I gave up trying to figure out the algorithm social media uses to push its stories, ads and possibly agenda on me, but for the life of me I can’t help but wonder why a couple of months ago I started seeing a lot of videos with the same disturbing theme.
The videos are always from one of two perspectives. It is either from the cell phone of someone who has just been pulled over or it is the dash/body camera of an officer executing a traffic stop. The video then inevitably unfolds like this. The police officer will ask for the driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance, but the driver will counter with a demand to know the officer’s name and badge number. The officers sometimes provide this information, or they say that it will be available after they see the driver’s information. The driver will again refuse and usually requests a supervising officer. The police officers will try and explain the situation of why they pulled the driver over and why they need the driver’s information, but the driver continues to argue in a wordplay circle. They refuse any of the officer’s requests to provide their license, and repeatedly make statements like, “I’m not driving, I’m traveling” or “I don’t contract with you.” Whatever their patter is, it is definitely scripted, and it always ends with the driver in handcuffs.
These are sovereign citizens, which is a broad term that includes dozens of different organizations located all over the world.
What is a Sovereign Citizen?
From Oxford Languages Dictionary
sov·er·eign cit·i·zen noun
noun: sovereign citizen; plural noun: sovereign citizens
- a member of a political movement of people who oppose taxation, question the legitimacy of government and believe that they are not subject to the law.
Each of these organizations might have very different beginnings or beliefs, but ultimately, they all believe that the laws of land do not apply to them.
What are the roots of the sovereign citizen “movement”?
While probably not true of the majority of those who today self-identify as sovereign citizens, the roots of the movement are racist and antisemitic. It was founded by William Potter Gale in 1971, former member of the John Birch Society. Gale formed a group of antigovernment Christian Identity adherents who mistrusted state and federal officials. They believed that non-white people were not human, and that Jews possessed a satanic plot to take over the world.
Sovereign Citizens Movement. Southern Poverty Law Center. (n.d.). https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/sovereign-citizens-movement
Keep in mind that this is not a protest movement, but an apparent sincere belief that they exist in another world that has a completely different set of rules. And although they might not claim to recognize the authority of any given entity from federal to local, they inevitably find themselves subject to the rules and consequences of the very real governments that they don’t recognize.
How do sovereign citizens impact the rest of us?
It’s confusing; and that for a long time seemed to be their biggest strength. They would clog the judicial system with erroneous lawsuits and pseudo-legal briefs in what has been called “paper terrorism.” And while these tactics could be extremely disruptive and cause substantial distress, the truly disturbing fact is how their actions and beliefs have contributed to a substantial rise in violence with fatal outcomes.
It’s no surprise that non-compliance with law enforcement can turn deadly for all parties involved, but the victims are not limited to interactions between those two groups. One only need to look at the recent case of Darrell Brooks, a man convicted of driving through a Christmas parade in Wisconsin killing six people. During a disruptive trial that captured the nation's attention, he repeatedly tried to use sovereign citizen logic and tactics in his defense. His efforts were futile, and he is currently serving six consecutive life sentences.
And that’s just it – the beliefs and practices of the sovereign citizens of all organizations continue to fail. The absurdity is mind boggling.
There is a substantial and growing amount of research and study on these individuals and their beliefs. Many questions still remain and sadly it looks like that while those questions remain unanswered, so will the consequences of the sovereign citizens.
For more information on the many faces and various impacts the Sovereign Citizen movement, please explore the Harris County Public Library's vast database collection. Below are just a few peer-reviewed articles from different sources.
Resources for Learning More about Sovereign Citizens
FROM GALE ACADEMIC
FROM GALE PSYCHOLOGY