Stand-off near Spokane over sovereign license plates

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Spokane County Sherriff's office

A tattered flag flies over a Spokane County Sheriff's office. Its recent run-in with a vehicle bearing sovereign plates led to a 3-hour stand-off. Image: Staben/Wikimedia Commons

Illegal sovereign license plates prompted a traffic stop in Eastern Washington that led to a three-hour standoff with police. The most recent incident of its nature, it highlights a defiant extremist movement that, according to the FBI, has been linked to domestic terrorism.

Latest sovereign license plates encounter

Earlier this month two men in a truck covered with slogans saying that they did not recognize governmental authority were stopped by sheriff’s deputies in Newman Lake, near Spokane, Washington, for illegal home-made plates. The men then refused to leave the truck.

Deputies, a SWAT team and even Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich tried to convince them men to exit the vehicle, according to local KREM news, but to no avail.

After three hours, the deputies eventually moved in and cut the seatbelts in the vehicle to extract the two men. They were arrested on charges of failing to cooperate, obstruction and possessing illegal plates on the vehicle.

According to Deputy Craig Chamberlin, traffic stops for Spokane cars with sovereign plates, though a nuisance, generally do not lead to standoffs of this nature.

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The sovereign movement

So-called sovereign citizens, sometimes referred to as “constitutionalists” or “freemen,” do not recognize the authority of the U.S. government. The movement supports the Redemption Theory, which states that the U.S. became a bankrupt nation when it abandoned the gold standard in 1933. Since that time, say members of the movement, it has been operating as an illegal entity.

Therefore, say members of the movement, they do not have a responsibility to obey laws. Although they take advantage of the paved roads and other infrastructure provided to U.S. citizens, they refuse to pay taxes or to register and license their vehicles.

Links to domestic terrorism, FBI says

However, there have been much more disturbing run-ins with members of the movement, prompting the FBI to label it “a domestic terrorist movement.” Such stand-offs with law enforcement can become violent. Six law enforcement officers have been killed in them since 2000, says the FBI.

Their failure to recognize governmental authority also often leads them to perpetrate financial scams, says the investigation bureau. Also, they have been known to impersonate law enforcement officials. One of the most well-known members of the movement was Terry Nichols, who was one of the planners of the bombing in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.


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