John Brant

                         Worth Magazine
                         September 1996

                       Are taxes actually
                    voluntary?  Are licenses
                        unnecessary?  Is
                    democracy itself illegal?
                     Yes, yes, and hell yes,
                     say the people who call
                      themselves sovereign.

Since I  still choose  to be enslaved, Richard McDonald suggests,
then I  might as  well drive.  Actually, McDonald doesn't use the
word "drive."   Sovereign  citizens don't "drive."  They "travel"
in their  "personal  property."    The  distinction  is  crucial,
McDonald insists;   all  words are  crucial.   It  is  by  paying
fervid, hairsplitting,  unending attention to words, he explains,
that sovereign  citizens lift  free of  contractual entanglements
with the  slave masters.   Entanglements,  such as  paying income
taxes.  Contracts, like a driver's license and license plates.

"The sheriff's  deputies all know my car, but I don't get stopped
much anymore,"  McDonald says  amiably, rising  from one  of  his
house's two  computer terminals.   All  around, stacked floor-to-
ceiling in  this quirky,  rambling compound in the rugged canyons
near Simi  Valley in  an unincorporated  area of  Ventura County,
California, are  thousands of law and reference books.  They give
off a  pleasantly musty odor, which overpowers competing essences
of house  cat.   Symphony music  issues from speakers wired above
the labyrinthine  floors.   Live oaks  grow through the middle of
rooms.  Jeremiads against gun control glower from the knotty-pine

"It's been  a long  time since  they tried  to give me a ticket,"
McDonald goes  on, "but  sometimes they like to get up real close
behind me and let me know they're there."  He grins foxily.  "So,
we might as well use your car."

We leave  the dank gloom of the main building, crossing a rickety
foot bridge  over a  bone-dry gully.   McDonald turns back to the
house.   "Back in  the '40s, a religious cult built this place as
their church,"  he explains.   "Abbott  and  Costello  and  other
Hollywood stars  used to  come out here."  He gestures beyond the
house, to  the baked  vacant hills  swelling south toward Topanga
Canyon.   "Charles Manson  did his  thing on Sharon Tate the next
canyon over,"  he says  with  a  glimmer  of  proprietary  pride.
"Sometimes I  look up  from my  desk and  see  a  bobcat  walking
through the  yard.   At night  we get coyotes.  It's a nice quiet
place to study and do research."

                     Citizens of No Country:
                          Page 1 of 15

From early  morning to  late at  night, 12  to 14  hours  a  day,
McDonald carries  on his  research.   Sitting at  his  computers,
studying the  old law  books he  buys by  the lot at auctions and
estate  sales,   pouring  out   his  interpretations  in  cranky,
obsessively referenced  essays that  run over  the  Internet,  he
works at  promulgating the radical, confounding, darkly seductive
concept of  sovereign citizenship.   "Once in a great while, I'll
call Richard  at two in the morning with a question and catch him
playing solitaire,"  says Jeffrey Thayer, a sovereign-citizenship
advocate in Austin, Texas.  "But mostly he's always working."

Sovereign,  or   state,  citizenship   is  the   fastest-growing,
potentially most  far-reaching, yet  least publicized  arm of the
antigovernment patriots'  movement.  Sovereigns share the central
tenets of militant groups such as the Montana Freemen -- that the
federal   government    is   inherently,   premeditatively,   and
malevolently  corrupt  and  waging  veiled  but  remorseless  war
against the  American people -- but differ sharply in their means
of resistance.  Although sovereigns vehemently oppose any form of
gun control,  and most own guns themselves, they deny affiliation
with paramilitary  groups.   They insist  they are  dedicated  to
peaceful achievement  of their aims.  State citizenship draws its
adherents mainly  from the  cities and  suburbs  and  appeals  to
increasing numbers of women and minorities.  It is the vehicle by
which thousands  of disaffected  yet engaged Americans -- most of
whom  are   considerably  removed   from  the   gun-nut,   white-
supremacist stereotype -- wage jihad against the federal mammon.

Seen  through  the  sovereign  lens,  each  service,  regulation,
enfranchisement, law,  or levy the government offers or exacts is
not a  term of  the social  contract but  a gambit  by which  the
government deviously  seeks to extend its power and subjugate the
individual to  its criminal  will.  The sovereign citizen combats
this by severing virtually all ties to government and disclaiming
virtually all sources of official documentation.  The struggle is
carried out publicly, first through exhaustive study of the legal
foundations  of  the  perceived  tyranny  and  then  through  the
exploitation of  every loophole  and means  of redress  that that
legal system  offers.   Due process is played out to the furthest
possible extent.   A  massive, ongoing  battle  of  paperwork  is
joined with federal, state, and local officials.

