Once Again, Sovereign Citizens Making Life Difficult for Sane People
I’ve written before about the “sovereign citizens” movement – a group of people who claim not to recognize the authority of the federal government. These beliefs are usually backed up by some incredibly bizarre legal theories – claims that capitalizing one’s name in a court document makes the document invalid, claiming that a flag in a courtroom with a gold fringe signifies that it’s an “admiralty court” which has no jurisdiction over them, etc.
These arguments usually come up when a sovereign citizen is asked to pay their mortgage, or to pay back taxes (as you may assume, most of them argue that they are under no obligation to pay federal taxes).
Most sovereign citizens are lone crackpots who are harmless, as long as they don’t become violent. The worst thing they usually do is waste courts’ time by filing frivolous and incomprehensible documents.
But what happens when the owner of a medium-sized to large company is taking his company through bankruptcy, and gets caught up in this nonsense? That’s what happened in Chicago recently: the owner of the Giordano’s pizza chain filed some documents with a bankruptcy court which were prepared by a “sovereign citizen” guru.
As one might imagine, it’s causing a lot of trouble with the bankruptcy court. I certainly don’t envy the clerks who will have to pore over indecipherable filings, trying to make sense of them, just in case a valid legal argument accidentally found its way in.
It appears that the owner of the pizza chain has not been interested in “sovereign citizen” ideas for very long. As is often the case, he was taken in by a charismatic sovereign citizen guru. These individuals often peddle seminars, self-published books, and pre-printed court filings. They tend to dupe people who don’t know much about the law, and think that they can skirt their legal obligations by saying a few magic words.
Sovereign citizens groups often end up victimizing gullible people who don’t know any better. The owner of the pizza chain, however, doesn’t really have the excuse of ignorance. He was a successful businessman, who had a team of lawyers advising him on the proper way to proceed through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. He chose to ignore their advice, and he fired them, or they withdrew from representation because their client refused to take their advice. What motivated him to pursue such a futile and self-destructive legal strategy isn’t clear, but its consequences are: a bankruptcy trustee has taken over operations of the business, and the owner has been barred from entering the company’s headquarters, or even patronizing the restaurant.
Just as a refresher, I should go over the sovereign citizen movement’s most common arguments and selling points, which should help you to avoid being taken in by their nonsense. Of course, if you really want to buy what they’re selling, chances are good that you won’t be interested in hearing their arguments debunked. This is intended for people who don’t want to get screwed over by a sovereign citizen.
One of the most common, and most bizarre, arguments that sovereign citizens make is the “capital letters” argument. Trying to figure out the exact logic behind it is futile, because there is no logic to it. But, it goes something like this: court documents often write the names of parties in ALL CAPS. Because most people don’t write their names in all caps, sovereign citizens argue, the court document is not actually addressing them, and they are therefore not bound by it. As you probably guessed, this argument is completely bogus, and every court that has been presented with it has dismissed it out of hand.
Sovereign citizens also refuse to carry drivers’ licenses, and sometimes even print their own. They often make their own license plates, as well. Of course, they argue that they are not bound by the authority of the state, so they do not have to carry state documents. This does not stop them from being arrested for driving without a license, registration, or car insurance.
Essentially, anyone who claims that you can place yourself above the law is either delusional, or attempting to sell you something, or possibly both, and you take their advice at your peril.
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