FBI Confidential: Deadly encounters with sovereign citizens
SALT LAKE CITY — One of the chief duties of the FBI in its Salt Lake City Division and beyond is to investigate the threat of domestic terrorism, preventing attacks when possible and prosecuting those responsible when not.
Domestic Terrorism is defined by Webster as “the committing of terrorist acts in the perpetrator’s own country against their fellow citizens.”
Supervisory Special Agent Juan Garcia walks host Sheryl Worsley through what domestic terrorism investigations entail, with a special focus on the emerging threat known as sovereign citizens.
“The FBI has to abide by the first amendment,” Garcia explains, meaning unless there is a credible threat, the FBI cannot investigate someone based on belief alone.
Agent Garcia explains that you have the right to believe what you choose, but when your beliefs lead to a threat against other people, that’s when it crosses the line into breaking the law.
A sovereign citizen is someone who believes the laws of the United States do not apply to them.
In a stunning video, Agent Garcia demonstrates a case in point of when sovereign citizenship becomes something more dangerous: a traffic stop in West Memphis, Arkansas, that resulted in the deaths of two police officers and ultimately, the two sovereigns, Joe and Jerry Kane, during a gun battle with authorities who pursued them.
“There are people at war with this country that are not international terrorists, they are seemingly ordinary people,” a police chief explains in the clip used as an example. “They are willing to kill and be killed for this (sovereign) belief.”
Garcia explains that they use this video in law enforcement training to educate people to recognize sovereign citizens. A sign officers are taught to recognize is someone giving them documents intended to separate themselves from citizenship including false license plate and identification.
Following this tragic incident, the FBI has spent time training law enforcement agencies to recognize these documents and other signs they may be dealing with sovereign citizens, according to Garcia.
It’s not an isolated case. For example, one of the Oklahoma City bombers, Terry Nichols, was a sovereign citizen. So were a man and woman, Jerad and Amanda Miller, who ambushed two police officers inside a Las Vegas pizzeria.
The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates there are 300,000 sovereign citizens in the United States. Most exercise their beliefs through paperwork, challenging the government’s ability to do things like levy taxes by filing lawsuits; it’s believed only a small percentage like the examples cited above actually become violent.
White supremacy falls under domestic terrorism. What is a white supremacist group?
“Groups that claim their biggest thing is race. A lot of them are religiously based, they claim Christian identity,” Garcia explains.
The FBI can investigate these groups when agents believe someone within the group will commit an act of violence, says Garcia.
“Once again we have to be very careful about the First Amendment.”