Vegas arrests cast light on anti-government 'sovereign citizens' movement


A Las Vegas couple who plotted to kidnap and kill police officers are part of a growing movement whose adherents believe they aren’t subject to laws and follow a complex theory about the secret enslavement of American citizens, authorities say.

The couple spent hundreds of hours developing a plot to attract attention to the movement, a cause known as “sovereign citizens,” which holds that police do not have legitimate power, authorities said.

The two shopped for guns, found a vacant house and rigged it to bind captives to cross beams during interrogation, and they planned to subject officers to their form of a trial for civil rights violations, authorities said.

Authorities have linked the “sovereign citizens” movement to the killing of police officers in the past. After two deputies in Louisiana were killed in a shootout last year, police said some of the seven people arrested had ties to the movement.

And three years ago in Arkansas, a father-son team of adherents to the movement killed two police officers before they themselves were killed in a separate gun battle with authorities.

In Las Vegas, an undercover officer was with the couple and documented their plans, police told reporters Thursday. Las Vegas police Lt. James Seebock characterized it as a domestic terrorism plot.

David Allen Brutsche, left, and Devon Campbell Newman, who were arrested on domestic terrorism charges in Las Vegas. Las Vegas Police via AP

Arrested were David Allen Brutsche, 42, an ex-convict child sex offender from California, and Devon Campbell Newman, 67, police said. They were charged with attempted murder.

Brutsche trained by posing as a cop and putting a gun to Newman’s head to take her into custody, according to a police report. They planned to capture police by following their cars and seizing them when the officers got out to make a traffic stop, police said.

The FBI, in a public alert about the “sovereign citizens” movement in 2010, said that adherents don’t believe they have to answer to government authority. They set up sham courts and clog the real justice system with frivolous lawsuits, the FBI said.

The bureau said that the movement should not be confused with domestic militias: While “sovereign citizens” followers often use illegal weapons, guns are secondary to their anti-government and anti-tax beliefs.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, says that the movement has grown since the late 2000s but says it can’t know how many believers there are, in part because the movement has no central leadership.

“Sovereign citizens” trace alternate versions of American history, the center says.

Some believe that the American government secretly replaced the system designed by the founding fathers with a version of maritime law and enslaved citizens, and that judges around the country are in on the secret.

Some also believe that the government, at the birth of each child in the United States, sets up a corporate shell account and assigns the rights of the child to the account-holders, the center says.

By filing frivolous lawsuits, “sovereign citizens” adherents believe they can free themselves from the corporate masters and access the money in their shell accounts, the center says.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.