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

California Man Caught With Explosives May Be ‘Sovereign Citizen’

By Ryan Lenz on October 30, 2012 - 5:17 pm, Posted in Antigovernment, Extremist Crime, Sovereign Citizens

A man who was found with more than 145 pounds of explosives in Brisbane, Calif., might have connections to the antigovernment “sovereign citizens” movement, an extremist ideology whose adherents believe they don’t have to obey most laws or pay taxes.

Police said William Harrell, 46, completed a Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) filing in Kentucky that listed himself as a debtor to himself in 2010, a tactic used by some sovereigns in an attempt to free themselves of financial obligations. Yet investigators remain unsure whether Harrell is a true believer in the ideology, or rather someone who has merely dabbled in sovereign tactics.

“There is nothing independent of the UCC filing indicating he was part of any organization,” Brisbane Police Cmdr. Bob Meisner told Hatewatch.

Police found the explosives earlier this month in the apartment Harrell shared with his girlfriend and her two children. Officers responded to a report of a domestic argument, and as Harrell began to leave, his girlfriend showed officers a locked closet, which she believed may have contained guns, the San Mateo County Times reported.

Inside, police found 145 pounds of explosives, mostly dynamite, a pound of marijuana and $37,000.

Harrell faces several felonies stemming from the discovery, including possessing explosives, selling marijuana and child endangerment. He pleaded not guilty on Oct. 4 and is scheduled to appear in court again on Nov. 5.

Harrell’s possible connections to the sovereign citizen movement surfaced when J.J. MacNab, a tax and insurance expert who has studied the movement, contacted the Brisbane Police Department after finding Harrell’s UCC filing. Adherents to the strange subculture believe that they – not judges, juries, law enforcement or elected officials – get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore. “Something has happened to their lives that turned off a common sense switch,” MacNab said. “They are not stupid or pathetic, naïve or poor.”

Police say they don’t know how Harrell intended to use the explosives.

But what is certain is that sovereigns have been dangerous. The FBI considers sovereigns to be a “domestic terrorism movement.”  They’ve killed four law enforcement officers since May 20, 2010, when a father and son team of sovereigns gunned down two police officers in West Memphis, Ark.

Harrell’s girlfriend, who has not been identified in news reports, has said that Harrell had begun the process of becoming a sovereign citizen when police arrested him.

  • mike is black

    Im a African American man who has been victimized by this abuse of power of by so called tax professionals. I haven’t worked in 6 years. Not by choice but by cast ostracism. I have skills but not the look of white society, im black. IM ON FOOD STAMPS..! .I have a bank account with $2.00 in it. No hope in getting more than a hand out.
    the tax board ot California has frozen my bank acount 5 times in the last year costing me 500 dollars. i have done nothing but cooporate with these people 100 percent. But yet they repeatedly freaze my account taking possession of my property with no hearing what so ever. Is this the will of the people…?

  • Tambre

    Bill is a long time friend. The picture and assumptions you are all painting are not at all what Bill is about. It makes me sick what the establishment and law officials are doing to him. It is ruining his life. He is not a terrorist! He is a red blooded american! Don’t judge a book by it’s cover!

  • Bill Winkle

    Ruslan Amirkhanov,
    Thank you for stating so well, that which I was thinking. I am especially aware of your very last point:
    “I also notice that many of these people weren’t so vocal until after the election in 2008, for some reason.”
    Of course, there is a myriad of factors involved in why there are so many more separatist groups since the ’08 election. Many groups were evolving but less visible. Chat & blog sites like we are using here are proliferating, so discussion of these ideas has been able to increase at a greater rate. The 9/11 attacks, and the controversy related to them, has added to skepticism and cynicism. The Patriot Act heightened concerns even more. So has The Great Recession, and the conflicting claims of the responsibility for it (feeding into theories about world financial control). The unfounded but still accepted myths about the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) opened up even more opportunities to speculate about government control – including myths that we will all be given tracking (ID) implants in a year or 2, even though those provisions deal only with improved means of tracking effectiveness of major surgical procedures involving artificial hearts, etc. More recently we have had the attack on 9/11/2012, especially including the deaths of 4 Americans (one a US Ambassador) during the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, and inconsistencies in the early explanations for its cause. Most recently, we have the resignation of the DCI (Cia Director Petraeus), happening just after the election. And within hours of the election. conspiracy theories began circulating about it being “stolen” (based on inaccurate assessments of vote tabulations compared to the estimated voting age population, in handfuls of towns, precincts & counties in some “swing states”.
    However, I am even more moved by how well you have put the concept of slavery into perspective, and shown how its meaning and legacy are cheapened when people joining separatist & related groups claim that they are slaves.

