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Sovereign Citizens and the Menace of "Paper Terrorists" - Don't Think it Can't Happen to You!

Updated on May 6, 2014

The so-called "Title 4 Flag" is what is REALLY schwag!


Excerpt from an FBI bulletin to local and State law enforcement officers re: identifying Sovereigns

According to the FBI's official website, the following are a list of indicators that a person might be a so-called Sovereign Citizen:


It is important to realize sovereign tactics to harass and intimidate law enforcement, court, and government officials, as well as financial institution employees.

Sovereign citizens often produce documents that contain peculiar or out-of-place language. In some cases, they speak their own language or will write only in certain colors, such as in red crayon. Several indicators can help identify
these individuals.

  • References to the Bible, The Constitution of the United States, U.S. Supreme Court decisions, or treaties with foreign governments8
  • Personal names spelled in all capital letters or interspersed with colons (e.g., JOHN SMITH or Smith: John)
  • Signatures followed by the words “under duress,” “Sovereign Living Soul” (SLS), or a copyright symbol (©)
  • Personal seals, stamps, or thumb prints in red ink
  • The words “accepted for value”9

They also carry fraudulent drivers’ licenses to indicate their view that law enforcement does not have the authority to stop their vehicle or may write “No Liability Accepted” above their signature on a driver’s license to signify that they do not accept it as a legitimate identification document.


What is "Paper Terrorism" and HOW DARE YOU Call it "Terrorism"?

There is some controversy around the use of the phrase "paper terrorism" or calling a person a "paper terrorist." Look, I get it. Like most Americans at the time, I watched the horrors that unfolded on September 11, 2001, on live television. People in so much torture and agony that they decided it was their best option to jump to their deaths from burning buildings, knowing that when the towers collapsed, an unthinkable number of innocent private citizens, immeasurably brave FDNY, NYPD and PAPD Officers and other first responders perished. The horrific events that transpired that beautiful Tuesday morning brought terrorism into the national consciousness in a way that the previous Twin Tower bombing and even the slaughter of the Oklahoma City bombing did not.

Understandably, the words "terrorism" and "terrorist" bring these events to the forefront of one's mind when they are used, and thus should never be used lightly to label human behavior. However, this does not render improper or insensitive the usage of the word "terrorism" in other contexts, where appropriate. In this regard, it is my opinion that - if one wishes to respect others' sensitivities and to avoid over-dramatization - the word "terrorism" should only be applied to describe extreme, and tangible, actions and tactics employed that result in serious harm to its victims (it is essential, in my mind, to distinguish actions and tactics actually employed, on the one hand, and an individual or organization's mere belief in an ideology and/or their efforts to spread said ideology to change the minds of others). Finally in this regard, usage of the phrase "paper terrorism" predates the terror attacks of 9/11 by years (see, e.g., the "Militia Watchdog" section of the Anti-Defamation League's website for a reference to paper terrorism dating back to at least 1998

I felt compelled to set forth the above premise in order to put into context my belief that this word is not being abused or otherwise used in an insensitive manner in order to exaggerate the actions of certain individuals who engage in what I refer to as "paper terrorism" herein.

Having caveated you to death, and at the risk of being accused of laziness by citing Wikipedia, I'm going to quote it, because I believe Wiki accurately and concisely defines the phrase "paper terrorism" as "a neologism to refer to the use of false liens, frivolous lawsuits, bogus letters of credit, and other legal documents lacking sound factual basis as a method of harassment, especially against government officials. These methods are popular among some anti-government groups and those associated with the redemption movement." (See FN1 for internal citations).

I will continue to update this 'Hub with additional information about the Sovereign Citizen movement, and abuses of the systems which keep society functioning through "paper terrorism" in order to further their own interests. I note again, as I will continue to mention, that I don't believe that a person's mere belief in the Sovereign Citizen ideology is not a threat. Instead, it is those who act upon such beliefs by either (a) employing physical violence of the threat thereof), and/or (b) use frivolous paper filings, such as liens, UCC filings, and frivolous lawsuits to advance their own interests in a manner that destroys other's lives and trample upon their rights and interests, who pose a very real threat.

