Lawless Ones: Sovereign Citizens and a Rising Tide of Violence

Domestic Terrorism

During a routine traffic stop in 2010, Jerry Kane and his 16-year-old son Joe opened fire on two officers. Kane and his son fled the scene, leaving one man in a ditch and the other on the road, both officers dead from gunshot wounds from an AK-47. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh enlisted the help of his friend, Terry Nichols, to execute the Oklahoma City Bombing. Terry Nichols and the Kanes have little in common – with the exception of their involvement in the sovereign citizen movement.

The sovereign citizen movement has been around for decades, often going unnoticed due to their complex ideologies and disorganized groups. Since the Kane incident, acts of violence and criminality have only increased.

The Anti-Defamation League has created an updated Special Report to “The Lawless Ones: The Resurgence of the Sovereign Citizen Movement.” Their key findings show several major issues: the sovereign citizen movement has seen significant growth in membership and violent activity; their potential for violence is growing; and over the last two decades, they’ve begun harassing public officials with liens and exploiting families dealing with home foreclosure.

The Special Report also describes the ideology of the sovereign citizen movement. According to the report, “sovereign citizens believe that today there are really two governments: the ‘illegitimate’ government that everyone else thinks is genuine and the original government that existed before the conspiracy allegedly infiltrated it. They claim allegiance to the original government and disdain the ‘illegitimate’ one.”

The report finds that specific personality types are attracted to the movement, especially those who are financially stressed, angry with the government, or con artists who want “something from nothing.” People who call themselves gurus, constitutional lawyers, and others will host seminars with get-rich-quick schemes directed at those who are most in need or looking for a fast way to make money.

Most sovereign citizens tend to be middle-aged or older; they are overwhelmingly white; and they are often anti-Semitic or members of white supremacist groups. However, a growing number of minorities, called “Moors” or “Moorish,” have joined the ranks of the sovereign citizens, including African-Americans and Hispanics.

The US continues to monitor the sovereign citizen movement. For more information on domestic terrorism and related topics, visit the HSDL Featured Topics on Domestic Terrorism.

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