. Treasury to fulfill its debts, such as credit card debts, taxes, and mortgages," according to the FBI.
Rob Finch is a detective in the Criminal Intelligence Squad of the Greensboro Police Department, and an expert on sovereign citizen subculture. He has interviewed more than 100 self-proclaimed sovereign citizens over 1,000 hours.
He held a class at Richmond Community College in Hamlet to train law enforcement on the kinds of things they will encounter when dealing with a sovereign citizen.
"We've been training law enforcement for the last 18 months and we've trained over 5,000 officers," said Finch. "The best tool is training and we teach them the sovereign's tactics, tricks and just educate them about the movement."
The alarm comes from a violent incident when citizens refuse to acknowledge the officers' authority and became aggressive. In 2010, two Arkansas police officers stopped sovereign-citizens Jerry Kane and his 16-year-old son Joseph during a routine traffic stop on Interstate 40. Joseph Kane jumped out of the vehicle and opened fire with an AK-47 assault rifle, killing both officers.
Captain Jan Seagraves of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office attended the class and said she thinks the information will benefit all officers.
"We discussed that with the ongoing economic decline this is becoming more prevalent in our state," said Seagraves. "The instructors were well versed in the kinds of paperwork and language the sovereign citizens are using. There were a lot of videos and visual aids and the instructors shared their experiences with us."
Finch explained that while much of what sovereign citizens claim in false paperwork is both illegal and classified as 'paper terrorism,' it is not illegal to claim that you are a sovereign citizen. It is illegal to refuse the authority of law enforcement, said Finch.
Finch said the movement began growing in 2009, when the economic turn-down caused many people facing foreclosure and other recession-based problems to "reach out for an olive branch." He said people are drafting and signing affidavits that they are using to claim they shouldn't be taxed or want to use their 'strawman' account to pay their mortgage.
"You cannot be successful with this because the strawman doesn't exist," said Finch, who said these people looking for loopholes in the system are "twisting the facts so they don't get in the way. The goal is to get outside the scope of control."
Finch sited one example of a man who said he wouldn't pay his taxes because he felt the United States government wasn't legitimate, yet he continued to work at the United States Postal Service. Another man wanted to redeem his strawman account, but wanted to continue to collect welfare.
Finch said in Guilford County, officers run into about two sovereign citizens every 10-14 days.
"There is a tremendous amount of them," he said. "Being conservative, I'd say there may be 600, but I think there's far more than that in North Carolina. You definitely have them here."
-- Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at [email protected].
Copyright 2012 - Richmond County Daily Journal, Rockingham, N.C.