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Sovereign Citizens Movement

Sovereign citizens believe they are not under the jurisdiction of the federal government and consider themselves exempt from U.S. law. They use a variety of conspiracy theories and falsehoods to justify their beliefs and their activities, some of which are illegal and violent.

Top takeaways

The sovereign citizen movement continued to see membership growth in 2022. The QAnon conspiracy theory that initially brought new people into the movement has remained a gateway into sovereign citizenship. A new group, which calls itself Life Force Network, is a fusion of Q-centric conspiracy theories, science fiction and fake alternative governments and courts called sovereign citizen “assemblies.” The organization’s main villain is “The Order,” which they describe as an international group that has “dominion over the governments” and is made up of regular antigovernment bogeymen such as the Rockefellers, the Rothchilds and seemingly fictional characters such as the Annuanake, and Dragon Families.

In the Life Force Network document titled, New Declaration of Independence the organization claims to have successfully fought “The Order” for global control of the world’s finances and over “every military, intelligence agency and law enforcement structure in the world that currently exists or will exist in the future.” The group is run by New Yorker Steffen Rowe is active in 17 states.

The proliferation of conspiracies and grievances about public health measures during the Covid-19 pandemic brought new followers into the sovereign citizen movement. The two largest rival sovereign citizen organizations in the U.S., the American States Assembly and National Assembly, were able to maintain or increase their membership numbers in 2022.

Two groups held common law court hearings that were accessible to the public The Oregon Statewide Jural Assembly held theirs in a city park while the Reign of the Heavens Society conducted theirs online. These fake courts based on the old British legal system usually involve individual grievances or grievances against the government brought forth by ”plaintiffs,” and most often the court’s grand jury “assigns” guilt and punishment. The Oregon Statewide Jural Assembly brought the Oregon Department of Education up on charges in its fictitious court. Reign of the Heavens Society charged a Satanic Temple leader with war crimes, stating that the punishment could be up to and including death.

Two new organizations utilized the seminar and product sales model that has been a hallmark of the sovereign citizen movement and perfected by sovereign citizen Winston Shrout. The American Meeting Group is run by sovereign citizens David Straight and co-founder Robert William. The American States Nationals Study Guide & University is also run by David Straight along with Bobby Lawrence, who campaigned to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate in 2018 on an America First MAGA platform. Straight and Lawrence crisscrossed the country in 2022, speaking to groups in the hundreds at $100 a ticket.

Another sovereign citizen subgroup, the Moorish sovereigns were quieter in 2022 then 2021. The groups within this movement claim to be indigenous to certain areas of the US as well as the African country of Morocco and believe their indigenous status and a US Moroccan treaty from 1786 gives them the right to run their own territories outside the confines of US law

In 2021 multiple Moorish sovereign groups were in the news. One of those groups was the Al Moroccan Empire at New Jersey State Republic whose leader Jaleel-Hu who goes by the title Consul General took possession of (squatted) in a home he did not own, which is a known sovereign citizen tactic. The other group was Rise of the Moors who were in a standoff with law enforcement on July 10, 2021 that shut down a Massachusetts Highway. Members who were arrested at the end of the standoff initially claimed the court had no jurisdiction over them, ere indicted and continued their legal fight in 2022.

Members of the United States of America Republic Government (USAR) used signage to label their headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, which they call their Capitol building and parked cars in the front of the building, which they procured and fashioned into their own USAR law enforcement vehicles.

The Al Moroccan Empire at New Jersey State Republic saw an onslaught of new members in 2022, all of whom publicly declared their sovereignty on the group’s website.

Criminality in the movement also remained a problem. On June 2, 2022, second in command of the American States Assembly Teri Sahm was arrested by a swat team at her Washington home after refusing to leave the property post-eviction. People’s Rights Nevada leader and sovereign citizen Josh Martinez was fitted with ankle monitors, one each from the state of Nevada and one from U.S. District Attorney’s in the federal government, which was dropped by the court to one monitor. Martinez was indicted Feb 24, 2021, for allegedly threatening the life of a law enforcement officer.

Georgia sovereign citizen Quinae Shamyra Stephens was arrested in Latta, South Carolina in 2021for running a fraud ring involving credit card and identity theft instructional material on the dark web was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to 19 years in federal prison by a US District Court Judge. Marquet Mattox, also of Georgia, was sentenced to over 2019 years in the United States District Court Middle District of Georgia for using fake trusts to file fraudulent tax returns in an attempt to steal over $117 million from taxpayers. Notably, multiple Jan. 6 insurrectionists, Howard Berton Adams, Pauline Bauer and Bruno Jospeh Cua used sovereign citizen defenses that insofar have not worked in their favor since no judge has dripped their case based on the defendants sovereign citizen arguments.

During the midterm elections, a 2022 North Carolina sheriffs candidate was given funding by a local sovereign citizens group to attend a sheriff candidate training for the extremist law enforcement group Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.

Key Moments

The most notable moments for the sovereign citizen movement in 2022 involved legal interactions where adherents' beliefs came head to head with the justice system. Sovereign citizen Darrell Brooks was tried and sentenced to six life sentences for his attack on a Christmas Parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 2021. And, in December of 2022, some 50 sovereign citizens, calling themselves State Nationals responded to a call to action from the group American States Assembly, protested outside of the U.S District courthouse in Orlando, Florida, in support of Jan. 6 insurrectionist and sovereign citizen Howard Berton Adams, who was arrested after he refused to appear in court twice on charges relating to Jan 6. Adams previously wrote a letter to the trial judge he was assigned, Judge Emmett B. Sullivan on Aug. 14, claiming, “The Most High God created I, Howard Berton Adams, Jr., a sovereign man, living as the flesh and blood testifies, I am not a dead entity, I am not a ward of the state. I am not a pauper.”

What’s ahead

While the movement is plagued with rivalries, infighting, and conspiracies that often lead to the disbanding and recreation of groups, unprecedented growth in this movement is expected to continue. Growing online instructional methods for becoming sovereign citizens have created a groundswell of adherents from a variety of communities and backgrounds. Membership in this movement will continue to increase without significant intervention by law enforcement, government policies that prevent sovereign activities and societal recognitional of the threat from the groups and individuals involved.

Rivalries in the sovereign citizen movement will persist. Anna von Reitz, the leader of American States Assembly (ASA) is currently on the outs with National Assembly’s leader Destry Payne,and Reign of the Heaven’s Societies leader, Harold Fulks. She is also in conflict with ASA’s former California headquarters which is now the autonomous sovereign organization called “California Assembly, California,” which now operates as the “California Assembly.” David Straight’s groups are also winnowing off her members, which may lead to turmoil between the two group leaders in 2023.

Developing assemblies and common law courts will remain popular activities for sovereign citizen groups since these practices have grown every year since 2020.

Some sovereign citizens will also continue to participate in criminal activities. Although one individual’s criminality rarely affects the movement at large it, does affect the individual members who pursue it.


Sovereign Citizens often abuse the court system with indecipherable filings and, when cornered, many of them lash out, retaliating through acts of paper terrorism and, in the most extreme cases, acts of deadly violence – usually directed against government officials. In May 2010, for example, a father-son team of sovereigns were filmed killing two police officers with an assault rifle when they were pulled over on the interstate while traveling through West Memphis, Arkansas.

The roots of the movement are racist and antisemitic. It was founded by William Potter Gale in 1971, former member of the John Birch Society. Gale formed a group of antigovernment Christian Identity adherents who mistrusted state and federal officials. They believed that non-white people were not human, and that Jews possessed a satanic plot to take over the world. They identified themselves as “Posse Comitatus,” which is Latin for “power of the county” and centers on the idea that county sheriffs are the highest governmental authority.

Posse Comitatus is based on the Sheriffs Act of 1887, which allowed sheriffs to form a posse that would assist them in hunting down and arresting criminals. Potter’s posse believed they served under common law (laws based on their interpretation of the Bible), rather than civil law (legitimate laws formed by the American legal system).

The activities of Potter’s Posse, many of them crimes, included refusal to pay taxes, filing property liens and committing violence against public officials. These actions, which were established by Gale’s group, have become customary in today’s sovereign citizens movement. What has changed since the movement’s inception is the white supremacist ideology that initially dominated it. Contemporary sovereign citizens hold varying racial ideologies and include a variety of people.

