I spent a good part of my career as a prosecuting attorney. I had been at it long enough to think I had seen and heard just about everything, but one gentleman put that theory to rest. He was my first interaction with someone from the Sovereign Citizen movement.
On the surface, it looked like a fairly run-of-the-mill traffic court case. The defendant was charged with speeding and driving without a valid driver’s license. He was not represented by counsel, so I attempted to speak with him ahead of time, in an effort to reach a plea agreement. All my efforts to do so were thwarted, however, by his insistence that the court did not have jurisdiction over him. I finally gave up and moved on to the other cases on that morning’s docket.
When it was time for his case to be called, the judge read the charges and asked him how he wished to plead. He responded by pointing out that the flag behind the judge had yellow fringe on its edges, and therefore rendered the court’s authority moot unless he was being charged with offenses on the high seas.
This was the point where I decided he wasn’t completely there, mentally, and I looked over my shoulder to make sure court security was nearby.
The gentleman kept interrupting the judge, grew increasingly louder, and rambled on, endlessly, about how he didn’t need a driver’s license because he wasn’t driving; he was merely traveling. He said that the name on the ticket was actually a corporate entity, and he was there on behalf of that corporate entity for the limited purpose of challenging the court’s jurisdiction. He also cited a number of Supreme Court decisions that were unfamiliar to me, referred repeatedly to the U.C.C., and wanted the court reporter to be sure to note (even though there was no court reporter in the room) that he did not consent to a whole bunch of stuff.
In exasperation, the judge entered a “Not Guilty” plea on his behalf and set the case over for pre-trial a month later. When the date for that pre-trial arrived, the defendant was nowhere to be found. I requested a bench warrant, but I specifically asked that the judge note on the warrant that we would not seek extradition if he happened to get picked up in another state. I had no particular interest in putting myself or the court through another hearing like his arraignment. I counted myself fortunate that I would probably not have to deal with this fellow again.
It wasn’t more than two or three weeks later that another defendant came into my courtroom, and he, too, seemed to have a fixation about the yellow fringe on the flag. He was charged with driving without insurance and some minor traffic offense. His defense was likewise based on the court’s lack of jurisdiction on the basis that he was traveling, rather than driving. He was also very keen on the U.C.C., corporate entities, and seemed to believe that the louder he got, the more authoritative his words would sound. Only then did I begin to suspect that I wasn’t dealing with a couple of random unbalanced people; I was up against an entire movement.
The movement is that of the Sovereign Citizens. It got its start in 1971 by William P. Gale. It goes by a number of different names and subcultures, such as Moorish Nation, The Aware Group, Washitaw Nation, the North Carolina American Republic, Republic of United States of America, and others. Since its inception, it has branched out to several other nations, each one having its own variation of the Fourteenth Amendment claims discussed below. The philosophy of the movement is a little hard to pin down because it is nebulous, not entirely uniform, and, frankly, because you have to be somewhat off your gourd to believe it in the first place.
Basic Beliefs of the Sovereign Citizens
- There are two types of citizens: natural (de jure) and Fourteenth Amendment (federal or US citizens).
- Natural citizens are those who have citizenship by virtue of having been born in one of the 50 states, not including the District of Columbia, and have revoked their US citizenship.
- Fourteenth Amendment citizens are subject to federal and common law but can revoke their Fourteenth Amendment citizenship at any time and become a natural citizen.
- The reason the Fourteenth Amendment is such a big deal is that Gale believed it created a contract between the federal government and its citizens. This contract has to be accepted in order to receive the benefits offered by the federal government.
- They believe every individual exists as two separate entities — a natural born person and a corporate shell. This comes into play whenever the government seeks to enforce the laws, or creditors seek to collect debt. In those situations, sovereign citizens claim that only the corporate version of themselves can be thus obligated, but as far as the natural-born person — in other words, the body itself — governments and creditors can only exercise authority over them to the degree that the natural-born person consents to it.
- Sometime in the 1930s, the federal government created secret financial accounts for every individual. These were set up as collateral for the country’s debts since the country had just gone off of the gold standard. The amount in each account will vary, depending on which branch of the movement you ask, but many have settled on the amount being $630,000 per person. This secret account is the “strawman” that becomes the corporate representation of their natural selves.
- By filing a Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) financing statement, they believe they can claim superior right to access the secret account that funds their corporate existence. Once they have done so, they then have the right to issue bonds against that account that must be accepted in satisfaction of a debt. If the creditor does not accept this, then the sovereign citizen is released from all financial obligations.
- They believe they have an inalienable right to “travel.” This is somehow distinct from “driving.” If charged with driving without a license, they will insist they were not driving, but merely traveling.
