Sovereign movement undermines democratic legal order

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Netherlands – People who declare themselves sovereign turn away from the government and other institutions. Although they often maintain an open attitude towards other people, they do spread factually incorrect stories about the evil intentions of the institutions. Some sovereigns want to determine for themselves whether legislation and regulations apply to them. This behavior can undermine the democratic legal order in the longer term. A small part of the sovereign movement also poses a threat of violence in the short term. These are the most important conclusions from the phenomenon analysis With our backs to society by the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV), the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) and the National Police about the sovereign movement in the Netherlands.

A diverse movement

People who declare themselves sovereign believe to a greater or lesser extent in ‘an ‘evil elite’. This elite would be located not only in the legislative, judiciary and executive powers, but also within the media and science. The phenomenon analysis distinguishes three categories of behavior within the movement of sovereigns. The largest group wants to live as independently as possible, but believes that they cannot completely separate themselves from society. A second category regards Dutch legislation and regulations as invalid. For example, they refuse to comply with financial obligations, such as paying taxes and fines. In extreme cases, a small group wants to resist the current system with violence. The size of the sovereign movement is not so large that it poses an existential threat to the democratic legal order, but there are concerns about the continued growth of the movement and the existing breeding ground for its ideas.

Threat of violence

Although people who declare themselves sovereign in the Netherlands mainly have a non-violent past, there has been more and more intimidation and threats in recent times, including from local politicians, civil servants, judges, journalists and scientists. There have also been some minor violent confrontations with police and bailiffs. Because some people who declare themselves sovereign are in danger of getting into more and more trouble because, for example, they no longer pay their bills, it is expected that the number of violent incidents will increase. By spreading an enemy image of an evil elite bent on oppression, slavery and even murder, some people who declare themselves sovereign may conclude that violent resistance is necessary. For part of this small group of a few dozen to a hundred people, it is still possible to make boasts or make threats. For some, however, such messages can legitimize violent actions, for example in response to traffic checks, arrests, bailiff visits or evictions. Part of this group of people who declare themselves sovereign goes so far as to organize and prepare themselves online and physically in order to defend themselves in the expected violent struggle with the government and institutions. They believe that the evil elite will initiate a violent struggle for which they must prepare. Weapons and firearms were found on several trailers.

Dealing with people who declare themselves sovereign

In response to this analysis, the Minister of Justice and Security and the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations have sent a letter to the House of Representatives about how to deal with sovereigns.

The greatest urgency that emerges from the phenomenon analysis is to protect our democratic constitutional state and prevent people in vulnerable positions and their children from becoming victims. The government is pursuing three goals in this regard. Firstly, enforcement of violations of the law and countering violent extremism. For people with extremist views that could lead to extremist or terrorist activities, there is already a person-oriented approach. This personal approach must be further developed for sovereigns with extremist ideas. Where necessary, municipalities take measures with involved partners from the safety and social domain. This spring, the Minister of Justice and Security, together with the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations and the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, will come up with a strategy against extremism, which addresses all forms, including anti-institutional extremism and sovereigns.

The second goal is to prevent people from continuing their democracy-undermining behavior. This can be done by limiting the influence of drivers, identifying and condemning democracy-undermining behavior and making institutions more resilient. Finally, efforts are aimed at ensuring that the movement does not grow. It is important to make people resilient to anti-democratic narratives and to continue to seek connections with them. This demands a lot from professionals in local government, but also from, for example, youth work, education, bailiffs or community police officers. Continuing to discuss criticism and distrust, honesty about dilemmas and being able to respond to mis- and disinformation are important here. In a letter to Parliament this spring, the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations will elaborate on dealing with broader anti-institutional trends and how to strengthen the connection between society and government.

Phenomenon analysis ‘With your back to society’ about sovereigns


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