Domestic Extremists Suckered Youngsters Into Gathering Intel on Police Officers

FBI suspects ‘sovereign citizens’ sent students to find out where cops live

Sovereign citizens groups are scary. For police officers, they’re violent extremists. Now at least one group of sovereign citizens duped young people into collecting the addresses of police officers and other first responders in Austin, Texas.

An FBI alert from the bureau’s San Antonio Division—obtained this month by the non-profit Web site Public Intelligence—details the creepy scheme.

Through late July of last year, small teams of “young individuals” combed through neighborhoods in Austin knocking on doors, according to the alert. When someone answered, the canvassers explained they worked for a fundraising group that helps students master public speaking.

As part of their training—the teams explained—they needed to learn about the professions of the people they spoke with.

The canvassers were then awarded points based on the job of the person they talked to. Different jobs were worth different points. The kids carried yellow note cards that referenced the 15 jobs worth points and their value. The list included professions such as nurse, doctor and firefighter.

Police officers were worth 2,000 points, the highest value.

In exchange for points, the organizers promised cash prizes and scholarships. More cops and firefighters meant more money.

The alert also explained that the students, “carried a paper card stating the individuals who were in possession of the card were allowed to be doing what they were doing per constitutional law and they were not required to show any identification or be restricted from their duties by state or local officials.”

The card carried no contact information for any organization. The canvassers showed the card to anyone asking questions.

In truth, there was no group geared towards improving the public speaking skills of young people. There were no scholarships or money. A sovereign citizens group—the FBI believes—conned the kids into doing their dirty work. This whole thing was just a clever way for domestic extremists to collect the addresses of first responders.

The aftermath of the February 2010 suicide attack against IRS offices in Austin, Texas. Jasleen Kaur photo via Wikimedia Commons. Top: Austin police at a service for a slain officer on April 11, 2012. AP/Eric Gay photo

While the alert doesn’t carry the weight of a full FBI intelligence report, the apparent plot is an important reminder of the hidden activities of domestic extremists—which contrasts heavily with attention towards foreign threats.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently declared the self-proclaimed Islamic State an imminent threat to America. British Prime Minister David Cameron raised the threat level in United Kingdom, saying that an attack by IS terrorists was highly likely.

The threat’s seriousness is subject of a major debate both privately—among officials—and publicly at large. On the major cable networks, the pundits talk about Hagel and Cameron’s actions, wondering just how worried everyone should be.

But we’re often scared of the wrong things. Domestic terrorism is far scarier and a much greater threat than foreign terrorists. A recent Department of Homeland Security survey revealed that police officers consider sovereign citizens movements more threatening than jihadis.

These groups reject most forms of law, view the government as an oppressive regime and avoid paying taxes. While they’re more well-known for clogging courts with redundant paperwork, they’re are also growing bolder and increasingly violent.

In August of last year, Las Vegas police stopped a plot by two sovereign citizens who conspired to kidnap and murder cops. In August of this year, a man set fire to a trash bin in Dallas in an attempt to lure police into a deadly trap. He was part of a sovereign citizen movement.

There are dozens of stories like this from the past five years. Now add an attempt at building an intelligence network with the home addresses of police officers to the list—while we are concentrating on the horrors overseas.