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Sovereign Citizens and the Menace of "Paper Terrorists" - Don't Think it Can't Happen to You!
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
- 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 http://archive.adl.org/mwd/privlien.html).
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. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/05/05/us/politics/libertarians-trail-meter-readers-telling-town-live-free-or-else.html?hp&_r=1&referrer=
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."