No rules of the road — Sovereign citizens concern law enforcement

May 10, 2015 in News by RBN Staff

Source: Idaho State Journal
By Debbie Bryce
Friday, May 8, 2015 11:55 pm 

POCATELLO — When Ben Byrne asked a group of about 200 law enforcement and highway officials how many of them had come in contact with sovereign citizens about 25 people raised their hands.

Byrne, a reserve officer with the Apex, North Carolina Police Department and a current anti-terrorism instructor, was the keynote speaker during the two-day Idaho Highway Safety Summit held at the Red Lion this week.

He said sovereign citizens are right-wing extremists that reject the U.S. government and the laws of individual states.

“Members pick and choose what laws apply to them,” Byrne said. “And they’ve decided that most laws — including license plates, driver’s licenses and proof of insurance — do not apply to them.”

The national movement has been around for 50 years, but it picked up momentum beginning in 2008, and Byrne has been investigating the group as part of the Fusion Task Force since 2010.

The FBI classifies sovereign citizens as domestic terrorists and in 2010 the Southern Poverty Law Center estimated that approximately 100,000 Americans were “hard-core sovereign believers,” with another 200,000 just starting out.

A 2014 survey by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism reported that law-enforcement agencies across the U.S. called the movement the single greatest threat to their communities, coming in way above Islamic terrorists.

“They are dangerous people and they believe that they’re smarter than you are,” Byrne told the crowd Tuesday. 

In 2011, two Arkansas officers were killed at the hands of sovereign citizens during a routine traffic stop. 

“Those officers died because they didn’t know who the sovereign citizens were,” Byrne said.  

Sovereign citizens were also  among the activists drawn to Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy’s standoff with federal authorities last year. The standoff evolved over Bundy’s refusal to pay roughly a million dollars in grazing fees to the Bureau of Land Management. 

Sovereign citizens Jerad and Amanda Miller were among the armed protesters who came  to support the cause, but they were eventually forced off the ranch because their views were too radical even for Bundy. 

In June 2014, the Millers randomly killed two Las Vegas police officers who were eating at a local pizzeria. A “Don’t Tread on Me”  flag was laid over one of their bodies declaring a revolution. The couple  later died after a shootout with police at a nearby Wal-Mart. 

In Dallas last year, 60-year-old Douglas Leguin set fire to a Dumpster before calling 911 and declaring himself a sovereign citizen. He was armed with an AK-47 and attempted to ambush police and firefighters who responded to the blaze. Leguin was arrested by police.

Byrne addressed common language and signs that identified sovereign citizens.

A fraudulent registration plate affixed to a vehicle might be the first clue for law enforcement.  

The plate may look like a slightly altered version of a legitimate registration and often contain words like “indigenous, sovereign, diplomatic, exempt or private property.”

Law enforcement officials who encounter sovereign citizens report that they refused to roll down their window or only rolled it down a matter of inches and then slid out a “Public Servant Questionnaire” asking for the officer’s full legal name, home address and other sensitive biographical information. 

When stopped for traffic violations, sovereigns often ask for the officer’s oath of office or ask them to recite that oath, then they attempt to analyze words to differentiate between a “vehicle” and a “conveyance,” or “driving” versus “traveling.”

“What they are trying to do is get you to react, to confuse and intimidate you,” Byrne said. 

Organizer Lisa Losness said the annual Idaho Highway Safety Summit brought law enforcement, highway officials and traffic engineers together to share good practices. 

Along with guest speakers, the two-day summit included a number of workshops addressing topics ranging from aggressive drivers to child passenger safety.

Kyle Wills, a Boise police officer and chairman of the Office of Highway Safety, said Idaho has enacted a goal of “toward zero” highway deaths.

“Idaho has been recognized for its safety measures. I’m proud of that,” Wills said. “And contrary to national media reports, Idahoans are good, courteous drivers.”

In Southeast Idaho five people lost their lives in automobile accidents last week.

The state raised the speed limit to 80 mph last year, but Wills said it’s too early to determine whether the increased speed limit has impacted the number of accidents on Idaho highways.

“At this point, there is insufficient data to show that,” Wills said.