What Exactly Is In Homeland Security's Report on Sovereign Citizens?

CNN got its hands on a document. It would be nice to know what it says.


(Update, February 25: I got my hands on the report. Read all about it here.)

Republic of the United States

Last week CNN revealed that the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have produced a report on the "sovereign citizens," a fringy subculture known for filing nuisance lawsuits, creating its own license plates, and periodically getting into shootouts with the cops.

What does the report say? I don't know. The intelligence assessment was circulated to law enforcement, but it has not been released to the public. CNN did not post it online, and the network's story included only two brief quotes from it:

Among the findings from the Homeland Security intelligence assessment: "(Sovereign citizen) violence during 2015 will occur most frequently during routine law enforcement encounters at a suspect's home, during enforcement stops and at government offices."

The report adds that "law enforcement officers will remain the primary target of (sovereign citizen) violence over the next year due to their role in physically enforcing laws and regulations."

The story also included this:

The country has zits.

…though I'm not sure whether the map itself appeared in the government report or if it's a CNN graphic based on the report's data.

With so little to go on, I can't give you an informed opinion about the document's contents. As far as I know, the map is accurate. And neither of the quoted predictions is off the wall: To the extent that sovereign citizens are inclined toward political violence (not all of them are), that generally takes the form of clashes with law enforcement. But I don't know what context that map and those predictions appeared in. Maybe it's a sensible briefing on how to defuse a potentially lethal encounter. Maybe it's a piece of hysteria-mongering that'll make cops jumpy if they think the driver they just stopped might be a sovereign citizen. Maybe it's something else entirely. I can't say, and unless you've read it you can't either.

But there's been a lot of commentary about the report anyway, largely because of how CNN framed the story:

The men look in the trunk; the dog looks at the camera.

Hang on, you might ask. How did ISIS get in there?

Well, the CNN reporters also quoted a completely separate study, a START survey published last July in which state and local police ranked sovereign citizens as America's most serious terrorist threat, with Islamists coming in second. It didn't specifically ask about ISIS—indeed, the survey began in 2013, well before there were widespread worries about ISIS launching attacks in America. So that's a misleading headline, to put it mildly.

With that frame in place, many conservatives have seen the story as a chance to bring up their beefs with Obama's approach to the war on terror. (Some of them made some odd logical leaps in the process, as when Robert Spencer claimed the DHS/FBI report was meant "to deflect attention away from Islamic jihad terror.") Several liberals, meanwhile, took the opportunity to try to rehabilitate the reputation of DHS's much-maligned 2009 "assessment" on "rightwing extremism." (If you need a reminder of why that report deserves its bad reputation, go here.)

One reaction that I haven't seen, though I may have merely missed it: an acknowledgement that during the time period covered by that map, the total annual number of felonious cop-killings took a plunge. I don't know whether sovereign citizens' violence against police officers increased in that period. But if it did, they were swimming against the tide.