When you combine conspiracy theories and dodgy legal advice you get the Scottish Sovereigns, a group that's is convinced that you can ignore most laws if you don't go by the name on your ID. Or something. It's pretty confusing.
Members of the Scottish Sovereigns
The Scottish Sovereigns are here to save you from your government. Only they don’t really know how.
A 4,000-strong group of “truth seekers,” the Sovereigns congregate online—both on their Facebook page and official website—to “learn fundamental freedoms and human rights.” This can mostly be translated to mean a general disdain for the establishment, profile pictures involving Anonymous masks, and lots of radical ideas about the law, i.e., that members don’t really have to follow it.
“A law only becomes a law with the consent of the people,” said one member who wished to remain anonymous. “Most of these laws they bring in these days are just in place to oppress people or raise revenue for the government.”
Much of the group's activity can be checked off as optimistic but naive activism—a kind of Occupy approach that consists of identifying a problem and talking about it a lot. But it’s the idea that they are outside the law that has pissed off the Sovereigns’ critics the most. The group's claims that you can get out of trouble by using odd, unreliable legal quirks have been criticized as misleading and potentially dangerous.
The Sovereigns' thought process works according to the same kind of principles that the American “freeman on the land” hold dear. Freemen believe they can opt out of being governed and that laws (all created to line the pockets of the elite) only apply if they personally consent to them, or if the law involves the subject directly harming someone. If they’re charged with breaking one of these laws, they say they have the right to refuse arrest. When the case comes to court, they reckon they can just talk their way out of punishment by using all sorts of pseudo-legalese and claiming that the only "true" law is their interpretation of the term "common law."
The freeman argument has never been successful in an American court. In fact, it can get defendants into more trouble, including contempt convictions and fines, though that hasn’t stopped enthusiasts from claiming that it works.
Sovereigns advise not disclosing your legal name for similar reasons, because identifying as whatever’s on your official ID is supposedly a tacit admission that you consent to the legal system. Instead, members use nicknames, or—for the dedicated—go feudal, only referring to themselves as “James, son of William,” or “Kathy, daughter of Margaret.”
“I am more than the name on the birth certificate,” one member told me. “A birth certificate is Crown copyright, and it refers to the legal person, not you as a man.”
A Scottish Sovereign using the "I don't have a name" defense after being stopped for using his cell phone while driving.
Spreading the message that you can escape criminal convictions using this line of reasoning is clearly not a good thing. Tax is a huge inconvenience, but if nobody paid it because they never “consented” to being taxed, the National Heath Service would end up completely privatized and the citizens of the UK would have to start living like Americans. Plus it's highly unlikely that any court is going to take the Sovereigns' principles seriously in a tax evasion case.
I was advised not to speak to lawyers because they’ve “sworn an oath to the Crown”, but I thought I’d take my chances. I called Peter Nicholson—editor of the Journal of the Law Society of Scotland—to check the Sovereigns’ claims and find out whether their line of defense is just as ineffective as their freemen brothers’. He told me they're talking bullshit.
“There is no question of opting whether to be subject to the law or the courts or not, irrespective of whether you choose to take part in the democratic process,” he said. “And copyright in birth certificates doesn't give the Crown or anyone else any rights over your name, or any other aspect of your self. You’re allowed to change your name whenever you want.”
Another legal expert who asked not to be named, added, “It’s easier to believe all these grand conspiracies than accept that the world’s just a bit shit. They misunderstand the law, the procedures, and the language. Whatever you say they will twist it to suit the ideas they already have. It’s called confirmation bias.”
A Scottish Sovereign confusing a police officer with some pseduo-legalese
The group also deal in a very internet-oriented brand of paranoia—a subreddit about chemtrails and cabals brought to life. Of course, not every member subscribes to the idea that the Sandy Hook shooting was a false flag operation, or that Pitbull knew MH370 was going to disappear. But I was told that a story about the Sovereigns would never be published because the Rothschild family controls the world and its media.
