This land is my land, dammit

I recently saw a wonderful video in which a bratty sounding young woman and her equally bratty sounding beau were pulled over by the cops in some southwestern state, Arizona, probably, and when the cop asked for their license and registration, the bratty duo proceeded to inform the officer that they were “free inhabitants” and that they did not recognize the police officer’s authority.  The cop was a good sport about it all and the video proceeded as you might expect.  The TL/DW script goes something like this:

COP: License and registration

GIRL: No, am free inhbtnt

COP: Lol, License and registration

GIRL: No, free inhbtnt

COP: Lol, I’m going to remove you from the vehicle

GIRL: No, free inhbtnt

COP: Lol, k

*cop removes girl from car, despite her most strident protestations*

FIN

Schadenfreude value aside, this video has stuck in my mind for a couple months now mostly because I had not a single idea what the hell this bratty sounding girl was talking about when she described herself as a “free inhabitant”.

Some quick googling led me to a couple conclusions:

-Free inhabitants mostly don’t want to be held responsible for paying taxes or debts, and so they go off the grid (sort of).

-They base their ideas off some pretty impressive mental gymnastics and selective interpretation of Article 4 of the Articles of Confederation, you know, the constitution we trashed in 1789.

-They’re mostly harmless whackos.

As goofy as “free inhabitants” are, they’ve got nothing on their unhinged cousins, “sovereign citizens.” Sovereign citizens are essentially free inhabitants with guns.  While free inhabitants recognize some level of governmental authority, in that they base their entire movement on their interpretation of a legal document, sovereign citizens do not recognize governmental authority at any level.  They believe that Uncle Sam is a fraud, and that anything associated with the “illegitimate” government of the U.S. of A. is also illegitimate and that citizenry is essentially a form of slavery.  These folks make Ron Paul and Ayn Rand look like Karl Marx or the dude who assassinated William McKinley.  

Think of it this way: free inhabitants are like your goofy aunt who smokes a ton of pot and swears by the healing power of crystals, and lives in the woods because the IRS repossessed all her shit; sovereign citizens are your uncle with the conspiracy theories if he actually followed through on his threats to take the country back from the lizard people.

So what does it mean to be a sovereign citizen, in practical terms? Well for one it means that they do not recognize the power of the police, which can and does lead to violent encounters with police, and, like “free inhabitants,” they don’t feel obliged to pay taxes.  They also don’t recognize any courts or laws that we less-than-sovereign-folks do. The Anti-Defamation League has a wonderful write up on these folks –and the LAW SCHOOLS they operate throughout the southwest — which can be found here. Here is one choice excerpt:

There are scores of sovereign citizen gurus across the United States. Some, such as Richard James McDonald of California (or “Sir Richard James, McDonald,” as he often refers to himself) and 7 David Wynn Miller of Wisconsin (or “PLENIPOTENIARY-JUDGE: David-Wynn: Miller”), have been prominent gurus for decades. Others, such as Jerry Kane, the man involved in the West Memphis shootings, are newer to the scene…..

Some gurus, though, have theories so arcane that few others could ever easily repeat them. Perhaps the best example is David Wynn Miller, who has actually created (and uses) a completely alternative grammar for the English language, which he claims allows him to master the judicial system. Or, as Miller puts it on his Web site, “FOR THIS PLENIPOTENTIARY-JUDGE: David-Wynn: Miller’s-KNOWLEDGE OF THESE CORRECT-SENTENCE-STRUCTURES-COMMUNICATION-SYNTAX-LANGUAGE=(C.-S.-S.-C.-S.-L.) IS WITH THE CLAIMS BY THE QUANTUM-LANGUAGE-SYNTAX-NOW-TIME-FACTS.”

Now, it’s easy enough to write these people off as whackos except for the fact that, even they have been known to be violent, it’s not as if everyone these days is super excited about the direction the federal government is going. Regardless of which side of the aisle you’re on, there are plenty of recent examples of individuals, groups, and even government agencies bucking or outright defying the rule of Washington:

-The rise of the Tea Party in the 2009 elections, in which the Republican party spasmed, bonked their head, and put people like Michelle Bachmann in positions of power, shares a lot of the same sort of preference for highly decentralized government and pseudo-conservatism that free inhabitants and sovereign citizens espouse.

-The Bundy Family & Co., who took over (by force and with guns) an Oregon wildlife sanctuary, claiming that the Federal Government was no longer protecting or providing citizens their Constitutional rights. This group also claimed that the Bureau of Land Management was unlawfully and unethically committing a land grab in a classic case of Little-Rancher-David vs. Federal-Overreach-Goliath.  This saga is worthy of it’s own full feature but suffice it to say, they too think that Uncle Sam is an over-reaching dick who doesn’t care about the little man.

-The protest FaceBook Accounts created by “rogue” members of the National Parks Service after President Trump issued gag orders on the Service following his election.  These are great.

Kim Davis, the beautiful city clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples in Kentucky following the Supreme Court ruling which made same-sex marriage legal across the land.  Davis was held up as a hero by people who genuinely think that the government has no right meddling in local issues.  These folks had no problem with gay people, obviously.  

Regardless where you personally come down on the issue of limits on the power of the central government, and how governments derive power, you have to admit that the sovereign citizen movement (some estimates put the total number of Sovereign Citizens in the US at ~300,000) raises some interesting questions about where “society” begins and you end, as well as how blurry the founding fathers intended that line to be.  Free inhabitants and sovereign citizens take things to the extreme but as we have seen, and likely will continue to see, the limits on federal power will continue to be pushed and tested.

And hey, if we’re headed for a coup, it might be time for me to give sovereign citizenship a try.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons