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One After Another, ‘Sovereigns’ Marching Off to Jail

What a busy sovereign season it has been.

In the last few months, antigovernment “sovereign citizens” have been charged with robbing banks in Pennsylvania, shooting law enforcement officers in the woods of Northern California, and sentenced to life in an Alabama prison for murder.

Sovereign citizens, who believe that most federal laws don’t apply to them, are the Energizer Bunnies of the far right. They just keep going and going — to prison.

James Timothy Turner, head of the largest sovereign citizen group in the country, the Republic for united States of America (RuSA), is already there, serving an 18-year sentence for, among other offenses, conspiracy to defraud the government and attempting to pay taxes with fictitious financial instruments.

"Sovereign citizen" Beau Hawkes unsuccessfully tries to escape a police officer.
"Sovereign citizen" Beau Hawkes unsuccessfully tries to escape a police officer's Taser.

Behind bars is where Turner will stay, according to a federal appeals court panel, which in August upheld his 2013 conviction.

In his appeal, according to The Associated Press, Turner, of Ozark, Ala., argued that his trial should have been delayed until the government proved that the federal courts had jurisdiction over him. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta didn’t buy his counterfeit argument.

Challenging the jurisdiction of the courts is a popular — and losing — sovereign strategy.

In June, Ishaq Ibrahim, a 28-year-old self-described sovereign, along with two alleged accomplices, was charged with robbing a bank near Philadelphia. In court in July, reports, Ibrahim, who asked to be tried separately, told the judge, “I’m a sovereign citizen of a sovereign state and my common law rights have been withheld and denied.”

Ibrahim also told the court that prosecutors had no authority to try him and he challenged the court’s jurisdiction of the case. To which the judge, William Furber Jr., replied, “My ruling is I do have the jurisdiction and that ends it.”

Three thousand miles away in the woods of Northern California, Brent Douglas Cole, another self-described sovereign citizen, was arrested in June following an armed confrontation with two law enforcement officers. All three men were wounded in the ensuing shootout.

The shootout reportedly began when a federal Bureau of Land Management ranger contacted the California Highway Patrol and asked for backup at a wooded campground near Nevada City, a few miles west of Lake Tahoe, as part of an investigation involving vehicles at the site. As the two officers headed into the brush and began approaching a remote makeshift campsite, they were confronted by Cole, 60.

Gunfire was exchanged. Cole was hit by several rounds and hospitalized. The officers were treated and released.

Cole has a history of indulging in far-right conspiracies on the Internet. At one site, he described himself as a “sovereign American Citizen attempting to thwart the obvious conspiracy and subterfuges of powers inimical to the United States.”

A sovereign citizen in Hawaii took a different approach. He didn’t try to beat the government; he tried to join it.

This summer, Beau Hawkes, a 34-year-old bamboo bong maker and “sovereign individual,” ran for mayor of Maui. Hawkes also ran away from the police a few weeks before the August election.

In July, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, police stopped Hawkes’ truck and cited him for talking on his cellphone while driving, as well as having no driver’s license or license plates. The mayoral candidate reportedly told the officer that he didn’t believe in those types of rules. He ignored the officer’s request to turn off the engine and continued on his way to attend a Maui County Council meeting.

Hawkes signed up to speak at the meeting and was headed back to his truck to wait his turn when the officer arrived. The officer told Hawkes to put his hands up and declared, “You’re under arrest.”

Hawkes fled — barefoot — down the street with the officer in pursuit.

The confrontation was caught on video.

The officer pulled out his Taser and twice shouted at the fleeing sovereign politician, according to the Star, “You’re going to get tased.”

Then the officer fired his Taser and the potential mayor fell face first to the ground. He was handcuffed and taken to jail, where he made bail.

Later, Hawkes told the Star, “I’m not a lunatic. I am a hippie. Jesus was a hippie.”

Hawkes made banning the police use of Tasers part of his campaign.

In a field of six candidates, Hawkes came in last with 372 votes.