Federal, state and local officials in the Atlanta area have a new headache on their hands. An increasing number of people are squatting in foreclosed houses, and backing up their claims with theories from the sovereign citizens movement.
The squatters operate either as full-fledged members of the sovereign citizens movement or they are part of a growing number of people who use the movement's ideology to worm their way out of a bad financial situation.
Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, said the last few years have seen a rise in what he called "dabblers" in the sovereign citizens movement, people he said who would "never hurt a fly" but who are looking for a way out of their economic desperation.
The squatters file phony quitclaim deeds (documents that pass interest in real estate from one person to another) and use them as "proof" they "own" the houses. But they aren't exactly being conspicuous about it--they usually choose really big houses, often worth a million dollars.
Normally, ejecting squatters requires only a few officers. But when the squatter is suspected of even dabbling in sovereign citizen theories, dozens more have to come in case things get violent. And some of them have even been known to hit officers with fake lawsuits and property liens in an effort to phish for Social Security numbers.
Several big busts have been made just in the last week. DeKalb County officials arrested five people with ties to 17 houses across the state worth about $10 million. In Rockdale County, a couple got caught running the scam out of a house they once owned.
Here's an interesting twist--the sovereign citizen movement has roots in white supremacy. Yet according to DeKalb County assistant DA John Melvin, all seven of the sovereign citizens he's busted are black. They're all members of the Moorish Nation, which Potok describes as a black nationalist group with strong ties to the sovereign citizen movement.
It's not entirely surprising this has cropped up in Georgia. The tea party movement was pretty much born here.