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The "sovereign citizen" movement made the news earlier this week when it emerged that several Las Vegas-area members of this kooky movement were planning to kidnap, torture and kill police officers.  But a front-page story in this morning's New York Times  (below the fold) reveals the main weapons of choice for this movement that claims common law is the only legitimate authority are fraudulent liens against government officials.

Sovereign citizens believe that in the 1800s, the federal government was gradually subverted and replaced by an illegitimate government. They create their own driver’s licenses and include their thumbprints on documents to distinguish their flesh and blood person from a “straw man” persona that they say has been created by the false government. When writing their names, they often add punctuation marks like colons or hyphens.

Adherents to the movement have been involved in a host of debt evasion schemes and mortgage and tax frauds. Two were convicted in Cleveland recently for collecting $8 million in fraudulent tax refunds from the I.R.S. And in March, Tim Turner, the leader of one large group, the Republic for the united States of America, was sentenced in Alabama to 18 years in federal prison. (His group does not capitalize the first letter in united.)

Sovereign citizens who file creditor claims are helped by the fact that in most states, the secretary of state must accept any lien that is filed without judging its validity.

One of the most staggering cases of this took place in Minneapolis.  When Thomas and Lisa Eilertson had their Minneapolis home foreclosed on in 2009, they retaliated by filing $250 billion in fraudulent liens and other claims against Hennepin County officials.  A guy known only as "Paul Kappel" convinced them that they could induce "death by a thousand paper cuts" by bombarding officials with claims on their property.  For their troubles, they wound up with 23 months in prison.  Another crazy case comes from Chicago, where Cherron Phillips stands accused of filing false liens against 12 federal officials demanding that they each pay her brother $100 billion.  When Phillips bombarded the court with several unintelligible motions, the presiding judge basically threw up his hands and adjourned for the day.

This lunacy appears to cut across both ideological and racial lines.

The sovereign citizen movement traces its roots to white extremist groups like the Posse Comitatus of the 1970s, and the militia movement. Terry L. Nichols, the Oklahoma City bombing conspirator, counted himself a sovereign citizen. But in recent years it has drawn from a much wider demographic, including blacks, members of Moorish sects and young Occupy protesters, said Detective Moe Greenberg of the Baltimore County Police Department, who has written about the movement.
Regardless of race or ideological persuasion, these tactics cause a lot of heartache.  Several state and county employees who have been hit with these liens are scared of when they may be targeted next.  One employee even said she finds sovereign citizens more frightening than murderers.
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