Role of the Articles of Confederation in Sovereign Citizens Movement: Terrorism, Race, And the U.S. Federal Government

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Origins and Ideology of Sovereign Citizens Movement
  3. Three Main Factions of the Sovereign Citizens Movement
  4. FBI Counterterrorism Strategies: Viewpoint, Perception, and Terrorist designation status of Sovereign Citizens
  5. Conclusion
  6. References


Who in this room has heard of a Sovereign Citizen was the question asked at an airport security pre-shift briefing. Out of 20 individuals only one person raised their hands. Sovereign Citizens are a group of anti-government; anti-law enforcement individuals who believe that even though they physically reside in the country, they consider themselves “sovereign” from the United States (U.S. Dept. of Justice, 2010). The danger of this group lies precisely in the fact that the majority of the population has never heard of them, and some law enforcement agencies undermine the growing threat this group poses. The ideology can be complex and varies depending on the type of Sovereign, but the main tenant of the Sovereigns is the belief that the U.S. Government is illegitimate. Sovereign Citizens have been listed as the number one growing terrorist organization in the United States by the FBI (Carter, Chermak, Carter & Drew, 2014). Does that mean that all Sovereign Citizens are terrorists? And, if you don’t consent to being governed, does the law still apply to you? This Thesis will highlight some of the differences or variances in ideology and the profiling of factions within the Sovereign Citizen Movement, explore various Government organizations that assess the Sovereign Citizen Movement, and attempt to provide answers to the aforementioned questions.

Origins and Ideology of Sovereign Citizens Movement

Much of the Sovereign ideology reaches far back into American history using their interpretation from portions of the Articles of Confederation, 1781, and the Constitution of the United States which replaced the Articles of Confederation in 1787. Sovereigns use these two documents as a linguistic maze and parse the language to the benefit of their own goals which is to remain free from responsibility of U.S. laws.

There is an estimated 300,000 Sovereign Citizens Worldwide, so this is not a group that is exclusive to the United States. In the U.S. they are known as Sovereign Citizens, or Free Inhabitants, but other groups such as the Moorish Nation, The Aryan Nation, Washitaw Nation, and The North Carolina Republic, also fall under the same umbrella and share some of their views. In England and the Commonwealth realms the group in known as The Freeman on the Land, and in Germany they identify as Citizens of the Reich (Loeser, 2015). The main shared ideology between the groups is the rebellion of acknowledging the laws of the country they reside in as their own, and again, to remain free of being lawfully governed. In addition, there may be some elements of extremism and racism within factions of the groups as well, and even though the Sovereign Citizen Movement originated with roots of racism, currently this is not the main overreaching principle of the ideology and will not be examined further in this thesis other than in connection to Reverend William Potter Gayle (Loeser, 2015).

Reverend William Potter Gayle was a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel who served under Douglas MacArthur in World War 2 and retired in the 1950’s. Gayle is credited as one of the principal adherents of the Sovereign Movement in the U.S., and more specifically the Posse Comitatus, a term that roughly translates to “power of the county” from old English custom in which the Sheriff of a county was the ultimate law giver. Gayle held deep anti-Semitic and racist views which he would advocate when holding revivalist style meetings. Gayle did radio sermons, passed out flyers, in the effort of recruiting members into the Posse Comitatus. Gayle incited hatred and violence directly challenging local, state, and federal authorities (Levitas, 2002). Modern day recruitment tactics are now more sophisticated with the advent of the internet that include instructional videos on how to avoid paying taxes, traffic tickets, and indoctrination into the Sovereign Citizen movement. Seminars are also held for recruitment and to train in the falsification of legal documents (Loeser, 2015).

Three Main Factions of the Sovereign Citizens Movement

There are three types of Sovereign Citizens within the movement. First, is the Religious Type who only believes that God can rule over them. This is pretty straightforward with not really anything more to say about them. The second is a Diplomatic Type who believes they are not citizens of the United States, so therefore they feel entitled to Diplomatic Immunity. The fault in this theory is that even if diplomatic immunity was granted, one would still have to follow the laws of the country you are in. Diplomats have to follow U.S. laws just as laws are followed in other countries. In addition, to not be a citizen of the United States, one cannot simply declare themselves a “sovereign citizen” while still residing in the U.S. Citizenship must be renounced in a foreign country and in front of a U.S. Diplomat or consular (U.S. Dept. of State, n.d.). The third type is the Constitutional Sovereign Citizen and is the most complicated to understand. To better explain the ideology, three subgroups will be discussed.

Subgroup one: believes that the Constitution was never successfully ratified and follows the Articles of Confederation which were in effect 230 years ago. These types call themselves free inhabitants and refer to Article IV, of the Articles of Confederation in 1781 which in part reads: “The better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship and intercourse among the people of different states in this Union, the free inhabitants of each of these states…shall be entitles to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several states” (Bright, Cheney, Kenison, Stewart & Allen, 2004, p. 10). The flaw with this interpretation is that if you are an inhabitant or citizen of a state that travels to another state, the laws of the state physically inhabited (visited) still have to be followed. In addition, the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States begins with “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” More perfect than what? The answer is, The Articles of Confederation, in 1781 which are by some standards considered imperfect (Bright et al., 2004, p. 19).

