This article originally appeared in VICE UK.
YouTube is probably the greatest anthropological project ever launched. It has managed to expose the multitudes of the human condition more than any other medium ever created, and allowed people to express themselves in more diverse ways than at any point in history. This weekly column is an outlet for me to share with you some undiscovered gems, as well some very well trodden gems, and discuss just what it is that makes the chosen accounts so intriguing.
WHO: Not Personal
WHAT: Videos of people unsuccessfully trying to circumvent laws by claiming they are sovereign citizens
HOW MANY SUBSCRIBERS AT TIME OF WRITING: 1,317
WHY SHOULD I CARE: A few years ago, a very specific type of video began appearing more and more often among my circles on social media. It was at a time when I was being arrested for drug possession and generally getting into the youthful pursuit of anti-establishmentarianism. Fuck the police, they're all pigs, why can't I smoke weed near schools and in churches, etc? Why am I not allowed to do whatever I want, Mr Prime Minister? I just want to listen to MF Doom in a park without plainclothes police officers bundling me into a squad car to confiscate the scant amount of cannabis I had in my bag. Is that too much to ask? Clearly.
But then these videos started to appear – videos that made me feel like I didn't have to submit. People were filming their interactions with the police, and they were using all sorts of jargon and arguments to absolve themselves from whatever crime they'd been accused of committing.
"Am I being detained?" is the mantra of these "free men" and "free women" – these "sovereign citizens" – who refuse to give their names or answer questions as to what they're doing and why. They became popular enough for David Cross and Bob Odenkirk to pastiche the practice on their patchy Mr Show Netflix comeback. Sometimes it pays off – the officer gives up, everyone's time sufficiently wasted. Sometimes, though, it doesn't pay off at all. The opposite happens. In the words of the infantile community of braying video game upload commenters, these people get "rekt".
Not Personal is a fitting name for an account that documents essentially impersonal interactions between two people who think they're right. The only problem is: one has legal right to incarcerate the other if they feel it's necessary. The account specifically shows people failing to convince police officers that they're "sovereign citizens", and are therefore not obligated to follow certain laws of the land.
Most of the offences are traffic stops by highway cops, so the sovereign citizens claim they are "travelling" and are free to do so without any of the relevant legal documents that you or I would be required to possess or hand over to authorities. It's all based in very murky legal waters – the result of a lot of forum reading, a lot of googling and not a lot of actual living. When confronted with these special souls, many of the officers lose their temper after extended questioning and end up smashing the car window and dragging them out.
I cannot in any capacity condone any kind of forceful arrest of peaceful (if incredibly annoying and self centred) individuals. As much as it pains me and the (HED)Pe fan that is my former self, these interactions could be easily avoided by giving the officer your driving license. There really is no reason not to, unless your license is all fucked up and out of date, in which case: busted! Plus, if the police didn't have a reason to suspect you initially, they sure as fuck do now.
I'm not totally easy with the presentation of these things, either; sadly, as with anything online, there's not a lot of leeway for nuance. The police are either power hungry pigs or just good guys trying to do their jobs.
It is, of course, absolutely integral to all of our safety that the police are held accountable and filmed misbehaving and shirking their civic duties to fulfil their own egotistical, misjudged ends. But filming an unsuspecting traffic cop trying to look at your driving license after you've been speeding (literally his job) and refusing to tell him your name, as if you're a fucking in-exile super spy, is just dumb.
I know this might read slightly like a pro-police "just let them do their jobs!" propaganda, but I can assure you it's not. There's just a certain satisfaction in a know-it-all getting "rekt". Plus, I really like watching dickheads get their windows smashed in with hammers.
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