Two videos emerged over the first weekend of May 2020 showing a woman refusing to wear a face mask while at Shunfu Mart.
In one of the videos, the woman, who is being confronted by numerous people around her, made a rather confusing statement.
"I'm a sovereign! I am a sovereign," she said, while explaining why she did not have to wear a mask.
The lady in question had actually appeared in two other viral videos that circulated in April.
Those videos were taken at the same market, and featured the woman confronted by police for not wearing a mask.
Instead of expressing remorse, she whipped out her phone then and pointed its camera defiantly at the police.
In the latest video, the woman made a reference to the incident, saying:
"I'll show you a video of the police, here! Same thing, trying to stop me. They walked off, without a warning, without a fine."
She then explained the law did not apply to her:
"I'm a sovereign! I am a sovereign. This is something that people are not gonna know what it means. They don't even know what a sovereign is. It means I have nothing to do with the police. It means I have no contract with the police and they have no say over me."
A male voice then chimed in that "it doesn't make any sense", and added, "If you're a person in Singapore you have to follow the rules of Singapore."
"That's the thing," replied the woman.
"I'm not a person. I'm 'We the People'."
The declaration in the viral video sent Singaporeans into a Google search frenzy, with the word "sovereign" being the most searched word in the country on Sunday.
What is a sovereign citizen?
The concept of a sovereign citizen has its roots in the United States where it has turned into something of a movement.
According to Forbes, an individual who claims to be a sovereign citizen is someone who believes that they are above all laws.
In the U.S. those who subscribe to the movement believe that they are not held accountable by U.S. laws, even though they live within its borders.
Instead, in this world view, they are sovereign — possessing ultimate power — over themselves.
The New York Times reported that the movement has its origins in a conspiracy theory regarding the U.S. government, which spun an alternative take on American history.
According to the sovereign citizens, the U.S. government was at some point covertly usurped by a corporation.
That corporation eventually went bankrupt and sought help from international financiers.
As collateral, the corporation — which was now posing as the government — put up its citizens, or so goes the tale.
This rendered state documents, such as a birth certificate or identification cards (in the U.S. this is known as a social security card) contracts of enslavement.
The only way to freedom? Renounce these documents and assert your sovereignty.
What do sovereign citizens do?
The way that belief in the movements generally play out is various forms of civil disobedience and crimes.
A 2011 FBI report found that sovereign citizens were found to be engaged in financial crimes and frauds, with many in the movement seeking to evade taxes or dispose of debt.
In extreme cases, sovereign citizens may even become violent.
The FBI report cited the killings of two police officers in 2010.
The officers had stopped two sovereign citizen extremists — a man and and his 16-year-old son — during a routine traffic check.
The son then jumped out of the vehicle and shot the officers with an assault rifle, murdering them.
The woman who refuses to wear a mask
So, how does all this apply to the woman seen in the video?
Well, we can only guess from the short declarations that she made, but it seemed as if she is at least minimally aware about the concept of a sovereign or the sovereign citizens movement.
By claiming she is a sovereign, the woman may be announcing her belief that she is not held accountable by the laws in this country.
That could be why she refused to wear a face mask even though, at the moment, Singapore's law requires individuals to wear one when they're outside the home.
It explains the lady's devil-may-care attitude to the police as well, who are the traditional enforcers of the law.
As — in her mind — she is not accountable to the law, the police, therefore, do not have any power over her.
Her insistence that she is "not a person" but instead "We the People" is likely another nod to the movement in the U.S.
The phrase is a reference to the first words in the first lines of the Constitution of the U.S., a symbol of the move away from rule by a monarch (which was still a common form of government at the time the U.S. constitution was drafted), towards rule by the people via democracy.
Contrary to the woman's claims that she has "nothing to do with the police", Chong Kee Hiong, a Member of the Parliament from Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC revealed in a Facebook post that she had been "swiftly apprehended".
Chong also refuted the woman's assertion that she had not been warned or fined for the previous incident at the same market in Shunfu.
She had instead been "caught and fined".
In response to queries from Mothership, the Singapore Police Force said that they are investigating the woman for voluntarily causing hurt, causing public nuisance, and breaching safe distancing measures.
You can read their statement in full here:
"On 3 May 2020 at 12.16pm, the Police received a call for assistance at 320 Shunfu Road. Preliminary investigations indicated that a 40-year-old Singaporean woman, who had previously breached safe distancing measures, was not wearing a mask and allegedly assaulted a 47-year-old woman who advised her to put on a mask. The Police are investigating the woman for voluntarily causing hurt, causing public nuisance and breaching safe distancing measures under the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations 2020.
The Police take a serious view of such abusive and irresponsible behaviour, especially in the current COVID-19 situation. We urge the public to take the circuit breaker measures seriously and comply with the safe distancing measures."
Top image via Marceino Tng on Facebook