Most often working under the guidance of an experienced sovereign
mentor, the  fledgling state  citizen attempts to renounce income
taxes,  a   driver's  license   and   license   plates,   vehicle
registration,  zip   codes,  a   Social  Security  number,  voter
registration, credit  cards, insurance policies, interest-bearing
bank accounts,  Federal Reserve  notes, "usurious" investments in
securities, even  the common  phrasing of  names and addresses --
any conceivable wedge the government might drive into one's life.
Once these  bonds are  carefully broken,  the argument  runs, the
sovereign's civic  identity  resembles  that  envisioned  by  the
framers of  the Constitution.   His "status" has become that of a
"state" rather than a "U.S." citizen.

                     Citizens of No Country:
                          Page 2 of 15

Sovereign citizens  defend their  actions by citing a mountain of
generally obscure,  dated, tortuously interpreted legal statutes.
Even the  most modestly educated sovereign becomes a rabid, self-
styled legal  scholar, tapping  out voluminous,  arcanely phrased
writs  on   his  word  processor  and  downloading  fellow  state
citizens' documents  from the  Internet.  The most articulate and
closely reasoned  of this  research arouses increasingly frequent
headaches among  judges, assessors,  and  prosecuting  attorneys.
The great  bulk of  it, however,  gets dismissed  by  those  same
officials as unintelligible rant.

"I don't  know of  any U.S.  Supreme Court decision that's upheld
anything they  stand by,"  says Jesse  Choper,  the  Earl  Warren
Professor of  Public Law  at the  Boalt Hall School of Law at the
University of  California at Berkeley.  "The opening lines of the
14th  Amendment   make  it   very  clear:    All  native-born  or
naturalized persons  are citizens  both of  the nation and of the
state where  they reside.    Sure,  it's  possible  for  them  to
renounce citizenship.   They  can even  try to  move  to  another
country, if  another country would have them.  But ultimately, so
what?   What are the consequences of what they do?  Whether alien
or not, they're still subject to the laws of the country."

But to  an astonishing degree, sovereigns defy what they consider
the vain  warnings and  unlawful judgments  of the establishment.
Resourcefully   employing   computer   networks,   self-published
newsletters and  magazines, shortwave radio, and community-access
cable television,  they completely  bypass traditional  media and
political institutions.   State  citizens  inhabit  a  sprawling,
intellectually   crude,    but   technologically    sophisticated
underground,  where   far   right   meets   far   left,   radical
environmentalists find  common  ground  with  radical  gun-rights
advocates, and  New  Age  healers  research  conspiracy  theories
alongside evangelical home schoolers.

No accurate  head count  of sovereign  citizens is available, but
sovereigns claim  that "jural societies" -- self-governing state-
citizen communities  -- are  now chartered  in  every  county  in
California.   Active  communities  of  a  thousand  or  more  are
thriving in  the Los Angeles area and in New York City.  "Common-
law" courts  -- self-styled juries of sovereigns passing judgment
on what  they hold  to be  criminal incursions  by government  on
their rights -- have been established in 30 states.

"In California  alone, I'd  say there  are  over  100,000  people
actively practicing  sovereignty," says  Jeffrey Thayer.    "I've
presented the  material to groups in just about every part of the
country -- every place from Hopi reservations, to Amish farms, to
Marin County  in the  suburbs of San Francisco.  I've turned down
several offers  to franchise my instruction.  Over the last year,
it has grown beyond my wildest expectations."

