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New Recruits

Sovereign Citizenship Takes Hold Among Younger, Affluent, Female Communities

The growth of the sovereign citizen movement, which the SPLC has documented over the years, is a growing threat to families, public officials and society. This conspiratorial ideology in which followers believe they are no longer active citizens of the United States, and so need not follow its laws, has grown and thrived amid the increase in disinformation during recent election cycles and a global health pandemic. For some, these events forged distrust in government and institutions, making them vulnerable to antigovernment conspiracy theories such as sovereign citizenship. This has shifted the demographics of American sovereign citizens, bringing in younger and more affluent members alongside longtime adherents. Sovereign citizen beliefs are also rapidly expanding outside the U.S.

In 2023, the SPLC documented 93 organized sovereign citizens groups across the country. The year 2023, and a few years preceding it, have shown a marked increase in sovereign citizen groups, especially those known as “American State Nationals” (ASNs) who are “helping grow the movement,” according to sovereign citizen expert Christine Sarteschi of Chatham University, author of “Sovereign Citizens: A Psychological and Criminological Analysis.”

ASNs are a branch of sovereign citizens who refuse to identify themselves using the term “sovereigns” because of its association with extremist activity. However, these groups still use the same rhetoric and practices defined as sovereign citizenship and “are increasingly embracing QAnon/conspiratorial ideas,” according to Sarteschi.

The main organizations under the ASN umbrella are the American States Assembly, the National Assembly, American Meeting Group and ASN Study Guide & University. All these organizations have similar beliefs and are familiar with one another. However, none are the same and not all are friendly with each other. They operated at least 52 groups in 2023.


American Meeting Group is led by David Straight, Ron Gibson and Robert William, while ASN Study Guide & University is headed by Straight and Bobby Lawrence. Both are geared toward teaching Americans how to become sovereign citizens. The groups hold seminars and workshops across the U.S. sharing their version of American history and current events, which are mired in inaccuracies and conspiracy theories. These sessions cost $100 per person or more, and some have attracted hundreds of people. Sarteschi noted that the group is also highlighting “quantum energy high frequency wellness beds” at their seminars, an idea that is in line with med beds, a product marketed based on a conspiracy theory that magical medical pods can cure all medical ailments. They also sell sovereign citizen-related merchandise and course materials.

In March 2023, Straight was removed from his position with longtime sovereign group Republic of Texas for selling ASN license plates. The group later accused Straight of making over $179,400 from sales of the plates and 9-foot parcels of land in Texas. Straight and Lawrence attempted to crowdfund a feature film about sovereign citizenship that could radicalize many people into the movement.

Also in March, Chase Allen, whose family was a member of ASN Study Guide & University, was killed by police after he refused to comply with a traffic stop in Farmington, Utah. The sovereign groups National Assembly and American States Assembly recruit members by telling people they need to separate themselves from the U.S. government. They claim the federal government is a not-so-secret corporation, and the groups seek to create their own parallel governments called assemblies.

a license plate reads "Standing in the light, private postmaster, without the United States"
In this July 2, 2010, file photo, two vehicles with no registered license plates are parked outside an apartment complex in Columbus, Ohio. James T. McBride, a member of the Sovereign Citizens movement, owns the vehicles and claims he doesn’t have to register them because the U.S. government has no authority over citizens.

American States Assembly, led by Anna von Reitz, gained members across many U.S. states by exploiting QAnon, using its hashtags on the group’s posts and videos. Groups that have exploited the QAnon phenomenon are often told by sovereigns that they must remove themselves from the “matrix” and protect themselves against the “deep state,” according to Sarteschi. American States Assembly also welcomed new anti-vaccination adherents. Conspiracy theorists fueled many online campaigns claiming, without proof, that the government was being deceitful, and the vaccine was meant to kill the population rather than save it. The group has a strong online presence that has helped it reach a wide swath of the American population.

National Assembly, which has been run by prominent sovereigns Destry Payne aka Freewill and Roger Dowdell subscribed to the QAnon conspiracy theory and passed their beliefs along to the group’s new and current members. The group’s faith in Donald Trump grew stronger after they wrote him a letter in August 2019 and then believed he had agreed to their requests, due to their interpretation of a series of numeric codes, Twitter posts by Trump, timed segments on the Laura Ingraham show and quotes from actor Charlie Sheen. This helped to solidify membership among supporters of former President Trump and “The Big Lie.” The group also used video and rhetoric by antisemitic tax protester Red Beckman and 1980s actor Kirk Cameron to recruit new members who related to these figures.

For decades, older men and women have dominated the movement, many of whom are rustic, hippies, fundamentally religious or fighting for Hawaiian independence. Joining them now is a new crop of young men, new-age and naturopathic moms, and more affluent individuals. These new recruits are joining sovereign groups and participating in their extremist activities.

This growth in sovereign citizenship is not only a problem nationally but internationally. “What struck me,” said Joe McIntyre, a University of South Australia associate professor of law, after holding a 2023 summit on sovereign citizens, “was how common these problems were around the globe. Germany, England, North America, Canada and us [Australia], this is a global movement now, and it is causing harm all around the globe.”

Illustration by Alicia Tatone