Three people claiming to be “sovereign citizens” were arrested Saturday morning after live ammunition and explosives were found in a vehicle they were driving and at their remote compound, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
Deputies had conducted a traffic stop for suspected vehicle code violations Saturday just after 10 a.m. PT on a Ford Taurus near Joshua Tree National Park, a press release from the sheriff’s department said. Inside the car were David Russell, 50, and Jeffery Russell, 46, who identified themselves as sovereign citizens. Sovereign citizens are a fringe group whose members consider themselves exempt from U.S. law and who sometimes use violent tactics to justify their beliefs, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Authorities said a records check showed that the two men were prohibited from possessing and owning firearms. Deputies found “live ammunition, black gunpowder, and an improvised military-grade explosive device” inside the car, they said, adding that the explosive device was safely disposed of.
Deputies then obtained a search warrant for a property in Johnson Valley, California, the community where the Russells reside. They discovered more military-grade explosives and ammunition, as well as firearms, at the compound; a woman at the compound, Venus Mooney, 54, was arrested.
The three were booked at the Morongo Basin jail for possession of an explosive device and possession of a controlled substance while armed. They are being held without bail pending a court appearance.
It was not immediately clear if the three suspects had an attorney.
Sovereign citizens often retaliate through acts of “paper terrorism,” which involves bombarding the legal system with frivolous lawsuits or falsified documents. Violence is the most extreme form of the movement and is typically directed at government officials, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Elizabeth Chuck is a reporter for NBC News who focuses on health and mental health, particularly issues that affect women and children.