The Gadsden flag, reputedly co-opted by the Sovereign Citizen group
Mysterious FBI and Homeland Security aircraft are already buzzing San Diego County, trolling for "terrorists, spies, and serious criminals,” according to FBI deputy director Mark Giuliano.
Now comes Sheriff Bill Gore, a former FBI Special Agent in Charge himself with a controversial reputation stemming from his leadership of Idaho's Ruby Ridge massacre, looking for help locking down miscreants among the county's so-called Sovereign Citizens.
Vicki Weaver at Ruby Ridge, 1992
Though not everyone agrees, the home-grown Sovereign Citizen movement is said by some in law enforcement to present more danger than terrorism from abroad.
"Sovereign Citizens believe the government is operating outside of its jurisdiction and generally do not recognize federal, state, or local laws, policies, or governmental regulations," says an unclassified introduction to the movement put out by the FBI in November 2010.
"They subscribe to a number of conspiracy theories, including a prevalent theory which states the United States Government became bankrupt and began using citizens as collateral in trade agreements with foreign governments."
The document adds, "Individuals who adhere to this ideology believe their status as a sovereign citizen exempts them from US laws and the US tax system. They believe the US Federal Reserve System, the Treasury Department, and banking systems are illegitimate. Therefore, one of the perceived 'benefits' of being a sovereign citizen is not paying federal or state taxes."
Notes another FBI dispatch, "Not every action taken in the name of the sovereign citizen ideology is a crime, but the list of illegal actions committed by these groups, cells, and individuals is extensive (and puts them squarely on our radar)."
According to the bureau, sovereign citizens "commit murder and physical assault," "threaten judges, law enforcement professionals, and government personnel,” and "engineer various white-collar scams, including mortgage fraud and so-called 'redemption' schemes.’”
The alert adds that, "while sovereign citizens sometimes use or buy illegal weapons, guns are secondary to their anti-government, anti-tax beliefs. On the other hand, guns and paramilitary training are paramount to militia groups."
Despite that difference, a variety of violent incidents blamed on sovereign citizens has made news, including the 2012 slaying of a Louisiana police officer, attributed by authorities to members of the movement.
Most recently, the Ohio Dispatch reported on April 6 that a 26-year-old alleged member of the group lost both hands when a bomb he was allegedly making to rob a bank prematurely exploded.
But figuring out exactly who is a true sovereign citizen and their status in the movement has proven tricky for many jurisdictions.
"'We believe these guys are an isolated cell' not associated with a wider operation," Battalion Chief Steve Martin, a spokesman for the city of Columbus Fire Division, told the Dispatch.
To step up his game in San Diego, Sheriff Gore has issued a request for quotation, soliciting a "training provider for Sovereign training courses" to help local law-enforcement snoop around for bad guys.
The program is to be run by the San Diego Law Enforcement Coordination Center, described by the document as the county's "all crimes, all hazards fusion center," which specializes in high-tech intelligence-gathering and other undercover activities criticized by some.
A fusion center in Utah drew fire from Reason.com this February after the federally funded center warned agents to watch out for people displaying Gadsden "Don’t tread on me" flags during the January funeral for LaVoy Finicum, killed during the Malheur Wildlife Refuge stand-off in Oregon.
“Law enforcement should remain vigilant and aware that confrontation with these potentially volatile persons may include more than one individual,” advised the fusion center.
“These individuals may adhere to a sovereign citizen ideology, and may not recognize law enforcement as a legitimate authority.”
The group has apparently modified and utilized the Grateful Dead's "Steal Your Face" logo
Another symbol cited by the center, Reason.com noted, was “a slightly altered version of a picture popular with fans of the Grateful Dead; the guide does not note this potential source of confusion, describing it only as ‘common sovereign citizen imagery.’”
According to the Gore solicitation, which lists no price for services, the contractor will "equip law enforcement and other first responders with the skills and tools necessary to proactively identify potential Sovereign Citizen Individuals and the radical beliefs of such individuals."
Experience should include "instructing local, state, regional, federal and military students at a strategic, tactical and operational level on Sovereign Citizens and their beliefs, with specific emphasis on the radical beliefs."
Among other things, the course will "include instruction in identifying recognizable behavioral indicators of [a] potential sovereign citizen, how to effectively handle and de-escalate and encounter with a sovereign citizen and how to directly counter a sovereign citizen’s threat, in order to proactively prevent a potential violent attack."
Adds the document, "The course/instructor should be cognizant of the possibility that a small percentage of students may be prone to stereotyping on this issue and stress that stereotyping/racial profiling aside from being illegal is a poor strategy."