There are people in this country (both men and women) who have gone completely off the deep end. No, I’m not talking about the state of Florida (though if there is a God, the people of Florida who voted for Rick Scott to be Governor will have some explaining to do), but of something called the Sovereign Citizens Movement. It has no organized structure and no leader. There are people, well known to other sovereign citizens, who go around the country training people in how to become one. They vary in some of the specific beliefs, but in general they feel the United States government, and just about any level of government, is not legitimate. Some of them believe…well, I think it might sound better coming from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Domestic Terrorism Operations Unit:
Sovereign citizens believe the government is operating outside of its jurisdiction and generally do not recognize federal, state, or local laws, policies, or governmental regulations. They subscribe to a number of conspiracy theories, including a prevalent theory which states the United States Government (USG) became bankrupt and began using citizens as collateral in trade agreements with foreign governments. They believe secret bank accounts exist at the United States (US) Department of the Treasury. These accounts can be accessed using Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Universal Commercial Code (UCC), and fraudulent financial documents. Sovereign citizens are known to travel the country conducting training seminars on debt elimination schemes. The seminars focus on obtaining funds from a secret “Strawman” account using legitimate IRS forms, UCC forms, and fraudulent financial documents. Sovereign citizens believe once the documentation is filed, they gain access to their “Strawman” account with the Treasury Department.
Like I said, completely off the deep end. A search of the FBI website for “sovereign citizens” yields 122 results. A search on the Southern Poverty Law Center website yields “over 2,500 results.” These are not people to be ignored. The SPLC has this to say about them and the origins of their movement:
The ideas of the “sovereign citizens” movement originate in the ideology of the Posse Comitatus, an anti-Semitic group that raged through the Midwest in the late 1970s and 1980s. Sovereign citizens claim that they are not subject to most taxes, are not citizens of the United States (but instead are “non-resident aliens”), cannot be tried for crimes in which there is no complaining victim (zoning and professional licensing violations, for instance), and are only subject to “common law courts,” a sort of people’s tribunal with no lawyers. Most refuse to obtain Social Security cards, register their vehicles, carry driver’s licenses or use zip codes; many refer to UCC-107, a part of the Uniform Commercial Code, to justify their bizarre claims; and some use weird forms of punctuation between their middle and last names in all kinds of documents. Sovereign citizens also often distinguish between so-called “14th Amendment citizens,” who are subject to federal and state governments, and themselves, who are also known as “organic citizens” — an ideology that causes adherents to claim that black people, who only became legal citizens when the 14th Amendment was passed after the Civil War, have far fewer rights than whites. Some of the more famous adherents of sovereign citizens ideology include Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols and members of the Montana Freemen.
Just how crazy are they? Get a load of this.
The sovereigns all say it started sometime during the Civil War (or its aftermath) or maybe after events in 1933 when President Roosevelt wisely took our nation off the gold standard. They’re not sure when, but they say the government that was set up by the Founding Fathers, which operated under a system of Common Law, was replaced by a secret government operating under Admiralty Law, the law of the sea and international commerce. They believe that under common law, they are free men. But under admiralty law, they are slaves and that secret government forces have a vested interest in keeping things this way. They claim that all judges are aware of this set-up, and have been deliberately denying the sovereign citizens’ legal motions, which often include placing liens on property owned by judges and government officials. But don’t worry, we haven’t gotten to the crazy part yet.
When our nation was taken off the gold standard and our money was backed by the “full faith and credit” of the United States, this meant to the sovereigns that its citizens were pledged as collateral, and that our future earnings were sold to foreign investors thus, in essence, making slaves of us all. The sale happens when you are born and your birth certificate is issued and your Social Security Number obtained. The government uses the birth certificate to set up a corporate trust in the newborn’s name (a secret Treasury account), and this account is funded with anywhere form $600,000 to $20,000,000. (Again, no clear agreement about the amount.) Setting up the account is what splits the baby’s rights between its flesh-and-blood body and its corporate shell account.
So what’s their evidence for such a bizarre belief system? Well, if by “evidence” you mean “proof; something plain or clear to the sight or understanding,” they have none. What they have is another bizarre theory – the name on your birth certificate. Notice in this sample birth certificate that the name is spelled out in all capital letters. The sovereigns say this is the name of the shell corporation (or “straw man”; yes, the Sovereign Citizens Movement is based on a straw man argument), while your name spelled with normal upper and lower case letters is your “real name.” Any legal documents that refer to you in all capital letters (such as your birth certificate, driver’s license, marriage certificate, car registration, criminal court records, cable and utility bills, and even correspondence from the IRS rejecting your sovereign citizen claims) are actually referring to your corporate shell identity, and not your sovereign self. Through a process called “redemption” you can free yourself sovereign self from your corporate shell and gain access to those millions of dollars the government has in your corporate account. Though no one has ever successfully done this, they believe the secret lies in coming up with just the right words in your legal documents.
While sovereign citizens do not typically resort to actual, physical violence or gunfire, they do employ what they call “paper terrorism.” They file false liens against the property of government officials and nonsensical court documents that accomplish nothing but waste taxpayer dollars having to process them. For example, when one sovereign citizen was asked to enter a guilty or not guilty plea, she responded, “I accept for value in returning for value for settlement in closure of this accounting.” (If I were the judge, I would take that as “guilty.”) After the husband was involved in a car crash, a Florida couple (who claim to be members of the Moorish Science Temple) was under investigation for filing false liens and other documents under false names. And a Michigan man is claiming that his rights do not come from the Constitution but from the Creator, and that the search warrant bearing his name in all capital letters did not refer to him. He was a convicted felon, so he wasn’t allowed to have the guns they found stashed throughout his house. At least, according to our laws, but not according to his.
Claiming to be a sovereign citizen by itself does not make one incompetent to stand trial. I’ll let the legal experts explain it:
Most psychologists and researchers believe that a sovereign citizen is not incompetent to stand trial simply by virtue of being a sovereign citizen. Although sovereign citizens’ beliefs appear to be delusional, they typically are not considered delusions sufficient for the diagnosis required for incompetence. Delusional disorder, the mental illness with which a sovereign citizen would most likely be diagnosed, requires that the belief be a non-bizarre delusion. The types of delusions that qualify for the diagnosis are personally held and could possibly happen in real life, and generally relate to the person’s perception of life events. Common examples of qualifying delusions include believing that someone is conspiring against you, or that people are talking about you. However, widely held and culturally sanctioned beliefs that might be considered delusional in other cultures, but are recognized in one’s own culture, often do not qualify for a diagnosis of delusional disorder. For example, many commonly held religious beliefs may sound delusional to some people. Although they may sound delusional, they are culturally non-native beliefs shared by many individuals and therefore not delusions. Because sovereign citizen beliefs are shared by up to, and maybe exceeding, 300,000 people, the psychologists and researchers who have studied the subject conclude that the sovereign citizen’s odd, seemingly delusional beliefs have been sanctioned and accepted by too many to be considered delusions.
To summarize, because so many people believe this nonsense, it’s not, for legal purposes, considered delusional. Just like Religion. So if not believing yourself subject to the laws of the country in which you’re standing, whose protection you’re currently enjoying, and whose public services you are using daily, is not considered delusional because the laws only apply to your corporate shell entity, which was set up by the government after you were born, as evidenced by the capital letters used to spell your “name”, then what is?
This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss sovereign citizens, delusions in general, or anything else you wish.