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‘Sovereign citizens’ aim to take common law into their own hands

CherrPhillips leaves Dirksen Federal building after day court where she's accused filing false leins homes US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald other

Cherron Phillips leaves the Dirksen Federal building after a day in court where she's accused of filing false leins on homes of US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and other officials Monday 6-16-14. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 21, 2014 3:21PM



If you’d like to get in on the ground floor of a growing new organization that could empower you to compel testimony from your least favorite congressman or indict your ex-wife’s divorce lawyer, I might have something for you.

A group calling itself the National Liberty Alliance has scheduled a meeting for 2 p.m. Saturday at a Bartlett pizza parlor to hold an election to “reinstate the Common Law grand jury.”

What is a common-law grand jury, you ask, and why does it need to be reinstated?

Why, it’s the “only true court of record in America,” of course, and its purpose ought to be even more obvious.

To save the country.

To be honest, I didn’t know much about common-law grand juries until this week when I began reading about the trial of Cherron Phillips, a Chicago woman considered part of the “sovereign citizen” movement.

Phillips was found guilty Wednesday by a federal jury for filing phony $100 billion liens to harass four federal judges and six other law enforcement officials, including former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

Such tactics are commonly employed by sovereign citizens, who deny government authority and make up their own where convenient.

Enter the National Liberty Alliance, which is offering a new spin on an old sovereign citizen theory of common-law courts, which might politely be described as a do-it-yourself alternative legal system for the disaffected.

The organization claims to have “constituted” common-law grand juries in 16 states in just the last few years.

These grand juries have no real basis in law, as you probably guessed, but its participants have wrapped themselves in enough pseudo-legal jargon to convince those who want to believe.

The plan is to constitute grand juries in all 102 Illinois counties with a vote by a showing of hands Saturday at the pizza parlor.

Everyone is invited, but organizers were expecting maybe 20 people to participate in the august proceeding. That was before I wrote this story, which might effect turnout either way.

I had a nice chat Wednesday with the group’s Illinois coordinator. He declined to give his name, but we’ll call him Gary, because that really is his name.

Gary is 74, lives in Waukegan and has a phone number with a Washington, D.C., area code because he says he finds it helpful in getting his calls returned.

Gary said he’s a college-educated accountant from South Dakota who moved here to work for a big accounting firm and later Kraft Foods before operating his own business the last 30 years.

I asked Gary if he considered himself a sovereign citizen.

“I am sovereign. We all are,” Gary said cautiously, which I took as a big yes.

Although he said he only joined the National Liberty Alliance two months ago, Gary has clearly been around the sovereign citizen scene longer, judging from his grasp of the jargon.

I’m guessing it could be traced to Gary’s battles with the IRS, which he mentioned several times had led to disputes in federal Tax Court.

As is common with sovereign citizens, Gary dismisses the court system that governs the rest of us as “maritime courts.”

“If you walk into most of your courthouses, what do you see? A pond and a pool,” Gary said when I challenged him.

If that doesn’t settle it for you, check out the fringe on the flags in those courthouses.

“That’s a maritime flag,” Gary said.

Hard to argue with logic like that.

Gary said the NLA is attracting “all types” — young and old, men and women, college-educated and blue collar.

“It’s people who think there’s something wrong with our country and think this is a viable way to take it back,” Gary said.

“And we will take it back,” he added.

That’s where the common-law grand juries are supposed to come in.

Gary said the grand juries could protect homeowners who have lost their property “illegally” through foreclosures or force a congressman to testify about why the federal government isn’t keeping out illegal immigrants.

Gary told me there are “lawful statutes” and “unlawful ones,” and the grand juries will decide which is which.

Requiring an individual to have a license to carry a gun would not be one of the lawful statutes, he assured me.

The organization is recruiting its own “sheriffs” to enforce the court’s findings, which Gary said could include criminal indictments.

You can see where this might get dangerous.

“Am I radical? No. I’m not going to go out and blow somebody away,” said Gary, who also assured me he would never be involved in filing harassing liens on government officials.

If you attend Saturday, you might want to bring your own tinfoil hat. It could prove useful for taking home leftover pizza.

Email: markbrown@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkBrownCST



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