THE mind boggles. A recent “news” article claimed that so-called sovereign citizens may now be the most dangerous potential terrorist threat in the United States.
Sovereign citizens? Those guys who refuse to license their vehicles or themselves? Those guys who get bothered when a courtroom flag has gold fringe? Those guys who believe that if they don’t allow their name to be written in all caps, the federal government can’t control them? Those throwbacks to the 1990s? Those people who occasionally win in court, mostly because judges toss their cases out rather than sit listening to their endless obscure legalistic arguments? Sovereign citizens are now a bigger threat to the U.S. than Islamist fanatics?
The article by Kate White, originally from the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette and now reprinted in Emergency Management, desperately tried to put some meat on the bones of the claim that sovereign citizens may be America’s biggest—and growing—terrorist threat. White breathlessly opened her story with this: “In August, State Police arrested a man in Roane County after they said they found improvised explosives, AK-47 style rifles and about 30 live chickens in his wrecked SUV at 3:30 a.m. The man, Seth Grim, 21, allegedly told police that he was a “sovereign citizen,” a group that rejects taxes and local, state and federal laws.”
Well, that proves it then, doesn’t it? But if that’s not evidence enough of a dire new threat, White also offered the case of Michael Anthony Luipersbeck, 58, who was charged with not wearing a seatbelt. He had an unconventional notstate- issued plate on his vehicle in place of the standard government license.
Yes, clearly we should all just ducttape ourselves into our airless safe rooms and wait for the Department of Homeland Security to save us from West Virginians with excess chickens and insufficient government licensing! (Another article noted that Seth Grim’s improvised explosives were “altered fireworks,” but since Grim appears to be a petty criminal country boy, it’s impossible to know from the reports whether that meant pressure cookers full of gunpowder or homemade bottle rockets for a drunken evening’s entertainment. There have been no follow-up articles detailing pressure-cooker bombs or anything similar, which there probably would have been had he actually had such things.)
Whether Grim or Luipersbeck are nice people, I don’t know. The point is that the several articles I found that mentioned this dire threat from sovereigns— worse than Islamic jihadists, remember!—offered no evidence at all. Instead they merely referenced a report from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.
What that 2014 report actually claimed was that “American law enforcement officials view sovereign citizens as the number one potential terrorist threat in the United States.”
But who are these officials? And how was this study conducted? And what is the National Consortium for Etc Etc? And does somebody have an agenda here? I started digging, and what I found appears to be a permanent mill for generating “terrorists.” Worse, it appears to be a permanent mill for generating “experts” who in turn generate more “terrorists” because “terrorists”—real or not—are what butters their bread.
Take that National Consortium, better known by the acronym START. It isn’t an independent organization. It’s one of a dozen or so “Centers of Excellence” founded and funded by the Science and Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security. START, according to Wikipedia, is “a research and education center at the University of Maryland focused on the scientific study of the causes and consequences of terrorism.” START developed an undergraduate minor in Global Terrorism and a graduate certificate in Terrorism Analysis.
Yet for an operation that’s supposed to be both scientific and excellent, most of START’s publications are surprisingly lightweight, consisting of two-page PDFs. Many are barely more than infographics. All of these “shorty” publications appear to exist solely for the purpose of supplying cherry-picked sound bites to the media.
The study that focused on the dangers law enforcement officials perceive from sovereign citizens was one of START’s longer pieces, running 22 pages. Before plunging into it, I guessed at the reason LEOs would rate sovereigns as so dangerous. My supposition: although an average cop doesn’t run into a lot of jihadists, it might be more common to have an eye-rolling traffic stop with some guy who won’t produce his driver’s license but wants to explain at great length why he doesn’t have to. These days, a lot of cops seem to equate being annoying with being threatening.
Whether that’s the case or not, I still don’t know. Because by page 7, I had stumbled across START’s utterly ludicrous methodology. START never went out and asked ordinary law enforcement officers or officials what they perceived, let alone why they perceived it. They questioned only two groups of LEOs. Both had completed special training in the security establishment’s view of terrorism.
