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Sovereign Citizens: A Domestic Terrorism Threat

Sovereign citizens have attempted to harm, have harmed, and have even killed, police officers, government employees, as well as ordinary persons, as they simply go about the business of everyday life

Patrick Hurst (screenshot Facebook)

Sovereign citizens are antigovernment extremists who regard themselves as existing outside of all laws. They view the government as an illegitimate entity that operates as a fraudulent “corporation.” They are best known for their paper terrorism, a tactic that involves blanketing the court system with irrelevant paperwork. Other, more aggressive acts include harassing public officials with property liens, threats to inflict personal harm or death upon court or other government officials. The FBI recognizes sovereign citizens as a domestic terrorism threat with the most violent encounters often involving law enforcement during traffic stops.

From a behavior perspective, sovereign citizens are known to be obstinate, angry, and argumentative. They have a unique ability to turn a minor case into a major one. Consider the case of Oswald Pubill. On February 16, 2022, Pubill was pulled over for speeding. During the traffic stop, he refused to give his license, stating he was a “private citizen.” As common with sovereigns, Pubill requested a supervisor. While waiting for the supervisor, Pubill fled the scene. An officer pursued. Pubill did eventually stop but again refused all of the officer’s commands. After Pubill threatened to assault officers, they called for backup, including SWAT. After unsuccessfully trying to negotiate with Pubill, officers fired pepper balls into his vehicle. He eventually did exit his vehicle and was arrested.

Pubill was scheduled to undergo a psychological evaluation. However, upon arriving at the location, he refused to exit and had to be manually removed from the van. He subsequently refused to consent to the evaluation and allegedly was telling other patients that if they told their psychiatrists they were hearing voices, they would get a shorter sentence. The evaluating psychiatrist noted that Pubill had previously been diagnosed with antisocial and narcissistic personality traits. The psychiatrist determined that he was competent to stand trial.

On day one of his trial, Pubill refused to come to court. He had to be put in a restraint chair to be transported to the courtroom. He also refused to clothe himself, wore a blanket on his head, and repeatedly gave the jury the middle finger. His trial counsel explained that was Pubill’s way of expressing “the image of antiauthority.”

His behavior worsened on the second day of his trial. While in the courtroom, he began thrashing around in his restraint chair making guttural noises which prompted the judge to remove the jury. It was determined that Pubill acted this way only when the jury was in the room. The jurors were asked if they could continue to be fair and impartial and the majority replied, yes. Pubill was convicted and later appealed stating he was incompetent to stand trial. Ultimately, the court affirmed his conviction and, among other things, noted that his bizarre behavior in the courtroom was a function of “being a sovereign citizen and not of incompetency.” The Pubill case highlights the antisocial mindset of sovereign citizens.

Another example of “the image of antiauthority” is the case of Neely Petrie-Blanchard who subscribes to both sovereign citizen and QAnon ideologies. Petrie-Blanchard has been charged with first-degree murder in Florida. In the lead-up to her trial, which began April 15, 2024, she and her supporters had also inundated the court with pseudolegal filings.

Petrie-Blanchard lost custody of her children to Child Protective Services (CPS). She turned to Chris Hallett for help. Hallet was the founding member of E-Clause LLC. He ran a business that embraced sovereign citizen ideology and offered for sale, tactics to beat CPS and regain custody of lost children. He promised Petrie-Blanchard that he could get her children back. When that did not happen, she became increasingly paranoid about Hallett, believing that he was conspiring with the government to keep her children. In anger and frustration, she fatally shot Chris Hallett.

At trial, Petrie-Blanchard is claiming temporary insanity and is representing herself after firing her attorney. Thus far, she has brought her sovereign citizen ideology into the courtroom. This ideology includes the argument that Florida operates under common law. She also asked prospective jurors if they knew that the term sovereign citizen is an oxymoron. This idea is in line with the recent trend among sovereign citizens to deny being sovereign citizens.

Recent Notable Violent Acts

On April 15, 2024, Patrick Hurst who police say identified himself as a sovereign citizen refused to comply with law enforcement during a traffic stop. After law enforcement tried to reason with him for over an hour, he sped away prompting a brief chase. Following a successful PIT maneuver that ended the chase, Hurst exited his vehicle and began shooting at police while livestreaming on Facebook. Law enforcement shot back, killing him. One of the bullets struck an innocent bystander who was getting groceries. She is expected to survive.

