What is the ‘sovereign citizen’ movement? 4 hours ago Share this with Facebook Share this with Messenger Share this with Twitter Share this with Email Share Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES Image caption A 2018 mass shooting at a Tennessee restaurant was committed by a mentally unstable believer A growing movement of people who believe that laws do not apply to them threatens police and law enforcement around the world, experts and officials say. So-called sovereign citizens believe they are immune from government rules and in some cases – including recently in Australia and the US – have violently confronted police. Coronavirus mitigation measures, including mandatory social distancing and mask wearing, may also be fuelling the anti-government conspiracy and spreading its message to a global minority that view the deadly pandemic as a hoax. Who are ‘sovereign citizens’? The FBI has described the movement, which lacks any organisational structure, as “domestic terrorism” in the US and calls followers “anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or ‘sovereign’ from the United States”. The ideology hatched in the 1970s and grew out of Posse Comitatus, a US anti-government group that contained many followers who were anti-Semitic and believed governments were controlled by Jews. It rose in prominence in the 1990s alongside the militia movement, says Mark Pitcavage, a researcher at the Anti-Defamation League who has followed the movement for over 20 years. In the late 1990s, the ideology reached Canada through anti-tax groups, before later going to Australia and then the UK and Ireland, says Mr Pitcavage. Image copyrightFBI Image caption Followers in the US have issued themselves fake car licence plates In Australia, police this week attributed a “dangerous” rise in people resisting lockdown orders – sometimes violently – to the sovereign citizen movement. Victoria Chief Police Commissioner Shane Patton said on Tuesday that officers have been forced “to smash the windows of cars and pull people out to provide details” after they have refused to answer questions or show documents. Analysis by Mike Wendling, Editor, BBC anti-disinformation unit Sovereign citizens and anti-government groups became familiar to Americans in the 1990s. But any sympathy the wider public may have had towards such movements evaporated after the horrific Oklahoma City attack. Now there are signs that their ideas are catching on again. The political climate is to blame, including emergency coronavirus measures and anti-police sentiment after the killing of George Floyd. Along with groups like the Boogaloo Boys, Three Percenters, and the Proud Boys, sovereign citizens are one of the fringe, and often overlapping, blocs who’ve popped up on social media and on the streets. Their ideas travel. When I covered an anti-lockdown protest in London in May, the first person I encountered was a man eager to tell me why the government had no legal power over him. But it’s the US where the greatest potential for violence lies – particularly as Americans get deeper into a pandemic and a potentially fraught election campaign. In Singapore, a country known for adherence to rules, a viral video in May this year showed a 40-year-old woman refusing to don a face mask, telling people “I’m a sovereign… This is something people are not going to know what it is”. “It means I have nothing to do with the police, it means I have no contract with the police. They have no say over me,” said the woman, who was later sent to a mental health facility. Melbourne police ‘attacked and baited’ over curfew US pair ‘plotted to murder police’ Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES Image caption An officer enforcing Melbourne’s lockdown had her head smashed into the ground by a ‘sovereign citizen’ In the US, suspects of violent crimes – including a man accused of beheading his landlord in a rent dispute last week – have claimed to be immune from prosecution as sovereign citizens. One of the ideology’s most famous adopters was Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, who filed endless frivolous lawsuits against the government in the years before the 1995 attack on a federal office building which killed 168 people. Who are Boogaloo Bois, antifa and Proud Boys? The sovereign citizen movement is different from the militia movement, which puts more emphasis on paramilitary weapons training and organisation, experts say. Sovereign citizens – which also go by many other names including constitutionalists, common law citizens, freemen, and non-resident aliens – favour legal arguments. Media captionQAnon is a bizarre conspiracy cult that has surged in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic. It also differs from the QAnon conspiracy theory which believes President Donald Trump is saving the world from evil, because sovereign citizens view all government figures, including Mr Trump, as illegitimate. What do sovereign citizens believe? There are a multitude of theories that followers believe, experts say, cautioning that it is hard to determine the number of believers worldwide due to a lack of structure. The general ideology is based on the belief that the original government set up by the US founders, which most adherents refer to as “common law”, was slowly and secretly replaced by an illegitimate government sometime in the 1800s. Followers around the world make similar claims about their own governments – or the British Royal Family as is the case with Australia, says Mr Pitcavage. They believe there is a legal way to opt out of the current legal system that comes through filing documents and ending what they view as “contracts” with the government, such as driving licences and other identity documents. Adherents are told by “redemption gurus” that they can use phrases, which they believe to have legal meaning, to “divorce themselves” from the illegitimate government, says Mr Pitcavage. They often print out and carry documents which they claim prove their status. “And once you do that, once you have regained your sovereignty, none of the laws, rules, taxes, court orders, anything of the illegitimate de facto government have any more power or justification over you whatsoever.” Followers resist all government laws and regulations, no matter how trivial, and in the US often file lengthy legal battles against the government, which critics refer to as “paper terrorism”. They sometimes film encounters with police using the phrases that they believe protect them, including “am I being detained?” They have occasionally set up “common law courts” and issued bogus arrest warrants for US officials. Some have been arrested with fake car registration plates they have issued to themselves, or have even printed their own currency believing the dollar to be invalid. Mr Pitcavage says it’s common to find European followers cite the US criminal code, which has no legal bearing there. Some followers believe it possible to access a secret government-held fund once they become sovereign. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which oversees federal tax payments in the US, says on its website that the notion of “secret accounts assigned to each citizen is pure fantasy”. Some think that “by filing a series of complex, legal-sounding documents, the sovereign can tap into that secret Treasury account for his own purposes,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups. Followers are often struggling financially or are people who cannot tolerate government bureaucracy, says Mr Pitcavage. “The sovereign citizen movement, through its pseudo-legal theories and tactics, tells them who to blame – it’s the illegitimate government, it’s the illegitimate banking system, it’s this and that. 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On shining courts refashioned from assembly halls, in a b-ball ‘bubble’ shielded from coronavirus at the Florida resort, three words were stenciled close by the tremendous NBA logo: ‘People of color Matter’.

