Jan. 6 Couple Tried to Use Sovereign Citizen Defense. It Did Not Go Well.

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Shawndale (left) and Donald Chilcoat (right) posing on the Senate floor on Jan. 6, 2021. (Images

An Ohio couple who recorded themselves breaking into the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and posed for pictures on the Senate floor tried to use sovereign citizen arguments to get themselves out of trouble. 

It did not work. 

The crux of sovereign citizen ideology is that adherents claim to not be under the jurisdiction of the country. Shawndale and Donald Chilcoat, a married couple from Celina, Ohio, are the latest Jan. 6 defendants to use the inane legal theory in defense of their alleged actions during the political riot—an argument the prosecution called “disconnected, rambling, and nonsensical.” 


Like many of those who took part in the riots, authorities say the Chilcoats proudly recorded and posted evidence of their crimes on social media after the fact. A criminal complaint alleges they broke into the capitol building and breached the Senate chamber where they took pictures and sent videos on social media to friends actively bragging of their activity. 

“I’m so freaking excited. Look! I’m right at the top of the Congress,” Shawndale Chilcoat exclaimed as they broke into the building. “We’re gonna show ‘em how they need to vote today!”

The Chilcoats were arrested in August and face multiple charges, including entering a restricted building, disorderly conduct on restricted grounds, and obstruction of an official. Over the fall, however, lawyers for the two filed a motion to dismiss their case. According to the prosecution’s response, the motion contained four documents—which prosecutors repeatedly alleged were straight-up copied and pasted from various sources.

The documents state the court does not have jurisdiction over the couple and that they were the victims of fraud by their court-appointed lawyer. The prosecution discounted the motion as “a hodgepodge of unsupported assertions, irrelevant platitudes, and legalistic gibberish.” 


“Defendant’s motion has many hallmarks of ‘sovereign citizen’ pleadings which, although they superficially cite to legal authority, make no coherent claim addressable by the Court,” reads the prosecution’s response.

Sovereign citizen ideas have been around for decades but exploded during the pandemic as people fell down misinformation rabbit holes and sought to disobey government health regulations. Adherents make various arguments, including that they’ve entered no contact with their nation and that the state is a corporation, and some even touch on admiral law. 

Most often this anti-government ideology leads its adherents to simply being bureaucratic nightmares; in legal cases, sovereign citizens often represent themselves, and in almost every single case they’ve lost. But at times, the belief system and the intense anti-statism that routinely accompanies it can result in violence. The notion has been rejected by the court system numerous times but that has done bubkis to stop followers from attempting to use it in court. 


Justice Colleen Kollar-Kotelly agreed with the prosecution’s arguments and on Jan. 10 dismissed the couple’s motion. In her decision, Kollar-Kotelly wrote that the Chilcoat’s motion is “difficult to follow at times, but the crux of their argument appears to rest on ‘sovereign citizen’ ideology.” 

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Donald (left) and Shawndale Chilcoat (right) recorded on the Senate floor on Jan. 6, 2021. (Images via DOJ)

The Chilcoats are hardly the first defendants to use debunked sovereign citizen ideas to try and beat the system. At least 11 other Jan. 6 defendants have attempted to wiggle their way out of their charges and court dates by using the argument, The Daily Beast reported. Thosese include a woman who famously told a policeman “bring Nancy Pelosi out here now… we want to hang that fucking bitch” as she entered the capital, an actor-turned-Oathkeeper, and a Florida man who sent back his court documents stamped with a statement saying he rejected them as an “American Sovereign.” 

Unsurprisingly, none have succeeded in court. 

Despite its lack of success, the “sov-cit” scene is booming across North America and Europe, with conferences where hundreds of people spend hundreds of dollars on entry fees to learn false legal theories. 

Most recently, Darrell Brooks—the man who drove his vehicle into a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, killing six and injuring scores more—declared himself a “sovereign citizen” and fired his lawyers at the onset of his trial. 

He was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences without parole and an additional 762 years and a half years.  

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