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How correctional officers can identify sovereign citizens in the law library

Sometimes referred to as “paper terrorists,” sovereign citizens should be carefully monitored


Inmates involved in the sovereign citizen movement often come to “work” on their material in the law library.

AP Photo/Chet Brokaw

By Jason Whitehead, alumnus, Intelligence Studies at American Military University

During more than 13 years of working in the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, I have held many posts within the prison setting. I have been in the yards, in the mess hall and walked the galleries plenty of times. One particular post that sometimes gets overlooked by officers as either unimportant or uneventful is the law library. However, this is often a misguided mindset and the law library is a post where officers must remain vigilant and observant.

The law library is there for inmates to access the courts; we cannot deny them access to the courts. Most inmates who go there are working on legal matters such as an appeals, divorce proceedings or child support cases. Some are even fighting off new charges. Others are the “legal beagle” type of inmate. They always carry their legal work; they always challenge the internal disciplinary system of the prison. These are inmates who often believe they know the laws and policies better than officers. But do not let their legal jargon intimidate you. In my experience, it is mostly for show.

While most inmates you find in the law library pose little threat, there are those who take their diligence much further than the average “legal beagle.” These are inmates involved in the sovereign citizen movement who will often come to “work” on their material. Sometimes referred to as “paper terrorists,” sovereign citizens should be carefully monitored.

Who are sovereign citizens?

The FBI describes sovereign citizens as anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or sovereign from the United States.”

With the belief that they are not bound to the rule of law, sovereign citizens tend not to pay taxes or have valid identification like a driver’s license. Even more concerning, they will often hold their own court and issue invalid warrants on officers using fake credentials. They have also been known to recruit other inmates into following the same ideology.

Sovereign citizens also tend to file invalid complaints with the court system. With so many of these invalid cases slowing down the system, it can sometimes cause things to grind to a halt until the matter is completely resolved. Outside of prison, sovereign citizens have been known to impersonate law enforcement officers and other government officials. They have assaulted and even killed officers.

How to identify sovereign citizens

Here are some things correctional officers should look for when identifying sovereign citizens, especially in the law library:

  • Sovereign Citizen’s Cut-Out Kit – This is a book that can be purchased from many retailers such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble. It describes the movement and the theory of how to remove oneself from government control.
  • The Global Sovereign’s Handbook by Johnny Liberty – This is a detailed piece of literature that describes the movement and how to work within the movement.

  • Anything published by the Sovereignty Press – This is considered the sovereign citizens movement’s own publishing company used to publish their literature.

  • Literature on the “Strawman” or “Redemption” – These are intended to encourage frivolous lawsuits to defraud the U.S. Treasury.

  • Look for any addresses that seem to be off. For example, those with no zip codes or the name written in all capital letters with the copyright symbol “©” next to it. Here’s an example:

First Class Non Domestic

Without Prejudice


bk.12 Statutes At Large

Chapter 71 section 23

37th. Congress Session 111

  • Look for any Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) paperwork – These are the forms used for filing frivolous lawsuits against you. They are used to defraud the U.S. Treasury.

These are the documents and writings that the people of the sovereign citizen movement take seriously. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the literature and keep an eye on those working in the law library and with notary publics. It is likely this paperwork will eventually come across your desk in some form or variation.

About the author

Jason Whitehead has served as a correctional officer with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision since 2005. He has also been an adjunct professor in criminal justice at Morrisville State College since 2016. He has a Master’s of Intelligence Studies with a Concentration in Criminal Intelligence from American Military University. He also has a Bachelor’s of Technology in Criminal Justice from Morrisville State College and an Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Onondaga Community College. To contact him, email For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.

In Public Safety is an American Military University (AMU) sponsored blog that features analysis and commentary on issues relating to law enforcement, emergency management, fire services and national intelligence. This blog features in-depth discussions authored by leading experts with decades of experience in their field.

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