LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: So-called “sovereign citizens” are people who believe in ultimate personal freedom, meaning they think they’re not subject to government laws. They don’t pay taxes or fines, they drive unregistered cars and they can be violent.
In the United States, domestic anti-government extremists have murdered 32 law enforcement officers and the Department of Homeland Security now says they’re the number one domestic terrorist threat.
Tonight, 7.30 can reveal police intelligence showing that sovereign citizens are also taking root in Australia, with 300 thought to be living in New South Wales alone.
James Thomas reports.
JOHN WILSON, SOVEREIGN CITIZEN: I challenge the jurisdiction of the court. You have no jurisdiction. No, you are a traitor and a criminal.
JUDGE: Place this man under arrest.
JOHN WILSON: No, this is assault.
JUDGE: Gentlemen, please, remove them from the courtroom.
JOHN WILSON: This is assault. This is assault. This is assault.
JAMES THOMAS, REPORTER: John Wilson has been at war with the state for 20 years.
POLICE OFFICER: We don’t need a warrant, Mr Wilson.
JOHN WILSON: Yes, you do. You have gotta – you’ve got to obey the law. Get off my property. …
… Slavery is when you are bound and you have no rights.
JAMES THOMAS: He believes he is a victim of a government conspiracy. However, a domestic terror threat assessment obtained by 7.30 identifies him as an extremist member of the sovereign citizen movement and a potential terror threat to Australia.
JOHN O’REILLY, NSW COUNTER TERRORISM & SPECIAL TACTICS: How this came to light for NSW Police was just examining overseas trends.
JAMES THOMAS: The United States Department of Homeland Security designated sovereign citizens as the number one domestic terrorist threat in America.
BOB PAUDERT, FMR CHIEF OF POLICE, WEST MEMPHIS (May 20, 2010): Two veterans of our West Memphis, Arkansas Police Department were patrolling the interstate as part of the department’s drug interdiction team. They became involved in what seemed to be a routine traffic stop, pulling over a father and son in what looked like a church bus. My men didn’t realise who or what they were dealing with. Neither officer made it home. One of them was my son. …
… It’s been five and a half years since he was killed and it was the most devastating event that ever occurred in my life.
JAMES THOMAS: Bob Paudert is the former chief of the West Memphis Police Department. His son Brandon and police partner Bill Evans were killed by sovereign citizens Jerry and Joe Kane.
JERRY KANE, SOVEREIGN CITIZEN: So what we’re after here is not fighting, it’s conquering. I don’t want to have to kill anybody. But if they keep messing with me, that’s what it’s gonna have to come out.
BOB PAUDERT: This is how much hate that sovereign’s have for authority and particularly for law enforcement and we have to understand it or we’re gonna lose more officers. ISIS is not the number one threat to Americans. The real problem and the real threat to Americans are the domestic terrorists in our own backyard.
JAMES THOMAS: Sovereign citizens began in 1969 as a right-wing conspiracy movement in the United States. Sovereigns believe the moment you are born, government seeks to enslave you.
BOB PAUDERT: When they first get into the sovereign movement, they’re happy because they don’t have to pay taxes, they don’t have to have a driver’s license, they don’t have to have insurance.
POLICE OFFICER II: Do you have a licence on you?
SOVEREIGN CITIZEN: I do not submit to unlawful inquiry, Sir.
BOB PAUDERT: The laws don’t apply to them, so they’re pretty happy about this new freedom that they have from our government.
SOVEREIGN CITIZEN II: I am protected by the land.
SOVEREIGN CITIZEN II: Do not tell me to shut up!
BOB PAUDERT: But when they start having encounters with law enforcement, they realise that that – that’s not true. There are boundaries,
JAMES THOMAS: And when they push those limits, violence erupts.
POLICE OFFICER III: Open your window now or I’m gonna bust it out!
SOVEREIGN CITIZEN III: I am asking him for his supervisor. I am asking you for your supervisor.
