What do Oregon ranchers really believe?

The sovereign movement exists as its own community, distinct from the Patriots, but there are overlaps. Sovereigns believe in an alternate history of the United States that includes an alternate set of laws; for instance, most adherents think the 14th Amendment illegitimately made Americans subject to the government rather than sovereign unto themselves. Many also believe the government uses citizens as collateral for foreign debts, and that the government holds funds on their behalf, which they can claim through the filing of specific documents. Sovereigns are notorious for filing spurious court documents that can get tied up in the system for years—so-called paper terrorism. They also have become increasingly violent in recent years, mostly resisting arrest or actively targeting police in ambushes.

The movement has its origins in white nationalism, but it has outgrown those roots. Today there is a thriving black sovereign movement (with slightly different beliefs) and even a growing global presence.

Sovereign terminology, and some sovereign ideas, are often cited among Patriots, particularly with a focus on county-level government as the ideal form of authority in the United States. Despite their use of similar language, the Bundys have not to date been known to adopt the peculiar habits of true sovereign believers, such as making their own paper license plates, or filing fake liens against unfriendly government officials.

Radical Mormon beliefs have also apparently come into play at Malheur. There is little clear evidence so far of a well-developed modern Mormon extremist movement fueling the occupation, but such groups have existed historically and even more recently in Utah and other Western states.