Group claims sovereign citizenship after military-grade explosives, ammo found

It started out as a traffic violation check by Morongo Basin Sheriff. The white Ford Taurus was stopped near Twentynine Palms Highway and Old Woman Springs Road. The people in the vehicle, identified as 50-year-old David Russell and 48-year-old Jeffrey Russell quickly claimed to be "sovereign citizens" and under their beliefs, exempt from the law including a search of their vehicle.

According to the San Bernardino County Sheriff Information Bureau, Deputies continued their investigation and found live ammunition, black gunpowder and an improvised military-grade explosive device in the vehicle. They also determined that the Russells were prohibited from owning firearms.

Armed with a search warrant, Deputies found more at a remote sovereign citizen compound in Johnson Valley: additional military-grade explosives and weapons. 54-year-old Venus Mooney was also arrested. All three are being held without bail.

The sovereign movement has surfaced in the news lately. An arson suspect in Riverside’s Holy Fire claimed to be a member, for example.

At the same time, one of the most visible figures in the sovereign citizen social media sites, Trent Goodbaudy, tells us it’s not all what it’s meant to be. We interviewed him in 2017, when he would drive around Southern California in a vehicle with plates reading PRIVATE, no driver's license or insurance. 

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We caught up with him today and he seems to have had a significant change of heart - not necessarily about his beliefs in government overreach, but about the anger that seems to go with those opposing any interaction by law enforcement.

"I just got a driver’s license," he says, explaining he wants to get a vehicle, and it’s the only way to do it. "There are some principles in what you are doing," he says, referring to sovereign citizens, "but if you are going to come at anybody with negativity or aggression, that’s what you are going to get back."

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Is it a gentler and kinder sovereign citizen way? The site associated with him for some time, is going through a "transformation" he says because he feels that maybe these days, "we need a level of freedom that can only be derived with a level of integrity and accountability in government," which he says he will try to explain in his new site (still in development). There he says people will be able to learn how to "level up" as an online influencer.