"We get  all kinds,"  agrees McDonald  as we  continue  down  Box
Canyon toward  lunch in  a Canoga  Park coffee  shop.   Carefully
braking down  the switchback  curves, I darkly imagine McDonald's
"status" to  be infectious;  I keep tensely checking the rearview
mirror for sheriff's deputies.  "We get bankers, we get dentists,
we get computer programmers, we get long-haul truck drivers."  He
shrugs, gazing  absently down  to the vast, smog-smudged plain of
the northern  San Fernando  Valley.  "Everybody knows something's

                     Citizens of No Country:
                          Page 3 of 15

In a  few hours, McDonald will board a plane for Dallas, where he
is  to   conduct  a   weekend  introductory   seminar  on   state
citizenship.   He appears  regularly on a local cable-TV program.
He hosts radio shows, writes magazine articles, debates publicly,
and conducts  a booming  Internet business.   In  the Los Angeles
area alone,  hundreds of  people have paid nearly $800 a head for
his state-citizenship  kits, which consist of a copy of the state
constitution, hundreds  of pages  of  laws  and  statutes  deemed
pertinent  to   the  sovereign   cause,  dozens   of  essays  and
commentaries on those laws, and copies of the scores of forms and
letters that  the  aspiring  sovereign  must  file  with  various
government agencies.   Unlike  Thayer, McDonald  has fashioned  a
kind of  franchise for his instruction, establishing a network of
20 "state-citizen  service centers" staffed by former students in
California, Arizona,  Indiana, Michigan,  New York, Pennsylvania,
Washington State, and Wyoming.

A gnome  like, 67-year-old  ex-security guard  who dropped out of
school in  the eighth  grade, an  autodidact from  Chicago  whose
conversation is  larded with  "ya know?'s" and "ya follow me?'s,"
McDonald  makes   an  emphatically   unlikely  godfather  to  any
movement.   One telling measure of sovereign citizenship's appeal
is that  so many  workaday folks  are willing to look beyond this
raffish teacher,  his Adams  Family  house,  and  his  difficult,
convoluted pedagogy;   that  so many mall-wandering, Net-surfing,
freeway-cruising  Americans  hunger  to  enlist  in  an  arduous,
unremitting war of attrition against their own government.

"The powers  that be  are infinitely intelligent," McDonald says.
"They know  the  American  people  are  incredibly  gullible  and
sheeplike, but  they also know there's a limit to how far they'll
be pushed.   They know exactly how hard to tighten the screws and
still leave  room to  let off  the pressure.  That's why the laws
are written  the way  they are:   to  give people  who want it an
avenue of escape.  But you have to make the effort.  Ignorance is
no excuse.   Everything  they tell you in the courtroom is true,"
McDonald concludes  with a  smirking grin.  "They just don't tell
you the whole truth."

Other than  signing up  with the  Austin board  of realtors and a
support group  for macrobiotic vegetarians, Cathy Leman had never
been much  of a  joiner.   Growing up  in Louisiana, she'd always
felt a little alienated, a little distanced from what her friends
were doing.   Not  that she  wasn't popular  or couldn't blend in
when she wanted to.  She was smart, she was attractive in a dark-
eyed, leggy  way, and  she'd never been afraid of standing on her
own.  She just always liked playing the edges.

Hitting the  wild early '70's in her wild early 20's, Leman moved
to Texas and took a job dancing at an exclusive gentlemen's club.
Her first  week she  made $1,100,  with nothing withheld, nothing
declared.   The IRS  seemed as  irrelevant to her as the Campfire
Girls, as  distant as the day she'd collect Social Security.  And
the job didn't scare her, not even that endless moment before the
music started,  when she  stood alone  on the  stage, sensing all
those men's eyes raking her.  She always liked playing the edges.

                     Citizens of No Country:
                          Page 4 of 15

Before long she left the club, but she never got around to paying
her income  taxes.   She always  meant to,  but could never quite
pull it  together.   She moved a lot -- San Antonio, Dallas, then
Austin.   She began  to settle  down.   She got  her  real-estate
license and  was doing  okay, moving  houses in the booming Texas
hill country,  but she still never got to those 1040s.  Each day,
she went  to her  mailbox with a wiggle of anxiety.  But her luck
held.   They hadn't  caught up  with her.  She kept working, kept
vaguely worrying,  kept looking  around and thinking.  Gradually,
her anxiety over taxes boiled into anger.

Something had  gone terribly  wrong with  America.   It   was  so
obvious her  hard-earned dollars  wouldn't go to pay for anything
real;   they would  just go  to pay  the  interest  on  the  debt
criminally created  by the Federal Reserve, none of whose members
any American  citizen had  ever voted  into power  and which  was
really run  by a  secret group  of international  bankers.  Leman
understood how  it worked.   Back in her club days, she'd watched
the local  cops roust  the girls.  She remembered the look in the
cops' eyes,  knowing that  these little dancers in G-strings were
making twice  as much  money as they ever would.  So the cops had
helped themselves  to the  girls' cash.   Who  was going  to stop
them?   That was how it worked.  If it was happening on the local
level, Leman thought, imagine what was going on in Washington.