- The bar in the courtroom that separates the attorneys and judge from the rest of the room exists for the purpose of symbolically transforming the courtroom into the bridge of a ship, thus allowing the judge to act as a captain under admiralty law. This is why the gold fringe on a flag is a big deal because this is further proof that the court is actually one of admiralty.
- They believe they are granted “free citizen” status by virtue of Article 4 of the Articles of Confederation, which state, in pertinent part, “…the free inhabitants of each of these states, paupers, vagabonds and fugitives from justice excepted, shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several states; and the people of each state shall have free ingress and regress to and from any other state, and shall enjoy therein all the privileges of trade and commerce….”
Confused yet? I warned you that you have to be at least somewhat bent for this to even begin to resonate with you. The basic beliefs are comparatively brilliant, however, compared to the way they put these things into practice. Sovereign Citizens have their own rule book about how to get out of taxes, contractual obligations, traffic tickets, and basically anything they want to avoid. These are going to sound more than a little squirrelly to you unless you are under the influence of some kind of mind-altering substance. Let me give you the CliffsNotes version: the Sovereign Citizens essentially believe that life is a big video game, but they have the cheat codes. All they have to do is say some magic words such as, “I do not consent,” and the rest of us NPC’s have no choice but to back off and let them do whatever they want.
Common Practices of the Sovereign Citizens
- The way to distinguish whether a sovereign citizen is acting on his own behalf or as a representative of his corporate self rests in the way he signs his name: “John Doe, Executive Trustee for the Private Contract Trust known as JOHN DOE”; by identifying oneself as executor for the straw man; using a copyright symbol with the name; saying “John Doe, Secured Party, Authorized Representative, Attorney-in-Fact in behalf of JOHN DOE ©”; interspersing colons or hyphens or other odd punctuation in the name, or using the prefix “Noble” or the suffix “Bey” or “El Bey” with one’s name.
- If a sovereign citizen uses red ink, puts his zip code in brackets, adds a thumbprint to the document, or writes “near” as part of the address, this will be sufficient to nullify any authority that the document might otherwise hold over him.
- Birth certificates, Social Security cards, driver’s licenses, tax forms, etc., are all void and cannot obligate the natural citizen because the names on such documents are written in all capital letters.
- They believe they have the right to issue their own driver’s licenses, license plates, birth certificates, passports, etc.
- Given their distrust in governmental offices, sovereign citizens spend a lot of time and effort flooding government offices with paperwork. Their filings are typically directed at police officers, judges, and prosecutors who attempt to hold them accountable. These filings include liens, which are typically not made known to the subject of the lien until much later, causing no end of trouble for the official.
- They will file their paperwork on legal-size paper.
- They will “pay” their bills with a “Charge Back Notice.” This is their way of referring bill collectors to the US government to get their money from the sovereign citizen’s secret government account. The Charge Back Notice will have language that advises the reader that if they fail to accept this as payment, the sovereign citizen is off the hook from any further financial obligations.
- They speak increasingly loudly when talking to an official. Even though the conversation is between two people, the sovereign citizen either believes he has to let the entire world hear, or he believes that authority and decibels are proportionately related.
If you’d like to have this all explained to you from the Sovereign Citizen perspective, check out the following video, telling you how you can avoid responsibility for traffic tickets. Why, you may ask, is the host of this video a talking frog? Didn’t I tell you that you have to be half a step away from being a drooling nut job for this to make sense?
Learning the buzzwords of the sovereign citizens will take you a long way toward recognizing one if you see him. Talk to a sovereign citizen for more than a couple of minutes about anything that remotely hints at him being obligated to do something he doesn’t want to do, and you will get an earful of these words and phrases:
- De facto government
- Conveyance (rather than a vehicle)
- References to UCC
- IRS Form 1099-OID
- Traveling in a commercial capacity
- Who is the victim?
- © after a person’s name
- “Employer ID Number” rather than SSN
- Reference to HJR-192
- UN Indigenous People’s Seat 215
- Use of “near” with zip code
- Special Trust Deposit
- Dishonor in commerce
- Thumbprints on documents
- Common law
- Man on the land
- Referring to the government as a corporation
- Affidavit of truth
- Judicial District of Tens
- Title 4 flag
- UCC-1 Statement
- Silence is acquiescence
- Non-resident alien
- Traveling in a private capacity
- Use of red ink
- Sui juris
- El Bey
- Where is your oath of office?
