21 March 2024

Sovereign citizens

Readers may be unfamiliar with the "sovereign citizen" movement, a fringe ideological belief system which asserts (for complex, fatuous, and extremely boring reasons) that certain everyday laws either do not exist, are not real laws, or at least don't apply to individuals who assert some imaginary special status that makes them exempt.

In practice this seems to apply mostly to traffic laws and personal identification.  The "sovereign citizens" (often abbreviated "sovcits") generally insist that they do not need driver's licenses, car insurance, license plates, etc and that the police do not have jurisdiction over them.  The "logic" behind this involves various made-up re-definitions of words, such as claiming that a car is not a "motor vehicle" in the legal sense, or that driving a car is not "driving" but merely "traveling" so long as the driver is not "in commerce" (driving for some business purpose).  They often carry and brandish various types of fake ID and gibberish-filled "legal" paperwork which they sincerely believe to be real and efficacious, and they cite various court cases and rulings which either don't exist or don't mean what they claim they mean.  It's not an organized movement -- there are no leaders, though a few individuals act as "gurus" teaching sovcit nonsense to others -- but rather a shared belief system that spreads via the internet.

Needless to say, the main practical effect of this belief system is to get its adherents into recurring trouble with the traffic police, who are not fooled by (and have mostly never heard of) its claims.  These roadside interactions usually involve a sovcit escalating a minor traffic stop into a serious confrontation and arrest by refusing to comply with basic police orders.  Here's a fairly short example -- this sovcit even did the courtesy of delivering some of his fake "legal" stuff to three bewildered local police stations, just to put them on notice that the laws didn't apply to him:

The video is adapted from his own, so the orange writing on the screen is his.  Here is another example, in which the "guru" showed up and drove right into the midst of the police dealing with the first guy:

This illustrates well how frustrating and resource-intensive these encounters can be for the police.  It's surprising how much time they often spend arguing with these people before realizing it's futile and arresting them.

There are several YouTube channels covering the adventures of sovcits -- the best I've found is Van Balion, from which the two examples above are taken.  As a further example of how deep their delusions run, here's a sovcit who showed up for his court hearing and threatened to "arrest" the judge:

This may sound like some kind of fringe-right-wing movement, but at least half the sovcits I see featured on YouTube are black, often calling themselves "Moorish" or claiming an affiliation with "the Moroccan empire", which has nothing to do with the actual country of Morocco.  In fact, the sovcit belief system seems to appeal to uninformed people with anarchist tendencies, and can easily be meshed with almost any anti-government ideology.  Religion, with ramblings about "God's law", is occasionally mixed in as well.  Certainly some sovcits hold far-right political views, but the movement as a whole is too amorphous to be pigeonholed.

It's not harmless.  Uninsured drivers and those without licenses (who may never have undergone any real driver training or testing) present a hazard to other drivers.  At least one of the January 6 insurrectionists was a sovcit.

The movement has even spread to Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, where local sovcits often further beclown themselves by citing American law (real or imaginary) in those countries, as if it applied there.

I assume the movement will eventually burn itself out as it dawns on these goofballs that their "arguments" never work in practice and that they are only creating expensive hassles for themselves.  But that could take quite a while -- most of them seem to be as oversupplied with confidence and assertiveness as they are ill-favored in intelligence.  In the meantime, the sovcits stand as yet another example of the power of internet misinformation to impinge on the real world.

[Image at top:  miscellaneous sovcit fake license plates]


Blogger NickM said...

"sovcit" sounds like something out of 1984.

21 March, 2024 03:34  
Blogger Ami said...

Interesting timing on this, I was just reading a bunch of stuff on reddit last night about the whole idea of sovereign citizens. It was pointed out that they have a lot of nerve using our infrastructure, emergency services, libraries, schools etc. Also pointed out... they call the police for help on occasion.

They remind me of really young kids.
"Oh yeah? Well YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!!"

21 March, 2024 09:36  
Anonymous Ole phat Stu said...

In Germany they are called Reichsburger.

21 March, 2024 10:35  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

I only know about it from some Youtube and TikTok videos of people in court after getting pulled over and getting tickets. It never turns out well for them.