  • Joshua Ariel

    the so-called Sovereign Citizens, or those who have claimed to be Sovereign Citizens are guilty of killing 4 uniformed officers in the last two years. More specifically, those deaths occurred in the year 2010, and none have died since. Would I be justified in making that distinction?

    Statistically speaking that sounds like the most dangerous domestic terrorist group in the world. <—sarcasm for near sighted persons

    But what of the domestic terrorist group we call the fraternal order and brotherhood of the police?

    One only needs to visit google or youtube and look up videos of police brutality 2010 and get back 58,000 results before we even examine 2011 and 2012.

    So by the FBI listing Sovereign Citizens as a domestic terrorist group is simply a fear campaign much like the war on terror itself, which allocates billions of fiat dollars to fight an invisible nonexistent enemy in a foreign sovereign nation.

    What the sovereign citizens did in 2010 was foolish and they paid the ultimate price for it, but I do not claim to support Sovereign Citizens. Nor do I support violence or the use of violence. I will choose to use my tongue to create words that they may be mightier than their cannons. My words are my swords I use to throw off such government and provide new guards for my future security. My new guards are the swords above mentioned. My new guards are my words that I use to choose and defend my own personal freedom. After all, ultimately my own freedom is my own responsibility and your freedom is your responsibility. So lets discuss how my Freedom differs or interferes with your FREEDOMS, as your presidents love to remind you, that you have FREEDOMS that they allow you to have, not Freedom that you may stand on your own two feet and claim with your tongue or on paper.

    We do not think we are above the law. We simply recognize the sickness. The reality is we have a choice. Are there any objections? Govern the self or be governed. I am not saying that if I kill a man I am above the law because I have a responsibility to that man I killed and his family, who are the victims. As a Sovereign I have a responsibility to my self and to others which is why I choose to respect life and choose not to kill men and obey the laws of the land. But contract law, is completely different and is called MARITIME ADMIRALTY, or to simplify, the law of water.

    But a statutory regulation like a speed limit, when violated, has no victim. No man was hurt, no property was damaged. These regulations are there only to generate revenue from those who willing contract into, by way of consent via driver license.

    A speeding ticket is a pre-crime. Sure I was going fast and sure there exist an inherent possibility of danger to the self or to others, but, did I harm any individuals? Was there indeed a victim? So who was violated? The State was violated or whatever municipality is trying to make a claim against your person, which is the FIRST, MIDDLE, and LAST NAME that appears in all capital letters. So if no man or womb-man was injured as a result, then the only reason why we are can be called guilty of speeding, is because we agreed to follow those rules via contract which is called a driver license verified by your signature on that contract.

    And if the State is the prosecutor, who does the judge then represent? the state as well. (conflict of interests)

    To Robert Lazo:
    dear brother, please recognize the danger of the claim to be a Sovereign Citizen. I as well as others claim to be individual sovereigns. Not citizens. The term sovereign citizen is contradictory in nature. I too side with Oath Keepers and movements that promote freedom and liberty to all and from all.

  • legalhound

    Robert l,
    There is one major flaw in your beliefs. Here it is. In the body of the Constitution there is a provision for amendments to be added. Ok, when the South got stupid and had to have it’s ass kicked those states weren’t part of the Union. The 14th amendment was ratified according to the process spelled out in the body of the Constitution, that means it is legal just like the others. Now when the states that got their butts kicked wanted to come back they had to swear loyalty to the Constitution again, including the newer amendments. That loyalty oath has ALWAYS been a part of achieving statehood. The 16th amendment was also ratified by the appropriate process making it Constitutional and therefore you and your friends OWE the government ALL of your Back Taxes! The 14th Amendment isn’t what makes you have to obey they law either, it’s only what protects you from discrimination. It is the 10th Amendment which gives the states authority to pass statutes and the federal government has ALWAYS had that power …It’s contained in Sec. 1 of the body of the Constitution…so you’re screwed.

