02 August 2012

Sovereign Citizens

by Eve Fisher

Every once in a while I can't help but wonder what is in the water.  Something is making people crazy. Conspiracy theories abound, general insanity rules, and most of them revolve around various schemes to get rid of government (national, local, whatever).

We have a wide variety of crack-pots up here.  I remember one who showed up in court stating that, since there is no mention of traffic laws in the Constitution, therefore said laws were unconstitutional and illegal to enforce.  That was fun.  But we also have the real jerks who tie up the court system with endless bulls**t lawsuits, from suing lawyers and judges, down to trying to claim their neighbor's land using bogus "quitclaim" deeds.  And we have endless tax protestors, from the casual kind who just mouth off (includes all of us, I'm assuming, at some point), to the Sovereign Citizens (or any of a hundred other names, from expats to strawmen) who decide that they not only don't have to pay any taxes (including local), but often are up to their necks in some of the shadiest "investment" deals you've ever heard of.

Yes, they don't just claim tax immunity for themselves, they make money in the process.  They sell phony insurance, fictitious United States Treasury obligations (so-called “private discharging and indemnity bonds”, “private offset bonds”, and “bonded promissory notes”), and "sovereign citizen" ID cards.


The ID cards supposedly let you out of obeying the laws of the United States by making you an American Citizen, rather than a United States Citizen, which (!) are two different things.  (Or you can claim to be a non-resident alien, which makes me think of blue skin and gills.)  According to Florida Barrister Austin Gary Cooper of Taking Back America:

“American Citizens are to abide six laws; U.S. citizens are subject to 60 million statutes.  What would you rather do -- obey six laws or try to obey 60 million statutes?"  He claims that the split came with
  1. the 14th Amendment, the one that freed Negro slaves and made us all U.S. citizens and thereby slaves &
  2. the Expatriation Act of 1868, passed by the 40th Congress which says:  “An Act concerning the Rights of American Citizens in foreign States...Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that any declaration, instruction, order or decision of any Officers of this government which denies, restricts, impairs or questions the right of expatriation, is hereby declared inconsistent with the fundamental principles of this government.”
 — United States Statutes at Large, Volume 15, Chapter 249, page 223, 40th Congress. [MY NOTE:  This Act was passed to stop British impressment of American sailors into the British navy.]

Now,  Cooper  says that the use of the term "American Citizens" had a hidden meaning:  that the United States is the proper name for the federal government and its territories and possessions and is, therefore, a state foreign to a person born into American citizenship. “The 40th Congress, knowing what was coming the following day, gave us the ability to expatriate ourselves from the U.S. side, and repatriate ourselves back into the American side, where... you [have] all the power in the world to do anything you want so long as you don't injure a person or his property, or take the rights of others.  As a U.S. citizen, you are a possession of the United States government and therefore are subject to its 60 million statutes.”

You also don't have to pay taxes.  If you buy one of Mr. Cooper's packages (they're $1,600 each, but what price freedom, eh?), you never have to pay federal income taxes again!  You'd be amazed at the number of people who buy these packages, at least up here.  Some just have them; others try to live by them, and end up in court.  And then they end up in prison, because neither Mr. Cooper nor any of his ilk come to anyone's aid.  They take the money and vanish.  It would all be hilarious, except one of the most famous members of the Sovereign Citizen Movement was Terry Nichols of the Oklahoma City bombing...


10 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

Eve, having lived in the 'borderline' north, I think it has something to do with the long winters… but wait… that doesn't account for the batshit craziness in Florida and Arizona.

Janice said...

And I thought Florida was the mother lode for writers!
I can't help feeling a twinge of envy for this material.

Eve Fisher said...

Oh, they're everywhere - I'm sure they're all over Florida, too. Just keep an eye out for those ID cards!

Robert Lopresti said...

This is probably picking at nits (or rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic) but my first reaction was "if he doesn't know which amendment freed the slaves I'm not going to trust him with my taxes."

I occasionally get someone in the library who has heard some great explanation of why they don't have to pay taxes and wants to check it in the US Code. I usually suggest they look in Quatloos, which is to tax scams what Snopes is to internet hoaxes.

Great column.

David Dean said...

During my police career I ran into a number of interesting attempts to be exempted from the law. Some were very like your examples here. One such was a Yamassee "Ambassador". However, he was unable to tell me where the Yamassee were from. Being a Georgia boy, I just happened to know they were an American Indian tribe in my native state many years ago. Said ambassador was placed in a U.S. jail in spite of his diplomatic status. Oddly, there were no heated exchanges between my govt. and his.

Another good one is the U.S. Drivers License. Yes, you too can buy one of these and drive to your heart's content in the U.S.A. That is until you are stopped by the police. They are both costly, and worthless; not to mention illegal.

Blub said...

I got a US Divers license. I may be in deep water there, but does that count?

David Dean said...

I think you may be safe there, Blub; so long as it isn't a "diplomatic" diver's license.

Anonymous said...

A diplomatic diver, of course, being one whose hand and arm signals are of the most refined nature. (Cue snare drum) And, his bubbles never burst; they just effervesce. (Cue cymbal)
--Dix

Dixon Hill said...

Eve, this really was a great article. My wife ran into one of these nuts when she served on jury duty a short while ago. The defendant (a 23-yr-old arrested for DUI) claimed the judge, all lawyers, police, and criminologists "have no jurisdiction" over him. The kicker?? He represented himself in court, saying that he had done so “in all my court cases.” Naturally, he lost.
--Dix

P.S. No idea why I wasn't signed in for the last comment, but was for this one. (Maybe the GoogleBots don't like puns.)

Eve Fisher said...

The nuts are everywhere. I was at a big lunch after a meeting a year or so ago, and wouldn't you know it, there were 3 people who'd just been to an "anti-tax workshop" and were just bursting with joy that they had finally found a way around the US government. I suggested that they'd find themselves in prison, but they thought I was just envious because I hadn't gotten the magic package. I left them thinking exactly that.