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Sovereign citizens disavow legal system, make bogus filings aimed at police, judges

Dave Stafford
January 30, 2013
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Martin Jonassen describes himself as a sovereign citizen, one of a loose affiliation of people who believe most laws don’t apply to them. Adherents also strive to make life difficult and sometimes dangerous for law enforcement and the judiciary, and Indiana lawmakers have taken notice.

Jonassen will be sentenced Feb. 19 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division, where he was convicted last year of kidnapping his adult daughter in Missouri with the intention of taking her to Michigan. Jonassen was arrested in Portage in 2011 after police found him trying to drag his daughter back to a hotel room from which she fled, nude, across U.S. 20 to a nearby liquor store, where she had pleaded for help. Jonassen also was convicted of obstruction of justice for later trying to persuade his daughter in numerous phone calls from behind bars to recant her testimony against him.

sovereignIn a span of about 15 months after his arrest, Jonassen filed more than 180 pro se motions, according to court records. Judges warned him repeatedly to stop filing duplicative and frivolous motions, but the baffling, often harassing handwritten pleadings continued. One motion, for instance, is titled, “Gov. Admits to Withholding Evidence, And Gives Support to Fathers Freeman Protections, And Secured Religious Beliefs, Rights, Priviliges, (sic) And Immunities Clause Constitutional Question Tort 17 USCA Sect. 101, Etc. Motion.”

“As a general matter, these people absolutely flood the courts with hundreds and hundreds of documents that actually have no basis in law,” said Mark Potok, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has tracked the movement and, along with the FBI, considers adherents a domestic terrorism threat. “It’s put an enormous strain on the judicial system.”

Such sovereign citizen tactics are a component of what the SPLC and many in law enforcement dub “paper terrorism.” Another common tactic identified with the movement: Carrying out vendettas by filing bogus liens on property owned by judges, prosecutors, police or other government officials and attorneys.

thomas-wyss-mug Wyss

Sen. Thomas Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, said he’s aware of four Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officers and a judge in northern Indiana who’ve been victimized, and he believes there are bound to be others. “I think it’s imperative we do protect those people who are lawfully doing their jobs and being harassed by people because of some fluke in our law that allows them to,” he said.

Wyss and Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Danville, introduced companion bills, Senate Bill 234 and House Bill 1054, giving the secretary of state the ability to refuse to accept filings or recordings that may be unauthorized or believed to be false or fraudulent. Wyss said he hopes final legislation will be amended to give that same ability to county recorders. As of Indiana Lawyer deadline, Steuerwald’s bill had been approved by the House of Representatives and moved to the Senate, and Wyss’ bill was awaiting a hearing before the Committee on Civil Law.

Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council Executive Director David Powell said the organization supports the legislation. “It’s not endemic, but anybody who’s had one of those liens or had to deal with those issues, it’s isolated, but when it does occur, it is a very big deal to them.”

boyne-shawn-mug Boyne

Two people with direct ties to the sovereign citizens movement have been convicted in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana on charges of possession of false identification and possession of a firearm by a felon, a spokesman said. A third is charged with production of false identification documents.

Georgia last year passed a law making it a felony to file fraudulent liens against public officials or employees. The legislation offered by Steuerwald and Wyss contain no criminal provisions.

Wyss, who has worked on issues related to state and federal homeland security, said the measures were a direct reaction to activities of sovereign citizens. In a few cases, followers have resorted to violence. In 2010, a father and son, self-described as sovereign citizens, shot and killed two police officers in West Memphis, Ark. Officers stopped the car because it bore a phony Ohio license plate; the father and son were later killed in a shootout with police.

“Too often people think of terrorism as violent extremism coming from the Taliban or al-Qaida, when in fact we have homegrown violent extremists,” Wyss said.

Potok said after the West Memphis shooting, the SPLC sent 55,000 copies of a roll-call training video on sovereign citizens to its Intelligence Report subscribers who are in law enforcement, but that wasn’t nearly enough. “In addition to that, we got more than 35,000 more law enforcement requests for the DVD. I think that just speaks to how widespread this is,” Potok said.

“The danger to law enforcement is that it is difficult to spot an adherent of this group,” said Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law professor Shawn Marie Boyne, who teaches counter-terrorism courses. Sovereigns may carry bogus ID, use out-of-date language, and be belligerent or anti-Semitic, she said. But a movement historically rooted in white supremacy has gained a broader following.

