Investigator Exclusive: Anti-government 'sovereign citizens' on the rise in Ohio

12:22 PM, Nov 25, 2010   |    comments
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An estimated 300,000 people have transformed themselves into "sovereign citizens," members of a movement who share a common belief that most laws don't apply to them and that the government is the enemy, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group.

Ohio -- long recognized as fertile ground for recruitment in the decades-old movement -- has seen a marked upswing in residents joining the cause in the wake of the financial and foreclosure crises, experts said.

"They believe (the federal government) is not the real government," said Mark Pitcavage, an anti-government expert with the Anti-Defamation League. "It's sort of a shadow government or a replica of the government and they claim it has no authority or jurisdiction over them, that they don't have to obey its laws."

"As a result, it makes them among the most extreme anti-government folks in the entire country," he said.

And potentially some of the most dangerous: On May 20, Jerry Kane and his 16-year-old son, Joseph, two sovereign citizens from southern Ohio, killed two police officers during a traffic stop in West Memphis, Arkansas.

It occurred after Jerry Kane got into an argument with the officers about his rights and pushed one of them. That's when Joseph Kane stepped from their minivan and repeatedly fired an AK-47 machine gun. He continued to fire as they fled the scene, shooting out of the van's window.

"What we're after here is not fighting," Jerry Kane said during a sovereign citizen seminar posted on the Internet prior to the shooting. "It's conquering. I don't want to have to kill anybody, but if they keep messing with me, that's what's going to have to come out."

And consider Matthew Fairfield, whom Cuyahoga County prosecutors say is a sovereign citizen.

In April, authorities raided Fairfield's house in North Olmsted, only to find a napalm bomb ready to be detonated. That was after police found a crate of high-level explosives in a Cleveland garage Fairfield was using.

"That's as dangerous as it gets," said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason.

Channel 3 News spoke with two Clevelanders who say they are sovereign citizens on the condition that we conceal their identities. They say the majority of sovereign citizens only seek to live peacefully.

"The only people that should fear sovereigns are the people that are breaking the law," said one sovereign citizen, who has believed in the movement for at least a decade.  

To sovereign citizens, those people range from Wall Street executives to judges to police, they said. But most of their contempt is aimed at government officials. That's because they believe the federal government is actually a giant corporation owned by an international banking cartel.

"We follow God's law and anybody who does not follow God's law are our enemies," said the other sovereign citizen. "Everybody I know keeps it civil. Now there are the laws of necessity. You're going to kill me, I can kill you back."

Sovereign citizens, like former Cleveland Schools custodian Bilal Al-Amin, also believe that the government creates secret treasury accounts for people at birth that are based on their future earnings.

The accounts, they say, are opened up using birth certificates and social security numbers and are used to secure foreign investments.

But sovereigns believe they have a right to withdraw money from them by using various government and self created forms.

It didn't work for Al-Amin. He was indicted on charges he produced phony papers claiming he was a multi-millionaire, prosecutors said.

Al-Amin was arrested after giving the paperwork to a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge in an attempt to bail out his son.

"There is a way that you can do paperwork and that you can create money," said the long-time believer. "There have been a few people that have been successful, but many have tried and many have paid the price for not getting maybe their paperwork right."

Sovereign citizens even have their own flag, license plates and signs warning government officials to stay away.

"People of all sorts of races or backgrounds can be involved," said Pitcavage. "There have been professionals, dentists, chiropractors. There have even been millionaires."

Tiarra Turk was a North Randall auxiliary police officer when, prosecutors say, she tried to buy a Cadillac Escalade at an east suburban dealership using her secret treasury account.

Turk, who faces multiple charges, even tried to pay a speeding ticket in Willoughby with a $10 million check.

Authorities say some sovereign citizens have also run foreclosure and other scams -- and go after public officials through the courts. It's a tactic that has earned them the name "paper terrorists."

"It's done to bog the courts down, to threaten, to intimidate, to cause public officials to be scrutinized," said Sgt. Don Cleland, of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office, who has been sued for $250 million after prosecuting one sovereign citizen in a case that was dismissed more than a year after legal wrangling.

"Once the public official is under the microscope, they believe they can move in, beat their case and walk away from it."


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