Understanding the Sovereign Citizen Movement: Beliefs and Impacts on Law Enforcement

March 26, 2024

Understanding the Sovereign Citizen Movement: Beliefs and Impacts on Law Enforcement



By Daniel Brunner | Chief Operating Officer | Brunner Sierra Group

The Sovereign Citizen Movement is a loosely organized collection of groups and individuals who share a common belief: they consider themselves independent of the United States' government laws. This movement is not monolithic; its followers have diverse beliefs, but they are united in the conviction that government jurisdiction over them is illegitimate. This article delves into who sovereign citizens are, their core beliefs, their methods of engaging with law enforcement, and highlights their potential for violence, exemplified by the tragic 2010 incident in West Memphis, Tennessee.

Who Are Sovereign Citizens?

Sovereign citizens are individuals who reject the idea that they are subject to government laws and regulations. They believe that they have found legal loopholes that exempt them from following the same rules as other citizens. Sovereign citizens often do not possess official government-issued identification, such as driver's licenses or social security cards, and they may use homemade license plates and identification cards.

Core Beliefs

The core belief of the Sovereign Citizen Movement is that a series of legal and historical inaccuracies have led to the illegitimate governance of the United States. They often argue that certain amendments to the Constitution or the way the court system operates are invalid. Sovereign citizens may claim that they only adhere to their interpretation of common law or "natural law" and that statutory laws do not apply to them unless they consent to them.

This belief system leads to a variety of legal and financial schemes, including the filing of frivolous lawsuits, liens against public officials, and attempts to evade taxes. Sovereign citizens are known for their complex and often nonsensical legal filings, which they believe exempt them from laws governing taxation, property, and travel.


Interaction with Law Enforcement

Sovereign citizens are notorious for their confrontational and harassing tactics towards law enforcement and government officials. Routine traffic stops can escalate quickly because sovereign citizens may refuse to provide identification, claim the officer has no authority over them, and sometimes resist arrest. They often flood courts with a barrage of legal documents in what is known as "paper terrorism."

Their interactions with law enforcement are not merely challenging but can also be dangerous. Sovereign citizens are known for their unpredictability and some harbor extreme anti-government views, which can lead to violent confrontations.

The West Memphis Tragedy

A stark example of the potential for violence within the Sovereign Citizen Movement is the 2010 murder of two police officers in West Memphis, Tennessee. On May 20, 2010, Sergeant Brandon Paudert and Officer Bill Evans were killed during a routine traffic stop. The shooters, Jerry Kane Jr. and his 16-year-old son, Joseph, were followers of the Sovereign Citizen Movement. The Kanes were subsequently killed in a shootout with law enforcement.

This tragic event highlighted the risks law enforcement officers face when dealing with individuals who hold extreme anti-government views. It served as a wake-up call to many agencies across the country to the potential dangers of the Sovereign Citizen Movement and led to increased efforts to understand and prepare for interactions with such individuals.

The Sovereign Citizen Movement poses unique challenges to law enforcement and the legal system due to its followers' complex belief system and disregard for governmental authority. While not all sovereign citizens are violent, their ideology can lead to confrontations that put both the public and law enforcement officers at risk. Understanding the movement, its beliefs, and tactics is crucial for ensuring the safety of all involved and addressing the underlying issues that fuel such anti-government sentiments.