BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Imagine a world where laws don’t apply to you, and you’re not responsible for any taxes. So-called sovereign citizens live like that.
It’s a catch-all phrase referring to people who are anti-government. Their actions have ranged from false court filings to disregarding laws to murder.
Brunswick County Sheriff’s deputies ran into one during a high-speed chase recently.
“The FBI categorizes sovereign citizens as domestic terrorists,” Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Mose Highsmith said.
Highsmith says at first glance, there’s nothing illegal about being a sovereign citizen.
“Where things start to become illegal is that because of following that dogma, if you will, some of these people believe they don’t have to have a driver’s license, they don’t have to pay for insurance, they don’t have to have a license plate, they don’t have to comply with law direction from law enforcement officers.”
Case in point, a high-speed chase in Supply two months ago, where a woman refused to stop for deputies unless the count was prepared to pay her. Dep. Joe Cherry arrested Jeniffer-Melisa Herring that night.
“You do have to use the utmost caution, because you don’t know what the person is willing to do, because they don’t recognize you as an authority figure,” Dep. Cherry said. “They do tend to recognize sheriffs over police officers for some odd reason. Sovereign citizen is a reemerging trend.”
In the most extreme cases, sovereign citizens can be destructive and even deadly.
Timothy McVeigh, the man behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, was a sovereign citizen. His actions killed 168 people, including 19 children, and injured more than 680.
In 2010, a traffic stop in Arkansas turned into a deadly shootout between police and two sovereign citizens. Father-son duo Jerry and Joseph Kane killed two officers before officers killed them.
“If these folks hold really passionate views that the government has no authority over them they may result to violence,” Highsmith said.
New Hanover County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Jerry Brewer says his agency’s deputies have not had as many run-ins with sovereign citizens as those in Brunswick County, but they are prepared.
“We do training that involves learning more about sovereign citizens and their beliefs,” Brewer said. “We’ve sent some, we’ve sent guys to training, and it’s just something we have to be aware of.”
But the threat goes beyond violence and disregard for the rule of law.
Experts say sovereign citizens use scare tactics through the very legal system they disclaim to intimidate. These actions are considered “paper terrorism.” Among their tactics is filing bogus claims and false liens against officers and judges, which can destroy credit or just tie the them up in court.
Herring, who is charged with drunk driving and other offenses in that chase in Brunswick County, filed her own paperwork in Brunswick County Court, claiming she is not a member of any corporate or political body. Experts say her paperwork fits the mold of other sovereign citizens, including not capitalizing United States of America.”
Whether she recognizes its jurisdiction or not, Herring is due in court next month.
Late last year, a new state law made it a felony to knowingly file a false lien or encumbrance against a public officer or employee based on that person’s performance of official duties. The law also lets the register of deeds reject such a filing.
In addition to individuals, the University of North Carolina School of Government says there are several sovereign citizen groups active in our state, with names like Moorish Nation, Washitaw Nation, North Carolina American Republic and Carolina Liberty.