FN1: The above-quoted Wikipedia definition of "paper terrorism" cites Robert Chamberlain and Donald P. Haider-Markel (Sep 2005), "Lien on Me": State Policy Innovation in Response to Paper Terrorism 58 (3), Political Research Quarterly, pp. 449–460; Erick J. Haynie (Autumn 1997), Populism, Free Speech, and the Rule of Law: The "Fully Informed" Jury Movement and Its Implications 88 (1), The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973–), pp. 343–379 Susan P. Koniak (Spring–Summer 1996), When Law Risks Madness 8 (A Commemorative Volume for Robert M. Cover, number 1), Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature, pp. 65–138, JSTOR 743460.)

My First Contact With a Sovereign Citizen (unbeknownst to me at the time) and Years Later When Things Got Real

My High School Buddy's "Right to Travel"

Like a lot of attorneys, I get calls from past acquaintances from high school, college, etc., that I haven't heard from in years, regarding their own, personal legal issues, often traffic tickets. Depending on the type of legal issue they are calling about, sometimes I'm able to answer at least some of the questions they have about their situation, and other times I can do little beyond giving them a trusted referral to guide them through whatever they are dealing with.

Although I didn't realize it until much later, about five years ago I had my first encounter with a so-called "Sovereign Citizen." A friend from high school who shares in survivalist-related topics, self-sufficiency (growing food, fishing, etc.), owns a few weapons, etc., called me up to discuss a number of traffic tickets he was issued on a single occasion (he was pulled over for speeding, having a missing taillight and running a stop sign).

My friend planned on appearing on his own behalf (or "pro se") to contest the traffic tickets in Traffic Court. I was about to explain to him that - assuming he had a relatively clean driving record - his best bet would probably be to try to negotiate his offenses down to a non-moving violation, pay a fine or fines for offenses that wouldn't sully his record, and being done with it.

But before I could do so, he launched into an indecipherable rant about how he planned to challenge the tickets on various grounds, primarily that the law enforcement officer who issued the ticket lacked jurisdiction over him, that by issue the traffic tickets at issue, the law enforcement officer illegally and unconstitutionally infringed upon his so-called "right to travel," and other such nonsense. In the fact of such strong but wrongheaded opinions, and after failing to explain to him that the law enforcement entity who issued the tickets did, in fact, have the authority to issue him a ticket, I was exasperated and gave up. I simply told my friend that - regardless of whether his strongly-held beliefs were right or wrong - it would be in his best interest not to raise these defenses in Traffic Court, and instead to just suck it up and deal with the tickets in a conventional way.

I warned my friend that he might not only lose the opportunity to plead down his violations, but that he might also be slapped with an additional fine for raising frivolous defenses. Sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, his defenses were not deemed meritorious and he was left to absorb all of the ramifications of each of his tickets, including the fines and impact upon his insurance coverage by virtue of relinquishing his opportunity to plead his moving violations to non-moving violations.

A few weeks after his Court appearance, I stopped by this friend's place to play some Madden NFL Football on his XBOX 360. He told me that I was right about how things would unfold in Traffic Court if he persisted in the manner we discussed, but still insisted he was right. He pestered me until I gave in and watched a YouTube video of "Johnny Liberty" ranting and raving such nonsense as: (a) the United States is actually a corporation, (b) that in the 1930s, when the US went off the gold standard, it began to use its citizens as collateral in trade agreements, (c) the US government is an illegitimate entity that lacks jurisdiction over "sovereign" US "nationals", (d) that upon the birth of any person within the United States, the US sets up an account linked to that person's identity which is funded with something around $600,000.00, and that (e) by filing a convoluted and lengthy list of documents, largely UCC filings, a "sovereign US National" can obtain access to that $600,000.00.

I felt then, as I feel now, that it was generally harmless for my friend and others like them to hold such beliefs, but that they would have to face the consequences when operating under these beliefs results in the violation of local, State and Federal law. After all, freedom of speech and to believe what you want to believe is one of the most important liberties bestowed upon us as American citizens (which so-called Sovereign Citizens are, whether they like to think so or not).

Not Everyone Who Holds These Beliefs is Harmless

Fast forward five years to the present, however, and I've been forced to deal with the actions of a Sovereign that are anything but harmless. It is a long and tedious story to tell, so I will attempt to tell this story by concentrating only on the essential elements needed to give the reader an understanding of what I've been up against.

