A Primer: Sovereign Citizen Extremists

Sovereign Citizen Extremists (SCEs) believe they are separate, or “sovereign,” from the United States, hold extreme anti-government views and assert that no government institution has authority over them. SCEs use these beliefs to justify ignoring laws, not paying taxes, and, in extreme instances, countering authorities, especially law enforcement, with deadly violence.

Sovereign Citizen Extremist Conspiracy Theories


Federal Citizenship: SCEs believe the 14th Amendment—ratified after the Civil War to establish that all those born or naturalized in the United States, particularly former slaves, were citizens—created a second-class of citizenship. They argue, prior to the amendment, individuals were sovereign citizens of states or territories. To reclaim sovereign status, SCEs renounce “contracts” such as licenses and birth certificates which they believe symbolize acceptance of federal citizenship.


Redemption Theory/Strawman Identity: SCEs believe that the federal government secretly holds funds that they are entitled to. They argue that, when the United States abandoned the gold standard in 1933, it pledged citizens’ future earnings to foreign investors as collateral for US debt. SCEs believe the US Treasury Department sets up a secret account for each citizen at birth, thereby creating two separate identities for every individual—a “strawman” identity and a separate “flesh-and-blood” identity. If a sovereign receives an official document, such as a traffic ticket, they return it and mark with “accepted for value,” indicating that payment should be made from their “secret Treasury account.”

Sovereign Citizen Extremist Threat to Law Enforcement


SCE’s may engage in violent confrontation with government authorities, particularly police or other law enforcement officers, especially during traffic stops and property evictions. Between 2010 and 2017, SCEs killed at least 10 law enforcement officers nationwide.

  • In February, police arrested Dennis Duane Vann in Minnesota for allegedly making terrorist threats and fleeing from the police after they discovered an explosive device in his vehicle. Police originally stopped Vann for driving without a license.

Dennis Duane Vann (Source: TwinCities)

  • In February 2018, one police officer was killed and two injured while attempting to serve an arrest warrant for Tierre Guthrie. Guthrie, who was killed in the confrontation and believed to be a Moorish sovereign citizen extremist, an offshoot of the SCE movement which believes African Americans constitute an elite class of society, had previously told his neighbor he did not recognize law enforcement authority.


Sovereign Citizen Extremist Activity in the District


The District has seen non-violent, but criminal, incidents involving followers of SCE ideology, some of whom have been arrested in recent years for trespassing and squatting.


  • In July 2017, Travis Reinking was arrested for trespassing at the White House after demanding to see President Trump and claiming he was a “sovereign citizen” that he had the right to inspect the White House grounds. In 2018, Reinking shot and killed four people at a Waffle House in Nashville, Tennessee, a shooting that is not believed to be associated with his SCE ideology.

Travis Reinking (Source: CNN)


  • In November 2017, Antonio Caldwell and Mia Waddell were arrested for claiming sovereign rights to a row house in Northwest DC. Previously, the couple attempted to claim rights to a multi-million-dollar mansion for sale elsewhere in DC. They were charged with misdemeanor unlawful entry for both incidents.


Paper “Terrorism” and Financial Scams Pose Risks to the Public


SCEs are notorious for filing frivolous liens and phony lawsuits to inundate courts and harass government officials, a tactic that has been called “paper terrorism.” The public has also fallen victim to debt or mortgage relief schemes perpetrated by SCEs. Some SCEs conduct financial scams to steal money or fraudulently acquire, rent, and resell homes they do not legally own. One tactic involves filing a false lien against an individual or property that gives the sovereign citizen a bogus legal claim to pursue repayment of a fictional debt. In DC, individuals filing a false lien are subject to fines or imprisonment.

  • In May 2019, Ronald Wright, a South Carolina businessman who espoused sovereign beliefs, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for tax fraud. His business used illegitimate checks and documents to allegedly help clients “fix” their debts, such as mortgages, car loans, and credit cards. Evidence showed Wright stole more than 100 clients over two years, taking $149,000 in fees, and falsely claiming to have “paid off” nearly $15 million of debt.

  • SCEs in Pennsylvania pled guilty in 2016 to conspiracy, bank fraud, and corrupt interference with Internal Revenue laws. Three individuals crafted false paperwork claiming ownership of 70 foreclosed properties, valued at more than $9 million. They advertised the homes as rent-to-own opportunities, defrauding unsuspecting victims of money and property the victims thought they had purchased.

Identify Sovereign Citizen Extremists


Sovereign Citizen Extremists (SCEs) display tactics, unique actions, and techniques that may offer clues for individuals to identify them.

Some indicators that might suggest a person adheres to the SCE ideology include:

  • License plates that display “republic of” a specific state, “Kingdom of Heaven,” “Private Postmaster,” or other false names to replace the state

  • Homemade drivers’ licenses that may display “travel warrant,” “diplomatic agent,” or “right to travel” or have a signature which contains unusual or inappropriate punctuation or a thumbprint next to it

  • Citation of the Uniform Commercial Code—often when referring to legal matters

  • Display of a variation of the American flag in which the stripes are vertical and the stars are blue on white rather than white on blue

  • Brackets or parentheses around zip codes to avoid creating a “contract” with the government or no zip code

  • Return of a document or bill with “accepted for value” marked to signify payment using their “secret Treasury account”

Recognize Falsified Documents


The most common tactic SCEs deploy is “paper terrorism” in which sovereign citizens file copious amounts of false paperwork—such as tax forms and property liens, with courts, government agencies, and other officials—or misuse legitimate documents to harass, intimidate, and overwhelm these entities. The following features may indicate a SCE produced document.

  • SCEs may write their name in all lowercase to refer to their real, flesh-and -blood identity rather than their “strawman” identity.

  • SCEs may write the “u” in united lowercase to refer to the “legitimate” United States.

  • SCEs may include stamps on the document, often under or near their signature.

  • SCEs may use the Latin legal phrase, suae potestate esse, or some English variation of similar meaning including “man upon the land” or other deviations to declare sovereign status.

  • SCEs may use red ink or add their thumbprint to indicate it is the flesh-and-blood person and avoid government submission.

  • SCEs may include a dash between their first and middle name.

  • SCEs may use a punctuation mark to separate their Christian name, first and middle, from their government-given last name.

Please report any suspicious activity to the iWatchDC platform.

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