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Domestic Terrorism: Definition Essay

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Domestic terrorism and international terrorism are the two main types of terrorism we deal with in the United States. Domestic terrorism is defined by the FBI as, “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature” (FBI, 2016). The FBI defines international terrorism as, “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals andor groups who are inspired by, or associated with, designated foreign terrorist organizations or nations” (FBI, 2016). With all of that being said, we can determine that domestic terrorism is a criminal act that occurs on our own soil, by our own people. Domestic terrorism is said to be committed by our own people, more often sovereign citizens. There have been several incidents over the course of American history in which acts of domestic terrorism have been executed by sovereign citizens. In a 2013 study that surveyed law enforcement intelligence officers, it was noted that sovereign citizens are the top threat for domestic terrorism, coming in higher than Islamic extremists (Sarteschi, 2020).

The Center for Strategic and International Studies found that the number of violent far-right extremists was the top root cause of terrorist attacks and plots from 1994-2020 (CSIS, 2021). Their data also showed that the number of those violent far-right terrorist-like events has nearly tripled from 2018-2020 (CSIS, 2020). I believe as the United States presses forward into time, this number will only grow substantially. I also believe because our country has such a monstrous mental health problem, that the number of sovereign citizens will continue to rise as well. I say this because a large portion of those who claim to be sovereign suffer from some form of mental illness. With our numbers of citizens claiming to be sovereign continuing to rise, we can only come to expect that our domestic terrorism levels are to rise as well. Another rising figure is our number of prosecutions per year in regard to domestic terrorism. In 2020, there were approximately one hundred eighty-five federal prosecutions for such violence (TRAC Reports, 2021). In the previous year (2019), only about ninety federal prosecutions (TRAC Reports, 2021). America is “getting tough” on domestic terrorism finally, and hopefully, this will help deter citizens from committing such heinous acts of violence. A large number of sovereign citizens tend to file various and bogus court cases which vastly contributes to the strain of our court system. One article by the Southern Poverty Law Center described the type of terrorism sovereign citizens like to use – paper. Paper terrorism refers to the clogging up of our court system with meaningless and useless paperwork that is brought forth by the filing of deceptive court cases stemming from sovereign citizens. This is just but one of the main issues surrounding sovereign citizens.

Sovereign citizens are individuals who are anti-government that share the same ideas and beliefs. Even though these citizens reside and live in the United States, they believe that they are not under the United States government or the law. In my career experience, we deal with sovereign citizens like normal citizens but with a little extra caution. We have these individuals flagged in our system so that when an officer goes out to that address, dispatch is able to tell him that there is an individual there who is not law enforcement friendly. Sovereign citizens believe that they make the rules of the land. No judge, law enforcement, or any other being can decide which laws they will obey and which ones to ignore. They essentially govern themselves. Some groups, such as the Moorish, believe that they are the originals of the land and that they must reclaim it. These people have no regard for other Americans; they break into homes and claim them for themselves, they do not pay taxes, and they clog up the American court systems constantly. They believe that no elected official has any say in how they are to go about living their lives. These types of American citizens go as far as creating and utilizing their own vocabulary and they compile their own “legitimate” documents. For example, they use the term conveyance for vehicles. They even have their own vehicle registration system. They refer to their home state as, “the Republic of”. Because these types of citizens change their vocabulary and fully believe that the system in which they have created is legitimate, it makes traffic stops for law enforcement especially difficult. They also like to include the trademark or copyright mark at the end of their names. Little quirks like those set sovereign citizens apart from ordinary citizens.

The correctional management of sovereign citizens is incredibly difficult. There have been several instances in recent American history where law enforcement officers have been shot and killed due to the state of sovereign citizens’ minds. These citizens are very difficult to read and predicting their next move is nearly impossible the majority of the time. They are very violent towards everyone, especially law enforcement whenever they try to take something away from them that they believe is a birthright. They believe that this land is theirs and that the government is always trying to strip their rights from them. Hence why they do not pay taxes, believe they are entitled to everything even if it is not rightfully theirs, and almost always refuse to cooperate when law enforcement gets involved. Ways in which Correctional officers can try to identify those who claim to be sovereign citizens by watching for what the inmate is reading or paying attention to said inmate’s writing. There are certain pieces of literature that sovereign citizens tend to hold on to. Those include the Global Sovereign’s Handbook or anything published by Sovereignty Press. Figuring out which inmates claim to be sovereign citizens can be detrimental to everyone in the prison, especially the correctional officers. Proper training on identifying the different oddities of sovereign citizens can better assist officers and help keep them safe.

