Sovereign citizens: Fears grow over COVID loners
They are the army of extremists who don't think the law applies to them - and their numbers are growing.
Sovereign citizens believe the Australian government is illegitimate and refuse to cede to its laws, whether it be registering a car or paying taxes.
While they traditionally operate alone, NSW Police have noted organised groups popping up around the state, clashing with officers and replacing the Australian flag with their own.
The ideology is based on the belief that people are born with natural rights and governments, including police and council rangers, impede on those rights with rules and regulations.
The movement has gained notoriety in Australia as people rebelled against public health orders during the pandemic.
Images of police pulling people from cars who refused to hand over their licence or shoppers yelling at staff over their refusal to wear a face mask have shone a light on a movement often associated with conspiracy theorists.
"What COVID has done is brought to the forefront certain elements of the community that do espouse anti-government rhetoric," Detective Superintendent Michael McLean, NSW Police's Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics Commander, said.
"The traditional activities of sovereign citizens is where they get stopped by police, they will have unregistered cars or licences and they say they don't need to do that because they don't recognise the law of Australia. We see that sovereign citizens possess a specific ideology and that's anti-government ideology."
While traffic infringements put most sovereign citizens on the lower end of the threat scale, there have been more concerning examples.
Last month, Juha Kiskonen, the self-proclaimed leader of the United Kingdom of Australia movement - one of the main sovereign citizen groups in NSW - was charged after making veiled threats against a detective.
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That detective was from the Fixated Persons Unit, which is largely responsible for monitoring the activities of sovereign citizens.
In one of his weekly YouTube videos, Kiskonen urged his "subjects" to show police at border crossings a legal document proving their sovereign citizen status.
"Show them the document and if they refuse to look at it, more fool them. The police are in the middle of it because they've been forced to enforce the law not knowing they don't have jurisdiction over us. Not knowing they are a foreign military."
Kiskonen led plans for a rally at the War Memorial in the Sydney CBD, where his group wanted to take down the Australian flag and erect the sovereign citizen flag - the red ensign.
Kiskonen was arrested before then but other sovereign citizens clashed with police trying to break up the demonstration due to social distancing breaches.
Weeks earlier, the United Kingdom of Australia succeeded in raising their flag near Campbelltown RSL.
"We haven't seen this sort of coming together and overt activities within group environments in Australia but it has been happening in the US," Det Supt McLean said.
"It's more consistent with sovereign citizen ideology to stick to themselves but now we are seeing this coming together like a collective.
"People might see the raising of the flag at a War Memorial as not a huge deal but that behaviour … we are mindful where that extends and where that can move to."
One radical in 2017 sent a letter to a NSW MP claiming he was "in treason" and "will be hung until you are dead".
Deemed a high risk terrorism offender, he was placed on an extended supervision order last year.
In 2015, NSW Police deemed sovereign citizens a potential threat and were monitoring about 300 people.
While that number has fluctuated slightly in the years since, overt activities have increased. One law enforcement source said social media had also helped increase the sovereign citizen influence.
In some cases, a person's disenchantment with authority starts with a small gripe.
Last month, roo shooter Wayne Raymond Mack was sentenced to at least four years nine months jail for turning his driveway into a killing field with booby traps, guns and attack dogs.
He allegedly claimed he would shoot any government official who set foot on his property. Aerial photos showed a series of humpies and chained dogs along the driveway designed as a "fatal funnel" to move intruders into the sights of several rifles and bows and arrows on the Mudgee property.
The court heard experts had concluded Mack was a "fearful and suspicious" person who was "acutely paranoid. While there was no evidence he pledged allegiance to the sovereign citizen movement, his disdain for authority started after he was left with a $100,000 bill following asset confiscation proceedings instigated by the NSW Crime Commission.
After a raid on his property in 2018, he pleaded guilty to gun offences and was sentenced last month.
The case of Keith Knights, from Eden Creek in northern NSW, started with a conflict with a court registry and disputed land settlement.
His dislike of authority grew and he discussed making napalm and mortars to ambush police. Knights was charged with conspiracy or solicit to murder but found not guilty on grounds of mental illness.
Originally published as Sovereign citizens: Fears grow over COVID loners