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Press Release

ADL: Anti-Government "Sovereign Citizen" Movement Exploits Economic Climate, Engages In Scams And Criminal Acts

New York, NY, August 12, 2010 … An anti-government movement, "flying largely under the radar," is rapidly increasing in size and activity across the United States, exploiting the economic climate to engage in scams and criminal acts. A new report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) exposes the extent of this extremist movement and the threat it poses.

The sovereign citizen movement has a presence across all 50 states and its members share a common vision of the U.S. government as the ultimate enemy. The movement is widely dispersed and loosely organized around a broad theme of anti-government conspiracy theories. Adherents are increasingly engaged in criminal violence and scams, including the exploitation of the foreclosure crisis.

Most Americans are unaware of this extreme anti-government movement, which is flying largely under the radar," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "Adherents don't believe they need to follow any laws or regulations – they view government itself as the ultimate enemy. Along with preying on individuals vulnerable in these economic times, sovereign citizens pose a potential threat to every public official and police officer. This is a dangerous movement and more people need to be aware of it."

According to the report, the movement is organized around pseudo-legal anti-government conspiracy theories and the "gurus" who create them. These same gurus – or leaders – are actively trying to exploit the economic downturn and the subprime mortgage crisis for the duel purpose of recruitment and victimization.

Some adherents have also targeted law enforcement officials with violence. In a widely-publicized May 2010 incident inWest Memphis,Arkansas, a father and son sovereign citizens duo allegedly murdered two police officers during a routine traffic stop – one of the movement's trademark methods of violence. However, the full extent of the pair's involvement with the sovereign citizen movement never came to light.

"There has been a resurgence of violence and anti-government activity from the sovereign citizen movement in recent months, ranging from police shootings to property seizures," Mr. Foxman added. "Make no mistake, despite the movement's wide dispersal and loose affiliation, there exists a single-minded dedication to all things anti-government that unites these dangerous extremists."

Other troubling developments in the sovereign citizen resurgence include:

  • Exploiting the mortgage/foreclosure crisis. Sovereign citizen adherents are promoting a variety of scams that falsely claim to save people's homes from foreclosure. Other sovereign citizens are even brazenly seizing foreclosed homes for their own use.
  • Engaging in "paper terrorism." At alarming rates, sovereign citizens are placing fraudulent liens on the property of perceived enemies as a highly effective means of harassment and retaliation. Some even do it from prison cells.  
  • Increasing penetration in minority communities. Though the origins of the movement may be traced in part back to white supremacists, the sovereign citizen movement today is growing among Asians, Hispanics and especially African-Americans, some of whom have developed their own offshoot known as the "Moorish" movement.
  • Using threats and violence. Sovereign citizens have frequently engaged in confrontations with and threats and acts of violence against law enforcement officers, public officials and ordinary citizens alike.

The sovereign citizen movement has a presence in every state in the country, and is particularly active in California, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.

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