Pullovers conventionally embellished with notable last names – valued items offered to fans the world over – rather conveyed dissident trademarks: ‘Equity Now’, ‘See Us’, ‘Hear Us’, ‘Regard Us’, ‘Love Us’ nagritech.

The stands were unfilled and quiet, yet one message is as of now resounding boisterously: the NBA needs to discuss prejudice.

Indeed, even before the stunning demise of George Floyd set off a national retribution, sport had for some time been a vehicle for challenging what has been called America’s Original Sin.

Defining moments – like the raising of a clench hand by Tommie Smith and John Carlos in a dark force salute as the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ played at the 1968 Olympics – have become notorious pictures.

Later signals, similar to those started by Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to represent the national song of praise, have become a quarrelsome purpose of political discussion in the United States.

Race, as the regarded San Antonio Spurs mentor Gregg Popovich puts it, is the “glaring issue at hand in our nation” – one that has come rushing into the storage space on numerous events.

Everything being equal, b-ball is ostensibly the most evident spot for an unvarnished discussion.

From its most punctual long periods of being promoted as diversion by the Harlem Globetrotters, to a game still fundamentally played by dark competitors and, in the US, observed to a great extent by ethnic minority fans (66% of the individuals who tuned in during 2016-17 on US TV were non-white), race has figured conspicuously in the NBA.

The alliance says it will grasp the discussion head-on this time. However, will it be any not the same as previously – and will it have any kind of effect?

Short presentational dark line

Dark players have consistently known about the flimsy line that isolates them from an existence of expert achievement and a far various destiny.

As the most youthful of three children of a single parent experiencing childhood in downtown Philadelphia, Rasheed Wallace acknowledged early that it would be hard going, as did everybody around him.

“A lot is on the line, the stakes are genuine high,” Wallace – who played for 2004 victors the Detroit Pistons – tells the BBC. Growing up poor and with scarcely any chances, sports are one of only a handful not many ways youthful individuals of color, particularly, can consider achievement.

“You see a ton of dark guardians jumping on their children, regardless of [whether] it’s football, b-ball, baseball or any game. It resembles, ‘look – this could be our ticket out of here’,” he says.

“There’s a standard you need to satisfy. What’s more, for us, being dark children in the ghetto, we realize that. That in the event that I can make it, I got an opportunity to improve it for my family.”

However, that achievement doesn’t change how the world perspectives a person of color when he is out of group uniform, Wallace accepts.

Stephen Jackson at a George Floyd commemoration

Stephen Jackson (right) and George Floyd called themselves twins

Stephen Jackson was perched on his front room couch in late May when his telephone started to illuminate with messages.

“I opened one from a dear companion and it stated: ‘Do you see what they never really twin in Minnesota?’,” Jackson, a previous San Antonio Spurs shooting monitor, tells the BBC. He knew quickly what it implied.

George Floyd had been a dear companion for over 20 years.

Floyd, an overwhelming Texan of over 6ft 8in who was 46 when he was slaughtered, and Jackson, 42, looked so much similar they called themselves twins.

Today, one has a NBA title ring and system sports webcast, and the other is dead.

“That could have been me,” Jackson says. “I see myself down there on the grounds that we look so much similar. I certainly observe myself getting killed in a similar manner by a cop.”

Wallace concurs. “Without a doubt, it could have been me. Particularly with my demeanor, the manner in which I am.”

He includes: “Presently I think [race] is much to a greater degree a greater weight. It’s practically similar to it’s a threat to stand up, to be dark. It’s a risk for you to run in an area. It’s nearly to where individuals of color, we’re the objectives.”

Floyd had been a star competitor in his more youthful days, and was enrolled to play b-ball for a college group. Previous Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin has been accused of second-degree murder and homicide comparable to his demise. Three different officials were likewise accused of supporting and abetting murder. A provisional preliminary date has been set for March 2021.

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