On the afternoon of July 6 last year, Paul Grice went to the county clerk’s office at the Cimarron County Courthouse at Boise City, Oklahoma, and paid $104 to file a peculiar document in an attempt, among other things, to renounce his U.S. citizenship.

You may have heard of Grice, a member of an anti-government group in the Oklahoma panhandle called “God’s Misfits,” because he was recently the fifth member of the group to be charged with the murder of a pair of Kansas women in connection with a custody battle.

But the custody dispute is only part of the story. It appears the Misfits may have embraced reckless and vengeful violence as an extension of their apocalyptic religious beliefs that children are property and that no government or other human institution can interfere in parental authority.

Grice had turned 31 a few days earlier, so maybe he was thinking about his place in this world — and perhaps the next. We don’t know exactly what was on his mind when he walked into the historic red brick courthouse at the center of town to deliver his bundle of papers, but the story told by the 35-page document is of a world vastly different from the one the rest of us inhabit.

Grice’s world was based not on reality but instead spun from poisonous conspiracy theories, half-baked legal hypotheses and religious delusion. I’m assuming he must have walked into the Cimarron County Courthouse at Boise (pronounced “Boyce”) City because he lived with his wife and three kids only 16 miles to the northeast, at Keyes, a town of just a few hundred people. There’s no indication in the documents of whether he delivered them in person, or mailed them, but I imagine he would have visited in person.

We know Grice sent copies of the “renunciation” document to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken by certified mail. The return receipt is in the filing.

“I am a creation of nature and natures God,” he declared in the courthouse document, in the curious spelling and punctuation that has become the legal patois of the sovereign citizen movement. “A people, a man, found alive and living, commonly known by my family, friends and neighbors as Paul Grice and so here I (w)ill stand.”

He had dominion over all things, he asserted. His three children were his “God-given property” and subject to none other. He lived not in Oklahoma, but in the “Oklahomat Republic,” and the United States had been under martial law since the Civil War. The 14th Amendment, which most of us understand as granting citizenship to formerly enslaved persons and guaranteeing due process and equal protection under the law, had actually made slaves of us all. The Federal Reserve was illegitimate, the U.S. had become a corporation that sold its citizens as debt to foreign powers, and 1930s Pennsylvania congressman Louis T. McFadden was right when he said there was a Jewish conspiracy for world domination.

He also claimed state and federal authorities, in cooperation with judges and attorneys, were engaged in child kidnapping and trafficking.

All of it is nonsense, but it’s the kind of nonsense associated with anti-government rhetoric from the “sovereign citizen” movement, topped with QAnon conspiracy theories.

“Sovereign citizens believe they are not under the jurisdiction of the federal government and consider themselves exempt from U.S. law,” Travis McAdam, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told me. “And that is all based on a variety of conspiracy theories and falsehoods they use to justify their beliefs and activities.”

The sovereign movement has been around for decades and has typically been linked to militias, McAdam said, but recently it has gained strength from QAnon. Although the movement has usually been seen as irksome by public officials, because of the copious court filings that are a favorite tactic of sovereigns to avoid paying taxes or confound the legal system, sovereign resistance has sometimes taken violent forms. The FBI classifies the movement as a domestic terrorism threat.

Terry Nichols, the convicted Oklahoma City bomber, was part of the movement. In 1992, Nichols — like Grice — attempted to renounce his U.S. citizenship.

“I am no longer a citizen of the corrupt political corporate state of Michigan and the United States of America,” he wrote in a letter to officials.

Such attempts aren’t legally recognized. You can only renounce your citizenship, according to the State Department website, from outside the U.S., and only by following established procedure.

“We’ve seen more and more sovereign groups trying to recruit people who are involved (in disputes) with child protective services,” McAdam said. “They really try to use the idea of this is an illegitimate government, this is an illegitimate court system trying to take your kids away, and maybe we can help.”

On April 24, Grice became the fifth Misfit to be arrested.

 

After two women went missing, law enforcement made four arrests in Oklahoma’s Cimarron and Texas counties (clockwise, from top left): Cole Twombly, Tifany Adams, Tad Cullum and Cora Twombly. (Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation)

He faces the same charges as his former prayer partners, Tifany Adams, Tad Cullum, and Cole and Cora Twombly. Adams was in a bitter custody dispute with the mother of her grandchildren and, according to court documents in the criminal case, the five were involved in a conspiracy to kidnap and kill. The plan was to ambush the children’s mother, Veronica Butler, and a court-approved supervisor when they came to pick up the children for a birthday party March 30, the day before Easter, the documents say. Both women were from Hugoton, just across the state line in Kansas.

