This article originally appeared on VICE Canada
The Freemen on the Land (FOTL) movement, a sovereign citizen group that has followers in Canada, the US, and the UK, has been described by law enforcement in the past as an extremist organization capable of domestic terrorism. In Canada, the ideology has been linked with acts of aggression and violence, including the shooting against RCMP officers in Edmonton last year.
In a recent article, VICE examined the history of FOTL in Canada and spoke to experts to see whether something similar to the Oregon standoff—whose militia shares somewhat similar demands to Freemen ideology—could happen here in Canada.
FOTL followers generally have a few core beliefs, all of which revolve around self-sufficiency and a rejection of modern governments. Many Freemen will cut up their identification such as driver's licenses and health cards; they'll avoid paying taxes and dodge fines or small charges; they'll use strange terminology and jargon inside courts in an effort to challenge or disobey judges, saying they need to consent to statute law. Many freemen reject typical societal norms that most people generally adhere to.
Robert Menard, the director of the World Freemen Society and a leader of the movement in Canada, has been considered a guru of the FOTL wave for a long time. Menard considers him an expert in natural law and runs a YouTube channel where he educates followers with videos and (free) books that he puts out on how to counteract what the Freemen consider unfair laws.
Menard has done interviews with media in the past while representing the Freemen, but is apprehensive of how publications have painted his organization in the past. I spoke to him yesterday to understand a bit more about the Freemen and to see where they stand on the current situation in Oregon.
VICE: I've been researching the movement for a little bit now, and I have general idea about what it is, but I'll start off by asking: How would you describe the FOTL movement?
Robert Menard: I believe we're labeled as "anti-government," but I would say it's more accurate to say we're pro-good government. We believe in equality and personal responsibility, and as such, we believe that no one has the right to govern their fellow man without the consent of the governing.
What drew you to the movement?
Like many other people, I suffered an injustice at the hand of government bureaucrats and was denied access to the courts. I knew nothing about the law prior to this, but I started reading up and studying the law and taking LSATs and educating myself about the limits of government authority.
**What are some of the core principles of the FOTL movement here in Canada?**Well, like I said, equality is one of the main core principles, personal responsibility, for me compassion is one of the key core principles of my own existence. I think for the most part, people just want to live peaceful lives and enjoy the abundance that life provides without unnecessary restraints imposed upon us. Once you start examining it, you realize that a lot of these restraints are either not lawful at their core, or are misrepresented. We might think we have certain obligations, but we are unaware of remedies that are available to us.
Can you tell me about some of the biggest problems that you think Canadians are faced with?
I believe our courts have been hijacked by a certain segment of the population that call themselves the law society... What I see is an erosion of our rights. We have public servants, and, as a function of law, if you have servants, then you have masters, and servants don't tell their masters what to do. And yet they are in position of authority over the vast majority of Canadians. They have achieved this by tricking Canadians into abandoning their authority as masters of their servants in exchange for status of award, or a child. Our servants are now dealing with us like a nanny would to their child.
OK. One of things we're looking at right now is the Oregon standoff in the United States. Ryan Bundy described the US government as a "slave master" holding a whip over the citizens**. How do you feel about the situation?** The only thing I know about it is what I've read online, and I don't trust a lot of that. They aren't associated with the FOTL movement at all. I think what's happening is that our governments have been hijacked by corporations and that they're no longer serving the people. I think our form of government is incredibly archaic. If you look at our current form of government, which is 600 years old, nothing has changed. I mean, if our sewage system has kept pace with government, we'd still be in outhouses. We have the capability—the technological ability now—to go direct democracy and cut out a lot of these people. Also, if you look at the fundamental purpose of law, it's to make it that as many people as possible can be happy and can enjoy peace, so we have a concept called the public peace, and we hire police officers, and their job is to maintain the public peace.
Let's look at an instance where somebody is minding their business, having a beer in a public park. He's minding his business and not bothering anybody. A cop comes up and sees him doing this, and because these actions have been regulated ostensibly to maintain the public peace, the police officer feels has a right to initiate violence and actively breach the public peace to stop people from engaging in actions that only have the potential to breach the public peace. I don't believe cops should act unless it's to stop a direct breach of the public peace.
You mention a breach of public peace, but the Oregon militiamen are armed, and some people say that is terrorism. How do you feel about that?
I don't know if I'd qualify it as terrorism. The big question I'd look at down there is, where does the government draw the authority to own and operate a Bureau of Land Management? There's nothing in their constitution empowering them to own land outside of Washington, DC. Or to own a Department of Education. They have really overstepped their bounds, and I think what you're seeing is a growing level of frustration by people who, whether or not they know the law or not, they know when they're being abused or treated unjustly or being denied due dignity. Really, that's where all breaches of the peace tend to originate from, is when one party feels like they've been denied a dignity that was due.
Could you see the same situation happening here in Canada?
I don't think we have the gun mentality that they have. I could see our revolution, if it happened, to be far more peaceful and would likely be using courts and using the laws to and reclaiming our rights and the rights our forefathers had. I certainly hope that it doesn't happen. Who wants to see violent revolution? Certainly not me.
