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Special agent explains sovereign citizen movement

By Hank Hayes • Sep 26, 2016 at 2:53 PM
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KINGSPORT — Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was one. So was Terry Nichols, his accomplice.

Both were so-called “sovereign citizens” — anti-government people who’ve renounced their U.S. citizenship.

Jerry Stout, special agent with the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, was at the recent Tennessee Association of Housing and Redevelopment Authorities annual meeting to explain the sovereign citizen movement.

“Why am I here talking to a group of housing professionals?” Stout asked during a meeting breakout session. “You’re government, and these people are anti-government. They’re probably going to show up one day with a stack of paperwork stating ‘I’m sovereign and I expect different treatment.’ We’re seeing it now in hospitals because they want their medical bills paid. It doesn’t work very well.”

Stout insisted people can’t renounce their U.S. citizenship without leaving the country.

“You have to go to Mexico or Canada or somewhere else. … It’s all part of the game (sovereign citizens) are playing. They’re still American citizens. They’re still afforded all the rules of the Constitution and the rules of citizenship.”

The sovereign citizen movement, according to Stout, is second to the Ku Klux Klan as a domestic terrorist group, having killed 35 police officers.

“The FBI defines sovereign citizens as anti-government extremists who have adopted an ideology where they physically reside in the United States, but they believe they have separate legal status from the country and are exempt from their laws,” Stout said of the movement.

Stout said sovereign citizens are living in Northeast Tennessee’s Johnson County, and movement followers will typically reside in rural counties where real estate is cheaper.

“But I guarantee we’ve got them living in every county,” Stout stressed. “Some of them are under the radar. Some of them when you talk to them will deny they are sovereign. Some will openly claim to be sovereign. … This is a bizarre group of folks. They’ve been around since the 1970s, probably longer than that. They have overlapping beliefs with other movements. They’re not exclusively religious-based, not an organized hate group and not a whites-only movement.

“Most of the sovereigns we deal with are not radical, they are passive … but they like to give you 50 reasons why you should not have any contact with them.”

For instance, Stout said that during traffic stop encounters with law enforcement, sovereign citizens will crack their window and submit documents explaining they are a sovereign citizen and saying there was no legal authority to stop tehm.

“When they are pulled over, they ask, ‘What authority do you have to pull over a sovereign citizen? I was not driving a vehicle. I was traversing a personal vessel,’ ” Stout explained. “This really baffles troopers and police officers because they’ve never dealt with this before.”

This scenario happened three years ago, said Stout, when a rookie state trooper pulled over a sovereign citizen in Boones Creek.

The sovereign citizen refused to deal with the trooper and demanded to speak to a county deputy sheriff or sheriff.

Stout said the trooper called him and asked what to do.

“We tell them you deal with a sovereign citizen the way you do with any other citizen — you ask for license, registration, and proof of insurance,” Stout pointed out. “I asked hi,m ‘How long has this been going on?’ He replied, ‘28 minutes.’ I said, ‘You’re 20 minutes over my threshold. You demand from him what you do any other citizen. If he can’t provide it, hook him up and put him in the back seat of your car.’

“(The sovereign citizen) had $13,000 in gold pieces in the back of his car. … They don’t believe in cash, they don’t believe in checks. They carry gold and silver.”

While most traffic stops with sovereign citizens are incident-free, Stout described one that wasn’t. Two police officers were killed by a 16-year-old sovereign citizen with an AK-47 in West Memphis, Ark., in 2010. The teenager and his sovereign citizen father were later killed in a shootout with police.

Sovereign citizens, said Stout, believe the government is actually a corporation and people are all corporate slaves, and it starts when they are born.