On April 13, 2024, police arrested four people on charges of kidnapping and first-degree murder in connection with the violent deaths of Veronica Butler, 27, and Jilian Kelley, 39. The suspects are tied to an antigovernment group called ‘God’s Misfits.” Though not much is known about them at this time, they are believed to be a sovereign citizen group.

On April 2, 2024, Dejaune Anderson was formally arraigned on a murder charge, two years after her five-year-old son was found dead inside a suitcase, dumped in a rural part of Southern Indiana. In court, she requested that she represent herself and claimed that she was, in fact, Princess Khalifa Hattan Tupac Bey II who was representing the entity Dejaune Anderson. She also claimed that she did not have a social security number, and referenced the “Washitaw Moors.” This group is associated with the Washitaw Nation, a Moorish sovereign citizen group. The Washitaw Nation has been associated with at least 20 incidents of violence since the early 2000s, including the 2016 fatal shooting of three Baton Rouge police officers by Gavin Long, a self-identified member of the Washitaw Nation.

On March 8, 2024, a sovereign citizen shot a police officer during a traffic stop. The officer was trying to get Mr. Geronimo Kee to sign his citation for speeding. Kee refused and instead shot the officer four times. The officer is expected to survive.

On March 6, 2024, John Poulos, an American citizen, admitted to killing 23-year-old Columbian DJ Valentina Trespalacios. He strangled and slashed her throat. Mr. Poulos had previously lived in Franklin, Wisconsin with his ex-wife and three children. During their contentious divorce, Mr. Poulos claimed to be a sovereign citizen to avoid paying the legal fees associated with his divorce.

On December 6, 2023, a federal grand jury indicted Donald Day Jr. on two counts of interstate threats (in addition to a superseding indictment on firearm charges). Day Jr. has been linked to Nathaniel, Gareth, and Stacy Train, who ambushed and fatally shot law enforcement officers in Queensland, Australia. Court records reveal that Mr. Day endorsed sovereign citizen ideology. Day had been communicating with the Trains before the deadly shooting. He told law enforcement officers that he wished he had been present with the Trains on the day of the shooting so that he too could have participated in the killing of police officers. In addition, when law enforcement arrested him, on his property, he told them that he was prepared for a shootout and would have killed them if given the opportunity.

Even though sovereign citizen ideas and tactics have never succeeded in any court of law, in the United States or beyond, the movement continues to gain traction. For reasons not entirely self-evident, there exists a common tendency to downplay the risks of anti-government movements, such as sovereign citizens. Ridicule of the movement is common. Perhaps, it is the combination of a failure to appreciate the real danger of this movement, with the common tendency to make light of their antics and “crazy” beliefs which has allowed this movement to proliferate. Sovereign citizens have attempted to harm, have harmed, and have even killed, police officers, government employees, as well as ordinary persons, as they simply go about the business of everyday life. We would be quite wise to counteract the spread of all antigovernment movements.


To go further: 

Sovereign Citizen Arguments Work Nowhere in the World

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Christine Sarteschi
Christine Sarteschi
Dr. Christine M. Sarteschi, LCSW is a Full Professor of Social Work and Criminology. Her current research efforts focus on extremist groups and individuals including sovereign citizens and Romana Didulo, a self-appointed QAnon figure who falsely believes she is the queen and president of Canada. Christine is the author of “Mass and Serial Murder in America” and “Sovereign Citizens: A Psychological and Criminological Analysis.” She also has written articles published in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Just Security, Salon, New York Daily News, Homeland Security Today, MedPage Today, New York Law Journal, The Legal Intelligencer, New Jersey Law Journal, and Texas Lawyer. Her work has been featured in national and international news outlets and documentaries and she has been quoted in The Associated Press, Rolling Stone, USA Today, The Daily Beast, The IndyStar, The Salt Lake Tribune, The Boston Globe, CBC, BBC, Stuff, Newsweek, Asia Times, among others.
ALL ARTICLES BY Christine Sarteschi
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