In February, the Department of Homeland Security circulated a report on the sovereign citizens movement, known for filing nuisance lawsuits, making their own license plates and identification papers, and sometimes attempting to form parallel institutions of government. The intelligence assessment was not released to the general public, though some media outlets did get wind of it and discussed it in sensationalized terms.
reason acquired a copy of the report, which can be viewed in its entirety at reason.com. It turns out to be much more measured than the coverage it inspired.
The document declares on its first page that most sovereign citizens are nonviolent, and it says it will focus only on the violent fringe within a fringe. It describes their violence as "sporadic" and does not expect its rate to rise in 2015.
The report adds that most sovereign-citizen violence consists of "unplanned, reactive" clashes with police officers, not preplanned attacks. When sovereigns do plan an attack in advance, the assessment suggests that this tends to be "in direct response to an ongoing personal grievance, such as an arrest or court order."
The report lists 24 cases from 2010 to 2014 in which sovereign citizens planned, threatened, or engaged in violence. The incidents typically involve a traffic stop or another police encounter gone bad, and they frequently end with the sovereign citizen dead. In two of the 24 cases, the sovereigns succeeded in killing people.
In short, the document presents sovereign-citizen violence as a fairly rare risk that officers should nonetheless be prepared for should it arise. CNN, by contrast, presented its story about the report with the headline "Bigger threat than ISIS?"
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Leaked Report".
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.