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The USA continues its battle with micro-states

Editorial Staff

How small is a country? We've seen, over the years, a number of what World Money Laundering Report calls "invented jurisdictions" but can one person be a country, even a country within a country? The so-called "sovereign citizens" movement in the USA says so and the authorities and the courts have been battling against the concept for years. Here's the current state of play. (Free for seven days)

"Sovereign citizens are anti-government extremists who claim the federal government is operating outside its jurisdiction and they are therefore not bound by government authority—including the courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments, and even law enforcement."

"For more than three years, a Pennsylvania group claiming to be sovereign citizens—and therefore not subject to U.S. law—schemed to “steal” dozens of foreclosed homes worth millions of dollars and sell them to unsuspecting victims."


What is disturbing is that the FBI, by failing to put "sovereign citizens" in quotation marks or preface the term with a qualifying statement such as "so-called," suggests that there is some form of credible claim.

The FBI admits that declaring oneself a "sovereign citizen" is not, of itself, illegal but that the declaration does not release them from the duties of living in the USA.

The movement began to grow and gain numbers to the point where its popularity was measurable in the months after the terrorist attack on New York's World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001 but its roots can be traced to before that. The so-called "black helicopter brigade (no helicopters, not a brigade and not a single unified group - they were arguing against government intrusion into private lives and, at least to a degree, took their moniker from the OJ Simpson film Capricorn One in which he discovered that the moon landing was a fake and escaped the stage set where the fake was filmed and chased by government forces using black helicopters.

The conspiracy theorists and anti-government groups, plus some perhaps surprising allies such as the American Civil Liberties Union, formed behind a move to prevent the inclusion, in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of the collection and use group-wide of information needed for Know Your Customer in relation to money laundering. Many threats were made against politicians and, even, against the then Secretary General of the Financial Action Task Force. Eventually, the measures, added to the Bill by Senator Carl Levin, were dropped and the Act was passed.

In a supreme irony, in the pro-nationalistic mood of post-11 September 2001 which allowed almost unchallenged passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, the Levin draft was injected, almost unchanged from its previous attempt, and passed without demur.

The Sovereign Citizen Movement tends to be largely in the southern states and is sometimes seen as redneck movement but in fact most rednecks are conservative, patriotic and pro government, albeit with a strong sense of individual responsibilities and freedoms. The supposed legal right to be a sovereign citizen comes from a theory (not admitted by any legal authority) that there are "natural citizens" and citizens created under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

- section 1, 14th Amendment, per Cornell University at https://www.law.cornell.edu/co...

A Jewish pressure group, the Anti Defamation League, described the concept as "The "sovereign citizen" movement is a loosely organized collection of groups and individuals who have adopted a right-wing anarchist ideology originating in the theories of a group called the Posse Comitatus in the 1970s. Its adherents believe that virtually all existing government in the United States is illegitimate and they seek to "restore" an idealized, minimalist government that never actually existed. To this end, sovereign citizens wage war against the government and other forms of authority using "paper terrorism" harassment and intimidation tactics, and occasionally resorting to violence." See https://www.adl.org/education/...

By 2011, the FBI was increasingly concerned at the direction being taken: their counter-terrorism Analysis Section produced a report that said

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. 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

-- https://leb.fbi.gov/2011/septe...

In March this year, The Washington Post, reporting on a murder trial in which the defendant, Markeith Loyd, claimed to be a sovereign citizen, telling the Judge "Y’all can’t do nothing to me," inaccurately referred to "A far-right, antigovernment group whose adherents believe they’re constitutionally exempt from U.S. laws." But there is no "group," in the sense of any cohesion. Indeed a full reading of the report indicates that the Washington Post not only had a limited grasp of the topic but that Loyd had not expressly claimed sovereign citizenship and that the article is based on an assumption by the newspaper and someone it interviewed. The report shows that the subject is media-worthy but gravely mis-reported.

And sloppy terminology in a misguided attempt to make the subject more "sexy" or snappy do not help: a paper by an academic at George Washington University describes them, in the abstract, as "so-called sovereign citizens," then simply as "sovereigns" - a deeply inaccurate term which undermines the credibility of the entire paper. https://cchs.gwu.edu/sites/cch...

The courts are not prepared to accept the concept of a person resident in the USA who picks and chooses when to be a US citizen. Although there was no specific determination of the term, it is clear from a case this week that the court in Pennsylvania takes the simple view that a person born in the USA is a US citizen unless he formally renounces that citizenship for all purposes but that, even then, as a resident of the USA, he is liable to all laws that affect residents, be they citizens or not.


Most of these sovereign citizens are extremists. When they get arrested, they don’t believe they have committed a crime, and they believe they have the right to retaliate.

--- Walter Szpak, special agent, FBI Philadelphia

One has to question the use of the word "believe." An adherence to an ideal does not automatically create what amounts to a belief. In order to claim a belief, per se, it would be necessary to have a understanding of some complexities of law, which is probably beyond many of those who claim to be sovereign citizens, requiring them, as it does, to comprehend whether if a law does not apply, breaching it cannot, as a result of a different law, be a criminal act. No, it's far more likely that they unthinkingly follow what they are told by some they think may be right and that it's worth a try.

That's basically where the so-called constitutional tax protester movement stands. Courts have, for some years, applied a consistent policy against those who claim that they have some kind of immunity against, in particular, federal taxation. These include arguments that, variously, say

- the first amendment to the Constitution allows a citizen to refuse to pay taxes on religious or moral grounds.

- summonses issued by the Inland Revenue Service (IRS) breach fourth amendment protections against search and seizure (which are already heavily eroded in so many instances)

- that taxation is a "taking" of property without due process of law and therefore breaches the fifth amendment.

- that a tax return is a document of self-incrimination and therefore it is unlawful to demand that such be filed

We could go on but the list is long and there are interesting case studies to be read. This one is fascinating: "that African Americans can claim a so-called “Black Tax Credit” on their federal income tax returns as reparations for slavery and other oppressive treatment suffered by African Americans. A similar frivolous argument has been made that Native Americans are entitled to a credit on their federal income tax returns as a form of reparations for past oppressive treatment." - with the non-stop minority claims that seem to originate in the USA, we might soon be expecting similar arguments based on a wide range of historical breaches of claimed rights. See https://www.irs.gov/tax-profes....

It is clear that these are not the same circumstances as the invented jurisdictions covered by World Money Laundering Report but there are similarities: it's where someone decides that they can create what amounts to a free-living (as distinct from a free-trade) zone and gets followers. While the invented jurisdictions have all been benign, the "sovereign citizens" in the USA contain activist elements that are potentially dangerous and are almost always disruptive.



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