  • sinjin

    i wonder if the police had a search warrent to get into a locked closet …having tnt doesnt make sense why would he have it

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    You know, when people equate having to pay taxes with slavery, it shows how trivialized the subject of slavery has become. Slaves were literally property, with no rights. Your wife and children could be taken from you and sold to other slave masters. You could be whipped and beaten for any infraction.

    Now I realize that many people, including myself, aren’t too happy about what our tax money is spent on, and it has become painfully clear that in the last ten years or so, many of our constitutional rights have faced serious challenges and this is a problem, but to equate this with slavery spits on the suffering of all those who lived under slavery and those who continued to suffer due to its legacy.

    Also, this attitude towards government totally ignores those whose oppression comes not at the hands of any government bureaucrat, but rather private employers, insurance companies, lobbyists, and so on. Whatever flaws American democracy has(and it does have HUGE flaws), private corporations are, by nature, totally unaccountable to the public. Lastly, I can’t help noticing that many of these people whining so much about their freedom tend to be more well-to-do than many others, meaning aside from the formal freedoms which the constitution grants, they also have the real freedom which is provided by a higher income and/or the ownership of property. I also notice that many of these people weren’t so vocal until after the election in 2008, for some reason.

  • Aron

    If anyone hasn’t seen it, I thoroughly recommend seeing ‘The Corporation’ ( or

    It is a brilliant documentary which set me on the path from hardcore neo-conservative to Social-Democrat.

  • Rob T.

    Again, Mr. Lazo,

    I see a lot of political grievances in your arguments. There are many excellent forums to engage in political discourse, and protest the way tax dollars are spent. I for one, and many people I know; don’t want our taxes to support a massive defense budget that has been aggressively cycling through various wars of choice for the past sixty years. But we still pay taxes and participate in civil society because it is the mature thing to do. Take up specific causes, participate in state and local government and vote/protest to your content. You’re not a slave, you’re not in a dictatorship. You can do these things without being beaten or shot at. We’re (in the USA) very lucky in that regard.

    Whatever you decide, my main idea still stands: Put the bombs down. Seriously. Again I’ll say this: Put the bombs down.

    Do you want to participate in politics, or a domestic arms-race? If I know my neighbor is building an arsenal with the chance of politically motivated violence in mind; should I be frightened if I disagree with him on one or more issues? Should I build a more powerful arsenal? What would all this accomplish?

  • Erika

    aadila, what you are talking about is communalism which has been attempted many times particularly within religious communities. For example, the book of Acts describes the philosphy of the early Christian Church as being communal where there was no personal property and all persons needs were being cared for. Historically the Christian Church largely operated in a communal manner up to Christianity becoming the official church of Rome where increased wealth and power led to Mammonism rearing its ugly head (which ironically was similar to the issues which had plaugued Judiasm at the time of Jesus – naturally this later lead to the reformation which attempted to remove the influence of money from Christianity but ultimatetely the Protestants became corrupted by Mammonism as well).

    Periodically some religious groups have attempted to create communal living within a society – this was especially common following the Protestant Reformation. In early America up to the 20th Century there were Protestant religious groups who lived communally. A relatively long lasting and successful (too successful as it ultimately turned out) example was the Amana Colonies in eastern Iowa – what ended communalism in the Amana Colonies ultimately was that appliance business they created to support the commune was so successful that some people wanted to cash out so they converted into a stock corporation. Ultimately it was the inability to sustain the initiial impulse towards communalism under the forces of Mammon which doomed these attempts. Well, that and sometimes the fact that the communalistic groups were headed by people who were lusting after power and the lure of Mammonism.

    Of course, if you really look at the roots of corporations, stock corporations actually are similar to communalism in that many people pooled their resources for mutual support. Eventually, corporations were transformed away from their communal roots. Mutual insurance companies also operate on a communal basis where you are a policy holder as well as a owner of the insurance company.

