Their numbers are on the rise.
They're called Sovereign Citizens. People who don't believe in government. They think they're above the law.
Police officers say they pose a serious threat. And, there is training for law enforcement officers for dealing with sovereigns.
There is no such thing as a routine patrol. A call can turn violent in a moment.
Shelby County Sheriff's Office recruits are learning how to respond to threats. Learning important lessons sooner, rather than later.
"Any situation can be a potential threat to their lives and so they're constantly looking and looking beyond whatever the initial stop or the reasoning for the stop to see if there's other things going on," says Capt. Dale Lane, with the SCSO.
Lane oversees law enforcement training for the SCSO. They are teaching new recruits and veteran officers about sovereign citizens. Members of the sovereign movement are people who think they're above the law and they believe government is illegitimate. The FBI considers the movement a domestic terrorist movement.
"Just like in street gangs or anything else, you're going to have a small percentage that are going to be violent, but we have to treat everyone as though they could harm us," Capt. Lane said.
Mid-South police officers know the threat from sovereigns too well. Three years ago, West Memphis, Ark., police officers Brandon Paudert and Bill Evans stopped a father-son team of sovereigns. The officers didn't know with whom they were dealing. The sovereigns shot and killed the officers and two others were wounded in a shootout. Police officers around the nation watched the dash cam video from that day to learn about the movement.
Officer Paudert's father, former West Memphis Police Chief Bob Paudert, has traveled the country teaching the law enforcement community about sovereign citizens.
"Their beliefs may be so 'out there,' that they sound so 'out there,' that they appear comical or crazy," he said. "But don't discount or ignore these people because they're willing to kill and be killed for these beliefs."
More than 150,000 copies of the training DVD from the Southern Poverty Law Center have been sent to police agencies around the country. Researchers at the center say the movement is fueled by the economy and the Internet. According to estimates, there are more than 300,000 sovereigns in the United States.
The Shelby County Sheriff's Office didn't take any chances when they arrested Tabitha Gentry earlier this year - they went in with the SWAT team.
Gentry is a type of sovereign, a Moorish-American. She squatted in a multi-million dollar Memphis estate that was in foreclosure. She filed bogus paperwork, claiming the house as her own.
Cases like this one are causing big problems for police in the Mid-South and around the country. Officers are being trained to recognize fake sovereign paperwork and language.
"Many sovereign citizens believe that the federal government is illegitimate and so they're going to use terminology that disassociates themselves as a citizen of the United States," said Capt. Lane.
Officers learn to spot things like altered sovereign license plates and fake government ID's. Capt. Lane says as long as the officers are aware to pick up on those cues they can handle the situation pretty safely.
Whether they are dealing with a member of the sovereign movement or a car-jacking suspect, the recruits are making their mistakes in the classroom, rather than on the streets.
Chief Paudert will be training Memphis police officers next week. He says this type of training has saved lives around the country.
If you would like some background information on the sovereign citizens movement, and the different groups involved you can follow this link:
WHBQ-TV | Fox 13
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