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Three ‘sovereign citizens’ arrested with guns and explosives seized from car and compound after a traffic stop

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The intersection of Twentynine Palms Highway and Old Woman Springs Road in Yucca Valley. (Google Maps)


Quinn Wilson

The Orange County Register

Three alleged “sovereign citizens”  accused of possessing firearms, ammunition and improvised explosive devices were arrested over the weekend in desert communities, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said Sunday, June 19.

On Saturday, June 18, deputies were patrolling near the intersection of Twentynine Palms Highway and Old Woman Springs Road in Yucca Valley, near Joshua Tree National Park,  when a deputy conducted a traffic stop on a white Ford Taurus for suspected vehicle code violations, the Sheriff’s Department said in a news release.

The driver, who was identified as David Russell, 46, and his passenger, Jeffrey Russell, 50, both of Johnson Valley, claimed that they were sovereign citizens to the deputies, authorities said. Sovereign citizens believe they are not under the jurisdiction of the federal government and consider themselves exempt from U.S. law., according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The center tracks extremist groups.

After a records check, it was learned that neither were allowed to own or possess firearms, authorities said. The deputies then found live ammunition, black gun power, and an “improvised military-grade explosive device” in their car, the Sheriff’s Department said.

The explosive device was later “disposed” of in a safe area by the Sheriff’s Department’s bomb and arson division.

The deputies then learned that additional explosives were at a property in Johnson Valley, a community north of Yucca Valley near Highway 247, and a search warrant was obtained to search it, sheriff’s officials said.

A search was conducted at the suspects’ “remote sovereign citizen compound” and 54-year-old Venus Mooney of Johnson Valley was found at the scene and detained, the Sheriff’s Department said. During the search, additional “military-grade explosives,” ammunition, and firearms were found, authorities said.

These explosives were “properly disposed of” by the bomb and arson team, sheriff’s officials said.

All three were arrested on suspicion of possession of an explosive device and possession of a controlled substance while armed, authorities said.

All were being held without bail, the Sheriff’s Department said.

It wasn’t immediately clear if any of the suspects were represented by a lawyer.

The Sheriff’s Department didn’t immediately say if it was known why the suspects allegedly possessed explosives.

Alleged sovereign citizens intermittently come to the attention of the public and officials. One, for instance, was arrested as a suspect in the 2018 Holy fire that raged in Orange and Riverside counties. More recently, some sovereign citizens were involved in submitting fake election records to the National Archives in 2020, an Arizona official said.

Anyone with information regarding the investigation was urged to contact Deputy Carlos at 760-366-4175.

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