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Eleven years ago, our country was forced to deal with an invigorated threat of outside terrorism. Murmured dangers came across our news wires before, but it wasn’t until the sudden and terrible actions of Sept. 11, 2001 that we as a nation were obliged to address our surprising vulnerability.
Eleven years have passed, and the focus on terrorism still is pointed to the East. After wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which have produced questionable results, threats of terrorism still loom in places like Iran, Pakistan and Syria. The eyes of intelligence and of our nation’s general populace continue to question this war-torn corner of the world and are continually skeptical of any “progress” which occurs there.
Terrorism, however, is a vast and spectral threat, and is very unfortunately bound to a loose definition. A terrorist is technically defined as one who uses violence and threats to intimidate and coerce, especially for political purposes. Could it be, then, that the greatest threat of terrorism to the citizens of our country comes not from the deserts of the Middle East, but from within?
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s efforts to combat domestic terrorism (which they define as “Americans attacking Americans because of U.S.-based extremist ideologies”) includes a heavy campaign against The Sovereign Citizen radical movement. Sovereign citizens are “anti-government extremists who believe that, even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate, or ‘sovereign,’ from the United States,” which means they don’t feel a need to be obedient to any sort of government authority.
This movement is not strictly held together by any form of organization, like what is seen in Mexican drug cartels or groups like Al-Qaeda, but is instead vaguely tied together in small pockets or informal meetings by the members’ ideologies.
The idea of the fundamentally conservative militia member mildly applies here, but sovereign citizens consider guns as being secondary to anti-tax and anti-government beliefs. Though sovereigns do “sometimes use or buy illegal weapons,” according to the FBI, they are more dangerous in the ways they ignore court rulings, motor vehicle departments and law enforcement.
Many extremists in this movement don’t pay taxes and gum up the court system with pointless lawsuits designed not to accomplish anything except to harass public officials. They use fake money, licenses and license plates, and even hold illegal courts within their own communities which issue warrants for judges and policemen.
Sovereign citizens are typically extreme Christians and believe in such nonsensical philosophies as the redemption movement, which claims that the U.S. government “uses its citizens as collateral against foreign debt.”
Though most of the harm sovereign citizens cause occurs through falsified documentation and erroneous claims against the government, there have been several violent incidents. One accomplice of Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber) was Terry Nichols, a known member of the sovereign citizen movement, who had personally given himself individual sovereignty in three prior court cases. In June of 2012, a 28-year-old named Schaeffer Cox, the founder of the Alaska Peacemaker’s Militia and a known sovereign citizen, who has also drafted a new constitution wildly popular in the sovereign community, was found guilty of felony charges, including conspiracy to commit murder, in Anchorage. As recently as Aug. 27, two of Schaeffer’s followers, Lonnie and Karen Vernon, pleaded guilty in a conspiracy to commit the murder of U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline after Beistline presided over a federal income tax case in which the Vernons lost their house.
It can be easy to pin the face of terrorism on outside threats and foreign religions, but the scariest and nearest threats come from neighbors and ideologues who blame the government for all their own problems and refuse to be governed.