One group had been trained at the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT), which was until recently funded by the federal Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. The other had come straight out of a Michigan State University program funded by—guess who?—the Department of Homeland Security.
In no way were these typical members of law enforcement. On the contrary, they were cherry-picked because they’d already received training biased toward the federal government viewpoint.
Now I’m not just bitching about the funding sources of START, MIPT, and Michigan State’s so-called Law Enforcement Intelligence Toolbox. If government has any legitimate function, then surely protecting citizens against violent threats qualifies as legitimate.
But what we have here is a “scientific” institute funded by the DHS reporting back to the DHS about conclusions drawn by people who’ve been trained by the DHS. In other words: this is bias reporting to bias on the biased conclusions of people chosen for having received biased training—all funded by the same biased outfit.
Both the DHS and the Justice Department have long histories of averting their eyes from Islamists in favor of focusing on militia members, survivalists, Christian identity practitioners, tax resisters, skinheads and, yes, sovereign citizens. The ‘Net is full of hysterically funny warnings from the federal government urging businesses to be on the lookout for people who do such “terroristic” things as pay cash, buy too many MREs, belong to the NRA, read survivalist novels, talk about the New World Order, or say they don’t like big government. In 2009, the DHS even put out a report (based on earlier FBI reports) calling returning veterans one of the biggest “terrorist” threats to the United States.
Your tax dollars at work, people.
What we are dealing with, I believe, are two things.
First, we have a government that considers its own citizens to be its worst enemies—yes, worse than Islamic jihadists. After all, if there were another major Islamist attack on the U.S., what would happen? Americans would die—but the federal government (in particular, its security establishment) would grow. Jihadists threaten individual American lives, American infrastructure, American confidence, and American well-being, but they don’t in any way threaten the U.S. government. On the contrary: Their actions give the government the excuse to spend more money, build more bureaucracies, enact more rules, spy on more Americans, and clamp down on everyone.
Conversely, domestic “anti-government” types, however obscure and non-violent they may be, threaten the very foundations of government. People who refuse to pay taxes, arm themselves against future tyranny, or ask too many inconvenient questions about people and institutions in power challenge the legitimacy of government. Sovereign citizens are certainly among the most persistent (if hardly the most effective) of those challengers.
Is resistance to big government growing? You bet it is. Thus, we end up with one anti-government group or another being called a “terrorist” operation— by government employees and government contractors who quite rightly perceive a threat to their own paychecks and power.
The second factor operating here is political correctness. It just wouldn’t do to say, “The biggest terrorist threat is Muslims from Arab countries.” We just mustn’t say that.
And indeed it would be wrong and outrageous to assume that all Muslims or all Arabs deserve DHS scrutiny. No matter what religious or ethnic group you’re talking about, terrorists remain a small minority. Nevertheless, it’s a huge act of idiotic bias to “study” terrorism and conclude that the biggest threats are guys with NRA hats or sovereign citizen law books. It would be funny if the potential consequences weren’t so awful.
Authorities failed to prevent the Boston Marathon bombing, even though they’d been warned about the murderous brothers. Yet at the same time they were busy planning an exercise involving a similar type of attack— but perpetrated by an imaginary rightwing militia.
PC blindness to reality is global. In Britain last summer, local law enforcement finally busted a criminal ring that had sexually abused and terrorized young girls, aged 11 to 16, for most of two decades. Authorities had received reports again and again about these criminals. But for years nobody acted because the perpetrators were Pakistani Muslims, and nobody wanted to be accused of prejudice. Worse, it was the second time something similar had happened in the U.K. in the last five years.
In the U.S., refusal to look at reality is having a multitude of awful consequences. Innocent people are being considered terrorist suspects, while the guilty are ignored. Millions and millions of tax dollars are wasted creating and chasing myths. An entire selffunding, self-justifying, self-perpetuating “security” establishment is growing and imparting its biased perceptions to whole new generations of self-interested “experts.”
Whether the result is yet another monstrous attack that nobody sees coming or just continued grinding injustice toward harmless people, this is one more thing that simply isn’t going to end well.