Date of Graduation

7-2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Sociology (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Sociology and Criminology

Advisor

Jeff Gruenewald

Committee Member

Christopher A. Shields

Second Committee Member

Kevin Fitzpatrick

Keywords

courts, criminal cases, domestic terrorism, extremism, far-right, judicial decision-making, non-violent terrorism, paper terrorism, prosecutorial decision-making, sovereign citizens, terrorism studies

Abstract

This study examines how ideology and extralegal factors shape prosecutorial and judicial outcomes among sovereign citizens (“sovereigns”) compared to other terrorists accused of committing non-violent crimes in the United States. This study is informed by focal concerns theory (Steffensmeier et al. 1998), which suggests that perceptions of blameworthiness, risk, and other practical implications shape prosecutorial and judicial decision-making.

Data come from the American Terrorism Study (ATS) where several measures are used including terrorist background and other extralegal factors (age, race, gender) for sovereign citizens and terrorists affiliated with other ideologies. Data on 308 sovereign citizens indicted in 158 federal court cases are compared to data on 1,394 court cases associated with 2,783 terrorists associated with other ideological movements (i.e., extreme far-right, non-sovereigns, and Islamic extremism).

Using both bivariate and multivariate analyses, results show that sovereign citizens were more likely to go to trial than the other two movements; however, they do not receive harsher punishments. The majority of sovereigns and Islamic extremists were convicted on the highest count. Far-right non-sovereigns were less likely than Islamic extremists to be convicted on the highest count. The findings also indicate that younger indictees were more likely to plead guilty, while older indictees were convicted at trial more often. White indictees were more likely convicted at trial but received less time in prison. Males were less likely convicted at trial; however, receive harsher sentences. Younger and older indictees were likely convicted on the highest count, while the 30-39 years old age category were less likely convicted on the highest count.

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