'Sovereigns' challenge legitimacy of laws
(The Spokesman-Review) -- by MEGHANN M. CUNIFF --
SPOKANE — Deputies were prepared for the worst as they stood by in a Spokane County courtroom earlier this month during routine hearings for mostly low-level felonies.
Their focus was on one of the more benign cases — possession and distribution of marijuana.
But it wasn't the nature of the allegations that got their attention. It was the defendant, a self-proclaimed "sovereign" who doesn't consider himself a citizen of the United States even though he was born and raised here.
Adrian B. Shannon, 30, is among a growing number of people who question the legitimacy of federal, state and local government agencies and employ a series of legal maneuvers they believe exempt them from driver's licenses and birth certificates, paying taxes or even criminal charges.
"People call it a movement, but it's individuals, literally sovereigns, that are all learning, 'Hey we don't have to put up with these ridiculous laws, because we are the government,' " Shannon said.
As the number of sovereigns increases, government officials are taking notice and trying to prepare, particularly after the shooting deaths of two police officers in Arkansas by a sovereign follower. Although no regional breakdowns are available, experts estimate the sovereign movement has about 300,000 followers nationally, and its popularity — fueled by seminars and videos — is growing.
The FBI considers sovereigns to be potential anti-government terrorists.
"It's certainly something we're definitely concerned about," said Frank Harrill, agent in charge at the FBI's Spokane office. "I don't want to criminalize the belief system. But clearly, individuals who espouse and adhere to this ideology have in the past and continue in some instances to act out violently."
Last month, the Spokane County Sheriff's Office held a training seminar on hate crimes that included a brief presentation on the sovereign movement.
Shannon contends officials are overreacting. In his court hearing recently, he managed to irritate a Superior Court judge with a series of questions, but he never became violent in the heavily secured courtroom.
Sovereign beliefs, though complicated and unusual, are rooted in history and don't call for violence, said Shannon.
"These people can be bloody dangerous," said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery, Ala.-based nonprofit that tracks extremist groups.
Law-enforcement officials from across the region gathered at the sheriff's training center in Spokane Valley last month for an all-day seminar by Joe Roy, an investigator with the Southern Poverty Law Center. The focus was hate groups, which Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said are on the rise locally, but it included a talk on the sovereign movement...
Shannon, however, said he doesn't believe in violence.
"I'm a nice guy — I don't mean any harm to anyone," he said. "I don't want to come across as crazy." He said his views could take days to explain, but that they are based on history and legal research.
He criticized the recent "60 Minutes" report, which included an interview with a self-proclaimed sovereign citizen who said he believes he can shoot police officers and politicians. Shannon and friends compare the fear of violence among sovereigns with the belief that all Muslims are terrorists — it's a stereotype that isn't true.
Shannon said he began researching sovereign beliefs and law after serving six years in the Air Force, including time in Iraq. "I saw what our government is doing and I saw what it's capable of, and I can't be a part of that," he said. "I'm not anti-government. I'm anti-corporate government."...MORE...LINK
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