Federal officials have increased their attention on the “sovereign citizen” movement, a group that has attracted little national media attention but which the FBI classifies as an “extremist antigovernment group,” reports the Los Angeles Times. Sovereign citizens argue that they are not subject to local, state or federal laws, and some refuse to recognize the authority of courts or police. Since 2000, members of the movement have killed six police officers, and clashes with law enforcement are on the rise.
The deadliest incident came in 2010, when a shootout left four people dead, including two police officers, during what began as a routine traffic stop in West Memphis, Ar. Now, “we are focusing our efforts because of the threat of violence,” said Stuart McArthur of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division. In two recent unpublished studies, the Homeland Security Department and the National Counterterrorism Center ranked the sovereign citizen movement as a major threat, along with Islamic extremists and white supremacists. The FBI assigned a supervisor to coordinate investigations of the movement last year. “This is a movement that has absolutely exploded,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks domestic terrorists and hate groups. More than 100,000 Americans have aligned themselves with the sovereign citizens, the center said.