FBI Casts Wary Eye on Growth of ‘Sovereign Citizens’ Movement


USA Today reports on “a troubling re-emergence of an anti-government movement” that hearkens back to 1995, when Timothy McVeigh—angered by the government’s botched 1993 raid of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas—detonated a truck bomb outside the Oklahoma City federal building, killing 168 people. In the past three years, there has been growing concern over activities of so-called “sovereign citizens,” who “claim to exist beyond the realm of government authority,” according to a January FBI bulletin to state and local law enforcement officials warning of the potential for violence.

The sovereign movement, estimated by the Southern Poverty Law Center to number 100,000 ardent followers and about 200,000 sympathizers across the country, is rooted in an ideology that rejects government authority at its most basic levels, from its power to tax to the enforcement of criminal laws, including common traffic regulations. Although the FBI does not track sovereigns by number, the bureau does not dispute the law center’s estimates, which have swelled dramatically a national anti-government network of related “patriot” and “militia” groups. Since 2008, the number of groups surged from 149 to 1,274 in 2011, the law center reported this month. The rapid growth, according to the law center, has been fueled by a collision of factors, from the troubles related to the struggling economy and foreclosure crisis to the election of President Obama, the nation’s first black president, to the government’s aid to Wall Street banks and automakers.

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