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The sovereign citizen movement was first constructed, or the idea of such movement, back in 1971. It was originally formed around the principles of white supremacism however, most recently its principles have changed. It is driven by varying racial ideologies, and even people who come from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds. Sovereignty essentially knows no boundaries, and people from all walks of life can claim to be sovereign. As previously mentioned, most of them do not have the proper vehicle registrations or pay taxes. Along with those, they also do not have driver’s licenses, social security numbers, or even birth certificates. They believe that when a baby is born, the social security number and the birth certificate function as a trust fund that the government controls. They have their own lingo – “strawman”, “conveyance”, etc. There have been very few studies that focused on the competency of sovereign citizens. In one of the studies I reviewed, three out of the nine suffered from substance abuse, one out of the nine had depression, and one out of the nine had a delusional disorder (Paradis, Owen, and McCullough, 2018). I think mental illness plays a huge and very important role in the idea of transitioning into and claiming to be a sovereign citizen. Another aspect to note from that same study was that out of thirty-six sovereign citizens, twenty-one of them have felony offenses on their record (Paradis, Owen, and McCullough, 2018). That is nearly fifty-eight percent. Thirty-one percent had a psychotic disorder, and thirty-one percent had claimed that they were substance abusers (Paradis, Owen, and McCullough, 2018). These statistics were somewhat shocking yet very expected. Perhaps having easier access to mental health facilities or substance abuse counselors andor help would help drop the number of sovereign citizens in the United States, or maybe creating a program that is specifically for these types of citizens that helps them realize that declaring sovereignty actually does them more harm than good. Showing them and proving to them that the government is not doing what they are believing it to be doing could help them realize that perhaps all of these irrational beliefs are in their head.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations, since the sovereign citizen movement first started, has constructed a list of sovereign citizens who pose a threat to domestic terrorism. Personally, I believe that the sovereign citizen movement and domestic terrorism go hand in hand. A good example of a sovereign citizen committing an act of domestic terrorism is the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The mastermind behind the bombing, Timothy McVeigh, and his collaborator Terry Nichols, were both well-established sovereign citizens. Other prominent examples of sovereign citizens who carried out acts of domestic terrorism are the Ruby Ridge incident in 1992, and the Waco compound founded by David Koresh and the Branch Davidians in 1993. There are still many more sovereign citizens ran groups that reside within the United States. These groups are constantly lashing out at the American systems – court, correctional, and political especially.

Sovereign citizens have made their mark on American history throughout time. They have committed several acts of homicide, assault, arson, sexual assault, and even mass shootings. Some of the major well-known acts of terror by sovereign citizens are the father-son duo from Arkansas that murdered two police officers, Ruby Ridge, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Branch Davidians in Waco, and the Moorish clan. Some of the most dangerous work for police officers in today’s world is conducting traffic stops on vehicles that involve sovereign citizens. The danger of traffic stops involving sovereign citizens has steadily risen, and now according to new studies, those types of traffic stops pose one of the greatest threats to police officers. The father-son duo as mentioned earlier, gunned down two officers on a routine traffic stop. There was even one instance in Kansas where people from the Moorish group raided and took control over an already occupied home. People who claim sovereignty have no regard for anyone else. They have extreme one-minded thinking patterns and will do anything that they believe is right even if it goes against our laws and moral standards.

The constitutional management of sovereign citizens is tricky. Most sovereign citizens think disdainfully of our Founding Fathers and the ways in which the Constitution and all its parts came to be. One aspect of the constitution that these citizens believe is illegitimate, is the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment, enacted in 1868, guaranteed citizenship to all the slaves that were freed at the close of the Civil War. Sovereign citizens are under the impression that this particular amendment created a form of second-class citizenship. They view those who descended from those who were granted citizenship after the Civil War as beneath them. Sovereign citizens go as far as creating citizenship cards and even assigning themselves numbers in an effort to validate their own beliefs surrounding this amendment.

In conclusion, domestic terrorism and sovereign citizens coincide with one another. Domestic terrorism and sovereignty are going to continue to climb exponentially. Neither one of these things is going to disappear anytime soon. And because the number of sovereign citizens is going to steadily climb, so will the cases they bring into our court system; the court system will probably never see a break from some of the crazy court cases those types of citizens bring forth and clog our system. Ensuring proper training for officers, whether in facilities or patrolling, allows them to pick up on certain key quirks of sovereign citizens. This will ultimately help keep the officer safer and allow for hopefully smoother handling of situations with those who claim sovereignty. Perhaps providing easier access and even more opportunities that provide mental health help and even substance abuse counseling. After reviewing some studies, it seems as if providing some sort of help could contribute to lowering the number of people who claim sovereignty in the United States. In the end, all of our systems must work cohesively in combating the formation of large sovereign citizen groups and work to keep dangerous acts of domestic terrorism at bay.

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Domestic Terrorism: Definition Essay. (2023, September 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
“Domestic Terrorism: Definition Essay.” Edubirdie, 25 Sept. 2023,
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