    It is also arguable that the tax system ultimately has similar roots to communalism in that again you have mutual support. Of course, in the past – and indeed the current taxation has oftne been a means to line the pockets of the rulers. However, if done right taxation can reflect the principles of communalism in that taxation can be used to assure that people can receive education and have sufficient resources to live (in fact, under the teachings of Jesus, Christians should support such taxation – that is one reason why you can tell that the Christian Right are really followers of Mammon and not God). Seen that way, taxation with representation is simply a more efficient way to bring communalism. Or it would be if there wasn’t the temptation for elites to use taxation for their benefit. Always Mammonism gets in the way of communalism.

    Thus, communalism has never really disappeared. However, i fear that James Madison in the actual Federalist Papers which its doubtful that most people who call themselves Federalists have ever read said “if men were Angels then no government would be necessary.” Thus, communalism while a worthy goal to set policy including taxation is never likely to fully catch on. Quite simply for communalism to actual work people may not have to all be angels but they may have to be at least saints.

    i do believe that communalism is the proper model for public services such as utilities, education, providing care to people with disabilities, assuring that there are no homeless or starving people. Too bad that most of the people who claim to be followers of Jesus do not know what He actually taught about wealth because the system that Jesus outlined was in fact communalism. In fact, Jesus spoke out often against the worship of Mammon which is the worship of wealth. Too many modern Christians are really worshipping Mammon.

    And yes, Socialism would be a form of communalism however it is based upon a world view shaped by industrialism (which ultimately was also the root of capitalism). However, Socialism like Captialism can be twisted for the elite’s ends – but pure socialism is a form of communal ownership.

    Unfortunately, as long as the worship of Mammon especiially among people who call themselves Christians is the dominant religion communialsm is not likely to catch on. In fact, even in areas where communalism has long been practiced such as education, it is under attack by the followers of Mammon. i am not optimistic about the future. Even if every person in the world agrees to abide by the communalist philosphy there is no guarantee that their children and grand children will continue to do so. The lure of Mammonism has repetedly by history shown to be too great even for small religious based groups following a religion (Christianity) that explicitly calls for orgnazing society on communalism.

  • aadila

    Thanks, Aron.

    For what it’s worth I think Lazo has some valid points: I don’t particularly like taxes either, I support self-sustainability and conservation. The system we have now does seem rigged for the flow of capital from common people (99%) to the plutocrats (1%), and that does seem a little like slavery. All of these things are worth thinking about, if expressed peaceably.

    The principles of permaculture, i.e., “living off the grid”, make sense: let’s use only what we need and not waste resources. If we did this TOGETHER instead of independently, we could make a huge reduction in our environmental footprint as a species. We might even save the human race from extinction.

    So that is where I take issue with the sovereigns. It seems very selfish for a planet with 7 billion people to think only of ourselves. And of course I oppose the use of violence to settle disputes.

  • Aron

    Well said, Aadila. An excellent explanation :)

  • aadila

    “Guess that means that anytime a black, colored, hispanic, asian, or white guy commits a crime then everyone is guilty.”

    There is a difference between an immutable characteristic one is born with (i.e. race and ethnicity), a question of conscience one comes to through free expression, and dangerous ideologies that scoff at the will of the People and propose violence.

    Sovereigns fall among the latter two categories. Every time there is a crime, it casts suspicion that they are not merely people of conscience, but those willing to use violence to subvert the peaceful rule of law.

    “When we, and mean all of us here, started working….. Who decided that it was fair and just to take part of our pay and “spread the wealth” ”

    Taxation has been present in our civilization for virtually its entire existence. There can be no doubt that abuses of taxation have been common throughout history, just as various forms of “free market” practices such as collecting rents from chattal farmers, have commonly been abusive. So, get real.

    The nation’s Founders were as concerned as any of us — including you — about taxes, but never intended for their to be zero taxation. In fact such a system as far as I know has never existed for any significant length of time, at least for thousands of years.

    The issue therefore is not taxation. The issue is representative taxation. If you don’t like taxes you get one vote. If everybody in your community is willing to pay taxes, and votes for this, you do not have the right to overrule the will of the People.

    You may have the _desire_ (i.e. conscience) to defy the will of the People, but if you break the law the People will take steps to ensure you are brought to order, through the legal agencies of the government which represents the will of the People. These agencies are funded by taxation with representation. That is what the People want and how our nation operates.

    But the ability to oppose the will of the People should not be confused with a right. In fact, it suggests our society is extremely free because in highly oppressive societies, you would not even have the right to determine your own conscience, much less act upon it.

