SOVEREIGN CITIZENS: A GROWING CONCERN FOR THE NATION'S CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTIONS
By: Chris Rich
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Sovereign Citizens are anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or “sovereign” from the United States. As a result, they believe they don’t have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments, or law enforcement.“ By now, we have all heard of the threat that “Sovereign Citizens” pose to law enforcement on the street. Their ideology that laws do not apply to them and their blatant disregard for authority make them a high risk encounter whenever approached by law enforcement. However, these same individuals have gone largely unchecked once they enter our Correctional systems.
In only a handful of states are Sovereign Citizens considered a “Security Threat Group” while incarcerated, but almost all states track them in some form or fashion. While inmates with Sovereign Citizen ideologies may not fit the mold of a typical Security Threat Group or gang member, they can be every bit as dangerous and undermining to the security of a facility.
While incarcerated, inmates often look for like-minded individuals to flock too, or for ideologies, religions, etc. to follow. Therefore, it is common for incarcerated individuals, who often already hold contempt for authority, to be exposed to Sovereign teachings and take to them. But what does this mean for institutional security?
While incarcerated, Sovereign Citizens are known to spout their typical rhetoric to officers and staff as a way to confuse or distract them and they continue with their “paper terrorism” by filing endless grievances, cease and desist orders against staff, “warrants” on staff, and questioning and arguing in disciplinary hearings much the same as they have been known to do in court prior to being incarcerated. Unfortunately, their actions serve their purpose well in prison, as staff is often uninformed of Sovereign actions and naive to their methods, which allow them to get away with things that would otherwise be grounds for disciplinary action.
To make matters worse, other inmates see these actions and begin studying Sovereign teachings for the sole purpose of making life difficult for prison staff. Many states have seen validated Security Threat Group members beginning to study Sovereign teachings and incorporate them into their gang lifestyle. Gang members are using the guise of Sovereign teachings as a religion and as justification for their anti-authority actions. In at least one case in North Carolina, a Sovereign Citizen helped incite a riot and assaults on staff, carried out by gang members, by shouting his anti-authority rhetoric in order to boost other inmates and justify their actions.
Even though Sovereign Citizens have been traditionally nothing more than the sporadic individual who has extremist views, it is becoming more common in the correctional setting that inmates who possess Sovereign ideologies are starting to group themselves under the auspices of “religion”. In particular, inmates have been reported to claim being part of “The Moorish American Government”, which inmates claim makes them exempt from U.S. laws. They hide their teachings and ideologies under the cover of the “Moorish Science Temple of America”, which in many states is a recognized religion. However, it is important to understand that these are two separate entities. More and more often correctional facilities are seeing documents from “The Moorish American Government”, which are directly undermining the authority of staff and posing a threat to institutional security.
It is important that all law enforcement and correctional staff become familiar with the teachings, thought process, and motives of Sovereign individuals. In correctional settings, inmates will cling to Sovereign teachings and use them to frustrate staff, boost each other up, and undermine the authority and safety of the facility. If left unchecked, Sovereign Citizens could easily become the next great threat to of jails and prisons.
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