Three States Act to Shield Officials from ‘Paper Terror’ Tactics

For years, law enforcement agencies have been warning of the dangers of “paper terrorism,” a common tactic of members of the so-called “sovereign citizens” movement, comprised of people who believe that they do not have to pay taxes or obey most laws. Paper terrorists typically attack perceived foes, many of them judicial or law enforcement officials, with fraudulent liens on their property and bogus lawsuits, creating financial and legal problems that can take years of effort and thousands of dollars to sort out, clogging the courts in the meantime.

During the first wave of the antigovernment “Patriot” movement in the 1990s, more than 25 states passed new laws or strengthened old ones to punish the filing of fraudulent liens and other paper terror tactics. Now, as the second wave of the Patriot movement continues the explosive growth that began in 2009, states are again beginning to act. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, three states passed laws this spring creating or strengthening penalties for the filing of unjustified property liens for the purpose of harassing public officials.

A new Alabama law makes it a misdemeanor to record a fraudulent lien or other instrument, with the crime becoming a felony if the documents are filed with the intent to “defraud, intimidate or harass” a public servant. The law also creates a process by the office that recorded the instrument to administratively nullify or expunge it from the record once it is determined to be fraudulent.

In Georgia, a new law makes filing false liens against public officials a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Developed at the request of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), and written and sponsored by Republican state Rep. B.J. Pak, the law in its current form protects public officials only. But GBI spokesman John Bankhead says that Pak – an accomplished attorney who was himself once the victim of a fraudulent lien – hopes next year to expand it to protect private citizens and to look into developing language that would allow recording clerks to reject such documents in the first place.

Louisiana’s law criminalizes filing false liens against law enforcement or court officers, but only “as retaliation against the officer for the performance of his official duties.” Violation carries a fine of at least $500 and/or imprisonment “with or without hard labor” for up to two years.

Legislators in Indiana and Wyoming also proposed bills that would have strengthened protections against bogus liens, but they were not passed before those states’ spring legislative sessions adjourned. The Wyoming law would simply have slightly modified legislation that was already on the books as of 2010.