They refer to themselves as sovereign citizens, freemen-on-the-land, or natural persons, but to many notaries, courts, and police departments they have become a major nuisance.
The Freeman-on-the-Land movement, whose followers are known to hold bizarre and complex anti-government views, appears to be growing across Canada and the United States in recent years, much to the chagrin of lawmakers.
At the core of Freeman ideology is the belief that the government is illegitimate and has no jurisdiction over them, which entitles them to avoid virtually any law, major or minor, from paying taxes to obtaining a driver’s licence.
The movement, which has been regularly making headlines in recent months, was again in the news last week after self-described sovereign citizen Andreas Pirelli was arrested in Calgary.
Landlord Rebekah Caverhill had been locked in a two-year battle with Pirelli after he stopped paying rent, declaring his rented property an “embassy.” He billed Caverhill $26,000 for unfinished renovations, changed the locks on the apartment, and put a lien on the property.
The Law Society of B.C. estimates Freeman followers may number up to 30,000 in Canada and hundreds of thousands in the United States.
According to a 2012 CSIS report, Freemen have become an increasing burden on the legal system because they clog the courts with indecipherable pseudo-legal filings, and constitute a “major policing problem.”
Freeman adherents like to fight their battles through “paper terrorism,” said Ron Usher with the Society of Notaries Public of B.C.
Usher estimates his office receives Freeman requests to notarize illegitimate documents filled with quasi-legal jargon nearly every day.
“Our members are quite frequently approached by people with the Freemen documentation, which is nonsensical legal things that are often making incredible claims against other people. So we’ve asked our members not to sign these documents, they’re of no legal value,” explains Usher.
Freemen are taught how to circumnavigate the legal system by self-styled gurus selling advice through books, videos, and seminars. Shortly after a seminar has been held in the area, Usher said his office frequently receives an influx of requests to notarize “unusual documents.”
“People are being victimized by folks who promote this, who take their money for the advice to follow this path, and they find out that that money was not well spent,” he said.
“What these people need is real legal help, not the wacky ideas of a charlatan.”
Followers of the movement have also been known to name police officers, Crown lawyers, and judges who have crossed them in multimillion-dollar lawsuits, liens, or other legal challenges. To date no such case has ever succeeded in court.
‘Something for nothing’
Violent incidents involving Freemen in Canada are few, though followers are known to become aggressive in dealings with government, police, and legal authorities. But followers have been involved in several lethal altercations in the U.S., leading to the death of police officers, civilians, and Freemen themselves.
A 2010 report by the Anti-Defamation League described the movement as “one of the most problematic domestic extremist movements in the United States.”
It characterized members as mostly middle-aged or older men who are financially stressed, angry at government regulations, or who want “something for nothing.”
The report also said the Freeman movement has “grown considerably” since 2008 but has largely escaped public attention because its ideology is complicated, its tactics and activities are unusual, and adherents typically do not form organized groups.
World Freeman Society director Robert Menard did not respond to interview requests for this article. However, in several media reports he has rejected any association with violent extremism, insisting the movement is “peaceful and loving.”
“The World Freeman Society is an opportunity for us to steer our country toward peace, abundance, and fellow love by promoting and upholding the proper execution of the Law,” says a description on the World Freeman Society website.
“The World Freeman Society will be able to do what many have tried and failed to do, which is to hold police officers, government agents, and judges accountable for unlawful legal actions that violate and damage our rights, and we encourage them to operate peacefully and lawfully.”