Put most simply, I was appointed by a County Court in the State Court system to do a job. This job required me to sell a home owned by a person suffering from severe dementia who was in a skilled nursing facility and needed the home to be sold to meet that person's costs for medical care and room and board. This is, normally, pretty straightforward stuff. The house gets listed in order to get as much exposure to potential purchasers as possible and thus obtain the most favorable sale price, and then the home is ultimately sold to the highest bidder in a Court-approved sale.

However, an individual had become aware of this person's mental incapacity and - while this incredibly needy person had been transferred to a skilled nursing facility with no reasonable chance of being able to return home - made a number of indecipherable claims as to why he was entitled to live on that person's property, and to run a business on it.

According to this person, by moving forward with efforts to sell this property ("as-is" and subject to the purchaser dealing with anyone claiming to have a right to reside and/or run a business on the property through proper legal channels), I was violating his constitutional rights and intentionally inflicting emotional distress upon him. Based upon this premise, he sued me in Federal Court along with 20 other named Defendants (including municipalities, the County Police Department, the State, various other government entities, individual government employees, and even charitable organizations designed to protect children from child predators), filing a massive Complaint (over 100 pages and 400+ paragraphs) claiming that there existed some epic conspiracy to deprive him of his liberty, and demanding over $20,000,000.00 in damages (!). This "conspiracy" began, he claimed, about 10 years before I started practicing law, at a time when I was doing keg-stands at my college fraternity house.

Now, even when a lawsuit is totally baseless and has zero legal basis, a Defendant has to respond in order to avoid a judgment of "default" against them. And because I was being sued in my official capacity as someone appointed by the Court, I had to notify my professional liability insurer. This particularly lawsuit has been dismissed numerous times, but - since this person is not an attorney - such otherwise-applicable deterrents (such as disbarment for any attorney who would bring such frivolous claims on his behalf) are not applicable. My cost of liability insurance - notwithstanding the unambiguously frivolous nature of the lawsuits - has skyrocketed to the point where practicing law might not be economically feasible for me anymore. And no matter how many times this insanely frivolous lawsuit is dismissed, this person will continue to file it again and again, ad infinitum.

Leaving my small practice to join another, larger, firm is problematic because they'd have to add me to their professional liability plan, which would cause their premiums to triple. This man has, you see, rendered my continuing to practice almost impossible from a business-model standpoint at a small firm, but has also made me radioactive in terms of my marketability to other prospective employers. Needless to say, this is a very challenging situation and it is anything but an overstatement to say that his legally and factually-basis actions have had an enormous impact on my professional and personal life, my career generally, and my family's financial future. There is no end in sight, either!

On this 'Hub I plan to continue to add information and links to websites about situations where other people's lives have been derailed or destroyed by the actions of paper terrorists. Please feel free to add your $00.02 in the comments section.

This video is a collaboration between the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center, re: the threat posed by SOME Sovereigns

I encourage everyone to decide for themselves on the "merits" of Sovereign ideology - and yes, I've read this!

Interesting Article from the New York Times About Sovereign-Type Activity in New Hampshire

My brother forwarded me this article from the New York Times recently and I feel that it offers a great deal of insight into how self-styled Sovereigns flat-out abuse other people.

A snippet of that article:

"KEENE, N.H. — In most places, [the presence of meter-maids demonstrates] the municipal compact. Armed only with a gadget that can spit out a ticket ... the [meter-maids] quietly serve[] civic and commercial life by ensuring [] meters are fed.

In most places, yes. But not here in charming Keene, where [meter-maids are at the center of] a philosophical [show-down] between a small band of activists who live by the motto“Free Keene,” and the great majority of residents who were unaware that their city was in bondage."


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    • DSmizzle profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Long Beach, New York


      Thanks for your comment. I stand by the term because these liens are not used for legitimate legal purposes, but instead are baseless in fact and law and are used solely for the purpose of intimidating people. The "paper" in "paper terrorism" is used to separate the concept from actual, physical terrorism.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Terrorism is violent, filing liens against officials might be annoying, but it is hardly dangerous. labeling a paper filer a terrorist is really quite repugnant. people have a GOD GIVEN RIGHT TO BE FREE, and have found peaceful means to redress their issues. A rebel is a rebel, and a terrorist is violent, the very definition of terrorism implies something greater than a simple annoyance, a lien is not terrifying, just annoying.

    • DSmizzle profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Long Beach, New York

      Hi Lawrence:

      Unfortunately one of the byproducts of our understandable hardon for freedom is that people sometimes lose any sense of balance and take things this far.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      6 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Please tell me these are a plot for the TV program Boston Legal. I know the USA loves litigation but the group is ridiculous!!! Challenging the legality of a police officer doing their job!! Easy way to avoid the situation is don't get the ticket!

