Anti-government groups raise flags for law enforcement
October 26th, 2011
Sarpy County, NE – Police, judges and local government officials in Nebraska are hearing a lot from a small group of anti-government activists who believe all federal and local laws are invalid. Bill Kelly of NET News takes a look at the Sovereign Citizen movement.
He doesn’t have a driver’s license. He lives in Omaha and owns his vehicle. Paul Hansen doesn’t register it with Douglas County. If stopped for a traffic violation he’ll explain to the police officer that he “doesn’t use one.” His next step is to ask if the officer has “any evidence this land is owned by the United States of America. Do you understand that if you issue me a ticket you will be on the witness stand and you will have to produce that evidence?”
Hansen does not believe the laws of the United States of America apply to him. This self-proclaimed independence from most ties to government is a variation on a philosophy encountered more and more often by law enforcement in Nebraska and across the nation. They put it broadly under the title of the “Sovereign Citizen” movement. Police and officers of the court frequently consider it a bother to deal with, a waste of taxpayer money, and in some instances, a danger.
There appear to be only a small number of people in the state to subscribe to these beliefs, but the numbers have grown sufficiently nationally for police to claim their heightened interest is justified. In the past year, separate training seminars were organized for Nebraska county attorneys and law enforcement officers to familiarize them with the beliefs of the Sovereigns and to recommend appropriate responses when they encounter their unusual beliefs and practices.
“They’re not threats to the average citizens, but they are threats to law enforcement because they are violating laws,” said Bill Dyson, a senior research associate with the Institute for Intergovernmental Research. When he was a special agent with the FBI, Dyson directed the unit at the bureau specializing in political terrorism. He spoke to a gathering of Nebraska county attorneys this spring about the growing number of people identifying themselves as Sovereign Citizens.
Dyson explained that those who believe the government is invalid cause special concerns for law enforcement.
“If you don’t feel you have any obligation to get a driver’s license, a marriage license, a building permit; you don’t have to obey any rule; you are going to run into conflict with law enforcement,” he said. “Law enforcement should know who these people are.”
The F.B.I. goes so far as to list the Sovereign Citizen movement as a potential source of “domestic terrorism.” The Bureau’s website notes that Sovereigns have been known to convene illegal court proceedings that issue arrest warrants for judges and police officers and “clog up the court system with frivolous lawsuits.” The Anti-Defamation League goes even farther, listing sovereigns as an extremist group willing to “wage war against the government using ‘paper terrorism’ to intimidate government officials.”
But for Paul Hansen, being a “free inhabitant” is less about attacking the government than holding that government at bay. ”
“My view is there are no written laws in place to govern free inhabitants,” he explained. “There’s the jury of twelve and there’s God’s word.” ”
The jury of twelve he often refers to is a commonlaw jury convened by the free citizens rather than by court system put in place by federal and state law.
Whenever he can get away with it, Hansen does not pay federal income or local property taxes. Sales taxes are trickier, since they are added to the cost of a purchase, but Hansen says he has convinced some retailers he qualifies as being exempt for paying them on some big ticket items. The trend nationally is of enough concern to the United States Internal Revenue Service to post online why the “no tax” arguments of the Citizen movement do not have legal standing.
In Omaha, Hansen is a familiar figure in the Douglas County courthouse because he routinely ignores or challenges citations for building code violations on his rental properties. He currently also faces traffic charges. Asked if he finds that police officers are sometimes confused by his challenges, Hansen claims, “Quite often they just say, have a nice day, Mr. Hansen.” That response has not always kept him from being ticketed or arrested, and Hansen has found himself in court, by his own count, dozens of times.
Every one of his challenges to local, state and federal law rise from a set of complex political beliefs built on a complex interpretation of the Ordinance of the Northwest Territory of 1787 and the Articles of Confederation ratified by the original thirteen colonies in 1781.
“Article four in the Articles of the Confederation gives you two choices,” he explained during a lengthy conversation. “You can live your life as a free inhabitant or as a citizen. Now the word citizen means subject. So the moment I step on US land I become a US citizen, a US subject. The moment you step on my land you become my subject.” Hansen goes into much greater detail on website. Hansen also consults and sells his self-developed legal philosophies over the Internet.
