We haven’t heard all that much from the so-called “sovereign citizens” lately, but that changed over the weekend. California Sheriff’s Department deputies in San Bernadino made what they thought was a routine traffic stop on Saturday after seeing a Ford Taurus that appeared to have windows that were blacked out more than current vehicle codes allow. The incident took place near Joshua Tree National Park. But upon further inspection, there was more going on than a simple case of overly tinted windows. Deputies found that the car contained a significant amount of black powder, live ammunition, and a “military-grade” improvised explosive device. A further search of the men’s residence turned up a third person along with firearms and more explosives. David and Jeffrey Russel were taken into custody, along with Venus Mooney, the woman who apparently shared the residence. They identified themselves to authorities as sovereign citizens. (NBC News)

Three people claiming to be “sovereign citizens” were arrested Saturday morning after live ammunition and explosives were found in a vehicle they were driving and at their remote compound, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

Deputies had conducted a traffic stop for suspected vehicle code violations Saturday just after 10 a.m. PT on a Ford Taurus near Joshua Tree National Park, a press release from the sheriff’s department said. Inside the car were David Russell, 50, and Jeffery Russell, 46, who identified themselves as sovereign citizens. Sovereign citizens are a fringe group whose members consider themselves exempt from U.S. law and who sometimes use violent tactics to justify their beliefs, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Before anyone starts protesting the arrests or the confiscations, keep in mind that the deputies clearly appeared to have just cause. While the suspects’ prior records weren’t immediately released, they were listed as being forbidden to possess firearms, so they must have done something to get on that list. Also, even if they hadn’t lost their gun rights, making your own explosive devices is still out of bounds under the law.

There’s no indication that the men were on their way to commit some specific crime, but the raw firepower they were carrying in the vehicle and storing at their residence was alarming. And any group – even a very small one – that’s in the business of building IEDs in a residential area obviously merits an investigation.

I’ll freely confess that I’ve never really understood the entire “sovereign citizen” movement and I’ve never had cause to cover them very much here. The FBI has investigated them extensively, though they tend to be loosely affiliated groups with no central controlling authority.

These groups make claims that simply fly in the face of the United States Constitution. Though they live in the United States, they claim to not be subject to any laws imposed by the government and are, therefore “sovereign” in their own right. So they refuse to pay taxes, obey laws they disagree with and refuse to recognize the authority of law enforcement officials or the courts. And they far too often wind up engaging in acts of violence.

The concept of sovereign citizenry is an interesting one in theory and can make for some spirited debates between constitutional legal scholars. And I’m sure that many of us admire the spirit of people who are independent in nature and stand up for their own rights. But that doesn’t describe these groups. They go many steps too far beyond that. And when you cross the line between standing up for your rights and inventing new “rights” out of whole cloth – particularly when you endanger or injure others – that’s not admirable at all.

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