LAST week my attention was taken by a leaked confidential NSW Police document broadcast by the ABC’s 7.30 which identified anti-government extremists known as “sovereign citizens” as a potential terrorism threat in Australia. Though of course terrorist threats from groups such as IS or Al Qaeda are a real danger the fact that “sovereign citizens” have attracted little tabloid media attention does tend to demonstrate that much anti-terrorist rhetoric is racially based, or the result of Islamophobia, when in fact all terrorist threats need to be seen in unblinkered perspective.
This begs the question “Why are the sovereign citizens flying under the media and political radar?” The short answer is that they are white (so called) Christians. Hard for the shock-jocks and their right wing political allies to play dog-whistle xenophobic politics with that demographic.
So what exactly are sovereign citizens? They first surfaced in 1969 in the US as an anti-tax, anti-government group. Members believe that the US federal authority is unlawful, and that the government is illegitimate. Up to 300,000 Americans identify as sovereign citizens, according to the Southern Poverty Law Centre. Of those, 100,000 are considered extreme.
The FBI classifies sovereign citizens as domestic terrorists, and a survey of law-enforcement officials and agencies across the US concluded that the movement was the single greatest threat to their communities, ranking above Islamic terrorists and jihadists. The US Department of Homeland Security has listed them as the number one domestic terror threat in America.
Similarly, here in Australia sovereign citizens don't accept Australia's legal framework or government. They consider themselves outside the law. The NSW Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics command assessment - obtained by 7.30 - suggests there are as many as 300 sovereign citizens in the state, and that their numbers are growing. Indeed police records show the number of Australian sovereign citizens in NSW doubled from 2009 to 2011 and nearly tripled from 2009 to 2012.
Three hundred or so wierdos might not seem like a great threat, but it only takes a few to mount a terrorist attack, as recent events in Paris have shown, or even one lone man, as happened in Martin Place. It is also worth looking at what these crazies get up to in the US, where they are stronger, for if it happens there, odds on it will also happen here.
Before the 2001 World Trade Centre terrorist attacks in New York, the most destructive loss of life during peacetime in the US was the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, when 168 people died, including 19 children under the age of six. The two key conspirators were domestic terrorists and Timothy McVeigh's partner in the attack was Terry Nichols, a person designated by the FBI as a sovereign citizen.
Since the then, 32 law enforcement officers have been murdered by domestic anti-government extremists in America. Two of the officers killed were serving under former Chief of the West Memphis police, Bob Paudert in May 2010, who said "No-one had heard of sovereign citizens in May 2010, now the FBI says that they are the number one threat in this country. Australia is facing a similar scenario that we went through and it's starting the same way," he warned.
So we’ve been warned, but will their habit of racial, and to be accurate, racist profiling, mean that those who make such a fuss about protecting us, i.e. right wing politicians, will take no notice?
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