County attorneys around Nebraska say they are encountering more and more people with a similar mindset. Prosecutors who file charges find themselves confronted with self-taught citizen lawyers armed with stacks of complex documents referring to obscure sections of the Articles of the Confederation, the Magna Carta, or other sources pre-dating the Constitution of the United States.
Bruce Farrell, director of the Midwest Gang Investigators Association, organized training for police officers “so when they see this they are not confused by it.”
Sovereigns have been known to manufacture their own license plates and identification cards indicating they are citizens of a self-proclaimed “republic,” or creating an otherwise fictional Native American tribe. At first glance, the plates and documents often appear legitimate. Some Sovereigns have even posted instructional videos on YouTube to show how they deal with law enforcement.
*A number of videos appear on YouTube, including this one from Canada, that provide suggestions and support to those identifying with the Sovereign movement.*
But how much legal validity do any of these things have? ”
“None. Absolutely none,” Farrell said. However, he’s quick to add, “but they believe they do.”
That belief can set up confrontations with police and the courts. Farrell said understanding how to recognize and respond to Sovereigns and similar believers ensures that officers “are not taking their time way from paying attention to what the driver they are in contact with is doing and instead trying to figure out this documentation.”
It’s an officer safety issue, he added.
A rare outburst of violence in 2010 showed the potential danger to law enforcement.
In West Memphis, Ark. during a routine traffic stop, Jerry and Joseph Kane, a father and son from Ohio well-known in Sovereign Citizen movement, killed two police officers and then wounded the sheriff and a deputy of in two separate shootouts. During the second incident, the Kanes were killed by police fire. Jerry Kane traveled the country offering alleged solutions to mortgage and foreclosure problems. The incident brought national media attention to the Sovereigns, including a segment on the CBS News program 60 Minutes.
In Nebraska, Hansen followed the cop killing case. He told NET News that Jerry Kane “tried to do the right thing, but he was just a loose cannon. He was crazy.”
Hansen insisted that he does not seek any violent confrontation, but understands there are some extremists who may be a concern.
“I know people, that I don’t associate with, who are quick to talk about having slots in their house that they can fire a gun out of. It’s crazy,” he said. “Our country is not designed to go against the military force that way. Our country is not lost. We don’t have to do that. Our protection is in the jury of twelve, not in the gun.”
Hansen, soft-spoken during our meeting, emphasized that gun ownership is an important issue to himself and most minimal government activists. He and others have a real fear of facing off with a repressive government.
A gun, Hansen explained, “is not for hunting and it’s not for keeping criminals off your yard. It was primarily put in (the Constitution) that if a government goes bad, you have a chance.”
It’s not surprising that anti-government sentiment should be on the rise again, according to those who follow fringe political movements.
“Anytime you see issues like the economy we have now, property being taken away because you can’t afford it, you’ll start seeing more activity with these groups,” Farrel said. He’s been a police officer in Nebraska long enough that he saw the rise and decline of the similarly isolationist Posse Comitatus movement.
There’s been no anti-government violence in Nebraska since the farm crisis of the 1980s. On October 23, 1984 a Nebraska State Patrol SWAT team shot and killed Arthur Kirk on his farm outside of Cairo, Neb. after a lengthy stand-off. The controversial killing came after police attempted to repossess property after Kirk had fallen deeply in debt. Kirk, with links to a number of anti-government organizations, did not recognize the authority of the officers or the courts.
There has been news more recently of Sovereigns facing major legal problems. Four ago, a multi-million dollar investment fraud case in North Platte grew from local dentist’s claim that he was a member of a non-existent Native American tribe established by Sovereign Citizens. That potential for fraud is another reason the Sovereign Citizen movement has the attention of law enforcement.
Law enforcement officials caution people to be wary of paying for advice on investments or “pay-no-taxes” schemes that some unscrupulous people sell to take advantage of those with anti-government sentiments.