A far-right, antigovernment group whose adherents believe they’re constitutionally exempt from U.S. laws, sovereign citizens have killed police officers, clogged courts with paperwork and refused to pay taxes.
This week, Loyd — who has been charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder — appeared in an Orlando courtroom and refused to enter a guilty or innocent plea when asked to do so by Chief Judge Frederick J. Lauten of the 9th Judicial Circuit.
A heated exchange ensued, with Loyd interrupting Lauten and telling the judge that the government lacks jurisdiction to bring charges against him.
“For the record, I want to state that I am Markeith Loyd,” Loyd told the judge. “Flesh and blood. I’m a human being. I’m not a fictitious person. I’m not a corporation.”
“And therefore, I am going to tell you the fact, I am in due court, I accept the charges’ value,” he added. “And I want to use my UCC (Uniform Commercial Code) financial statement, my number, to write these charges off.”
Loyd appeared to be under the impression that the court was responsible for leveling charges against him, but Lauten told him that the state of Florida — represented by the state attorneys office — had brought the charges against him.
“For the record, Mr. Loyd wants to talk about the UCC and corporate status, which is a position that certain citizens that are sometimes called sovereign citizens take in courts of law, oftentimes misguided,” Lauten said. “But it is not the first time the court has heard that position.”
Loyd refused to enter a plea, telling the judge: “Y’all can’t do nothing to me.”
Lauten entered a not-guilty plea on Loyd’s behalf and tried to impress upon him the value of being represented by a lawyer during discovery, jury selection and “the entire trial process.” Though Loyd decided to represent himself, Lauten appointed the public defender’s office as a standby lawyer for Loyd after determining that he was competent to represent himself, according to video footage recorded at the hearing.
Loyd is due back in court on March 20 for a status hearing.
His statements in the courtroom this week — as Lauten noted — included some of the hallmarks of typical sovereign citizen speech, such as attempting to distinguish himself from his “corporate status” and trying to write the charges off using a financial statement.
Loyd’s Facebook page makes no explicit mention of the sovereign belief system, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t immersed in the movement’s ideas, according to Bob Paudert, a 35-year law enforcement veteran who trains police departments around the country on how to identify and avoid violent confrontations with sovereign citizens in their communities.
Judging the references in his statement, Paudert said, Loyd used the language of “a hardcore sovereign” and speculated that he may have come into contact with the ideology in jail.
“There’s plenty of sovereigns in jail,” Paudert said. “They’re just like gangs. They’re in prison as well, and once they get there, they try to recruit while they’re incarcerated. It’s not uncommon for people to become radicalized once they’re behind bars.”
So what did Loyd’s statements mean?
Paudert said many sovereigns believe the U.S. government sells its citizens’ future earnings to foreign investors when they are born. Adherents often believe the funds are secretly kept by the U.S. Treasury in a secret trust that is only accessible to those who opt out of their “corporate” status, which splits them off from their flesh-and-blood self in the eyes of the government and keeps them subject to U.S. and international law, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The amount of money sovereigns believe they’re owed is based on their lifetime earning potential and can range from a few hundred thousand dollars to tens of millions, depending on the particular strain of sovereign precepts they follow, Paudert said.
“They believe that if you renounce your citizenship, then you can get into that account and draw out all the money that the government owes you,” he added. “It can all sound very unusual to people who are not familiar with their ideas.”
Using information from government reports and the trials of tax protesters, the Southern Poverty Law Center estimated in 2011 that the number of people testing out sovereign techniques nationwide was about 300,000, with one-third of those being “hardcore sovereign believers.” Among the movement’s best-known acolytes is Terry Nichols, who helped plan the Oklahoma City bombing, according to the FBI.
David Fussell, a criminal trial expert based in Orlando, told News 13 that Loyd using sovereign-citizen language in court will have no effect on his conviction or defense.
“It comes up when someone doesn’t want to pay a particular debt to the government,” he said. “And they will go into court and will say ‘I am a sovereign citizen, and you have no authority over me.’ But in criminal court, what usually ends up is they end up in jail, prison. Because there is no such thing as a sovereign citizen in the court system.”
Almost two months ago, Loyd was working at a fast-food restaurant and expecting a child with his girlfriend Sade Dixon, whom he is accused of shooting Dec. 13, police said.
“He was one of those guys you wanted to work with,” a co-worker told the paper. “He was always around to give a hand. We are heartbroken about all the families who lost loved ones.”
On Jan. 9, police said, Loyd fatally shot Orlando police officer Debra Clayton as she tried to apprehend him outside a Walmart near the Pine Hills area west of Orlando.
Loyd was captured after a massive manhunt several days later, but not before a second law enforcement death.
Clayton was shot twice in the chest and once in the abdomen, WFTV reported. Her heart stopped in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Paramedics briefly revived her, but a flag-covered gurney was later wheeled out of the hospital as police officers lined up to salute it.
Lauten said Loyd also faces charges for wearing a bulletproof vest and performing a carjacking as he ran from police.