When I pointed out that the NSA revelations (something that, following the Sovereigns' thinking, the Rothschilds would presumably want to keep secret) were published and reported by the establishment press, I was reminded that stories like that are merely “controlled distractions.”
According to former member Chris McClelland, this nutter contingent is relatively new. Chris was a Scottish Sovereign for five years, but left after becoming disillusioned with “weirdos and chancers trying to take over the group.”
“Personally, I only use Scots Law,” he told me. “You can’t go into [Scottish] courts and challenge them using English common law or anything else. That’s like trying to play a game of draughts using the rules of chess. I don’t want to be associated with these weirdos and their fantasy shit. There’s loads of new members ruining the group; one guy even said he wanted to ‘do a Raoul Moat.’ I don’t want to be associated with that.”
Sovereigns member Freeborn Jaffa
I was interested to see how the current members’ outlook plays into the sovereignty debate going on in Scotland, so I met a few Sovereigns to ask.
Bill—also known as “Freeborn Jaffa”—is a veteran member of the Scottish Sovereigns, not one of the new breed of keyboard conspiracists. “People are fed up of the mainstream political parties in this country, which is why I’m voting to leave Britain in the referendum," he told me. "I’ve got nothing against the English whatsoever. I’ve got family in England, and they love the Scots, too. But the UK won’t say why they want us to stay. Is it so they can keep control over our oil and industry and leave us with nuclear dumps up here?”
His was the view you’d expect, but it’s not one shared by all Sovereigns. One member, Bri, said, “Scotland’s been independent since 1314—since the Battle of Bannockburn—and that’s never been overturned. The problem is that if we vote for independence and get a new constitution we might lose this fundamental freedom.”
Gary, another member, added, “The Declaration of Arbroath and the Claim of Right 1689 show we are an independent people. I phoned up the National Archive of Scotland (NAS), who hold the documents, and they told me I’m right.”
After a number of phone calls, emails, and a Freedom of Information request, the NAS told me that they don’t interpret the contents of the documents—they just hold them.
Sovereigns member Bri
There are a number of groups similar to the Sovereigns around the UK. England, for example, has the People’s United Community, whose website is run by Ben Hudson from Birmingham. “We started off as a freeman group, but over time we found out it wasn’t working. So we stepped back from that and decided to build a community of freethinkers for people who want to know more about the world they live in,” he told me.
“So many people are just in it to get out of paying council tax and road tax,” he continued. “The biggest one right now is weed growing; I get hundreds of emails a day from people asking how I can get them off [after being caught] growing weed.”
Another, the British Constitutional Group, tried to storm a County Court in Birkenhead, Merseyside, in 2011. The aim was to arrest the judge "for contempt of court and treason," but a number of protesters ended up getting arrested themselves while the judge was escorted to safety by the police.
Unsurprisingly, given both the passion and the paranoia, there’s a lot of infighting among truth groups. Kev Baker from Truth Frequency Radio told me, “It’s disillusioning when people who I consider my peers are more interested in focusing on their own agendas instead of pulling together and sharing our common goal. But we can’t be naive—there will also be an involvement from security services. Truth groups will be a target for agent provocateur to cause some of the disruption.”
Sovereigns member Nala
The Scottish Sovereigns are currently working on a document to “call out” the powers that be in Scotland. The idea is to hand a document into the Court of Session that will force the country’s top politicians to “state their intentions.”
One of the architects behind the plan, who goes by the name Nala, explained: “The Court of Session guarantees to guard the sovereignty of Scottish people—not in the legal realm, but in the lawful realm. We are going to petition these people who are supposed to be running this country for our benefit to make them take notice that we’ve caught on to what they’re doing and that it must stop.”
It’s easy to see why the Sovereigns are an attractive group; lots of people don't like being governed by politicians who don't seem remotely capable of doing what they've been elected to do, and nobody likes paying for shit. So if some recklessly confident guy comes along and tells you there’s a way to get out of following the rules you don't want to follow, and to avoid losing 20 percent of your income every month, you’re going to listen to him. But you really shouldn’t.