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Understanding Sovereign Citizens’ Tactics and Threats

​Federal Bureau of Investigation documents describe "sovereign-citizen extremists as comprising a domestic terrorist movement," although one without a leadership structure and which forms loosely affiliated groups only.

They may reside in the United States, but they hold themselves not subject to its laws, or in other words, they claim personal sovereignty. Sovereign citizens can consider federal, state and local governments to be illegitimate.

As a result of these beliefs, they are known to avoid paying taxes; fabricate their own invalid license plates, driver's licenses or currency; engage in frivolous or harassing legal actions; and refuse to respond to court orders. They can engage in further crimes as well, ranging from threatening public officials, judges or law enforcement; impersonating officials such as police officers; or instigating various white-collar scams. The FBI also cautions that their crimes can even escalate as far as physical assault or murder.

Here are some recent examples of federal sovereign citizen cases that resulted in convictions:

  • A Colorado man with numerous debts attempted to stop collections attempts by forging millions of dollars' worth of false financial documents and submitting millions worth of false claims to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • A group in Pennsylvania identified foreclosed houses and crafted paperwork proclaiming their ownership of more than 70 such properties. They proceeded to live in the homes and sell houses to unknowing homebuyers. They additionally filed hundreds of false tax forms against police officers, judges and other government officials as a harassment tactic. None of the victims were able to keep the homes.
  • A 2016 South Carolina case found five defendants guilty of conspiracy to commit wire, mail and bank fraud. At trial, they were shown to have stolen $2 million from the IRS and to have attempted to steal more than $12 million through fraudulent tax returns.
  • A Texas man, released from prison after earlier convictions, filed fraudulent liens claiming he was owed millions of dollars from a federal prosecutor and judge. This tactic has been called "paper terrorism."

During the Municipal Court Administration Association of SC Spring Meeting, April 12 in Columbia, and during the Building Officials Association of SC Annual Meeting, May 5 – 8 in North Myrtle Beach, Lt. John Dyas of the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office and FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force will discuss the current threat of sovereign citizens in South Carolina, including the documentation they are filing in the clerks of courts, registers of deeds and finance systems, as well as how officials can handle sovereign citizens.