Sorry, Sovereign Citizens, The Government Won't Buy You A Bitchin' Camaro
The crazies of the "sovereign citizens" movement don't believe in the legitimacy of the government, and make up all sorts of weirdass pseudo-legal arguments to explain why they don't have to pay taxes, register their cars, or pay their debts. Courts have long refused to put up with their bullshit, but they keep filing fake lawsuits, and sometimes try to "arrest" government officials so they can be tried in a fake court. So it was pretty weird to see Bloomberg News run an op-ed last week by Harvard law professor Noah Feldman arguing that a sovereign citizen's conviction on charges of attempting to defraud the government was actually a very worrisome infringement on the wingnut's "free speech." Worse, Feldman's column has been widely syndicated, so a whole lot of people are now persuaded that sovereign citizens are merely victims of a government witch hunt against their "quirky protest" methods.
The dude in question, Gunther Glaub, was one of four Colorado men indicted in 2016 for a variety of fraudulent schemes including making false claims against the government and a bunch of other financial shenanigans. Glaub was convicted in February 2017 on five felony counts of filing false claims. He had submitted claims totaling $1.7 million to the Department of Agriculture for the purchase of three cars (including a $73,000 Corvette and a $65,000 Camaro) as well as for the payment of his wife's student loan and another debt Glaub owed to a credit union. You see, in Glaub's version of reality, the US government is responsible for all debts owned by citizens, because something something going off the gold standard. In late December, a federal appeals court upheld Glaub's conviction.
Ah, but wait just a darn minute! says Feldman. This wasn't really fraud, you see, because, as Glaub and his lawyers (one is a former student of Feldman's) argued, Glaub never intended to defraud the government. Instead, he only submitted the bogus claims -- each accompanied with a note reading "Thank you for paying this debt" -- as a means of petitioning the government for redress of his grievance against whatever the fuck he thinks makes taxpayers cover his debts. (Joke's on those taxpayers, of course, since taxes are also illegitimate.)
Feldman is very concerned about the Free Speech implications of the case, because look at the excellent points Glaub's lawyers made in his defense!
Both at trial and on appeal, they made it clear that the documents Glaub sent to the finance director of the USDA were expressions of his idiosyncratic belief, connected to the sovereign-citizen movement, that the federal government owes it to its citizens to pay off their personal debts. (As for why Glaub believes this, suffice it to say it is a convoluted theory that has to do with FDR and the gold standard.)
For good measure, they also argued that the documents weren't "claims" under the meaning of the relevant law, 18 U.S.C. § 287, because (obviously) there's no government program that would allow the USDA to pay off citizens' personal debts.
The court held -- and the appeals court agreed in its ruling -- that no, you really can't submit a false claim to the government, and just because you wrote your claim using speech, fraud isn't protected by the First Amendment. No, really, not even if you later say your fraudulent claim was merely a protest against unjust (albeit wholly imaginary) laws that are oppressing you. Maybe stand outside the Federal Reserve with a sign, dude. The appeals panel also dismissed the notion that the documents weren't really "claims," because Glaub had actually gone to some trouble to detail how the government should submit its payment to the Chevrolet dealer for the Corvette and the Camaro.
Feldman insists this is all a travesty of justice, because the court supposedly gave short shrift to Glaub's First Amendment argument. The appeals court noted, however, that Glaub's attorneys had made that argument at trial, and the jury rejected it. Feldman made much the same point in a 2016 Bloomberg op-ed calling Glaub's actions "silly, not criminal," and arguing that the case should simply be thrown out.
But sovereign citizens aren't merely quirky people with silly ideas about the law. They're a loose collection of crazies given to acting on their bizarre beliefs. At the worst extremes, they've killed people and committed armed assaults on courthouses. Some like to impersonate law enforcement, like the dipshits who put on fake "Marshall" badges and tried to break a fellow dipshit out of jail in New Mexico. (When that didn't work, they sued Donald Trump for $350 million.) Even the non-violent SovCits attempt to jam up the financial and court system through torrents of false claims and court filings that the FBI calls "paper terrorism." So there's really more at stake here than just a funny protest. These dipshits absolutely want to defraud the government and other Americans, because the whole system is corrupt and must be brought down.
Now, to their credit, Glaub's attorneys appear not to have given in to the usual SovCit word-magic flummery in building their defense. As expert on rightwing radicals JJ MacNab points out, though, that's not for lack of trying on Glaub's part; his petition to fire his court-appointed lawyers is chock-full of sovereign citizen pseudolegal jargon (underlining added by Yr Wonkette):
Ah, yes, the agent is not the person is not the individual. Got it. So yes, credit to Glaub's lawyers for keeping the crazy shit out of court, but sorry, guy, demanding the government buy you a Bitchin Camaro or a Little Red Corvette is still fraud, not "protest." And claiming that SovCits are merely engaging in an amusing little protest plays right into their shitty bad-faith arguments.
Pay Wonkette's debts. The agent of the principle of the individual commands you.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.