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Subgroup two: at least acknowledges that the U.S. Constitution is law, but relies on the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment (1868) to buttress the belief that Americans were duped by the federal government for the purpose of subjugation. Therefore, they declare themselves not U.S. citizens, but a citizen of one particular state within the several states. The first sentence in the Fourteenth Amendment states that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside” (Bright et al., 2004, p. 39). This particular ideology is flawed because one cannot be one or the other, but both. Example, one is both a Californian and an American.

Subgroup three: are the “Strawman or Corporate shell” type and perhaps the most complex of all. This type believes in what is a ‘Redemption Theory’. The theory according to the sovereign is that the law applies to an abstract concept of a person and not the actual flesh and blood person. This type of Sovereign believes that the government lost its legitimacy when it abandoned the gold standard in 1933. Sovereigns believe that the government uses the people as a form of “collateral” or “strawman” issuing social security numbers and birth certificates to register people in trade agreements with other countries and taking out loans using these documents and in turn depositing funds ranging into the millions per “strawman” into the U.S. Treasury Account (U.S. Dept. of Justice, 2011). This type of Sovereign uses all types of complex legalities to not pay taxes, pay off debts with bogus bonds or checks defrauding banks, take out their own drivers licenses, file false IRS returns, and in the end create what is associated with the Sovereigns as Paper Terrorism (Loeser, 2015).

FBI Counterterrorism Strategies: Viewpoint, Perception, and Terrorist designation status of Sovereign Citizens

This section will briefly address how some of the agencies within the government such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and the Department of Homeland Security are dealing with this group. Even though the Sovereign Movement has been around for decades, it has rationally not been violent. Most Sovereigns favor paper over guns, using the court systems filing false property liens, filing false tax reports however, mostly against government officials, thereby earning the moniker Paper Terrorists. However, there has been a swell of numbers in the group and increased violence more recently stemming from increasing anti-government sentiment against lawmakers, law enforcement, and other government officials (Carter et al., 2014). The highest concentrations of Sovereign Citizens are in Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, and the southern east coast states (Carter et al., 2014).

Are all Sovereign Citizens terrorists? Well, that would depend on the definition of terrorism. A perfect definition isn’t available; it is still contested because there is always something left out. Miriam Webster, the FBI and different organizations define terrorism similarly, but not in the exact terms. Terrorism as defined now is essentially the use, threatened use, or attempted use of force or violence against a group of civilians or a sovereign government, for the purpose of creating fear for the purpose to influence that government or group to change something or bend to the will of the aggressor. So when PETA burns down a lab that is using animals for testing, is that an act of terrorism? When a Christian group bombs an abortion clinic, are they committing an act of terrorism? These organizations are in their perception not terrorists, just like Sovereign Citizens don’t consider themselves terrorists. Yet PETA, Green Peace, and the Sovereign Citizens have all been designated terrorist labels due to the occasional use of violence and intimidation (Carter et al., 2014).

The Department of Homeland Security has relegated almost all Sovereign Citizens intelligence gathering to the Federal Bureau of Investigations choosing to use their analysts towards the detection of international terrorism. The FBI is almost exclusively tasked with recognizing the behavioral markers and attempting to accurately designate domestic terrorist labels in the protection of this country.


The Declaration of Independence of 1776 states that “Governments are instituted among Men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” (Bright et al., p. 3). There is no word play in this statement. This simply means that the government gets all its power from the people. Answering the question of whether the law applies to you if don’t consent to being governed, the answer would have to be yes. Yes it does, because the rest of us as a society have agreed it does according to the Constitution of the United States, and as a society we empowered certain individuals to ensure our safety by ensuring everyone in this country follows the law.

Sovereign Citizens continue to threaten society every day and given the current adversarial political discourse and culture (especially in social media); chances are the threat will continue to worsen. Law enforcement is our front line against this ideology. Special training to local law enforcement agencies, the addition of intelligence analysts only dedicated to this group, information and intelligence sharing amongst all levels of government, activism, along with legislative reform will be indispensable to manage the Sovereign threat.


  1. Bright, C., Cheney, J., Kenison, B., Stewart, A., & Allen, J. (Eds.). (2004). The foundation of freedom: A collection of historic American documents & speeches (pp. 3,10,19, 39). Salt Lake City, UT: FC Printing.
  2. Carter, D., Chermak, S., Carter, J., Drew, J. (2014). Understanding law enforcement intelligence processes. Report prepared for the Office of University Programs, Science and Technology Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. College Park, MD. Retrieved from
  3. Levitas, D. (2002 November 17). ‘The terrorist next door’: First chapter. The New York Times. Retrieved from
  4. Loeser, C. E. (2015). From paper terrorists to cop killers: The sovereign citizen threat. North Carolina Law Review, 93(4), 1106-1139. Retrieved from
  5. U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2010 April 13). Domestic terrorism: The sovereign citizen movement. Retrieved from
  6. U.S. Department of Justice, FBI Counterterrorism Analysis Section. (2011 September 1). Sovereign citizens: A growing domestic threat to law enforcement. Retrieved from
  7. U.S. Department of State. (n.d.). Renunciation of US nationality abroad. Retrieved on November 30, 2019, from
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