You are hereHuffington Post: Sovereign Citizens Spin History, Reject Government

Huffington Post: Sovereign Citizens Spin History, Reject Government


August 12, 2010- They call themselves sovereign citizens, U.S. residents who declare themselves above state and federal laws. Many don't register children's births, carry driver's licenses or recognize the court system.

Some peddle schemes that use fictional legal loopholes to eliminate debt and avoid foreclosures.

A few such believers are violent: Two police officers in Arkansas died in a shootout in May after stopping an Ohio sovereign citizen and his son.

As many as 300,000 people identify as sovereign citizens, the Southern Poverty Law Center found in a study to be published Thursday that was obtained by The Associated Press. Hate group monitors say their numbers have increased thanks to the recession, the foreclosure crisis, the growth of the Internet and the election of Barack Obama in 2008.

Adherents expect the current American system of government to end one way or another.

"I'm the Patrick Henry of the 21st century. I'm here to regain our freedom," James McBride said in a jailhouse interview. "I'm going to, or die trying."

At the heart of their belief system: The government creates a secret identity for each citizen at birth, a "straw man," that controls an account at the U.S. Treasury used as collateral for foreign debt. File enough documents at the right offices and the money in those accounts can be used to pay off debt or make purchases worth thousands of dollars.

The movement is based on a form of "legal fundamentalism," said Michael Barkun, a retired Syracuse University political science professor who researches anti-government and hate groups.

"These people really seem to feel that filing certain kinds of legal papers that are connected to their theories will somehow also magically have the power to alter relationships and grant things that otherwise would be unobtainable," he said.

Experts say sovereign citizens are the latest manifestation of anti-government activists going back to the Posse Comitatus movement of the 1970s, which recognized only local governments and no law enforcement official with more jurisdiction than a sheriff. In the 1980s, government protesters exploited the farm crisis by selling fraudulent debt relief programs.

"In good times they focus on tax cheating, in bad times they focus on getting out of debt," said JJ MacNab, an expert on tax and financial schemes and author of the SPLC report.

Martin Smith of Carthage, Mo., lost $8,000 to a father-and-son company in Columbus called Liberty Resources that pitched a method to eliminate credit card debt based on a theory that national banks aren't authorized to issue credit.

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