Cases involving sovereign citizens are surfacing increasingly here in Minnesota and in other states, posing a challenge to law enforcement officers and court officials, who often become aware of the movement — a loose network of groups and individuals who do not recognize the authority of federal, state or municipal government — only when they become targets. Although the filing of liens for outrageous sums or other seemingly frivolous claims might appear laughable, dealing with them can be nightmarish, so much so that the F.B.I. has labeled the strategy “paper terrorism.” A lien can be filed by anyone under the Uniform Commercial Code.
Occasionally, people who identify with the movement have erupted into violence. In Las Vegas this week, the police said that an undercover sting operation stopped a plot to torture and kill police officers in order to bring attention to the movement. Two people were arrested. In 2010, two police officers in Arkansas were killed while conducting a traffic stop with a father and son involved in the movement.
Mostly, though, sovereign citizens choose paper as their weapon. In Gadsden, Ala., three people were arrested in July for filing liens against victims including the local district attorney and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew. And in Illinois this month, a woman who, like most sovereign citizens, chose to represent herself in court, confounded a federal judge by asking him to rule on a flurry of unintelligible motions.