The Mad Max franchise explores a concept that has become all too common in media: the breakdown of law and society following some cataclysmic event (total depletion of oil reserves for Max). Max struggles with personal demons and tribal groups in a dystopian Australia of the future, all while trying to help those in need survive in the lawless outback.
The Sovereign Citizen “Movement” is like a Mad Max movie in that “so-called” Sovereign Citizens literally believe the law doesn’t apply to them and are quick to enact revenge against those they think have wronged them. Sovereign Citizens are a scourge on the legal system and considered a domestic terrorist movement by the FBI. Sovereign Citizens do not understand or respect the law and they do not want to because of their absurd belief system.
The Origins of Sovereign Citizens: Anti-Logic Warriors & Alternative Fact Crusaders
The Sovereign Citizen Movement finds its roots in racism and anti-Semitism, however most Sovereign Citizens are unaware of their movement’s origins (although many are racists and anti-Semites). The ideals originate with the “Posse Comitatus,” an anti-Semitic group founded in the 60s whose members spread a conspiracy-minded, anti-government, and anti-Semitic message in the name of white Christians to counter what they believe to be the “war on white America.”
Most early sovereigns, and some current, believe that being white is a prerequisite to becoming a Sovereign Citizen, arguing specifically that the 14th Amendment, makes black Americans subject to federal and state governments through guaranteeing citizenship to them. However, Sovereigns Citizens can’t be stopped by mere history or whiteness – there is a predominantly black subset who self-identify as Sovereign Moors.
The Sovereign Citizen movement started in the 1970s and 80s, and has been growing at a fast pace since the late 2000s. It attracts the gullible, stupid, and violent alike – Terry Nichols, who helped plan the Oklahoma City bombing, was a Sovereign Citizen. In fact, many felons learn of and adopt the beliefs of the movement while serving their sentence in prison. Their belief system encourages blatantly illegal behavior that can quickly escalate to violence in the name of defending their “sovereign” rights.
The Sovereign Belief System: Fury Road
Let’s get this out of the way: Sovereign Citizens think the entire American Government is illegitimate, which is why they can “freely” ignore the law. The movement is based on a decades-old conspiracy theory. This theory holds that, at some point, typically during the Civil War or when the nation abandoned the gold standard, the legitimate American government was secretly usurped. Under this theory, the Founding Fathers had created a legitimate government that followed “God’s law” or “common law,” (though it’s not the common law you and I know and love) but this government no longer exists. Thus, Sovereign Citizens are free men under “God’s law.”
Sovereign Citizens believe the Usurper Government (aka the American Government you and I tolerate) follows admiralty law, the law of the sea and commerce. And under admiralty law, all American citizens are slaves, and the Usurper Government wants to keep them that way. (Admiralty law is a real thing, but it’s not what Sovereign Citizens believe it to be). Thus, because Sovereign Citizens are free men under the now‑defunct “legitimate” government, they get to decide which laws they obey or ignore, obviously choosing to ignore taxes. A key sign that a Sovereign Citizen is about to claim they are not subject to a court’s jurisdiction is when they point to the American Flag in the Courtroom and claim it is an “admiralty” flag. Often, this claim comes as a shock to those having their first encounter with a Sovereign.
Sovereign Citizens view government currency as a valueless credit note. They believe that because the dollar is not backed by gold, it is only backed by the “full faith and credit,” of the Usurper Government. Instead of backing the dollar by gold, the Usurper Government has pledged all U.S. citizens as collateral, selling their future earning capabilities to foreign investors and thus enslaving all Americans. The sale occurs at birth. When issuing a birth certificate and social security number, the Usurper Government actually sets up a secret treasury account for the corporate shell (aka baby) that is funded from between $600,000 to $20 million. Sovereign Citizens use this theory to try and swindle money from the U.S. Treasury Department to pay off their personal debts.
