‘Sovereign Citizens’ Scheme, Scam, Shoot and Face the Music

Sovereign citizens” — antigovernment extremists who believe they are exempt from most laws and don’t have to pay taxes — continue to wreak havoc across the country. Notable among them are two prominent figures with longtime ties to the militia and other extreme-right movements.

Drew Allen Rayner, a major figure in the militia movement for the past two decades, was indicted for mail fraud in Poplarville, Miss., for allegedly using a fake promissory note to pay a court-ordered fine.

Rayner headed the North Mississippi Militia in the 1990s and was a senior leader in the Southeastern States Alliance, a long-defunct Southern coalition of militia groups. He is one of 20 people who signed an April 1996 declaration delivered to the FBI regarding a then-ongoing standoff with members of the antigovernment Montana Freemen who were holed up in their armed compound. The declaration demanded that the Freemen be tried by a special court, and it threatened, “If any action is taken against any signer, their families or any supporter of this Declaration, it will be considered an act of war.” In April 2010, Rayner was one of several sovereign citizens who signed a letter to all 50 governors demanding they vacate their offices, or else. The letter campaign was organized by the Guardians for the Free Republics, a group that included the vanguard of the sovereign citizens movement.

Another longtime extremist stands accused of running a scheme whereby his clients filed bogus tax forms as part of a plot to defraud the government. In its June complaint, the Justice Department accused John Lloyd Kirk of Des Moines, Wash., of selling so-called “redemption” plans in the name of a phony American Indian tribe, alleging that at least 31 of his customers have filed fraudulent returns totaling $8 million. Kirk is a friend of infamous Montana Freeman LeRoy Schweitzer and for years has been linked to the Little Shell Pembina Band, a sovereign citizens group that claims to be an American Indian tribe. In 1997, according to the Anti-Defamation League, Kirk was arrested on a variety of weapons and explosives charges.

Old-timers weren’t the only sovereigns making trouble.

• In Hurst, Texas, self-described “Moorish national” Joseph M. Tesi, 48, (who, unlike most “Moorish” sovereigns, is white) faces a charge of attempted capital murder after he was shot twice by a police officer during an exchange of gunfire on a residential street on July 21. As often happens with sovereigns, the trouble began with relatively minor traffic violations. After a February 2010 traffic stop in Arlington, Texas, Tesi was fined for driving without a seatbelt. He never paid, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. The following December he was stopped for allegedly speeding in Colleyville and was arrested on the Arlington warrant after failing to produce a license. The July confrontation began when a Colleyville officer recognized Tesi —then wanted on a variety of traffic charges and failure to appear —near the city line and followed him to his home in Hurst. According to the police report, Tesi fired first. The officer, a 26-year veteran of the force, was uninjured. Tesi, also known as James Michael Joseph, is expected to recover from bullet wounds to his face and foot.

• Prosecutors in July accused a Washington couple — Raymond Leo and Ute Christine Jarlik-Bell — of fraudulently attempting to collect $320,600 in tax refunds. Previously, the couple had participated in the “Sovereign Assemblies” movement that promoted sham business accounts to conceal income from the IRS.

Marshall Edwin Home, 81, a former mayoral candidate in Tucson, Ariz., was arrested July 1 after filing false documents with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. He sought to place the United States itself into bankruptcy, asserting that he personally had a $3 billion claim against the federal government. Home operated the “Individual Rights Party: Mortgage Rescue Service,” through which he would charge clients $500 to “make the foreclosure process stop.” According to a federal complaint, he was responsible for 173 false claims against the United States totaling over $2.5 trillion.

• On Aug. 9, a sovereign citizen in Ulster County, N.Y., was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and six months of home detention for attempting to intimidate local public officials with false liens and fraudulent invoices. Jeffrey Burnfeindt, 48, was one of three area men who schemed to extort $1.24 trillion from officials after being arrested for minor crimes such as trespassing and driving without a license.

• A Michigan man with connections to the sovereign citizens movement was found guilty on Aug. 10 on charges of gun and drug possession. Jeffrey Szewczyk, 38, was found with several guns and 73 marijuana plants in a police raid on his house. During the trial, Szewczyk rejected the government’s right to regulate drugs and his possession of weapons. He faces up to four years in prison.

• Also on Aug. 10, public television host and former mayoral candidate John McGowan of Bethel, Conn., was convicted of first-degree sexual assault. McGowan is a “senator” with the “Republic for the united States” (RuSA), a national coalition of sovereigns that promises freedom from taxes and is building a government-in-waiting. He faces up to 20 years in prison.