One of the ringleaders of the militia takeover of an Oregon nature preserve last winter is now hoping to avoid prison by convincing the courts that the United States is actually being run by a shadow government that enslaves children at birth.
Ryan Bundy faces multiple felony charges for his role in the week-long armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January, which armed anti-government radicals occupied for nearly six weeks. Bundy’s followers were out-of-towners drawn to the area by protests against the imprisonment of two Oregon ranchers. One occupier named Lavoy Finicum was killed by police after attempting to run a roadblock nearby, and the remaining occupiers surrendered to authorities a few days later.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy are each charged with conspiring to lead the occupation, and with a string of other crimes in connection to the bizarre saga. But none of those charges can touch him, Ryan says, because he’s a sovereign citizen not subject to U.S. law.
“i; ryan c, man, am an idiot of the ‘Legal Society’; and; am an idiot (layman, outsider) of the ‘Bar Association’; and; i am incompetent; and; am not required by any law to be competent; and;,” Bundy wrote in one legal filing submitted Thursday.
“i; ryan c, man, accept no offer of representation, as no man is qualified to represent i; and; i; ryan c, man, will hold any man liable, in his/her private capacity, for any burden, placed upon i, man, by any man, by way of representation of i; and;,” he wrote in another.
Bundy’s use of semicolons and insistence on referring to himself in lower-case letters are hallmarks of a crackpot legal theory favored by so-called “sovereign citizens.” These Americans believe that a nefarious cabal of secret authorities long ago usurped the true and legal government of the nation. The supposed infiltrators convert every American born into collateral for borrowing money from abroad, the theory goes.
Until a person goes through a process called “redemption” to abandon the all-caps version of their name printed on formal government documents, sovereigns believe, they remain a debt-slave to this shadow state. Once “redeemed,” sovereigns go to work defying the courts with documents like the ones Bundy has been submitting in recent months.
The anti-government radicals who promote this stuff say they are rooting their arguments in “common law,” and that U.S. courts operate on “admiralty law” that can’t be applied to people like Bundy. It’s a dangerous way to think, as reason magazine’s Jesse Walker told ThinkProgress in January, because it leads gullible people to put themselves in serious jeopardy.
“People are throwing their lives away thinking they can be protected by these magic arguments, and then ending up in jail,” Walker said. “To me it’s the equivalent of somebody giving shitty alternative health advice. This is alternative legal advice.”
Naturally, there are people out there trying to make money off of all this. Sovereign Filing Solutions will sell you a three-volume “Redemption Manual” for $330 plus shipping, fight to get you out of a child support agreement for $1,000, or take on your foreclosure case for $3,500.
The idea that there’s a special, secret legal code that can erase all your problems is especially enticing inside prisons, where “common law” kookery has spread especially fast. But the ideas are most often used to try to avoid paying taxes — most famously by the actor Wesley Snipes, who was eventually sentenced to three years in prison for not paying taxes because he believed he wasn’t subject to federal tax law.
How The Bundy Standoff Could Screw Over RanchersThe dry prairies of Southeast Oregon have been the backdrop for land disputes for centuries – long before armed men…thinkprogress.orgBut while most sovereign citizens’ “weapon of choice is paper,” as movement expert J.J. MacNab wrote in 2010, this corner of the American tapestry sees more than its share of bloodshed. The most high-profile followers of Bundy’s ideology have tended to be violent armed men.
Sovereign ideologues triggered two dozen separate incidents of violence around the country from 2010 to 2014, a sporadic rate of extremist violence that the Department of Homeland Security expects to continue. When sovereigns do become violent, they usually target law enforcement. Most recently, the man who killed three police in Baton Rouge this month shared Bundy’s beliefs.
Sovereign thinking undergirds the entire Bundy family’s string of showdowns with land management authorities around the west in recent years. The alternative legal theories of the movement were on particular display in Oregon, where Bundy’s occupiers wanted to arrest a local sheriff and try him for treason on the Malheur grounds.
Bundy’s gambit is unlikely to work any better in court than it did on the bird sanctuary. He is a leading suspect in a high-profile set of crimes that were documented online as they happened — leaving little room for dispute. Prosecutors and judges aren’t liable to let Bundy’s series of felony charges slide just because he throws piles of semicolons at them.