The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

‘Sovereign Citizen’ Couple Resigns from Alabama State Defense Force

By Ryan Lenz on February 25, 2011 - 6:59 pm, Posted in Sovereign Citizens

A veteran homicide detective in Sarasota, Fla. – lured by the burgeoning appeal of “sovereign citizen” ideology – was fired last week after  he had “seceded” from the jurisdiction of the federal government, an act he claims was intended to be a political protest more than any sort of act of extremism.

Now, we learn that husband-and-wife members of the Alabama State Defense Force (ASDF), a state-organized volunteer force that supports the National Guard, have resigned after superiors discovered they were deeply involved in the sovereign citizen movement. The couple had joined the Republic for the United States of America, a shadow government formed by evangelical preacher and tax scofflaw James Timothy Turner.

The state has a policy to remove anyone from the ASDF if they are members of a “subversive” organization, and Jeff May, a battalion commander, is drafting a letter to the Guard’s ranking authority to ensure sovereign citizens fall under that policy.

May said Michael Francis and Tami Lynn Matthews of Dothan, Ala., were already facing a discharge from duties for failing to meet requirements; they missed drills and wore their uniforms when they were not on duty.

Sovereign citizens are part of the broader antigovernment “Patriot” movement. They believe they are not subject to the laws and jurisdiction of the federal government.  The SPLC estimates that as many as 300,000 people in the U.S. hold some sovereign citizen views.

In Sarasota, Detective Tom Laughlin filed documents last April to declare himself a “sovereign citizen.” Those documents included a thumbprint on each page (one of the many signature trademarks used by those in the movement) and a photocopy of 21 silver pieces – the price to become a “freeman.” “What that paperwork was done for, was basically to get back to the roots,” Laughlin told internal affairs investigators. “The Constitution, you know, and under God and back to the meat of what it really is.”

When Laughlin later learned he had joined an extremist organization, he said, “I filed those documents without reading them. … All I wanted to do was make a political statement about the way things are going in this country.”

Mistake or not, the cases in Alabama and Sarasota represent the subtle allure of the sovereign citizen movement and at least anecdotal evidence that the ideology is creeping forward.

While there have been only a few known instances of radicalized sworn officers, Fred Wilson, director of operations for the National Sheriffs’ Association, which monitors trends among sheriffs’ departments nationwide, said he fears a day when such radical ideas are so widespread they become institutional. With the count of Patriot groups now nearly as high as it was during the mid-1990s heyday of an earlier militia movement, that day may be closer than we think. “It’s the edge of a movement,” Wilson said.

The appearance of sovereign citizens in public positions comes as the Patriot movement experiences a dramatic expansion. The Southern Poverty Law Center this week released its annual list of hate and extremist groups, which counted 824 Patriot groups, including militias, “common-law” courts and other groups. The total is a 61% increase from 2009.

The popularity of Patriot ideas has been propelled, in part, by certain politicians who have co-opted those radical ideas in order to energize a base turned increasingly desperate by the tough economy and the election of the first black president.

For example, Russell Pearce, who became Arizona’s Senate president on the basis of his harshly nativist rhetoric, proposed a law this January that would allow his state to refuse to obey any federal law or regulation. In Virginia, Delegate Bob Marshall proposed a law to create an alternative currency “in the event of the destruction of the Federal Reserve System’s currency” – a popular expectation of antigovernment extremists. And in Montana, a state senator presented a statute called the “Sheriffs First Act” that would have required federal law enforcement authorities to ask for local sheriffs’ permission to act in their counties, or face arrest. The bill failed to garner wide support, but one lawmaker said the federal supremacy clause – a legal precept allowing the federal government to pass legislation that nullifies state laws – is itself unconstitutional. “When the federal government passes a statute that violates either the 9th or 10th Amendment, it is not supreme to anything,” said Chairman Terry Murphy, a Republican.

  • JM

    It’s really sad to see an article like this on the SPLC website. I’ve supported you for years and I thought that the SPLC supported people’s rights.

    From what I have read of the sovereign citizens, they are just citizens who are tired of having the police walk over their rights while politicians commit felonies and get away with it.

    Labeling them as terrorists? Terrorists commit acts of mass violence, this article looks more like propaganda, I expect better from Alabama. Good folks there, I doubt they would support this sort of propaganda.

  • Michael Matthews

    WOW!!! It’s amazing how people can print anything without checking their facts, and only basing this article from one person’s testimony. It’s interesting to note that neither I nor my wife have been contacted for any questions regarding this. I will be more than happy to go “on the record” for exactly what happened and exactly why my wife and I left the ALSDF. And for the record, when I talked with May, he refused to give me specifics as to when, where and what time we “unofficially” wore our uniforms and as to who witnessed it. It’s also interesting to note that lives were saved because of my actions during certain storms in the saving of a levy at midnight, or all the other medals and awards we received. Not to mention, the fact I am a Gulf War veteran with multiple awards, and have been in ministry since 1991. It is sad to note that not once was it mentioned I was a corrections officer for the state of Florida, through a private corporation, while all this was supposedly going on. Does it make sense that FL DOC would continue to have me as an officer over inmates, and yet be considered a “threat” to the government? If I am not mistaken, there is a such thing called slander and defamation of character. You would be the wiser for checking facts and actually getting both sides of the story before running to the presses.

  • CaraGia

    Actually, they are NOT wrong on the 14th Amendment issue. If you would stop paying attention to what is currently taught in law school and START reading law as it was written, using Black’s Law Dicitonary 4th Edition (before things changed), you would learn, too.

