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Sovereign citizens; FBI calls them domestic terrorists, group says law enforcement is their enemy

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PHOENIX (KSAZ) - Law enforcement throughout the nation and here in Arizona are concerned about the sovereign citizen movement. The FBI considers sovereign citizen extremists a "domestic terrorist movement, which has existed for decades."

One well-known member was Terry Nichols who helped plan the Oklahoma City bombing.

Two West Memphis, Arkansas police officers shot and killed by sovereign citizens extremists, during a traffic stop in 2010.     

Dash cameras from the officers squad cars captured the murder and the heartbreaking moment where the West Memphis Police Chief, Bob Paudert, wearing a white shirt pushed past a sergeant to find one of the fallen officers was his son, Brandon.

"I had a passion at one time for law enforcement, for 45 years. I lost that passion the day I stood over Brandon on the interstate; it left and never came back," said Bob Paudert.

Now, Paudert travels the country, with the department of justice alerting law enforcement to the sovereign citizen movement, he was in Tempe last month.

"My new passion is reaching as many officers as I can in this country, to tell them about the dangers of sovereign citizens," said Paudert.

Captain Steve Harrison with the Arizona Department of Public Safety estimates DPS officers have encountered several hundred sovereign citizens in the last couple years.

"Most of our encounters with the movement have been non-violent they are argumentative sometimes uncooperative," said Capt. Harrison.

According to the FBI, sovereign citizens believe federal, state and local governments operate illegally. They follow their own set of laws and often do not acknowledge the court system.

Some create false license plates or refuse to pay taxes but others have been associated with financial schemes and threatening law enforcement officers.

"They will file liens and lawsuits against our officers and their property," said Harrison.

"We're seeing a tactic lately where they will do what we call a phone tree; they'll get stopped by a police officer, and they'll call on their phone and 5 or 10 other friends will show up at a traffic stop, which makes that traffic stop that much more dangerous to our officers and the public," he said.

"The majority of the sovereigns are not dangerous, but the extremists, and they are growing in numbers, are extremely dangerous to law enforcement because they have said recently within the last year that law enforcement is their enemy," said Paudert.

According to the FBI, since 2000, sovereign citizen extremists have killed at least 6 law enforcement officers.

"I am encouraging every officer who comes into contact with sovereign to have a backup unit, never approach a sovereign citizen alone never. It's extremely dangerous," he said.

Paudert teaches officers how to identify sovereign citizens. Moments before he was shot and killed, Brandon Paudert can be seen looking at a pile of paperwork given to him by the people he pulled over an indication they were sovereign citizens.

Only at the time, the West Memphis Police Department had never heard of the movement.

"Now I am totally convinced had Brandon and Bill had that information they'd be alive today," he said.

Paudert says sovereign citizens often use signatures followed by a copyright symbol, sometimes they'll write in certain colors.

"I have a security agreement, a long number," said Michael Crane.

Sovereign citizens can use peculiar language in court too like Michael Crane did.

"I don't know what country you're in sir. I know what country i'm in," he said.

Michael Crane is accused of killing Glenna and Lawrence Shapiro in Paradise Valley in 2012.

"It's not apparent that the sovereign citizen movement had anything to do with that homicide, but he certainly espouses that type of rhetoric," said Harrison.

Harrison says it's hard to say how many sovereign citizens are in Arizona, but Paudert says the movement is growing nationwide.

Harrison says his officers haven't had any violent encounters with sovereign citizen extremists yet.

"And that's our concern is as this movement grows that it could lead to a West Memphis type of incident," he said.

The father and son who killed the West Memphis police officers in 2010, were killed in a shootout with police later that day.

We reached out to several people claiming to be sovereign citizens, but none of them wanted to comment for this story.
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