It all started when a man showed up on their front door, telling them that they were trespassing in their own home.
From that moment on, the Qualls family in Nolensville has waged a war against what the FBI and a leading watchdog of hate groups calls, “paper terrorism.”
The term was coined several years ago when sovereign citizens, individuals who reject our government and court system, began to fill court clerk’s offices with bizarre judgments concerning properties.
In many cases, the judgments claim the properties were improperly sold.
The people or companies that own the properties end up in court having to fight just to earn a clean title.
“If terrorism is an action to bring about threat or pain to affect a political change, when a sovereign citizen starts filing paperwork on people, it's a vicious and vindictive action that they're engaging in,” said Ryan Lenz with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Emily Qualls said not long after purchasing their home last year, a man named Leighton Ward arrived with a message.
“He in turn said we were trespassing, that this was his property,” Qualls said.
It is a message Ward would later repeat in text messages, including, “It’s not your property anymore.”
“(Ward is) someone who truly believes in an alternate reality and has drug us in to this chaos,” Qualls said.
When the I-Team informed Lenz about the Qualls case, he felt it was an example of what they’ve seen all across the country.
"It is a classic example of paper terrorism, almost to a T," Lenz said.
In the Qualls case, Ward filed a judgment from the Federal Postal Court in the Williamson County courts, stating that their home was improperly sold to them.
In YouTube videos and other court records, Ward and others who share his beliefs stated that the Federal Postal Court was started by Benjamin Franklin in 1775.
Ward claimed that he is the clerk of the Federal Postal Court.
Ward also stated in his YouTube videos that the English language isn’t correct and that he will only respond if people use correct syntax verbiage.
The Southern Poverty Law Center said people like Ward aren’t crazy, but are instead sovereign citizens who are trying to separate themselves from our government.
"It's both retribution and vindication of an ideology,” Lenz said.
In the Qualls case, the situation is even more complicated.
Leighton Ward has been in the house many times, as it was once his mother’s home that was then sold to the Qualls.
The Qualls said when Ward came to their house months after it was sold, he explained that the Federal Postal Court had issued the ruling that the only way to settle the matter was for the Qualls to sue their title company.
“In exchange for that sum of money, they would give us the free and clear title that they were awarded through this ruling,” Qualls said.
When the Qualls told him to stay away, Emily’s husband, Brad, saw him driving by the house.
The Qualls ultimately ended up in court, successfully getting a restraining order.
“He watched me and slowed down in front of my house and just stared me down as I was in my driveway,” Brad Qualls testified during the hearing.
Ward didn’t show up at the hearing. Instead, he made a YouTube video at the exact same time, claiming he’d asked for a conference call with the parties involved and acknowledged that he’d come to the Qualls home.
“(I) stood on his (Brad Qualls’) front porch, not really his front porch but the house in which he moved in illegally,” Ward said in the video.
In another YouTube video, Ward posted a recorded phone call with Arizona attorney David Funkhouser, in which Funkhouser lectures Ward for the judgment filed in his client’s case.
A lawsuit shows Ward’s postal court issued a judgment against a property in Arizona, and Funkhouser is the attorney for the trustee.
“Your court is not a real court. It is a fake court,” Funkhouser said. “The real courts are going to eventually take down you and your silly court. I think this is going to end badly for you.”
Not long after that YouTube video was made, Ward was arrested. He is charged with multiple offenses in Arizona.
Even though our court system does not recognize the Federal Postal Court, families like the Qualls often still have to take the matter to court.
Even in Williamson County, Ward was allowed to issue his judgment into the court record, so if the Qualls want to one day sell the home, that judgment clouds the title.
Ward is in a California jail awaiting extradition to Arizona.
The I-Team repeated called there and contacted him and his family on his cell phone, but Ward did not directly respond to our request for an interview.
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