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Booking Photo of Jerry Thompson. Photo Credit: Hartford Police Department

People Who Believe They Are Immune to U.S. Laws

A recent argument over a tenant not paying his rent led to the beheading of the owner, according to a news report. The suspect, Jerry Thompson, used a samurai sword to behead his roommate when confronted about back rent owed.  As police attempted to investigate the homicide, Thompson refused to cooperate while claiming his status as a sovereign citizen made him immune to U.S. laws.  As this made headlines in national news, it gave little understanding of the sovereign citizen movement and just how dangerous sovereign citizens can be.  When the average citizen runs into sovereign citizens, they do not have the information to fully understand what this “philosophy” embodies and is capable of.

For many, the term “sovereign” is synonymous with nations that are free and able to govern themselves outside of a dictatorship.  Few are aware this term has been hijacked by the sovereign citizens movement.  Those believing themselves to be sovereign citizens have concluded they do not need to follow any laws within the government, whether at the local, state,or federal level.  They typically refuse to pay taxes while upholding a false perception of not being bound to government policies, procedures, and laws.  Their ideology is founded upon the idea their individual sovereignty is supreme, and no entity can enforce boundaries against them.  While they have an ideology based in extremism, they do not become terrorists unless they commit a violent act which attempts to sway the people or the government.

The sovereign citizen movement is an extremist movement categorized under domestic terrorism, as they are known to commit acts of violence, murder, threaten various government officials, and create white collar type scams to obtain money.  The federal definition of terrorism explains in detail what qualifies to receive charges as a terrorist.  This group commits dangerous acts to human life that is intended to coerce the government and/or civilian population.  The Moorish Sovereign Citizen is considered the most extreme version as they will act by whatever means necessary to ensure their sovereignty without regard for human life.

When boundaries are enforced, the Moorish sovereign citizen community typically resorts to violence, anger, threats, and even murder.  Many follow the religious belief known as Moorish Science Temple of America, which is a belief mainly followed in the U.S. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) gives a detailed breakdown and while many of the Moorish sovereign citizens identify with this religion, the religious leader disavows the perspective they do not have to follow the law.  The religion has attempted to remove identity between their belief and that of the sovereign citizens, and claim they do not adhere to the behaviors and illegal acts.

One goal of this movement is to create chaos within the court system by overwhelming the system while making it difficult for the judge or jury to properly rule on legal cases.  Sovereign citizens will state they are owed pieces of gold each day they are held.  They tend to refuse representation in court and submit thousands of handwritten sheets of paper making it difficult for all parties involved.  They have been known to threaten judges in attempts to sway legal decisions.  This movement is grounded in violence, extremism, racism, and terrorism. 

In John James Bey versus the state of Indiana, the Court of Appeals got involved when the courts dismissed Bey’s filings claiming the state owed him 11 billion dollars.  The Court of Appeals, wanting to thwart future filings, explained things in detail about the history to understand why sovereign citizens believe they are entitled to money from the government.  Once broken down, they were able to show how this was not valid and how this group is using Moroccan systems to try to tie it to the U.S.  The Court of Appeals ruled against Rey claiming that, ultimately, he is an American citizen and is not sovereign.

The sovereign citizen deals with lengthy court battles for a multitude of reasons, one of which is violence against police or civilians.  In 2014, the sovereign citizen’s movement was designated one of the greatest domestic threats to homeland security.  Police officers were polled by the Studies of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START),  86% of those officers believed the sovereign citizen’s movement was the greatest threat.  By 2018, New Jersey reported 50% of all ideological attacks were committed by a suspect identifying as a sovereign citizen.  This group has been responsible for multiple law enforcement deaths.  As the officer attempts to hold the citizen accountable, they believe they do not have to be subjugated to any law or nation. 

What does this mean for the average citizen?  If the sovereign citizen believes they do not need to adhere to any laws or regulations, engaging them in business can create devastating effects.  Should they refuse to pay, the regular citizen must file a lengthy civil court battle with extreme frustration.  This frustration is due to the sovereign citizen’s handwritten pleadings and refusal to accept an attorney.  This filing could very well lead to threats, or in the case of Mr. Thompson, homicide.  One must carefully consider the costs when dealing with the sovereign citizen.

The Takeaway:

The sovereign citizen usually gets involved in the movement to evade taxes. This movement has been growing rapidly since the 1970s and is unlikely to go away in the future. Sovereign citizens have been ramping up with attacks and rage since the 1970s, which should be concerning not only to law enforcement and the government but to the American public. There are different spectrums within this movement that tend to be based on a racial divide.

The Moorish citizen is based upon a system within African American culture and they have resorted to killing non-government citizens. This movement is quite dangerous and with the current trend of wanting to defund the police, this could give rise to others joining these groups or embracing their ideology for protection as well as desire to evade the government. With political dissidence in the U.S., the upcoming election may also lead to people turning to this movement. This should be a concern for not only the government but also the average American citizen.

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