Utahn Alena Ericksen is part of two federal lawsuits that claim COVID-19 precautions taken by the Utah government and Davis School District violated her constitutional rights. The two suits combined claim nearly $1.5 billion in damages.
It would be easy to dismiss a lawsuit asking for ludicrous sums like this as nothing more than a ridiculous legal stunt, except that Ericksen announced Tuesday night she would challenge Rep. Blake Moore for the Republican nomination in Utah’s 1st Congressional District.
The first lawsuit, filed last March, names former Gov. Gary Herbert, current Gov. Spencer Cox, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, former state epidemiologist Angela Dunn, former Utah Department of Health director Joseph Minor and former Utah Department of Health executive director Richard Saunders as defendants. It claims more than $750 million in damages. The second, filed earlier this month, asks for more than $600 million from the Davis School District.
Both lawsuits have been filed in the U.S. District Court of Utah. They make the claim that coronavirus mitigation measures, including closing schools and shutting down businesses, violated the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Ninth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments.
What does stand out is the peculiar language used by Ericksen, the only common plaintiff in both lawsuits. Several sentences refer to “the fiction of law called State of Utah,” or “a fiction of law doing business as State of Utah.” There are also multiple instances where the legitimacy of the federal government or court system is called into question.
Those phrases are straight out of the far-right “sovereign citizen” movement playbook.
Chatham University Associate Professor Christine Sarteschi, author of the 2020 book “Sovereign Citizens: A Psychological and Criminological Analysis,” says sovereign citizens believe in an extreme definition of freedom.
“(It’s) founded on the idea of freedom and that they are free from all laws except those which they decide are applicable to them. Many believe they only have to abide by their interpretation of the laws of God,” Sarteschi said.
The FBI has described the movement as “domestic terrorism” and followers as “anti-government extremists.”
In several places in the court filings, Ericksen writes her name “Alena: Ericksen” and uses a fingerprint next to her signature. A 2013 paper on sovereign citizens explains those tactics are used to avoid inadvertently subjecting themselves to a government they believe is illegitimate.
Ericksen is also a vocal proponent of the constitutional sheriff movement, which holds that sheriffs have greater authority than federal, state and local law enforcement. Constitutional sheriffs assert that they have the authority to decide which laws they get to enforce or not enforce. The movement has gained greater prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the politicization of mask and vaccine mandates.
Ericksen was a featured speaker at the conspiracy-fueled WeCANact conference in Salt Lake City in October, where she told the crowd she went to local sheriffs instead of Gov. Gary Herbert and Gov. Spencer Cox to fight back against mask mandates she felt were unconstitutional.
“An elected sheriff has the authority to supersede the federal government. He has the sacred responsibility to defend the Constitution and preserve people’s liberties,” Ericksen said.
The constitutional sheriff and sovereign citizens movement are ideological siblings, as they both believe they can oppose any governmental measure they deem unconstitutional.
“I think it’s a natural blending of the two given that constitutional sheriffs believe that their power supersedes that of any authorities including federal, state or local law enforcement,” Sarteschi says. “They believe they get to decide which governmental measures to enforce or not enforce. That’s in line with sovereign citizens who believe that they are above the law.”
Ericksen declined to answer questions for this article, instead offering a lengthy statement that she asked that we publish in full. That request was denied.
“People all across Utah and this country have felt the squeeze from government’s encroachment of policies and mandates that trespass upon individuals’ unalienable rights to life and property. Government was instituted to protect the individual in this pursuit and have each taken a sacred oath to serve the public in this regard,” Ericksen’s statement read, in part.
Ericksen is the Utah state director for Restore Liberty. The organization’s website says it will “rigorously defend the traditional American values that distinguished and elevated this nation to its truly exceptional status.”
Sarteschi says Restore Liberty appears to suggest that the American government is misinterpreting the Constitution.
“The U.S. Supreme Court rules on constitutional matters; there is no wiggle room for persons, the executive branch, or the legislative branch to determine constitutionality. The American government from its inception has allowed issues of constitutionality only to be decided by the Supreme Court,” Sarteschi says. “To determine constitutionality, by any other means, the American government would have to be replaced by a new government which allowed for other bodies to determine constitutionality.”
In a Telegram post, Ericksen says Restore Liberty aims “to create a parallel system, offer education, and Restore (sic) the liberty that is essential to this great country.”
One reply to her post suggests a parallel system would be a “non-geographical secession,” with two separate societies existing in the same physical space, so long as both groups are left to their own devices. The conflict would come if the opposite society tried to impose its belief systems on the Restore Liberty group.
“I’m not sure what will happen after that conversation, but there’s more of us, and we have more guns and more motivation,” they wrote.
“Love the direction you’re going,” Ericksen replied.