SPOKANE – Deputies were prepared for the worst as they stood by in a Spokane County courtroom this month during routine hearings for mostly low-level felonies.
Their focus was on one of the more benign cases – possession and distribution of marijuana.
It was the defendant, a self-proclaimed “sovereign” who doesn’t consider himself a citizen of the United States even though he was born and raised here, who caught the officers’ eye.
Adrian B. Shannon, 30, is among a growing number of people who question the legitimacy of federal, state and local government agencies and employ a series of legal maneuvers they believe exempt them from driver’s licenses and birth certificates, paying taxes, or even criminal charges.
“People call it a movement, but it’s individuals, literally sovereigns, that are all learning, ‘Hey we don’t have to put up with these ridiculous laws, because we are the government,’” Shannon said.
As the number of sovereigns increases, government officials are taking notice and trying to prepare, particularly after the shooting deaths of two police officers in Arkansas by a sovereign follower. Although no regional breakdowns are available, experts estimate the sovereign movement has about 300,000 followers nationally, and its popularity – fueled by seminars and videos – is growing.
The FBI considers sovereigns to be potential anti-government terrorists.
“It’s certainly something we’re definitely concerned about,” said Frank Harrill, agent in charge at the FBI’s Spokane office. “I don’t want to criminalize the belief system.
“But clearly, individuals who espouse and adhere to this ideology have in the past and continue in some instances to act out violently.”
Shannon contends that officials are overreacting. In his court hearing recently, he managed to irritate a Superior Court judge with a series of questions, but he never became violent in the heavily secured courtroom.
“These people can be bloody dangerous,” said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery, Ala.-based nonprofit that tracks extremist groups.