    Now, if you wish to declare war on the People because you refuse to accept the will of the majority, that makes you one and the same with a terrorist. To remain within your rights, your grievances must be brought forth through peaceable assembly.

  • Reynardine

    Well, Mr. Lazo, your spelling, grammar and syntax are certainly stellar advertisements for how well we can do without comprehensive public education.

  • Robert lazo

    Dear Rob T.

    You are reaching a bit on that fisrt statement. But most Liberals do. I have the “stuff” I need. And the ability to craft what I dont at this time. Its not the point of this post.

    The media want’s to paint all Soverign’s as this crazy, right wing group who just want chaos and kill cops. That is so far from the truth. We dont ask for anything, no SSI, no unemployment, no “Obama Care”, no free cell phones, food, electric, gas, homes, etc………. But nor do we want to pay for any of that.

    When we, and mean all of us here, started working….. Who decided that it was fair and just to take part of our pay and “spread the wealth” On every bill I have I must REFUSE to pay these extra charges they claim are MANDATED, but not a tax. When did I become a slave? I never signed anything that allows for that. Why does our government send money to other countrys when we are broke. (your money but not mine) Who signed up for that?

    Tell me rob, at what point did we become slaves to this global system? Birth? When we started to work?

    We all need to open our eyes and see what has been done to us by those in power. Think about it.

    As for my internet, I pay for that. Electricity, I make most my own(70% off grid) water, 75% is off grid(hand tapped well and water barrels) As for the rest I pay with the money i make. I pay my Prop tax, and support my community. But nothing else. Unless I WANT too!

  • Rob T.

    Dear Mr. Lazo,

    If I want VX/Sarin/Anthrax/Cobalt-Salted thermonuclear devices for my “self defense”, would you say that is “my choice”?

    Wait; just who is providing your internet connection, electricity, water, and keeping the roads that service crews use to build and maintain your connection to an outside world that is growing increasingly impatient with your selfish short-sighted worldview?

    You said it yourself. You give nothing: so stop giving bad opinions.

  • Robert lazo

    ” They’ve killed four law enforcement officers since May 20, 2010, when a father and son team of sovereigns gunned down two police officers in West Memphis, Ark.”

    BTW… Who are “THEY” in this article? All Soverigns had a hand in this?

    Guess that means that anytime a black, colored, hispanic, asian, or white guy commits a crime then everyone is guilty.

    Maybe we all should be arrested. Then we can all be safe from “these” type of people.

    Looks like the list of “domestic terrorists” just became a lot bigger then.

  • aadila

    Gee, Robert Lazo.

    As long as we are standing in the open for all to see…drum roll please…

    Peach is in for Spring 2013!

  • Robert lazo

    “Sovereign citizen is a term used to refer to a political movement which grew out of a belief in government abuses of power. Members often refuse to hold social security cards or driver’s licenses and avoid using zip codes. Sovereign citizens believe that U.S. citizens are either “Fourteenth Amendment citizens” (who are subject to the federal and state laws and taxes) or “sovereign citizens”, who are subject only to common law or “constitutional law” (or both), but are not bound to obey statutory law”

    We ask for nothing, we give nothing, and will protect all that is ours. Its real simple.

    If i want explosives for my defense, that is my choice. Anyone whats to take that away from me then bring body bags!!

    Robert Lazo
    Oath Keeper and Soverign Citizen
    Milwaukee, WI
    Standing in the open for all to see.

  • Gregory

    How much is that Corvette in non-existent Kenyan Farthings?

  • adamhill

    “Where do these people get all that money?”

    Maybe the pound of marijuana is a clue.

    People who store lots of explosives and drugs in a home with two children shouldn’t be sovereign to anything outside a prison cell.

  • Aron


    While I can certainly understand your logic, Corvettes just aren’t as much fun as high explosives. I mean, they can both explode, but one is MUCH more spectacular than the other.

    Maybe if I could make a Corvette OUT of explosives a la the van in Cheech and Chong’s ‘Up In Smoke.’

    Either explosives or marijuana. Both are pretty nifty.

  • Sam Molloy

    Where do these people get all that money? I work, and do not have thousands of dollars to spend on explosives and such. I’d buy a Corvette.

  • Aron

    Hoo boy.