Most people spend time shopping around for homes, but Jackiya Dionea Ford decided it’d be better just to steal one. So earlier this month, she left Los Angeles and moved to Missoula, Mont., where she found a vacant house for sale. She asked the owner to give her a tour of the place, and then quickly made her move.
"After their initial meeting, Ford delivered paperwork claiming ownership of the house and all the land in a 20-mile radius around it,” the town’s local paper reported. “She offered to drop the lawsuit if [the owner] paid her $900,000 in pure silver and gold.” But before the owner or the town knew what hit them, Ford had moved into the house, changed the garage code and all the locks, and started firing off more complex lawsuits and legal papers.
When authorities arrived at the house to investigate the situation, Ford “came speeding down the street” to meet them and told the police that she was a “sovereign citizen of the republic of America,” and was not subject to their laws. Unfortunately for her, the authorities didn’t see it the same way and she was arrested.
Not much is known about Ford in particular. A Google search of her name reveals little except a song she released on iTunes called “Save Your Soul” and an unusual LinkedIn profile, in which she claims to have been in “many marches with Dr. Martin Luther King” and to have held two jobs. The first is being the CEO of Mcjala Entertainment Inc, a company that only exists on MySpace; the second is a position she calls Freeman on the Land, which she claims to have held since December 1972. For the description of this position, she lists only two words: “Sovern citizen.” (Yes, she misspelled her own belief.)
The Sovereign Citizens may not be a household name yet, but depending on which side you’re on, this movement is either trying to improve the lives of Americans or destroy the country one person at a time. At least one group of Sovereign Citizens claims to be part of the "Patriot Movement." However, the American government does not view them as patriots, and several federal agencies have already warned the public about the movement.
The Anti-Defamation League has described the Sovereign Citizens as “a loosely organized collection of groups and individuals who have adopted right-wing anarchist ideology.” Though there may be different groups, those who subscribe to this movement share a belief that that they are really “diplomatic agents” who are not subject to federal laws and should not need to pay taxes or go to the DMV. They want to rely on common law rather than federal law and restore a certain simplicity to America. The hope is that they can get rid of the big banks and big government so they can be free to live in this country without being “hijacked” by these imposing forces. In essence, they are arguably a more zealous and extreme version of the Tea Party movement. Sovereign Citizens promote individual liberties, but they also have taken controversial steps that endanger fellow citizens; members bill themselves as true patriots and yet they break laws and take steps to undermine the government.
Earlier this month the FBI labeled this group a “domestic terrorism” operation because of some of their antics. According to the FBI, members have impersonated police officers, assaulted civilians, threatened officials and been caught using fake currency, passports and driver’s licenses. As happened in Ford’s case, members often try to undermine and confuse government agencies by issuing a torrent of complex legal papers, a tactic which has been dubbed “paper terrorism.” Sovereign Citizens have also started a number of scams including one tax fraud scheme by a group called We the People.
If you ask these groups, however, it’s really the government that deserves the terrorist label. “The branding of patriots as terrorists is itself a terrorist act by the federal government,” Brent Johnson, founder of the Voice of Freedom, told MainStreet. Johnson travels around the country promoting the Sovereign Citizens movement and is currently in New Zealand filming a documentary called “After America” about this country’s alleged downfall. “The FBI has decided that anyone who even speaks out against the government is a possible terrorist,” Johnson added, claiming that the government’s goal is to stir paranoia among the population (a situation he confusingly compares to the Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report).
Yet, according to the government, the concern is not just that these groups speak out, but that they act out as well. The movement is said to be inspired by anti-Semitic groups from the 1970s and 1980s, and over the past couple decades, there have been several dangerous incidents involving people claiming to be Sovereign Citizens. One of the most notable self-proclaimed Sovereigns is Terry Nichols, who eventually helped Timothy McVeigh build the bomb used in the Oklahoma City tragedy. According to the Anti-Defamation League, a few years before the bombing, Nichols declared in a letter to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources that he was no longer “a citizen of the corrupt political corporate State of Michigan and the United States of America.”
In certain parts of the country, the movement seems to be gaining steam now. Dozens of Indiana residents have tried to convince the state to grant them “freedom from taxes” in recent months by being part of the movement. And a few weeks ago, one specific Sovereign Citizens group known as the Guardians of the Free Republics sent a threatening letter to the majority of state governors in the country, warning them to resign within three days “or face removal.” (This particular group is headed by a host of a radio program in Texas who has repeatedly come under fire for his views.)
Then there are the outbursts from individuals like Ford, who embrace the movement’s ideology and use it to justify the theft of other peoples’ property. Before Ford tried to steal a house for herself, Brent Arthur Wilson applied the exact same tactics to appropriate homes for himself. A Miami man was arrested for filing tax returns for the insane amount of $14 trillion and was allegedly inspired by the movement. And an Indianapolis man is currently serving four years in prison for making his own money to pay nearly $1 million in debt.
As is true with many extreme groups today, the recession has likely contributed to this resurgence, but even more than that, these citizens seem to harbor a strong distrust of the current administration. “There is a sizable minority of the U.S. population that do not want to be told how to live; who believe they are entitled to keep the fruit of their own labors,” Johnson said. “Yet these people are being continuously pushed by a government that never knows when to stop pushing.”
For all their extremism, there are certainly hints of ideas that most Americans subscribe to. One Sovereign Citizen wrote on NowPublic.com that members believe it is their duty to “put loyalty to Country and your personal principles over party.” I’m sure many who are sick of party bickering in Washington might agree to that. And groups like the Guardians of the Free Republics do have noble goals like ending the “foreclosure nightmare” in this country and preventing corporations from intruding into our lives. Yet it seems clear that any movement which fosters violence, theft and general chaos in an attempt to improve the country and the lives of its citizens will probably not accomplish either.
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