- Brackets around a zip code
- Charge Back Notice
- Debtor is transmitting utility
- U.S. Minor, Outlying Islands
- In Admiralty
- Accepted for value
- Final solution
- Free man
- Requesting an official’s bond
- Letters of Marque
- Sovereign Living Soul
- State Citizen
Merits to the Sovereign Citizen Philosophy
So what is wrong with the Sovereign Citizen philosophy? Where shall we start?
- In the first place — and this is no small issue at all — these arguments have never worked! Although a quick perusal of YouTube reveals a number of videos where sovereign citizens allegedly “own” a judge or police officer, the videos always seem to stop short of showing that the individual did nothing to advance his cause beyond getting everybody upset with him. For a wonderful example of a judge keeping his cool in the face of a sovereign citizen argument about his real/corporate/individual/color-of-law self, see this video.
- At the risk of repeating myself, let me just say that these arguments don’t work. It would be understandable to see people maintain these positions if they could actually point to someone who was facing criminal charges, was under threat of imprisonment for tax evasion, or who was being asked for identification during a traffic stop, and one of their buzzwords or phrases actually accomplished something. Is there anyone out there who was feeling the pressure of law enforcement, and all they had to do was say, “I do not consent,” or “I am not a corporate entity, but a natural man,” and just like magic, the police officer, judge, or IRS agent responds, saying, “Well, why didn’t you say so? Please, sir, go on your way, and please accept my apologies!” At some point, one would think folks would get a clue that their arguments haven’t worked even once!
- If you are going to base your position on a legal document, the Articles of Confederation probably shouldn’t be your first choice, inasmuch as the Constitution supplanted the Articles.
- By way of clarification, that’s not to say that every legal argument proffered by a sovereign citizen is without merit. There are examples of sovereign citizen cases where the sovereign citizen prevailed, but it was on the basis of a violation of the legitimate laws and procedures, not because of any of the fundamental positions of the sovereign citizen. This fine point of distinction is lost of sovereign citizens, who point to such headlines as “Appeals court reverses sentence in ‘sovereign citizen’ traffic stop” as proof that their arguments work, without noting that the basis of the court’s decision had nothing to do with jurisdiction, the distinction between traveling and driving, etc.; the case was reversed because of an error at the trial level relating to whether two offenses occurred at substantially the same time for sentencing purposes.
- If we are going to have to get rational about things, however, we might as well look at the legal merits of the Sovereign Citizen movement. One of the most in-depth judicial analyses of the moment can be found in the 2012 Canadian case of Meads v Meads. Some of the best takeaways from the judge’s opinion include:
“When reduced to their conceptual core, most OPCA [the Canadian-equivalent of Sovereign Citizen] concepts are contemptibly stupid. Mr. Meads, for example, has presented the Court with documents that appear to be a contract between himself, and himself. One Mr. Meads promises to pay for any liability of the other Mr. Meads. One owns all property, the other all debts. What is the difference between these entities? One spells his name with upper case letters. The other adds spurious and meaningless punctuation to his name. Mr. Meads (with punctuation) is the Mr. Meads who appeared in court. He says the Mr. Meads (all capitals) is the one who should pay child and spousal support.
So where is that Mr. Meads (all capitals)? At one point in the June 8 hearing Mr. Meads said that Mr. Meads (all capitals) was a “corporate entity” attached to his birth certificate. Later, he told me that the other Mr. Meads was a “person” – and that I had created him! Again, total nonsense.”
“OPCA arguments are never sold to their customers as simple ideas, but instead are byzantine schemes which more closely resemble the plot of a dark fantasy novel than anything else.”
“Translated out of ‘gibberese’, Mr. Meads is purportedly assigning the value of his birth certificate, a ‘commercial transaction’ presumably with Canada, to his ‘flesh and blood’ self.”
“Mr. Meads is Mr. Meads in all his physical or imaginary aspects. He would experience and obtain the same effect and success if he appeared in court and selectively donned and removed a rubber Halloween mask which portrays the appearance of another person, asserting at this or that point that the mask’s person is the one liable to Ms. Meads. Not that I am encouraging, or indeed would countenance, the wearing of a mask in my courtroom.”
- They discount the Fourteenth Amendment as being simultaneously invalid because it was not properly adopted by all states and being controlling on the basis that it sets up dual citizenship: natural and Fourteenth Amendment.
- They claim natural citizenship extends to everyone born in any of the 50 states, despite the fact that they challenge the legitimacy of government after the adoption of the 14th Amendment in 1868. Thirteen states were added to the union after 1868.
- They claim the authority of the Common Law, but they cannot point to actual Common Law authority that truly supports their twisted notions of the law.
- The United Nations Seat 215, on which they base so much of their authority, is news to the United Nations, which has no such thing. Additionally, the United Nations only claims to extend authority to and through those nations that have entered into the United Nations treaties, something the United States could not legally have done if the Sovereign Citizen claims are true.