I think they're going about it the wrong way, and something smells to high heaven with that whole situation. I wouldn't be surprised if it was revealed that the people doing this were government actors, agent provocateurs, doing this just so that they can claim, look, we can't have people with guns. There are some people out there that want to remove as much guns as possible, and it's not beyond them to do something fake like this. I think that there are some militia types down there who are distancing themselves from [the Bundys]... The fact that they're doing it way out in the bush where they don't get to control the narrative so much, strategically speaking, it's a very stupid move.
How do you feel about guns in Canada?
[Everyone shouldn't] be walking around strapped in the cities, I don't see a need for that. I do like the Swiss model, where all citizens are required to own and train with firearms. It provides a very strong defense force when needed. I think if you're out in bear country, you're kind of silly not to have a gun, and I can see that they're necessary sometimes like hunting for sustenance—there are people sometimes who live off the meat they get from the bush. I believe it's like any tool. People who try and say, "Oh, well, it's a gun and we should try and control it"—where do we stop? Hammers can be used to cave in skulls. Are you going to trying to regulate hammers? I think we're far better off trying to teach people and educate people on ownership and usage of any tool than claiming [they're] not responsible enough for this.
Bear in mind, the whole gun control concept—these people aren't against guns per se, they're just against certain segments of the population having guns. You're not going to remove guns from people unless you have other people with guns going and removing them. They're not actually anti-gun, they're just pro-guns-only-for-our-side.
In the past, the Freemen movement has claimed that there are around 30,000 people who subscribe to their ideology. Is that an accurate number?
We don't have a roll call or anything like that, I can't tell you, but I would assume it's probably a little bit higher than that. I would say, I don't know, maybe 10, 20 percent of the population are aware that there's something wrong with the way we're governing ourselves. It's not keeping in line with what Canada was supposed to be when we were younger. It's turning into some sort of police state. Look at the G20 thing that happened in Toronto. A lot of people are very unhappy with what's happening in the courts, in government and general, and that we're their servants, we're their children, and they get to dictate to us. They have lost sight of the fact they're supposed to be serving us.
There was the mass shooting in Moncton in 2014, and a similar shooting in Edmonton last year. Both shooters reportedly espoused FOTL ideas. How do you feel about those sort of occurrences?
In both those instances, neither of them were associated with the Freemen movement. You point to a shooter, someone is unhappy with the government. They don't come to the Freemen movement and say, I'm here because I'm happy with Canada as it is. For other reasons—people in the government piss them off, they become dejected with the courts, they lose faith in the institution of government—they then come to the Freemen movement, and they say, "The Freemen movement doesn't provide me with the level of action that I'm looking for." So they move on, and then they engaged in violent action.
The fact that they came and stopped by and looked at the Freemen perspective and then rejected it as not being violent enough is then used as trying to paint the Freemen as being violent. They don't look at these violent people and [think] the government made them like this, they look at, once the government made them angry, they passed by the Freemen camp, kept going, and then they claim that the Freemen [motivated] their actions. They're trying to demonize and vilify us by making up any sort of association between us and them...We're not manufacturing unhappy individuals out there—the government's doing that. Those unhappy individuals come to the Freemen movement, try to understand or find what the remedy is, and a very small percentage of those people are angry or unstable one way or another, they are looking for ways to engage in violence, they don't find it with the Freemen, they move on, they get violent, and then the Freemen are blamed for their violences.
What about the Canadian intelligence report a few years ago that classify you guys as extremists and in the same line as some domestic terror groups?
Well, what do you think would happen if the media came out and said [that Freemen] believe in good government, that everyone should be bound by the law, and that they don't believe politicians, cops, judges, and lawyers are above the law, and that they believe there should be greater accountability in government. Everyone would be on side with that. They can't present our true perspective, so they present our pro-good-government concept as being twisted into anti-government. Instead of saying that we don't believe judges are above the law, they say that we believe we are above the law.
You have this society you'd like to create, one that is more fair of a political landscape, where citizens are returned to having inalienable rights but, at the same time, if the government won't budge, how do you achieve that without a show of disobedience?
By non-compliance, but you start to question. I mean, who are we? We're not dogs, we don't have to be obedient to these people who've hijacked our courts, our institutions, generally for their own financial benefit. Who says we have to be obedient to this people? I've talked to RCMP officers who have said that people have called in and [reported somebody as a Freeman], and the RCMP said that being a Freeman isn't unlawful. Essentially, the only difference between a Freeman and a regular citizen is that we do not avail ourselves the services and the diapers that they make available for the children. You can't collect welfare, you can't collect employment insurance. We don't have a social insurance number, we don't submit applications for things. This doesn't mean we're above the criminal code.
I'm curious, how do Freemen feel about Syrian refugees?
I think Freemen are spiritual libertarians for the most part. These nation state borders, you can't see them on the map, so I think for a large part that Freemen are the least racist you'll meet. I personally have no problem with refugees, I love the idea of having people from all over the world living in peace and harmony and expanding my palette especially. I love being able to try different foods from all over the world. I've met a lot of people from the Middle East whose beliefs are not identical with mine, but for the most part, the idea of live and let live, enjoy peace and happiness, I'm open to that.
The concept of even having refugees is, in a certain light, ludicrous. Are we nothing but cattle and penned into these nation states and we have to ask permission to even live in there? I think that's another very archaic system that's changing, and the internet is causing that to happen. People are realizing that there are far fewer differences between us than we've been led to believe by our political masters.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.
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