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The sovereign citizen movement is a loose network of American litigants who claim to be "sovereign citizens".


Self-described "sovereign citizens" believe that they have certain individual rights of popular sovereignty rights under English common law and are not subject to the federal government. The litigants advance this concept in opposition to "federal citizens", who, they believe, have unknowingly forfeited their rights by accepting some aspect of federal law.[1] They claim that a "sovereign citizen" is subject only to common law and/or "constitutional law", not to statutory law (including most taxes).[2] The Uniform Commercial Code plays an important part in these legal theories.

Courts have consistently ruled that the concept of a "sovereign citizen" has no legal merit.[3]


This "sovereign citizen" concept originated in the Posse Comitatus movement as a teaching of Christian Identity minister William P. Gale. The concept has influenced the tax protester movement, the Christian Patriot movement, and the Redemption movement[1] — the last of which includes claims that the U.S. government has enslaved its citizens by using them as collateral against foreign debt. Supporters sell instructions explaining how to "free" yourself by filing particular government forms in a particular order using particular wording. This movement "has earned its promoters untold profits, buried courts and other agencies under tons of worthless paper, and led to scores of arrests and convictions".[4]

Gale identified the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution as the act that converted sovereign citizens into federal citizens. Other commentators have identified other acts, including the Uniform Commercial Code,[5] the Emergency Banking Act,[5] the Zone Improvement Plan,[6] and the supposed suppression of the Titles of Nobility Amendment.[7]

While some African-American groups have adopted Sovereign Citizen beliefs,[8] the movement is dominated by adherents of Christian Identity. Some within the movement see African Americans, who only gained legal citizenship with the passage of the 14th Amendment after the civil war, as "14th Amendment citizens" with less rights than whites.[9]


  1. ^ a b Carey, Kevin (July 2008). "Too Weird for The Wire". Washington Monthly. Retrieved 2008-07-19.  
  2. ^ What is a Sovereign Citizen?, Message to Students, Militia Watchdog archives, Anti-Defamation League website.
  3. ^ Sussman, Bernard J. (1999-08-29). Idiot Legal Arguments: A Casebook for Dealing with Extremist Legal Arguments. Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved 2007-09-13.  
  4. ^ Beyond Redemption, Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report, Winter 2002.
  5. ^ a b Hall, Kermit; David Scott Clark (2002). The Oxford Companion to American Law.  
  6. ^ Fleishman, David (Spring 2004). "Paper Terrorism: The Impact of the 'Sovereign Citizen' on Local Government". The Public Law Journal 27 (2).  
  7. ^ Smith, William C. (November 1996). "The Law According to Barefoot Bob". ABA Journal.  
  8. ^ Are sovereign citizens racist?, Message to Students, Militia Watchdog archives, Anti-Defamation League website.
  9. ^ What is a 'Sovereign Citizen'?, Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report, Winter 2008.


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