A federal judge has found a Galveston man guilty of receipt and possession of child pornography, despite the accused’s assertions he couldn’t be prosecuted because he is a sovereign citizen, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
John David Knowlton, 56, was found guilty Tuesday after a two-day bench trial, said Angela Dodge, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Knowlton’s sentencing is tentatively set for Aug. 28.
Knowlton had chosen to represent himself, alongside a court-appointed shadow defense counsel, Dodge said.
Knowlton argued the federal judicial system didn’t have authority to punish him because he was a sovereign citizen, Dodge said.
The FBI defines the sovereign citizen movement as a group of anti-government extremists who believe they are separate from the United States, despite physically residing in the country. Adherents argue they don’t have to answer to any government authority, such as courts, taxing entities and law enforcement, according to federal documents.
About 100,000 people identify as sovereign citizen believers with another 200,000 tentatively interested in the belief system, according to estimates from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle is among a more famous example of a person identifying as a sovereign citizen, unsuccessfully arguing that position in a federal court appeal, according to a report by the Washington Post. In 2015, Fogle was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to child pornography-related charges.
Investigators in February 2016 found an IP address, a numeric address given to a computer connected to the internet, associated with Knowlton’s residence that contained images of child pornography, Dodge said.
Authorities searched Knowlton’s home, where they found more than a dozen devices with thousands of pictures and hundreds of videos of child pornography, the government alleged.
Knowlton faces between five and 20 years in prison for the receipt of child pornography and up to 10 years for possession of child pornography, Dodge said.