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Panel of Policy Makers and Legal Experts Decry Sovereign Citizen Movement

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- (L-R) Former U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson, Reps. John Gannon (D-Boise) and Patrick McDonald (R-Boise), and Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue. -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • (L-R) Former U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson, Reps. John Gannon (D-Boise) and Patrick McDonald (R-Boise), and Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue.
Using terms like "dangerous," "radical" and "extremist," a panel of policy and legal experts speaking April 11 at Boise State University took aim at the so-called sovereign citizen movement, which the FBI describes as a collection of "anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or 'sovereign' from the United States."

That perceived "sovereignty" stems from an unorthodox reading of the U.S. Constitution, which more often than not puts members of the movement at odds with local governments, the police and federal agencies. The movement's interpretation of the constitution has been used to justify a range of crimes, from traffic violations to fraud to murder.

Boise State students convened the panel as part of a national competition to build social media campaigns challenging violent extremism.

"Social media and the internet is their recruiting ground," said panelist and former U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson. "The goal of [this] project is to occupy the same space as the recruiters—this is where the battleground is."

While members of the sovereign citizens movement have been linked to intimidation campaigns of public servants and numerous other crimes, the highest-profile example was the Oklahoma City bombing, which was perpetrated April 19, 1995 by extremist Timothy McVeigh with help from avowed sovereign citizen Terry Nichols. The attack—the largest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history—left 168 people dead and hundreds more wounded.

Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue, who was also on the Boise State panel, said he has seen numerous dash cam videos withheld from the public for investigative purposes, showing ambushes of police by sovereign citizen groups. He has also received mailed "orders" from sovereign citizens, commanding him to take illegal enforcement actions.

"That doesn't sit well with this sheriff," he said. "I work for all the people, not just a few."

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