In August, State Police arrested a man in Roane County after they said they found improvised explosives, AK-47 style rifles and about 30 live chickens in his wrecked SUV at 3:30 a.m. The man, Seth Grim, 21, allegedly told police that he was a “sovereign citizen,” a group that rejects taxes and local, state and federal laws.
Courthouse and law enforcement officials, both in West Virginia and around the country, have been warned about members of the sovereign citizen movement.
American law enforcement officials view sovereign citizens as the number one potential terrorist threat in the United States, according to a 2014 study by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. In the 2007 version of the same study, sovereign citizens were cited as only the seventh greatest potential threat.
The group is on the rise in West Virginia, according to a letter sent earlier this year from state and federal officials to police, circuit court clerks and prosecutors.
But those numbers could be growing because officials are now reporting it more thanks to additional training on the subject, said Thom Kirk, director of the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center.
One of the reasons members of the groups are considered dangerous is due to their lack of organization, Kirk said.
“There’s not one ultimate organization that represents all of these groups. In the United States, most of them are small groups, so they’re not really organized,” he said. “Most groups have a leader you can go to and sit down and talk things out and find out exactly what they’re trying to do — what parts are legal and what parts are illegal.”
Police in West Virginia are receiving training on what to do when they come across someone who expresses their beliefs as a sovereign citizen, Kirk said. It can be a tricky situation, he added.
“One of the things we are trying to do is make police understand that if, when they stop someone, they start expressing their sovereign citizens’ rights, to be tolerant,” he said. “Explain they have the right to voice their opinion, so long as they continue to obey the law.”
Grim was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and had recently been charged by police in Pennsylvania with fleeing or attempting to elude an officer. He also had several traffic violations pending in Pennsylvania.
The letter sent to state law officials warning about sovereign citizens pointed to another arrest this year.
Michael Anthony Luipersbeck, 58, of Berkeley Springs, was arrested by State Police in March and charged with several misdemeanor driving violations.
According to a criminal complaint filed in Morgan County Magistrate Court, police pulled over Luipersbeck for not wearing a seat belt. His vehicle also displayed an unknown license plate that read “private use — not for hire,” the complaint says.
The vehicle didn’t have a motor vehicle inspection sticker, according to police.
Luipersbeck said “he did not need a valid registration plate and that he was a ‘noncitizen U.S. national’ and therefore did not need to abide by the laws of the United States or the State of West Virginia,” police wrote in the complaint.
Police wrote that they observed a small black handgun in the drivers side door. Luipersbeck handed them an expired concealed carry permit and police arrested him, according to the complaint.
In West Virginia, there are 19 members registered with the website the National Liberty Alliance, a sovereign citizens group.
There is a list of organizers (first names only) and phone numbers for Mercer, Morgan, Nicholas, Putnam, Raleigh, Ritchie and Wayne counties. Luipersbeck is one of the members listed on the website in Morgan County. When reached by telephone Sunday, he declined to comment.
The group’s mission states, in part, “To take political power is to control our elected representatives, by bringing them into obedience through fear of the people, this is accomplished by understanding the office of & becoming an elected committeemen, and then execute the powers.
“To take judicial power is to control our courts by understanding jurisdiction and bringing into subjection all government officers and officials using common law courts by opening courts of record and executing ‘people’ authority, it’s that simple!”
A concern detailed in the letter was about “common law grand juries.”
According to the NLA’s website, “If we the people can reinstate Justice and demand that elected officials and bureaucrats obey the law or be indicted, we would have then succeeded in reinstating the Constitution, and save our Republic!”
County clerks offices are asked to watch for suspicious filings and to report that activity to the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Fusion Center.
Kirk said he hasn’t received any reports from clerks about the sovereign citizen movement but said offices in the state have been given additional training just in case.
“Things could be going along smoothly for 27 or 35 years and suddenly somebody walks in with paperwork that they’ve never seen,” he said. “We want them to be prepared.”
Reach Kate White at email@example.com, 304-348-1723 or follow @KateLWhite on Twitter.