WAUKESHA, Wis. - You might call it a ‘fringe’ theory - literally. Throughout the Waukesha Christmas Parade trial this month, Darrell Brooks has persistently questioned the court's jurisdiction over him. Brooks, who is accused of killing six people and injuring more than sixty others in November 2021, declared himself a so-called ‘sovereign citizen’ just before his trial began.
Brooks questioned virtually every state witness about their relationship with "the plaintiff" and if they'd ever met "the State of Wisconsin." The questions align with a legal theory espoused by sovereign citizen adherents that states are not proper plaintiffs in criminal cases and that judges - who are government officials - have an inherent conflict of interest.
"It's a military symbol," Brooks said.
According to the American Legion, gold fringe – including the American bald eagle – was first added to military flags in 1895. However, the Legion says civilian flags sometimes include gold fringe as an "honorary enrichment."
Sovereign citizen theorists suggest gold-fringed flags in courtrooms prove that the courts are, in fact, structures of the military.
"So is this a common law court or an admiralty law court?" Brooks asked Monday.
"Mr. Brooks," replied Judge Dorow. "I'm frankly not going to address these nonsense legal theories of yours. I'm muting you. They have been debunked. They are typical sovereign tactics that have no place in our judicial system."
Judge Jennifer Dorow
A federal judge in Texas ruled in 1996 that the "fringed flag" defense is frivolous and "without merit."
"Unfortunately for [the] Defendant," wrote US District Judge Mary Lou Robinson, "decor is not a determinant for jurisdiction."
That hasn't stopped criminal defendants across the country from attempting to use sovereign citizen tactics to fight charges. The Southern Poverty Law Center says there is no way to know how many "sovereigns" there are in the United States today, because there is no central leadership. However, the organization indicates its growth since the 1990s has been "explosive," with an estimated 500,000 relying on sovereign arguments to protest paying their taxes.