- The arguments are just plain silly. Regular laws can be confusing enough, but it takes years of therapy to get to the point where you can start to believe Sovereign Citizen legal interpretation.
- For a scholarly analysis of the legal claims of the movement, read “A Legal Response to the Sovereign Citizen Movement” by Caesar Kalinowski IV in the Montana Law Review (80 Mont. L. Rev. 153 (2019)).
Scams and Violence
At their best, Sovereign Citizens are annoying and create needless work for those in the criminal justice system. If it were left at that, we might grudgingly tolerate their quaint-but-troublesome practices. Unfortunately, the movement has developed into something far more nefarious.
In 2008 a sovereign citizen named Miles J. Julison filed a tax return, claiming a refund of $411,773. The next year he filed another return, this time claiming $1.5 million in refunds. He did this each time, despite the fact that he had no significant income. He based his tax filings on IRS Form 1099-OID, which he filled out and filed himself. His 2007 1099-OID reported $583,151 in “other income,” all of which had been withheld for taxes. When he tried it for his 2008 tax return, the IRS did not issue his refund check but instead referred the matter to the Justice Department for investigation.
His trial transcript reads straight out of the Sovereign Citizen playbook:
THE DEFENDANT: I am here expressively under protest, for fear of my life, without prejudice to any of my rights. I’m here under duress by special appearance only. . . . I want the record to show that I am the executor, settler, and beneficiary of the Miles J. Julison Estate. I’m not a decedent. I have not granted any consent or authorization to anyone to act or speak on behalf of the estate. I’m alive in my tribunal of mind, body, and spirit.
. . . . I do not recognize you. I will not contract, nor will I consent to allow you to judge me. This is a kangaroo court without lawful authority, without an injured party, without a breach of contract. Void proceedings from the start without jurisdiction. This court case is now ordered to be closed, dismissed with prejudice. The complete records to be delivered to me for processing of criminal complaints and tort claims, along with impeachment proceedings against all those who violated their oath. Are there anyone here that will assist me in arresting—arresting the treason against the American people?
THE COURT: Are you through, Mr. Julison?
THE DEFENDANT: No. And court is adjourned.
THE COURT: All right. Mr. Julison, one of the things that— [Julison turns and begins to walk out] oh wait. It might be in your interest to hear what I have to say, sir. It—a number of people are leaving the courtroom right now, following Mr. Julison, who’s left the courtroom. . . . All right. . . . We’re now going to continue this hearing without Mr. Julison.
Mr. Julison earned himself a four-year prison sentence for his schemes, but not before leading several seminars in the Portland, Oregon area. At one of the seminars, he held up a copy of his refund check and told the eager seminar participants, “I got some bonds. I’m gonna be rich. I’m gonna have all kinds of money…. I’ve got stars in my eyes…. I’m greedy…. You’ve been holding back the slave. Slave is getting his. I’m here to get mine.”
Julison is just one of the many sovereign citizens who are teaching unwary and gullible people that they are not subject to the laws of the land. Several resources, such as the Sovereign Citizen Cut-Out Book, offer forms and identification documents and promise you an easy way to bypass those troublesome laws everyone else has to follow.
The movement has not limited itself to scams and get-rich-quick schemes. It has become increasingly violent, as members advocate the right to use deadly force against representatives of state and federal governments. The FBI has classified a number of sovereign citizen groups as domestic terrorists.
Orlando, Florida sovereign citizen Markeith D. Loyd murdered his pregnant girlfriend and a police officer in 2007. When he was arraigned on the charges, he spoke on his behalf, using arguments that have become all-too-familiar: “For the record, I want to state that I am Markeith Loyd,” Loyd told the judge. “Flesh and blood. I’m a human being. I’m not a fictitious person. I’m not a corporation, and therefore, I am going to tell you the fact, I am in due court, I accept the charges’ value,” he added. “And I want to use my UCC (Uniform Commercial Code) financial statement, my number, to write these charges off.”
Despite repeated urging by the judge, Markeith refused to enter a plea, saying, “Y’all can’t do nothing to me.”
This is just one example of a growing number of violent actions that have come from adherents to the Sovereign Citizen movement. A 2014 national survey of 175 law enforcement agencies ranked sovereign citizens as the most pressing terrorist threat, followed by the threat of Islamic terrorists. See this article by The Guardian for more details about the extent of this threat.
So there you have it — everything you need to know about the Sovereign Citizen movement, and then some.
Oh… and did I mention that you have to be a total loon for any of this to make sense?