The FBI believes an antigovernment “sovereign citizens” group may be behind an effort in Austin, Texas, to find out the addresses of police officers and other first responders through a scam in which young people canvass neighborhoods posing as fundraisers for charity.
Early last month, the FBI issued a “Situational Information Report” warning Texas law enforcement agencies about the activity.
In June, the FBI report says, groups of young people were transported by bus throughout the Austin area and possibly to other states. In teams of at least two, they would knock on doors, saying they worked for a “fund-raising organization” that helped young people with public speaking. They would then ask residents about their occupation.
The young people were told that the information they collected counted as “points” and that the team with the most points would win a college scholarship and a large sum of money. Team members carried a yellow card listing approximately 15 professions with a point value ranging from 500 to 2,000 points. “Some of the professions on the card were firefighters, nurses, doctors, military and police officers. The police officer profession had the highest point value of 2000.”
The individuals collecting the information carried another card saying “what they were doing was allowed … under constitutional law and they were not required to show any identification or be restricted from their duties by state or local officials.”
The FBI report says the activities “were consistent with that of a Sovereign Citizens organization … interested in the addresses of police and first responders.”
The young people participating in the apparent scam “did not understand they were working for a Sovereign Citizen organization and that they were told lies of prize and money to gain addresses of vital individuals,” the report said.
Michelle Lee, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s San Antonio Division, told Hatewatch today that the report was “raw, unvetted intelligence” shared with law enforcement agencies “in an effort to quickly and proactively identify potential emerging national security and criminal threats”
The FBI “is aware of reporting which suggests variations of this activity may be taking place in other locations in the United States,” the spokeswoman said. “The FBI has not developed information which links this activity to any group involved in domestic terrorism but will continue to monitor reporting we receive from our law enforcement partners.”
Sovereign citizens, described by the FBI as comprising a “domestic terrorist movement,” have been a deadly problem for police in recent years. Numerous encounters have escalated into shoot-outs after sovereigns, who believe the government has no authority over them, are stopped for traffic violations.
At least seven law enforcement officers in the United States have been killed by sovereigns since 2000. In 2010, after a father-son team of sovereigns killed two officers during a traffic stop in West Memphis, Ark., the Southern Poverty Law Center (publisher of Hatewatch) produced a training video to help officers recognize the signs when they encounter sovereigns.
Last month in Las Vegas, police arrested a pair of sovereigns who are accused of plotting to kidnap, torture and kill police officers.