    • A Little TRUTH profile image

      A Little TRUTH 

      7 years ago

      That’s a good question - a better term for this group. But, first I must say that the guy that filed the lawsuit on you is not really part of it. There is a core group knows the law well, and knows how, when and where to apply it - in a way that gets matters resolved that’s colorable and doesn’t trample on anyone. And then there are those who learn just a little bit, and go off half-cocked causing problems for themselves and others, as your hub points out.

      I thought of “Americans” since they strongly adhere to the ideology of freedom that “America” was founded upon - freedom from both political and financial oppression - the result of the Revolutionary War. But too many people call themselves Americans who adhere to the police state, war mongering mentality of what the US has become. Also, America is not a country, it’s not even a continent - it’s two.

      I thought of “Constitutionalists” since they like to apply it as the law of the land. But that is misleading because it implies that the Constitution is optional - one of many choices - like choosing a religion. And this is what the oppressive bankers and politicians would like us to believe.

      I thought of lawyers, since they know and apply the law far better than most people - not to be confused with BAR member attorneys. But most people think lawyer is just another word for attorney.

      Some of the study groups call themselves “creditors” since they know that the people are the ones that give the value to the dollar by their labor and creativity. Also a “creditor” is one who seeks harmony and assists others. Fat chance of any of this being much understood.

      As you refer to them in your comment, just plain “sovereigns” makes sense, since the Constitution and especially the Tenth Amendment retains the sovereignty of the people. That sounds too self-assuming in today’s world, but maybe it’s the best of the choices.

    • DSmizzle profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Long Beach, New York

      What's up A Little TRUTH? Thank you for the comment. While I'm sure we likely wouldn't even be able to agree that 1+1 = 2 on the issue of so-called "Sovereign" ideology, I find the topic fascinating (largely due to my devastating run-ins with a Sovereign), and I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this stuff with someone who believes in it.

      You obviously know your stuff re: Sovereign ideology and I knew it from the first sentence of your comment. Specifically, where you note that the term "Sovereign Citizen" is an oxymoron. That said, and while you're right that any "true" Sovereign Citizen will tell you that the term is an oxymoron, can you think of (or do you know of) any better term for the larger group of people who hold these beliefs?

      Again, I hope I've made it sufficiently clear that I don't think individuals who hold these beliefs - and to a large extent even those who live by them and are willing to suffer the consequences - are a threat. Instead, I believe that it becomes a very real problem where violence is applied in defense of those beliefs (obviously) and where Sovereigns abuse the systems that most people believe keep society together to destroy the lives and careers of others who don't share their beliefs.

      I've read a bunch of your stuff and I like reading your thoughts on the various issues addressed in your articles.

    • A Little TRUTH profile image

      A Little TRUTH 

      7 years ago

      Yes, this whole thing is very convoluted, and I’m sorry to hear you’ve been so victimized by it. The name itself “Sovereign Citizen” is an oxymoron. A sovereign is subject to no one, but a citizen is subject to the State.

      And what really convolutes things even more, which gives them just enough teeth to be considered “terrorists”, is that some of what these guys say is actually correct. For example:

      (a) The United States IS a corporation: (28 U.S.C. 3002(15)(a)), (Corpus Juris Secundum, volume 20, section 1785).

      (b) In the 30’s when gold no longer backed the dollar 100%, citizens DID become the collateral: On March 9, 1933, Congress decided that “The money will be worth 100 cents on the dollar, because it is backed by the credit of the nation. It will represent a mortgage on all the homes and other property of all the people in the nation.” (73’d Congress, Session I, page 83, paragraph 1). The “credit of the nation” of course comes from the creative and productive efforts of the citizens - the government itself produces nothing.

      (c) The US government IS an illegitimate entity that lacks most of the jurisdiction that it claims: The Constitution at Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 gives the federal government exclusive jurisdiction ONLY over Washington DC and the federal enclaves. The US goes way beyond this boundary, for example, when it uses the “Commerce Clause” to say that if you grow a tomato in your yard and eat it, your garden is under federal jurisdiction because you are affecting interstate commerce, because you MIGHT have bought that tomato from another State if you didn’t grow it yourself.


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