We’re all terrorists now

So who saw the story about “Sovereign Citizens” on ABC’s 7.30 tonight?

The ABC program reported that a “NSW Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics command assessment” has unveiled a shocking new terrorism threat!

“Sovereign citizens are in Australia and both their numbers and the threat they pose, are growing”

The ABC would have us believe that the US militia movement of the 1990s was about to break forth in Australia:

Police records show the number of Australian sovereign citizens in NSW doubled from 2009 to 2011 and nearly tripled from 2009 to 2012.

Interactions with police increased 50 per cent in 2011, with a “notable increase in threats of violence”.

In the United States, domestic anti-government extremists have murdered 32 law enforcement officers and the Department of Homeland Security now says they’re the number one domestic terrorist threat.

The truth is a little more mundane.

Australia’s sovereignty cranks are more likely to be engaged in banking frauds than armed violence.

Much more likely. In the ABC’s report a NSW Police spokesperson concedes that the sovereign citizenship movement has not in fact been associated with any substantial acts of violence in Australia:

Australia had not experienced any of the high impact violence resulting in death or casualties associated with the movement overseas

Sovereign citizens might annoyingly drive around “displaying homemade registration plates”, but they are not the US militia movement of the 1990s. So why the terrorism beat up?

Detective Superintendent John O’Reilly is the commander of the Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics Operation Group for NSW Police.

He said…

“Sovereign citizens are people that don’t buy into our legal framework, our system of government,” he said.

“They consider themselves individuals and operate outside the law and outside our tax system.”


I’d be really keen to read the NSW Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics command assessment in question. Who else do they consider potential terrorists?

How about land rights campaigners? An increasing number of Aboriginal people take the slogan “Sovereignty Never Ceded” seriously.

Are First Nations Liberation, Black Nations Rising, or Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance included on some list of potential terrorists?

What about anarchists? (I ask rather self-interestedly!) Or communists? Or Socialists? What about the growing elements in the environmental movement, trade union movement, or anyone else who has come to see in whose interests our government governs?

Sovereign citizens are cranks, but within Australia they have always been harmless cranks. The idea that Australia’s sovereign citizen movement is capable of anything more than vexatious litigation and creative financial scams is patently absurd. The fact that NSW Police classify them as a terrorist threat is just more evidence of how widely the Australian state is now casting the terrorism net.


The Monthly, 6 Sept 2014, Freemen movement targets Indigenous Australia.

Living the Dream, 12 Oct 2015, Evereything You Know is Wrong – Conspiracy Theory (podcast).

Cartoon by Randall Munroe, xkcd.
Cartoon by xkcd.


  1. It’s strange that Abbott & Morrison ran with Operation Sovereign Borders and yet they signed Australians up to so many bi-lateral and now a multi-lateral treaty like the TPP with ISDS clauses that bypass our court system altogether. The government’s desire for a consumptive dumbed down obfuscation via frequent reference to the word “sovereign” is particularly irritating especially when considered within the context of the recently enacted metadata laws.

    Are the Yidindji people in the north “terrorists” for seeking their own sovereignty? I doubt it.
    Have successive Queensland Governments failed the people of Palm Island? You bet. The cops up there have dealt with ideas of individuality, identity and sovereignty with force and violence in the past.

    The 7:30 story is pretty bad especially when you consider that transnational corporations consider the corporate veil a sovereign right to not pay taxes and collect subsidies from cronies in government.

  2. “Police records show the number of Australian sovereign citizens in NSW doubled from 2009 to 2011 and nearly tripled from 2009 to 2012.

    Interactions with police increased 50 per cent in 2011, with a ‘notable increase in threats of violence’.”

    Percentage increases from a low base are often used by people wanting to spread alarm. In the above sentences, there is no indication about the denominator at all, so there is no evidence that there is any substantial phenomenon worth reporting on. For instance:

    “… the number of Australian sovereign citizens in NSW doubled from 2009 to 2011” could conceivably mean that it increased from 1 to 2.

    “… and nearly tripled from 2009 to 2012” could conceivably mean it increased from 3 to 8.

    “Interactions with police increased 50 per cent in 2011” could conceivably mean an increase from 2 to 3.

    Now, the actual numbers are likely to be higher than this, but if they were a lot higher, the report would have used them as well as the percentage increases.

    This report looks like an ambit bid for a budget increase from the NSW Government.

    • I like how the ABC article says they “obtained” this report. Obtained how?

      If they’d done an FOI request they would have trumpeted it in the article. If it had been leaked, the leak would be half the story!


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