Sovereign Citizens: The Real Terrorist Threat?

73-year-old John Wilson does not look like your stereotypical terrorist. Hunched and with the remains of his white hair flying from the sides of his head, the former dentist is a regular fixture outside NSW courts. Spouting his hyperbole about being a Sovereign Citizen, he appears to be a harmless eccentric. But to NSW Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics, Mr Wilson is one of more than 300 anti-government extremists who pose a nationwide terrorism threat.

Mr Wilson vehemently denies being a danger to anybody, even though he threw a bag of yellow liquid over a Supreme Court Judge in 1997, and has spent time in prison “unlawfully” for contempt of court. “A terrorist generates fear” he says indignantly, “that is not what I am doing. I am trying to educate people that in a democracy they rule, they have sovereignty.”

John Wilson has been at war with the State for 20 years. He stopped paying tax 15 years ago after being evicted from his house for refusing to acknowledge the mortgage. “I will agree to pay tax voluntarily when I am compensated for being unlawfully put in prison by a judge only” he said defiantly.

He has been to court more than 200 times, starting with a case he brought about banks committing fraud by having variable interest rates.

Since then he has become a colourful and entertaining figure in the courts, disrupting proceedings and protesting outside that all judicial powers are tyrannical, and that courts cannot exercise their authority without a jury. “You must have the judgment of your equals to put you in prison or dispossess you.”

Sovereign citizens say they are not bound by statute law unless they contractually agree to be so bound. Government acts are optional and can only be used on individuals who agree to them. They argue that statutes are “maritime law”, never meant for dry land as they were laws made for ships that were outside jurisdiction on the high seas. They believe that they can declare themselves independent of the government and the rule of law, the only “true” law is their own interpretation of common law.

Mr Wilson say that “the word sovereign means the ultimate authority to make and impose laws. That applies to you. If you’re a sovereign person, you make the laws for yourself.” This, he believes, means sovereign citizens are not obliged to pay taxes or fines, parking fees or have driver licences. According to police, such people can become violent when they are required to act within the rules of the system.

Although Wilson has now run of money, he has managed to form the Common Law Party.

History & Violence

Sovereign Citizens, or “Freemen of the Land”, was a far right movement that begin in the US in 1969, rejecting any authority higher than the local sheriff as “unconstitutional.”

The movement ignited thousands of disenfranchised members of US society, and is still alive and well today. In fact, the FBI has now rated Sovereign Citizens as the world’s top terror threat, ahead of Islamic extremists, responsible for crimes ranging from tax evasion to murder and terrorism. Homeland security says that Sovereign Citizens have also murdered 32 police officers.

In the infamous 1987 Canadian court case Meads v Meads, Alberta Queens Bench Associate Chief Justice John D Rooke described the techniques used by the ‘Freemen’ in court as “frivolous and vexatious”, coining the term ‘Organised Pseudolegal

Commercial Arguments’ (OPCA).

Closer to Home

In Australia, the movement has been embraced by Indigenous communities; a natural fit for people who have never accepted sovereignty.

Former fisherman Mark McMurtrie has been a leading Aboriginal Freeman, travelling the country with message of an Original Sovereign Tribal Foundation. “Our tribes are sovereign” he tells cheering indigenous people at rallies,

“The legislation is entirely immaterial to us. We don’t give two shits what the crown thinks. We are not particularly concerned about their legislation other than the fact that they continue to use their blue coated bully boys to railroad us and to commit ethnic cleansing on behalf of this thing called crown corporation.”

Armed with his own treaties, he is telling dispossessed people what they want to hear,

“Not one piece of legislation of the crown has any authority over any person. If a court is going to exercise any of the powers attaching a right of ownership over me, forcing me to accept any right of punishment over me, then I will be addressing the matter from a point of view of slavery. They do not own me, they have no right to tell me anything.”

In 2002, McMurtie lost a case against the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Commission who he sued for $33 million after losing out on a business grant worth $35,000.

In other unsuccessful cases, he has demanded to have cases of Indigenous persons heard by a Tribal Council of Elders or under Common Law with a jury.

The Guardian has reported that many Aboriginal people have renounced their Australian citizenship, proclaiming their return to tribal law. The best known is Murrumu Walubara Yidindji, a former television journalist who quit his job, returned his passport, medicare card and driver licence, and walked away from his superannuation to “quit Australia” and live by the law of his own tribe.

The Attraction

Sovereign Citizens is a movement that suits a variety of combustible outsiders; from men’s rights activists to groups like Truthology, who hold seminars on how to operate outside of the ATO.

Mark Darwin, who runs Truthology, explains how the “world monetary system impacts your daily life. Everything you thought you knew about money, taxes, fines is one of the greatest illusions ever perpetuated by mankind.”

The Truthology website offers to free people from wage slavery so they can enjoy their lives by getting around fines of all kinds using the Sovereign Citizen tactics.

The site makes it all sound quite palpable. Perhaps we all question why we slog to work every day, frustrated about how our lives are ruled by mortgages, wages and a plethora of rules. We wonder whether we are prisoners of system that is beyond our control, and long for a better and easier way to live in the world.

But the problem with not paying your electricity bills is that sooner rather than later, the lights will be turned off

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  1. Stanley Morley

    I do believe the Parliamentarians are scaring themselves with terrorist talk, in fact a decade ago the terrorist was just a criminal that a police officer handled. Now for one criminal terrorist we have armored vehicles and balaclava clad police like a swarm of bees. Here we have an Aboriginal armed with words and a dentist in his 70’s with no more that a tooth puller to commit a terrorist act. The Government have to realise that the people are the sovereign power to Australia, they decide who leads the people and keeps the country running economically. If that Government cannot display leadership, then citizens can demand he / she step down and replaced. The Government labeling a person yelling anti Government sentiment brandishing a white t/shirt, only tells us one thing “he is a clean person in clean cloths” Nothing more, nothing less and only Government and media hype.

  2. Stanley Morley

    The Lindt Cafe siege was a disaster waiting to happen with the wrong people in charge. Their idea to bring everyone out unharmed deteriorated as the hours dragged on. The Police were trained to go in and defuse or take out a terrorist with multiple hostages and as we saw in one of the video’s glass blowing out from a shotgun blast well above escapees heads, meaning he made his point and time to take him down. The longer they waited the shorter the fuse for the terrorist, he knows that he is getting tired so will get more radical and make a fight of it. His unknown bomb told by escapees was an untidy bunch of wires to give the hostages the feeling of fear only. In conclusion the military sniper should have been uses, hostages could have been informed from the outside to drop to the floor and the one shot taken. It was a media presentation of special ops being led into a corner of do or die.

  3. Steven

    The governments are making a fuss over this old man because they know he is right. People, please research for yourself how we have two governments. Our constitution will only allow governments or our servants, to gain more power over us the people if we allow them to through a referendum. Since that never occurred they cleverly registered a 2nd Government entity which is registered in Washington and non answerable to us “the Australian people”, and simply enslaved us through this private company. It’s brilliant. It’s the scam of the century.

  4. Agnayi

    I agree 100% with previous comments, we live in a CORPORATE FASCISM ‘ not a democracy the so called government is a pupped of the corporations with corruption running rampage and the judges and the lawyers play their game, under the pretext of ‘terrorist threat’ the so called government wants to impose their ruling by force and silence by force using the police and the army we live under a dictatorship of CORPORATE FASCISM and anyone challenging their rule of force is target like this man, the government is threatening our civil liberties – the solution is to all unite and all of us become sovereign citizens peacefully –

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