'Sovereign Citizens' claim freedom from Arizona, federal laws
PHOENIX - They don't like taxes and they don't like government telling them what to do.
But unlike Tea Party protesters, a number of Arizona residents are acting on their beliefs in an unusual way, filing paperwork to become "sovereign," trying to declare themselves U.S. Nationals rather than U.S. citizens.
ABC15 is withholding the last names of the "sovereign citizens" we interviewed to protect their privacy.
"We don't have our constitutional rights anymore," said Ralph.
"The way that the government has set things up is that we're really enslaved," said Jonathan. "We the people. I have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as does everyone. And so the way the system is set up, they're taking that away."
For Ralph, Jonathan, and others who follow this philosophy, being sovereign means following the U.S. Constitution word for word.
"If I get a traffic ticket? I shouldn't get a traffic ticket," Ralph said.
The Arizona government is already aware of this group.
"I empathize with their frustration...just don't know that this is the best way to respond to it," said Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett.
Bennett said his office receives about eight to ten so-called "sovereign citizen" applications every week from people across the state.
"It's not about revolution, it's not about hating my country or my government," Jonathan said. "It's about loving my country and I hope that people would, would join in."
Arizona State University Law Professor Paul Bender said there's potential danger in citizens declaring themselves immune from government.
"I cannot imagine what their legal arguments are that have any coherence whatsoever," Bender said. "It would mean there'd be total anarchy."
That's why the sovereign citizen movement has caught the attention of the FBI, which issued a notice in April stating those involved "believe they don't have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments, or law enforcement."
In some parts of the country, people have gone as far as declaring themselves diplomats, creating their own license plates, ambassador identification and badges.
The FBI connects its most extreme elements to domestic terrorism.
"When there are people who get engaged in this warfare against the federal government, sometimes it gets personified by the IRS, they simply are not well adjusted," said Larry Mackey, who served as the lead prosecutor in the Oklahoma City bombing case.
Suspect Terry Nichols claimed he was a sovereign citizen.
"It's people being unfortunately selfish to the point of putting themselves and their own family at risk," Mackey said.
"It's interesting that they want to be sovereign, but they choose to use government mechanisms to declare their sovereignty," Bennett said.
Bennett said his office won't record their paperwork, which seeks to use the federal Uniform Commercial Code to free the applicant from any government debt obligations.
His office sends back a form letter which says the documents are "ineligible for filing."
That rejection doesn't change Ralph's views.
"Ken Bennett can turn down, or whatever he wants, but I already have my UCC filed under the State of Washington," Ralph said.
The sovereign citizen applicants we interviewed said they do not believe in violence or separatism.
Instead, they view themselves in the tradition of George Washington and Ben Franklin.
When asked if he has to pay taxes, Ralph said, "I would not think so."
So, should we all have to pay parking tickets? Is this "Sovereign" movement okay? Click "add a comment" right now to soundoff.