Their car was found abandoned along a dirt lane in Texas County, Oklahoma. Smashed windows, a broken hammer, a purse with a pistol magazine and blood at the scene indicated something violent had taken place. The women were the object of an intense search for two weeks after their disappearance.

The bodies of Butler, 27, and Jilian Kelley, 39, the supervisor, were located following the initial arrests. They had been mothers and church members in their hometown of Hugoton. Their remains were found in a freshly dug hole covered by dirt and hay at a rural property rented by Cullum for grazing cattle. Tifany Adams, according to an affidavit filed by prosecutors, had confessed to participating in the murder of the women.

Affidavits in the case also named Grice as being involved, including helping to block the highway and divert Butler and Kelley’s car. Authorities have not said where Grice was before he was arrested. He was arraigned Wednesday at Texas County District Court at Guymon, Oklahoma. Like his co-defendants, he was denied bond.

“On April 23, 2024, Grice was interviewed and admitted that he was part of the planning and killing of both Butler and Kelley,” an affidavit supporting probable cause for his arrest said. “Grice admitted to (an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent) that he participated in the killing of Butler and Kelley and their subsequent burial.”

In his manifesto-like filing at Boise City last year, Grice cited a litany of perceived governmental abuses that are common among sovereign citizens and Christian Identity adherents. Grice recalled the April 19, 1993, siege at Waco, Texas, as the “murder ” of 86 men, women and children by agents of the federal government. Part of Timothy McVeigh’s motivation in bombing the Alfred P. Murrah federal building on April 19, 1995, in Oklahoma City — which killed 168 people and was the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history — was the Waco siege.

“I am not anti-government, anti-military, or anti-America,” Grice claimed in the document. The eccentric capitalization that follows is his: “Quite the contrary. For Generations, My family served the united States of America in both active and inactive service all over the world.”

The sovereign citizen movement began with William Potter Gale, a World War II veteran who formed an anti-tax resistance movement called the California Rangers in the 1960s. Gale also was a key figure in Christian Identity and white supremacy and a founder of the Christian Patriots of the 1980s. At one point, he broadcast his message to radio listeners from a studio in Dodge City. He was convicted of tax crimes, sentenced to prison and died awaiting appeal in 1988.

In the document filed July in Cimarron County, Grice rails against government oversight and regulation, the genetic manipulation of food, vaccines and the United Nations. He does get two things right: The Tuskegee Experiment, in which hundreds of Black men were left untreated for syphilis so the course of the disease could be studied, and Project MK-Ultra, a CIA project in which unsuspecting individuals were given experimental drugs in an attempt at mind control.

Near the end, he references the Book of Revelation.

“I must now also leave Babylon the Great and not partake of her sins any longer lest I receive her plagues,” he writes, “for her sins have reaching unto Heaven, and God will remember her iniquities. May God have mercy on the people of the United States/UNITED STATES!”

“They spell their name and others in all caps or they use weird punctuation,” McAdam said. “They think the Treasury Department has set up these accounts when any child is born, and that somehow there is this corporate account, that exists differently (but represents) the actual child. And so you’ll see in these court filings where they’ll think that OK, if I just get the punctuation right, if I get the capitalization right, I’m going to be able to reclaim my sovereign status.”

It’s as if the sovereigns believe there is a kind of magic code to legal documents, that if only they get the weird spelling and capitalization right, all of their problems will be solved. But there doesn’t appear to be a Sovereign Citizens Stylebook, and every document looks a bit different.

Some sovereign citizens also believe that the only legitimate governmental entity is the state, but they tend to view each state as a republic. McAdam said, however, he did not know why Grice spelled Oklahoma as “Oklahomat Republic.”

Reading Grice’s manifesto left me wondering how many others out there believe what he does, or at least what he professed to. McAdam said the SPLC had not heard of God’s Misfits until news broke about the arrests. He also said the center doesn’t have a way to track actual members in a movement, but that it was pretty clear the sovereign citizens were growing.

McAdam, who works for the SPLC from his home in Montana, compared the movement to a prairie twister.

“Many of these movements are like a funnel cloud or tornado, where way up in the clouds at the big end of the funnel, you have people the get pulled in for all kinds of reasons,” McAdam said. “They kind of spin out and back in again. But then there are people who really start to go down into the funnel. And as they do that, they become steeped in these conspiracy theories and worldviews. And if you go all the way through down to the ground and pop out, well those are people like Timothy McVeigh.”