The sovereign citizen movement is considered the top threat for domestic terrorism, according to a survey of state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies.
Islamist extremists and militia/patriot groups round out the top three threats to communities in the United States considered most serious by 364 officers of 175 state, local, and tribal law enforcement entities, according to a survey conducted by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START).
The survey – “Understanding Law Enforcement Intelligence Processes” – found that “52 percent of respondents agreed and 34 percent strongly agreed that sovereign citizens were a serious terrorist threat” as opposed to 39 percent of respondents who agreed and 28 percent who strongly agreed that Islamic extremists were the most serious threat.
A previous sample on terror threats taken in 2006-2007 found that sovereign citizens were the eighth-most serious threat to non-federal law enforcement. Islamic extremists led that survey’s threat index.
The latest survey found that while sovereign citizens as a whole have moved into the top position overall, the threat posed by many individual groups that are considered part of the broad movement has decreased since the previous survey.
“[A]lthough estimates about some groups were a serious terrorist threat increased comparing the two time periods, (e.g., Left-Wing Revolutionaries; Extreme Anti-Abortion Extremists), the concern about whether most groups were a serious terrorist threat actually declined for most groups (e.g., the KKK; Christian Identity; Neo-Nazis; Racist Skinheads; Extremist Environmentalists; Extreme Animal Rights Extremists).”
The decline of some of these individual groups surprised researchers.
“The change is interesting as there was significant concern about the resurgence of the radical far right (as evidenced by the 2006 – 07 survey, as well as additional concerns raised after the 2008 election of President Barack Obama), but it appears as though law enforcement is, at present, less concerned about these groups,” they wrote.
As for the generalized term, “sovereign citizen movement,” the researchers say that while it is often associated with right-wing groups, the ideology of sovereign citizens does not always fit with the association.
“Although most organizations group Sovereign Citizens with other right wing groups, they are quite unique. Sovereigns do not specifically share the ‘supremacist’ views of the Klan, etc. Their focus is not on individuals (e.g., minorities, Jews, etc.) rather their focus is on government dysfunction and abuse of authority. Their anti-government ideology is arguably more akin to left wing anarchists than right wing Klansmen.”
The survey found that cyberterrorism is perceived by officers as the most likely terrorism-related crime. Conventional Explosive Devices was considered second most-likely.
START researchers specifically asked the law enforcement officers “the threat of terrorism; the nature of information-sharing; and whether agencies are prepared to deal with terrorist attacks.”
“Identifying and prioritizing a threat is akin to hitting a moving target and evolves as new intelligence, data, and events develop,” START’s David Carter said. “Law enforcement must be steadfast in identifying major concerns, substantiating the concerns, providing products and resources to better understand the nature of the threat, and supporting efforts to respond to such concerns.”
The officers surveyed said the most useful law enforcement entities in combating terrorism include state/local fusion centers, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force(s), the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis.
In addition, the officers said that the most valuable open-source materials they use to gather information are the Internet, human intelligence sources, and the media.
START was funded with an initial $12 million grant from the US Department of Homeland Security in 2005. The grant was renewed in 2008. It is supported by the US Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate and receives additional funding from various federal agencies, private foundations, and universities.