“Evidence” for the Secret-Corporate-Shell-Treasury comes from the use of capital letters on birth certificates. MAD MAX is the corporate shell or “strawman,” while Mad Max is the flesh-and-blood man. Because a lot of official documents use capital letters (usually for clarity of reading), Sovereign Citizens believe that anything sent to MAD MAX only relates to the corporate shell of Mad Max, not the actual “sovereign” person himself.
Sovereign Citizens go through “redemption” to split the corporate shell from the person. Once separated, a Sovereign Citizen (1) is outside the jurisdiction of admiralty laws; and (2) can access the accounts in their Secret-Corporate-Shell-Treasury. Only by filing a series of complex, legal-sounding documents, can a Sovereign Citizen achieve redemption and access their secret treasury account. Basically, Sovereign Citizens believe there is a magic combination of legal words that achieves this goal. They’re wrong, but that hasn’t stopped them from inundating courtrooms with thousands of pages of gibberish paperwork. As noted above, because many Sovereign Citizens are currently serving time in a penitentiary they have almost endless time to file motions pro se.
Witness Me: Sovereign Citizen Tactics
On top of filing insane numbers of documents and making what should be relatively simple legal matters into protracted, frustrating, and confusing battles, Sovereign Citizens have much more nefarious moves in their arsenal.
Sovereign Citizens often engage in “paper terrorism,” filing spurious lawsuits, bogus property liens preventing people from selling their homes, or filing fake tax forms to ruin the target’s credit rating and get them audited. It can cost thousands in legal fees to correct these actions. Most of these tactics are white‑collar crimes, such as mail, bank, mortgage, and wire fraud; money laundering; tax violations; or illegal gun sales. Keep in mind that Sovereign Citizens are not con artists, they truly believe in “redemption” and that they are not subject to American laws (although many will note they seem happy to use them for their own gain).
Sovereign Citizens can be violent, even deadly. They lack any established leadership and only come together in loosely affiliated groups to “train” and “learn,” although the internet and the 2008 recession have greatly increased their numbers. Since 2000, “lone‑offender sovereign‑citizen extremists” have killed at least six police officers, and the FBI’s Counterterrorism Analysis Section considers them a growing domestic terrorist threat to law enforcement.
Dealing with Sovereign Citizens – Getting Beyond Thunderdome
Do not confuse Sovereign Citizens with conservatives or any other typical American political group. Sovereign Citizens are best described as anarchists with a racist flair (white Sovereigns are often anti-Semitic, and the aforementioned Sovereign Moors often have ties to dubious black nationalist movements). Sovereign Citizens believe in the use of private police forces that are above the law of the land.
If you suffer the misfortune of coming across a Sovereign Citizen in any formal setting, it’s important to keep your cool. Not engaging in their language is key. You can’t win, and you’ll only make them think their tactics are working. You also can’t let them exhaust you with their paperwork – any win will be used as a playbook for the next convert. From a litigation standpoint, the Code of Civil Procedure is your friend. Zero tolerance for non‑conforming papers.
If you find yourself a target of Sovereign Citizen “paper terrorism,” get a lawyer. It will cost you less in the end than trying to deal with their mess yourself. As noted above, it is likely you’ll have some sort of criminal cause of action against the perpetrator, in addition to having someone familiar with the legal process sort everything out. And government officials targeted can use the Court Security Improvement Act. Title 18 of the Act makes it a criminal offense to file false liens against the real or personal property of officers or federal government employees, including judges and prosecutors. It also criminalizes the disclosure of personal, identifying information to intimidate or incite violence against these individuals. 18 USC § 1521 (Lexis 2016).
Unlike the wasteland anarchy featured in Mad Max, the Sovereign Citizen movement is doomed to fail. Their crazy conspiracy beliefs and tactics are less a political movement and more urinating into the wind and complaining that it’s raining. Knowing what they stand for and how to combat it is valuable information for any rational person to have – don’t engage when your time is literally better spent wandering through the outback.