Domestic terrorismThe FBI discusses the Sovereign Citizen Movement

Published 16 April 2010

The FBI is educating the American public about the threat of domestic terrorism; it has already provided information on its Web side about eco-terrorists and lone offenders, and in the latest installment it discusses the Sovereign Citizen Movement

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are increasingly worried about the threat of domestic terrorism. The FBI has updated is Web site by providing more information on this threat, and the various groups behind it. The agency has already outlined two separate domestic terror threats—eco-terrorists/animal rights extremists and lone offenders — and its latest addition is a discussion of the Sovereign Citizen Movement.

The FBI says that domestic terrorism — Americans attacking Americans because of U.S.-based extremist ideologies — comes in many forms in our post 9/11 world. Members of the Sovereign Citizen Movement are anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or “sovereign” from the United States. As a result, they believe they do not have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments, or law enforcement.

This causes all kinds of problems — and crimes. For example, many sovereign citizens do not pay their taxes. They hold illegal courts that issue warrants for judges and police officers. They clog up the court system with frivolous lawsuits and liens against public officials to harass them. They also use fake money orders, personal checks, and the like at government agencies, banks, and businesses.

This, says the FBI, is just the beginning. Not every action taken in the name of the sovereign citizen ideology is a crime, but the list of illegal actions committed by these groups, cells, and individuals is extensive (and “puts them squarely on our radar,” the agency says). In addition to the above, sovereign citizens:

  • Commit murder and physical assault
  • Threaten judges, law enforcement professionals, and government personnel
  • Impersonate police officers and diplomats
  • Use fake currency, passports, license plates, and driver’s licenses
  • Engineer various white-collar scams, including mortgage fraud and so-called “redemption” schemes

Sovereign citizens are often confused with extremists from the militia movement. While sovereign citizens sometimes use or buy illegal weapons, guns are secondary to their anti-government, anti-tax beliefs. On the other hand, guns and paramilitary training are paramount to militia groups.


During the past year, has had a number of investigative successes involving sovereign citizens. A few recent cases:

  • In Sacramento, two sovereign citizens were convicted of running a fraudulent insurance scheme. Operating outside state insurance regulatory guidelines, the men set up their own company and sold “lifetime memberships” to customers, promising to pay any accident claims against their “members.” The company collected millions of dollars, but paid out very few claims. More
  • In Kansas City, three sovereign citizens were convicted of taking part in a conspiracy using phony diplomatic credentials. They charged customers between $450 and $2,000 for a diplomatic identification card, which would bestow upon the holder “sovereign” status — meaning they would enjoy diplomatic immunity from paying taxes and from being stopped or arrested by law enforcement. More
  • In Las Vegas, four men affiliated with the sovereign citizen movement were arrested by the Nevada Joint Terrorism Task Force on federal money laundering, tax evasion, and weapons charges. The investigation involved an undercover operation, with two of the suspects allegedly laundering more than a million dollars from what they believed was a bank fraud scheme. More

You can help,” The FBI concludes. “First, ‘be crime smart’: don’t fall for the bogus claims and scams of sovereign citizens. And second, if you have information on any suspicious activities or crimes, please contact us.”