    Visit for the real honest to goodness truth of the matter and how the 14th Amendment changed our form of gov’t and usurped the Constitution.

  • Kel

    well said sdj

  • S D J

    Correction, most of the Sovereigns know the Constitution very well, study law and use Supreme Court decisions for any arguments they may have. By using the Constitution and court decisions many cases are won, no guns necessary. You people talk about them as if they are ignorant and I promise you, you don’t want to tangle with them in court. You should be thanking them for keeping the Constitution alive and exposing corrupt Judges and Authorities. Judges take an oath of office to uphold the Constitution and should be held to it. Most of you people have a communist mindset and don’t realize it, but if you would take the time to read, understand and apply that knowledge with land mark decisions it won’t take long to wake up. A great starting point is Marbury vs Madison

  • Travis james

    The idea is not nuts. How much so call automobile insurance have you paid for and not ever used in the name of the law. I do pay taxes according to gods law, i should not be taxed for my food. ” alabama 10%” or hunting and fishing lisence. If im hungry and catch a fish or kill a deer for food should i be taxed because i want to eat god gave us this earth to live and prosper not to be taxed fined charged with erroniuos crimes, and be eslaved by a so called government that wants to bleed humankind of all thre wealth and dignity . So folks that dont like the movement stay away or you shall be treated as enemys.

  • Bryce London

    This so called “organization” sounds like a group of lazy, irresponsible people who look for any opportunity to get out of any form of civil duty. There are thousands of men and women who lean towards this type of ideaology just to skirt child support, paying taxes, financial responsibilty laws in regards to driving and community service. It is all “fun and games” for them until they actually need to use the services that tax paying provides. Who are the sovereign citizens going to call if they need an ambulance, fire truck, hospital, or Lord forbid the police? This loose net group of lazies do not have anything set up to provide these services for them!! So, I guess they can revel in their “freeman-ness” until they have the need to use OUR services. Get a grip folks…

  • Sgt retired

    Wacko Chelene Nightingale is now part of this nutty movement! She claims to be the real governor of CA! (It appears they con people out of money for $300.00 a pop!) and many more nefarious flim flam garbage! Leave it to unemployed hack Nightingale to once again be at the helm of a conspiracy driven fanatical movement. Please seek help!

  • Ryan Masters

    @Steven Pope

    Atlanta’s having serious problems with “squatters”, as you call them. The FBI and local authorities call them something else:

  • Mr618

    “While there have been only a few known instances of radicalized sworn officers, […]”

    Would this include the Oathkeepers – the cops and military who feel they have the right to execute anyone who doesn’t agree with their interpretation of the Constitution?

  • Mitch Beales

    Steven Pope if you knew as much about the SPLC as you pretend to you would know that they support the enforcement of immigration laws many of which protect the rights of immigrants who are in this country with or without proper documents. “Sovereign citizens” consider themselves above the laws of the USA. You make unsupported claims about burned churches in California but in Alabama, where this occurred, it is whites who burn black churches.

  • Steve Pope

    It is funny how the SPLC tries to pin this on the TEA PARTY or anyone that wants the LAWS the USA followed including immigration. I do not trust anything that the SPLC puts out. Alot of it is FEAR MONGERING. I do know that our border agents are being murdered and BLACK CHURCHES ARE BEING BURNED BY HISPANICS and ILLEGAL ALIENS in CALIFORNIA ! The people in the group you report on must be ANTI- AMERICAN. Maybe you should report the houses in Georgia that have been forclosed and have ILLEGAL ALIENS, NON CITIZENS squating in them. Squaters have been around for thousands of years. Nothing new. The Mexican drug cartel out guns any of us. Maybe you should report that hate !

  • jerilyn kay miller

    what is it with these ‘soveriefns’. what is wrong with their minds, we live in a country that has more freedoms, more liberty than any other place in the is my belief that they think they can get away without paying tax’s. try that b.s. anywhere else in this world. they surely would not be walking around freely spuring stupidness and hatred. jeri

  • Tim

    Just a quick note… the “Republic for the United States of America” should actually have a lower case “u” for “united”, as sovereign citizens want to make a distinction of not being part of the 14th Amendment federal government, just the various states, united… or, some baloney like that. You can see it on their website… All of the various sovereign citizen groups use different rationale for supporting this (and other somewhat-crazy ideas), and they all argue that they are correct and everybody else is mistaken.

    Sovereign citizens are wacky…

  • Jordan

    “This is evident in their propensity to label those of us who know they’re wrong as un-patriotic and/or un-American.
    ” Yeah I know. It’s rediculous, it’s like being labeled “un-American” by al-Qaeda.

  • majii


    You’re exactly right. People like these sovereign citizens don’t know what’s in the Constitution, and they don’t care. These things are obvious to those of us who know what is the Constitution and understand it. Nothing seems to be important to these folks except pushing their specific ideology. This is evident in their propensity to label those of us who know they’re wrong as un-patriotic and/or un-American.

  • Jordan

    It’s striking how little knowledge of history or the U.S. Constitution people have. Any one who has taken a U.S. history course must know that the current constitution was penned to replace a document known as the Articles of Confederation which created a weak central government and nearly resulted in the destruction of the United States. At no point does the constitution give anyone a right to break away from the federal government or to act independently of it, in fact treason is the only crime specifically defined in the constitution, and almost all of Article IV deals with the Congress’s power OVER the states. The constitution also gives congress the power to suppress insurrectionists (“To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions”).

  • Reynardine

    Where is General Sherman, now that we really need him?