The sovereign belief system

The contemporary sovereign belief system is based on a decades-old conspiracy theory. Sovereigns believe that the American government set up by the Founding Fathers under a common-law legal system was secretly replaced. They think the replacement government swapped common law for admiralty law, which is the law of the sea and international commerce.

Some sovereigns believe this perfidious change occurred during the Civil War, while others blame the events of 1933, when the U.S. abandoned the gold standard. Either way, sovereigns who hold this view stake their lives and livelihoods on the idea that U.S. judges and lawyers, whom they believe are foreign agents, know about this hidden government takeover but argue against it, denying the sovereigns’ legal motions and filings out of treasonous loyalty to hidden and malevolent government forces.

Most sovereign citizens base their actions on a bogus U.S. history lesson. Claiming that since 1933 when the U.S. dollar was no longer backed not by gold but by the “full faith and credit” of the federal government, the government has pledged its citizenry as collateral by selling their future earning capabilities to foreign investors, effectively enslaving all Americans. This sale, sovereign citizens claim, takes place at birth with the issuance of a birth certificate and the hospital advice to apply for a Social Security number for the baby. Sovereigns say that the government then uses that birth certificate to set up a corporate trust in the baby’s name – a secret U.S. Treasury account – that it funds with amounts ranging from $600,000 to $20 million, depending on the particular variant of the sovereign belief system.

Sovereign citizens believe that by setting up this Treasury Direct Account (TDA), every newborn’s rights are split between those held by the flesh-and-blood baby and the ones assigned to his or her corporate shell account, evidenced, they claim, by the fact that most certificates use all capital letters to spell out a baby’s name, JOHN DOE, for example. They falsely attribute this all-capital version to the actual the name of the corporate shell identity, also called a “straw man,” while “John Doe” without all caps is the baby’s “real,” flesh-and-blood name. The bogus belief continues that as the child grows older, most of his legal documents will utilize capital letters, which means that his state-issued driver's license, marriage license, car registration, criminal court records, cable TV bill and correspondence from the IRS all will pertain to his corporate shell identity, not his real, sovereign identity.

To separate from their corporate shells, sovereign citizens use a series of convoluted steps, such as filing documentation with their secretaries of state office declaring themselves sovereign, signing it with red blood or ink thumbprints, and then having their new sovereign identity published in a newspaper.

To tap into the secret Treasury account that they believe exists, they file a series of complex, legal-sounding documents. For decades, sovereigns have attempted to perfect the process by packaging and promoting different combinations of forms and paperwork. The only touted success stories are from sovereigns who were in fact committing fraud against the government or private companies by creating counterfeit or fraudulent and fictitious documents. These sovereigns are often prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

There is no central leadership for the movement, however a rotating group of nationwide figures and local leaders with individualized views on sovereign citizen ideology and techniques. Their recommendations often include tax evasion, adverse possession (squatting on a property that does not belong to them) or ignoring laws regarding driver’s licenses, vehicle registration or license plate possession. They base these activities on their belief that “free” men and women, as they call themselves, are not bound by the relevant laws. As part of their belief system, sovereigns assert they are traveling, not driving, since they are not transporting commercial goods or paying passengers. Those who are attracted to this subculture typically attend a seminar or two or visit one of the thousands of websites and online videos on the subject and choose how to act on what they have learned.

Paper terrorism

The weapon of choice for sovereign citizens is paper. A simple traffic violation or pet-licensing case can end up provoking dozens of court filings containing hundreds of pages of pseudo-legal sovereign arguments. For example, Donna Lee Wray – the common-law wife of Jerry Kane, who was half of a duo that was recorded killing two police officers in West Memphis, Arkansas, before he was killed by police, in 2010 – was involved in a protracted legal battle in 2010 over having to pay a dog-licensing fee. She filed 10 sovereign documents in court over a two-month period and then declared victory when the harried prosecutor decided to drop the case.

Similarly, when sovereigns are angry with government officials, their revenge most often takes the form of “paper terrorism.” Sovereigns file retaliatory, bogus property liens that may not be discovered by their targets until they attempt to sell or mortgage their property or take out a loan. Historically, these liens can be for millions, billions or even quadrillions of dollars. These extremists bury courts in endlessly large paper filings filled with language developed by their movement, trying to find the right combination of words, punctuation, paper, ink color and timing, to get out of following the law.