JAMES THOMAS: Domestic anti-government extremists have murdered 32 police officers in the United States since 1995, the year of the most violent act of terror committed by sovereign citizens, the Oklahoma bombing. 168 people killed. Timothy McVeigh’s accessory was Terry Nichols, a person designated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a sovereign citizen.
BOB PAUDERT: Now the FBI says that they’re the number one threat to law enforcement in this country. The number one threat. And yet five years ago, we didn’t know about them. Australia is facing a very similar scenario that we went through.
JAMES THOMAS: What is a sovereign citizen?
JOHN WILSON: The word sovereign means the ultimate authority to make and impose laws. That applies to you. If you’re a sovereign person, you make the laws for yourself.
JAMES THOMAS: John’s path towards sovereign ideology started in the late-’90’s. He was evicted from his home because he refused to acknowledge the mortgage over his house. Sovereign citizenship now pervades every aspect of his life.
Do you believe in paying parking fines, for example?
JOHN WILSON: Not if they’re inappropriate, no.
JAMES THOMAS: Mr Wilson is 73. He says he’s been to court at least 200 times.
You know overseas people like you are seen as domestic terror threats by the FBI?
JOHN WILSON: No, no, no, never. Because terror induces fear. I’m not inducing fear. Not at all.
JAMES THOMAS: This domestic terror threat assessment obtained by 7.30 reports links sovereign citizens to firearms, plans to shoot civilians, kidnap judges and murder sheriff’s officers. The document states that Australian sovereign citizens should be considered a potential terrorist threat.
JOHN O’REILLY: We’re trying to ensure that whatever threat arises in the terrorism arena, that we’re actually prepared for.
JAMES THOMAS: Australia has not experienced high-impact violence resulting in death or casualties associated with sovereigns overseas, but there are indications of radicalisation.
POLICE OFFICER IV: You do not have a Queensland driver’s license.
SOVEREIGN CITIZEN IV: I am not a part of Queensland, thank you, and you know it.
JAMES THOMAS: In Queensland, officers are confronted by standard sovereign rhetoric. It’s not long before it escalates.
SOVEREIGN CITIZEN IV: Who is under arrest?
POLICE OFFICER V: You are, Sir.
SOVEREIGN CITIZEN IV: Who’s you?
POLICE OFFICER V: Yourself, who’s standing right in front of us.
SOVEREIGN CITIZEN IV: State the name and date of birth of the person you’re arresting.
POLICE OFFICER IV: There’s no need to yell.
POLICE OFFICER V: Your name from our system’s Romley Stewart Stover.
JOHN O’REILLY: The end game is the law applies to everybody.
JAMES THOMAS: You’ve never planned to kill a sheriff officer?
JOHN WILSON: No. You’re talking silly now. No way.
JAMES THOMAS: Police intelligence reports that at a meeting of sovereign citizens at Blacktown Workers Club in 2011, plans were made to kidnap judicial officials and shoot people residing in premises that an Australian sovereign citizen was evicted from. John Wilson has admitted to organising that meeting.
Did you ever plan to shoot the people that occupied your house when you were kicked out?
JOHN WILSON: No. That’s silly.
JAMES THOMAS: In 1997, Wilson did throw a plastic bag containing yellow liquid at a Supreme Court judge. In 2006 Wilson attempted a citizen’s arrest of a Supreme Court judge. And in 2009, Wilson sent a letter to the Police Commissioner. In it, he threatened to burn down the premises he was evicted from.
Yeah, but you say you’re not violent. Why would you – why would you make such a violent threat?
JOHN WILSON: It’s not a violent threat.
JAMES THOMAS: It is a violent threat.
JOHN WILSON: No, it’s words. Sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but words will never hurt me.
BOB PAUDERT: I hope the Australians are quicker to jump on this than we were here in the United States because it’ll save officers’ lives over there. And I’m not only talking about officers, I’m talking about government employees – clerks, court clerks, judges, prosecutors. They all have been attacked over here. It’s gonna happen there.