2011-07-30 "Economy boosts sovereign-citizen movement" by Michael Braga
That is what the FBI believes sovereign citizens like Jacob-Franz Dyck are committing when they file lengthy lawsuits loaded with non sequiturs and so-called wild deeds backed by supposedly all-powerful land patents on behalf of people facing foreclosure.
But the proclivity of members of this anti-government organization to burden the courts with paperwork is not the only thing law enforcement officials are worried about.
"These people just don't respect the badge," said Stephen Emmett, a spokesman for the FBI in Atlanta. "There is a potential for violence in them that stems from their extreme philosophy."
Terry Nichols, who assisted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, was a sovereign citizen. So was Joe Stack, who flew his small plane into the Internal Revenue Service building in Austin, Texas, during February 2010.
Jared Loughner, who allegedly shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others earlier this year in a Tuscon, Ariz., shopping plaza, also is said to be a member.
So are Jerry Kane and his 16-year-old son, Joe, who gunned down two Arkansas policemen after being stopped and questioned about their license plate in West Memphis during May 2010. In that case, police videos show the police trying to decipher the drivers license they were handed when Kane's son pulled out an AK-47 and riddled them with bullets.
Born of an anti-tax current in the 1970s, the sovereign-citizen movement now claims as many as 300,000 members across the U.S. and Canada, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports.
Their core beliefs are that the U.S. government sold its people into servitude by becoming a corporation in 1868 and abandoning the gold standard in 1933. Since then, the U.S. government has mortgaged the future of Americans by falling deeply into debt to foreigners.
But it is possible to reclaim one's freedom by acknowledging that each individual became a sovereign after overthrowing the tyranny of King George III in 1776, the movement's participants maintain.
After that momentous event, the story goes, the American people established no higher power than the sovereign citizen himself and no higher authority than the One Supreme Court, which was established to rule on matters of dispute.
Both state courts and federal courts are considered inferior, and sovereign citizens have filed suits charging state and federal judges with fraud and treason for failing to adhere to the dictates of their higher court.
"The whole belief system revolves around a bunch of pseudo-legal theories that basically allow them to do anything they want," said Mark Pitcavage, director of fact finding for the Anti Defamation League in Columbus, Ohio, and the creator of the Militia Watchdog Archives.
Drivers licenses, Social Security cards, licence plates and other forms of government-sponsored identification are not considered valid by members of the movement.
While they do not respect the U.S. judicial system, sovereign citizens have found the courts to be the best venue for waging their protests. By filing copious lawsuits against government officials and banks that invariably include a string of biblical references and arcane laws, they can broadcast their beliefs and opposition.
News reports from around the country show these suits usually follow foreclosures or other government actions.
In Ulster County, N.Y., residents Ed-George Parenteau and Jeffrey Charles Burfeindt filed suits against area municipalities and prominent individuals claiming $135 billion in damages after being ousted from a foreclosed house they were illegally occupying in March 2009.
Though the suits were eventually dismissed and Parenteau was jailed, the liens they filed against their adversaries caused credit problems that took months to clear. In Jefferson County, Ala., Donald Joe Barber and his son, Donald Jason Barber, bombarded local government officials with lawsuits and liens after being sued for not paying sewer impact fees, ultimately prompting the government to arrest the two men.
More recently, sovereign citizens have been filing wild deeds on properties in an effort to help members defend themselves against foreclosure or to get properties back that were already seized by banks.
In the Atlanta area, sovereign citizens have gone further, using wild deeds to help squatters occupy dozens of vacant homes.
"They file the deeds and then go to vacant homes and put the deeds in the window," said Emmett, the FBI spokesman. "Then when law enforcement responds to a trespassing complaint, they see the deeds in the window and treat them as a civil matter instead of a criminal matter."
Though squatting has not taken off among sovereign citizens in Florida, at least one title agency claims that members of the movement are trying to use wild deeds to blackmail banks into paying money in order to get clear title to properties without having to go to court.
A sovereign citizen pays 70 cents to file a certificate of title and then waits for someone from a title company trying to close a sale on the same property to send him a letter requesting he sign a quit claim deed to clear the title, said David Heine of Orlando's PCS Title in a missive sent to clients around the state.
"He agrees, however, it will cost the selling bank $1,500 to $2,000 even though he has no legal right to the property," Heine said. "Here is where 'we' facilitate the scam. Rather than lose the sale of a foreclosed property the bank agrees to pay the money as it is much less costly to pay him to go away than pay to straighten this out through legal means."
Lawyers say the filing of such deeds is legal, but banks can sue for slander of title.
"Slander of title suits are civil actions in which perpetrators can be liable for damages," said Lee Husagh, the former president of the Florida Land Title Association. "But most of these screwballs don't have any money to begin with. So judgments often end up being worthless."