21 March, 2024 11:44  
Blogger Darrell Michaels said...

I was called to testify in a court proceeding about 15 years ago as an "expert witness" in Memphis, TN. Before the trial started I had an interesting discussion with a US Marshall about these sovereign citizens on the ride from the airport to the courthouse. He said many of these jokers in the area were dangerous and sometimes violent. They did not recognize most state and federal laws and would often become violent when pushed by law enforcement. Of course they were always packing heat. It seems this movement has only expanded in the years since.

21 March, 2024 11:51  
Blogger run75441 said...


I swear, I see some of them on Angry Bear. No matter how much you tell them it is a simple rule, or in this case law, they insist they are exempt from it. Hope all is well by you.


21 March, 2024 13:25  
Blogger nick said...

I'd never heard of the sovereign citizen movement, so thanks for the info. This movement seems to be another example of the current tendency to oppose anything "official" and maintain a personal belief and identity system that's based on nonsensical arguments and legal misunderstandings. Trump must love them.

22 March, 2024 01:14  
Blogger Comrade Misfit said...

They are dangerous, but most of them are smart enough to know that if they pick a fight with the cops, they'll be obliged.

22 March, 2024 15:27  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

NickM: Those kinds of abbreviations often do. To me it suggests "Soviet citizen", but maybe that's just because of the era I grew up in.

Ami: Most of these kinds of people are hypocrites of convenience. They can't conceive that some laws exist for legitimate reasons of other people's safety.

Stu: They have this in Germany too? I imagine they don't like being associated with the Reich.

Mary K: Certainly I've never seen their nonsense work. They just sometimes think it does because a cop lets them off easy.

Darrell: I've noticed in these videos that they're often armed. I don't see them get violent very often, but it doesn't surprise me. I think one of them killed a couple of police officers in Australia.

Run75441: Some people are like that. I think the Irate Ursine needs tougher cops.

Nick: Americans tend to have an anarchistic streak, but it surprises me how this has spread to other countries. I've seen a couple of these videos from Northern Ireland.

Misfit: They don't seem to start physical fights with the police very much, but they also don't seem to expect the police to ever get physical when enforcing the law. Many seem genuinely shocked to be arrested and wrestled to the ground when they resist.

22 March, 2024 18:17  
Anonymous Reaganite Independent said...

Well this is surprisingly amusing, i’ve heard of this but knew little of what I’m reading here

These people are nuttier than squirrel poop, although not quite on the QAnon level yet.

All these crackpot movements you see emerging these days would be more entertaining if they weren’t endangering other people, as many of them are

Driving is a privilege, these morons didn’t build the road. Although maybe some of them did 😁

23 March, 2024 05:15  
Blogger MJ said...

These folks appear to believe in magic spells.
"I've got a spell right out of my grimoire for you, cops. Share it with your legal department, and once they've read it they won't be able to touch me!"
But you have to say the spells just right or they won't bind the police or the judge properly and they end up dealing with the "find out" part of the counter spell known as "FAFO".

23 March, 2024 11:02  
Anonymous Annie said...

I've been aware of the sovereign citizen movement for some time, but I was thinking of the kinds of things Terry Nichols did--the guy who was implicated in the dreadful Oklahoma City bombing years ago. (I thought the Bundy father/son team who had a standoff against government officials in Idaho called themselves sovereign citizens, but I didn't find validation--though they certainly were sovcits "in spirit.")

This low-level traffic/travel kind of stuff has its own pernicious dangers, as you point out. Though sovcit membership has been growing, from what I've read, some good news may lie in the constant infighting and rivalries among the various groups.

They may be delusional and absurd, but I don't think we should minimize the damage they can do to our social fabric.

23 March, 2024 13:37  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Reaganite: It wouldn't surprise me if some of them also believe in QAnon or other nutty stuff. Delusional thinking tends to spread from topic to topic in a person's mind.

I'm not sure people like this grasp the concept that all the infrastructure around them that makes life livable had to be built and paid for somehow.

MJ: Good analogy. They'd have equal success reciting spells to turn the police into frogs, and not sound much sillier.

Annie: I imagine that the range of people covered by the term has evolved over time. That's one of the problems with dealing with an amorphous, leaderless movement like this -- there's really nobody who can decide who is a "sovereign citizen" and who isn't.

It's sort of like the "broken window" theory of crime. If this kind of low-level ideological rejection of necessary laws becomes entrenched in a community, it makes things like terrorism that much less unthinkable for a minority of extremists among them.

24 March, 2024 02:10  

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