Saturday, December 09, 2006

The action actor plays the fool

The recent media coverage of the "plight" of action-star Wesley Snipes has shed a little mainstream-news light on the schemers who lure people into the legal mythology sometimes referred to as the "patriot" or "sovereign" movement.

In this through-the-looking glass legal lalla-land, old conspiracies seem to gain new life every few years. They get ressurected and thrive on gullible people who really want to believe in them, and the operators of schemes have learned how to put the right spin on some very old and very tired (but completely legally debunked) mythology, including not having to pay income taxes.

There are too many of these crazies to list here (but at the left you can find most of them at the Quatloos site), and in the grand scheme of things, they really don't have a statistically-significant army of followers who will do anything other than read and comment as opposed to act on the recommendations. Some of the promoters are in prison or about to be or are under investigation. Others exhibit simple confused ramblings or completely incoherent and bizarre theories. They argue (colorfully sometimes) among themselves about who has the most successes. A few try to make a living off convincing people they can get out of everything from traffic tickets to income taxes.

Somehow, Snipes found himself listening to an acolyte/promoter of one of the anti-IRS "don't have to pay tax" schemes, one Eddie Kahn. Another long-term promoter of legal nonsense, Barton Buhtz, is being roped in with Eddie and their "defense" is studded with the typical legal absurdities so common to these myths.

In order to understand how far out of reality these promoters operate, one has to step into the realm of believing a long string of utterly absurd conspiracy theories that tie non-existent events together into a tangle of legal nonsense. You also have to ignore competent legal advice and assume the entire judicial structure of the US doesn't really have any authority over you if you just do and say the right things.

A combination of ignorance (in part due to lack of educational focus), an innate desire to believe in conspiracies and of course the Internet itself have created a fertile field for scheme promoters. Years ago, they sold a few books and cassette tapes through word-of-mouth and might have even sold seats in seminars. Now they have the Internet and find a new audience every day.

And it's all just "educational material," and protected free speech, right up until some poor fool winds up trying their new, super-duper-secret strategy in a real legal setting. They make themselves appear not only guilty, but in a few cases even mentally unfit to stand trial. As one Judge put it, the defendant might as well have tried to convince the court that the earth was flat. The defendant wasn't happy about that at all; the "attorney in black robes" was supposed to have simply rolled over and played dead and dismissed the charges under the onslaught of legal accumen. After all, that's what all those guys who post their stories on various forums say happened when they used whoever's method.

Some are less dangerous than others. Some admit they haven't actually tried their techniques in court but of course have heard of lots of successes (which for privacy reasons, they really can't list the actual case cite). One David Van Pelt of Colorado Springs goes by the name of David Merrill (in part to disassociate himself with a prior federal conviction in the Montana Freeman fiasco). He wanders in and out of coherent thought on various Internet forums and on sites he maintains. A short review of his writings, methods and strategies is enough to convince the vast majority of readers that he is truly delusional or at most, just a harmless nut. But someone who doesn't have much common sense or hasn't studied some of the more bizarre nonsense may be lured into trying things that result in being prosecuted.

Of course, Van Pelt risks nothing in trying to get people to try and discern what he's talking about long enough to try his methods; few of these kinds of fiction writers ever do face suit or prosecution unless one of their client/followers (like Snipes) raises their theory to the level of doing things like defrauding the government based on what they have advised.

And a fool willing to try these kinds of things in civil matters (like debt collections or foreclosure) will have unclean hands trying to go after the author/promoter when they lose their case.

So all one can hope to do is warn reasonable folks that taking advice from people who promote unsound and irrational conspiracy-driven legal nonsense is the path to more trouble, not less.

Just ask Wesley Snipes - in a few months.

The Honorable Judge Roy Bean

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