 

soveriegnbp-2col.jpg Martin Jonassen, above, awaits sentencing in February after his conviction in federal court on charges of kidnapping and obstruction of justice. In about 15 months between his arrest and mid-January, Jonassen, a self-described sovereign citizen, filed more than 180 often rambling, handwritten pro se motions such as the one shown above. (Photo courtesy Porter County Sheriff’s Office)

“Today, members of the group are not confined to the demographics of the 1990s. They may be male or female, white, black, Hispanic, or Asian, young or old, college-educated or not,” she said. “They often cite the Bible, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution and the Magna Carta as the basis for this alternative legal system. Countless courts have heard the claims and have dismissed them as lacking merit,” Boyne said.

Boyne said leaders conduct “America Can Be Free” and “Advanced Enforcement” seminars that pledge to free followers from debt. “They also aggressively use the Internet, including Facebook and YouTube, to upload videos of seminars as well as templates of sovereign citizen paperwork,” she said.

Economic hard times help explain the rise of a movement that Potok said is “shot through with hucksterism.” Promoters of sovereign citizen legal theories and related schemes that promise easy fixes abound.

“Basically the movement says you don’t have to pay taxes, you don’t have to obey most criminal laws, you can get out of credit card debt and you can stop the bank from foreclosing,” Potok said.

“This is a movement that promises something for nothing,” Potok said, “and that is why I think it is the most rapidly growing part of the radical right today.”

“There is a real danger,” Boyne said, “that extremist groups like these will gain new members when elected officials themselves make bold statements challenging the authority of the government.

“The loss of a political center and reasonable civic discourse helps to create political alienation. The growing extremism within government and claims that the actions of government officials are illegitimate may help fuel the rise of groups like this movement.”•

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  1. It really doesn't matter what the law IS, if law enforcement refuses to take reports (or take them seriously), if courts refuse to allow unrepresented parties to speak (especially in Small Claims, which is supposedly "informal"). It doesn't matter what the law IS, if constituents are unable to make effective contact or receive any meaningful response from their representatives. Two of our pets were unnecessarily killed; court records reflect that I "abandoned" them. Not so; when I was denied one of them (and my possessions, which by court order I was supposed to be able to remove), I went directly to the court. And earlier, when I tried to have the DV PO extended (it expired while the subject was on probation for violating it), the court denied any extension. The result? Same problems, less than eight hours after expiration. Ironic that the county sheriff was charged (and later pleaded to) with intimidation, but none of his officers seemed interested or capable of taking such a report from a private citizen. When I learned from one officer what I needed to do, I forwarded audio and transcript of one occurrence and my call to law enforcement (before the statute of limitations expired) to the prosecutor's office. I didn't even receive an acknowledgement. Earlier, I'd gone in to the prosecutor's office and been told that the officer's (written) report didn't match what I said occurred. Since I had the audio, I can only say that I have very little faith in Indiana government or law enforcement.

  2. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  3. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.

  4. Been on social security sense sept 2011 2massive strokes open heart surgery and serious ovarian cancer and a blood clot in my lung all in 14 months. Got a letter in may saying that i didn't qualify and it was in form like i just applied ,called social security she said it don't make sense and you are still geting a check in june and i did ,now i get a check from my part D asking for payment for july because there will be no money for my membership, call my prescription coverage part D and confirmed no check will be there.went to social security they didn't want to answer whats going on just said i should of never been on it .no one knows where this letter came from was California im in virginia and been here sense my strokes and vcu filed for my disability i was in the hospital when they did it .It's like it was a error . My ,mothers social security was being handled in that office in California my sister was dealing with it and it had my social security number because she died last year and this letter came out of the same office and it came at the same time i got the letter for my mother benefits for death and they had the same date of being typed just one was on the mail Saturday and one on Monday. . I think it's a mistake and it should been fixed instead there just getting rid of me .i never got a formal letter saying when i was being tsken off.

  5. Employers should not have racially discriminating mind set. It has huge impact on the society what the big players do or don't do in the industry. Background check is conducted just to verify whether information provided by the prospective employee is correct or not. It doesn't have any direct combination with the rejection of the employees. If there is rejection, there should be something effective and full-proof things on the table that may keep the company or the people associated with it in jeopardy.

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