Updated: Jun 3
What Are Sovereign Citizens?
Sovereign citizens are individuals who subscribe to an ideology that rejects the authority of established governmental institutions. They hold a distinct belief that they are autonomous entities, free from legal constraints imposed by governing bodies such as federal, state, or municipal authorities. Sovereign citizens often refuse to pay taxes, denounce the validity of courts, and dispute the jurisdiction of law enforcement. Their views can manifest in a diverse range of ways, but a common thread is the selective adoption of legal principles based on their subjective interpretation of law and history.
Unraveling the Complex Beliefs of Sovereign Citizens
The beliefs held by sovereign citizens can be intricate, diverse, and even contradictory. Despite the complexity, several commonalities can be found. One such belief is the rejection of the authority of the federal government and the affirmation that they have the power to decide which laws apply to them. They often base this belief on an understanding of the law that is heavily skewed by personal interpretation and selective reasoning. Many also vehemently believe that governments operate illegally and have overstepped their rightful powers.
The 'Strawman' Theory: A Pseudolegal Concept
A prominent aspect of the sovereign citizen ideology is the "Strawman" or "Redemption" theory. This pseudolegal concept proposes that an individual possesses two selves: a physical, "flesh and blood" human being, and a separate legal entity or "strawman," symbolized by their legal name (often spelled in all capital letters on legal documents). Sovereign citizens believe that when the government interacts with the "strawman," it doesn't affect the physical person. They strive to dissociate themselves from this "strawman" in an attempt to evade legal responsibilities.
The Clash of Legal Systems: Common Law vs. Civil Law
Sovereign citizens draw a distinct line between common law and civil law. Common law is a system of law predicated on judicial precedents and customs, predominantly found in countries formerly part of the British Empire, including the United States. Conversely, civil law is a legal system grounded primarily on written statutes, prevalent in continental Europe and North America. Sovereign citizens assert adherence to a version of common law they believe predates and supersedes statutory law, often referred to as the "common law of the land."
Misinterpretation and Misuse of UCC Codes
The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) is a set of standardized laws that govern commercial transactions in the United States. Sovereign citizens frequently misuse and misinterpret sections of the UCC to support their arguments. For example, "UCC 1-308" often appears in their correspondence, misunderstood to protect them from unknowingly or unwillingly accepting any contract or liability.
The Invocation of Presence: Summons and Attendance
One of the more fascinating viewpoints held by some individuals, including those identifying as sovereign citizens, is the concept of a "legal fiction" or "strawman." These individuals believe that when they are summoned to court, it isn't their living, breathing person that's being called to make an appearance, but rather a separate legal entity that was created at their birth.
This belief often stems from an interpretation of the Capital Letters Theory. This theory asserts that the use of all capital letters to write names on certain legal documents, such as birth certificates or social security cards, creates a separate and distinct legal entity. They argue that this legal fiction, distinct from the natural person, is tied to a range of legal and financial obligations that they themselves are not subject to.
In this conceptualization, when a summons is issued by a court, it's seen as a calling forth of this 'strawman', not the physical individual. This summons is likened to a spiritual invocation, akin to summoning a spirit or an ethereal entity. It adds a layer of mysticism to the legal proceedings, reinforcing the sovereign citizens' unique understanding of the court system.
Proponents of the 'strawman' theory trace the origin of this 'legal fiction' back to the moment of an individual's birth. They argue that when parents register their newborn with the government through a birth certificate, they unknowingly create a separate legal entity. They contend that this entity, rather than the individual, is subject to the laws and obligations of the state.
While this theory is not recognized by any legal authority and has no grounding in legal reality, it's nonetheless an interesting illustration of the varied ways people perceive and interact with the legal system. It underscores the complexity and potential for interpretation inherent in any system that plays such a foundational role in our society.
Display of Peculiar Flags or Signs: Symbols of Discontent
Sovereign citizens often display flags, signs, or symbols that diverge from traditional national or state flags. These may feature unusual combinations of colors or specific symbols, and are often displayed on their property or vehicles.
A common variation of the American flag within this community has the stripes oriented vertically rather than horizontally, with the stars appearing as blue-on-white instead of white-on-blue. This flag design allegedly flew over customs houses in the early 19th century. Some sovereign citizens decided this was the authentic flag of the United States, coining it "the flag of peace" or, sometimes, a "Title Four flag." Over the past decade, this flag has become a common symbol within the sovereign citizen movement.
Non-Standard Identification: A Badge of Sovereignty
If asked for identification, sovereign citizens might present non-government-issued IDs or IDs in unconventional formats. They may claim these to be international, diplomatic, or tribal IDs. This practice is a reflection of their rejection of government authority and an attempt to assert their perceived sovereignty.
Refusal to Recognize Authority: A Core Belief
Sovereign citizens often refuse to acknowledge the authority of the process server, the courts, or the government in general. They may explicitly state that they do not recognize these entities or their authority. This denial is a direct consequence of their belief in their personal sovereignty and the invalidity of government institutions.
Reluctance to Provide Personal Information: A Defense Mechanism
Sovereign citizens may be extremely reluctant to provide their full legal names or other personal details, fearing that doing so will make them subject to laws they do not recognize. This reluctance stems from their belief in the separation between their physical selves and the 'strawman', which they believe is subject to the state's jurisdiction.
Non-Standard License Plates
Sovereign citizens may have unusual or homemade license plates on their vehicles, often adorned with peculiar symbols or slogans. Their refusal to register their vehicles with the state's Department of Motor Vehicles is another form of rejecting the state's authority. These license plates serve as another symbolic gesture of their perceived independence from established government authority.
Display of Specific Signs: Declarations of Autonomy
In their bid to express autonomy and their rejection of perceived government control, sovereign citizens may display specific signs such as "No Trespassing," "Private Property," or "UCC 1-308." These signs are not merely declarations of personal space, but are seen as active deterrents against state intervention. "UCC 1-308" is particularly significant, as it references the Uniform Commercial Code and is misunderstood by sovereign citizens to exempt them from certain laws.
Use of Certain Terms in Correspondence: A Unique Vernacular
Sovereign citizens have a distinctive vernacular, which can be seen in their written correspondence. Terms like "sovereign living soul," "freeman," "living man", and "secured party" frequently appear in their communication. These terms are part of a unique lexicon used to emphasize their perceived separation from the 'strawman' and reinforce their belief in their sovereign status.
Rejection of Legal Documents: The Final Rebuff
This insistence on separation extends to the rejection of mail or legal documents addressed to their legal name, which they often refer to as their 'strawman'. They might refuse to accept any such mail, insisting it be addressed to the name they prefer. This practice is a further attempt to disassociate themselves from the legal obligations and responsibilities associated with their 'strawman.'
Understanding the intricate beliefs and behaviors of sovereign citizens is paramount for process servers. As frontline participants in the legal system, process servers must be prepared to navigate the unique challenges posed by individuals who reject the authority of that very system. Armed with this knowledge, process servers can approach these situations with patience, professionalism, and respect for the person's views, regardless of their personal agreement with them. While it's crucial to uphold the law, it's equally important to understand the perspectives of those we interact with, fostering a culture of understanding and respect within the legal community.
Brandon LaVan, Owner
Southwest Louisiana Process Service, LLC