Sovereign citizens have also perpetrated a number of illegal housing-related, money-making schemes, fraudulently occupying and deeding empty homes to themselves and convincing homeowners in foreclosure into quit claiming their property deeds to them. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has recovered tens of millions of dollars from these sorts of sovereign citizen scammers prosecuted for their crimes.

Sovereign citizens often file fake tax forms that are designed to ruin an enemy’s credit rating and cause them to be audited by the IRS. Starting in the mid-1990s, states began to pass laws specifically aimed at these paper-terrorism tactics.

In April 2017, the state of Colorado cracked down heavily on sovereign citizen activity by charging the “Colorado Eight,” with racketeering after they ran their own common law courts targeting state and municipal court judges, prosecutors, sheriffs and other public officials. Members of the Colorado Eight were known for holding faux trials in Burns, Oregon, that put public officials on trial related to the antigovernment Bundy family’s organized occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Members Bruce Doucette, Stephen Nalty and Steven Byfield were sentenced to 22 to 38 years in prison.

On July 31, 2021, sovereign citizen Shawna Cox was arrested in Kane County, Utah, for failing to appear in court over traffic infractions. At her court hearing, Cox attempted to plead the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Amendments and claimed her case was currently being heard and subject to the common-law courts. Her supporters, including antigovernment activist Cliven Bundy, stood outside the courthouse protesting her arrest. At one appearance Cox accused the court, judge and Kane County officers of criminal acts, obstruction of justice, fraud and extortion. Cox was aided by the sovereign citizen group Statewide Common Law Grand Jury who filed 24 total objections to what they called an “unlawful status hearing.”

map of sovereign citizens groups

2022 sovereign citizens groups

*Asterisk denotes headquarters​

Al Moroccan Empire at New Jersey state republic
New Jersey

American Common Law Academy
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

American Meeting Group
Austin, Texas*

American Meeting Group

American States Assembly
Los Angeles, California
Mendocino County, California
Monterey, California
Nevada County, California
Orange County, California
Santa Cruz, California
Stanislaus County, California
Ventura, California
Jefferson County, Colorado
Hamden, Connecticut
Atlantic Beach, Florida
Lithonia, Georgia
Clearwater, Minnesota
New Hampshire
Alamogordo, New Mexico
New York, New York
North Carolina

America's Remedy
Charlotte, North Carolina

ASN Study Guide & University (American State Nationals)
New Jersey

California Assembly, The
San Francisco, California

Colorado Jural Assembly
Arapahoe County, Colorado

Constitutional Law Group
San Antonio, Texas

Embassy of Heaven
Stayton, Oregon

Empire Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah
Richwood, Louisiana

The Foundation
Walnut, California

Freedom Bound International
Emery, South Dakota

Freedom From Government
Gabbs, Nevada

Freedom School
Austin, Texas

Freedom Yell
Ozark, Alabama
Costa Mesa, California

Life Force Network

March to Exodus
Elkton, Maryland

Moorish Science Temple of America 1928
Lithonia, Georgia

National Assembly
Fairbanks, Alaska*
Riverside, California
Honolulu, Hawaii
Cherokee County, North Carolina
North Carolina
North Dakota

National Liberty Alliance
Hyde Park, New York
Natural Law Hawaii

Occupied Forces Hawaii Army

Oregon Statewide Jural Assembly
Beaverton, Oregon

People's Bureau of Investigation
Oswego, Illinois

R.V. Bey Publications
Pleasantville. New Jersey

Reign of the Heavens Society
Ontario, California

Republic for the united States of America
Dothan, Alabama
Fullerton, California
Republic of Texas

Rise of the Moors
Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Sovereign Filing Solutions
Morrow, Georgia

Sovereignty Education and Defense Ministry
San Diego, California

Statewide Common Law Grand Jury
Arcadia, Florida

Team Law
Grand Junction, Colorado

United States of America Republic Government
Chicago, Illinois*
Merrillville, Indiana
New Jersey

We the People for Constitutional Sheriffs