She started  looking into  conspiracy theories.    She  read  the
Constitution and saw how the nation was designed to be a republic
in  which   individual   rights   were   always   paramount   and
representatives served  at the  will of  the electorate  -- not a
democracy, in  which majority  rule inevitably slid into mob rule
and demagogues found the masses easy to manipulate and subjugate.
Democracy had  been foisted  on America  by the  illuminati.  The
illuminati were  this secret  society of  European bankers who at
the time  of the  American Revolution saw that something powerful
and dangerous was happening in the colonies and sent this German,
Adam Weishaupt,  over to  subvert it  ....   She didn't sweat the
details, but it had all been fully researched and documented.

She learned  how things  really headed  down the tubes around the
time of the Civil War.  The 14th Amendment, supposedly giving the
former slaves  citizenship, was  really a  setup, a power grab by
the federal  government and the same international bankers -- the
Rothschilds, most  prominently --  who'd been pulling the strings
all along.   After  the 14th  Amendment, it  was just  one  sorry
development after  another:   going off  the gold standard, which
doomed the  nation to  eventual bankruptcy;   the Federal Reserve
Act;   income tax;   the Social Security Act;  the Buck Act;  the
United Nations;   gun  control.   They just  kept tightening  the
screws.  It was all there in the books, if anybody looked up from
their TV's long enough to bother reading them.

                     Citizens of No Country:
                          Page 5 of 15

But what scared her the most was how they had everybody off doing
their little  jobs in  their little boxes.  No one person had the
consciousness to  see the  whole picture.   Why not?  Because the
corporation, the  state, wouldn't let them.  People got into this
machine state  of mind.   No  one really  looked at  one  another
anymore;   no one  really listened.   Everybody was caught in the
steel jaws of the machine.

Leman decided  to  dance  clear  of  those  jaws.    She  started
attending de-taxing meetings at Rocky Bruno's house.  Rocky was a
kindred spirit, a New Age healer, into colonic irrigation.  Rocky
had had  a  moment  of  clarity  when  a  neighbor  called  child
protective services on him and his wife, saying they had withheld
medical treatment  from their  kid.   There was  nothing  to  the
charge.   Rocky started  holding meetings at his house.  A lot of
good people came from all over the Austin area.

There were the Lusks, Tom and LaVerne, who were totally committed
to the  movement.   Tom was  a veteran  airline pilot,  LaVerne a
flight attendant  with 20  years' seniority.   It would have been
easy for  the Lusks  to shut  their eyes and pay their taxes, but
for years  they'd refused  to play  along with the IRS.  Now they
were facing foreclosure on their lovely home in northwest Austin.
"I've been  to  the  Libertarian  meetings,"  Tom  would  say  in
disgust.   "The Libertarians  want to  work within the system and
fix it.   The  only thing  I want  to do  is take  the system out
around back and shoot it."

And there  were the  Murrills:  James Willard, Lucille, and their
grown son  James Reginald.   The  group's only black family, they
were churchgoing, spiritual people.  James Willard had worked for
the government  all his life -- an Air Force career man, then the
post office  and the  prison system.  He'd seen all the waste and
deceit firsthand.  "Divide and conquer," James Willard would say.
"That's what  they're always  putting over  on us.  White against
black, man  against woman,  Democrat against  Republican.  Why is
that?, you wonder."

Leman could  share her  outrage at  the system with these people.
They'd discuss  principled, constructive  ways to  resist.   They
were maybe  a shade  too straight  and old-time religious for her
taste --  she was more into Native American-style spirituality --
but they were definitely on the beam as far as the government was
concerned.   Most important, they weren't a bunch of macho jerks,
running around  the hills  with guns,  talking about overthrowing
the government  when they didn't even have the brains to complete
their own  tax forms, let alone figure out that income taxes were
illegal in the first place.

The group  would get  together at  Rocky's and  talk, kick around
ideas.   But it  all might  have just stayed talk, and they might
have all  fragged off  into their  own little  worlds, if Jeffrey
Thayer hadn't arrived in Austin in the summer of 1994.

                     Citizens of No Country:
                          Page 6 of 15

Thayer was  one of  the hottest speakers on the sovereign lecture
circuit.   It was  Thayer, a  Dartmouth grad  and former  top gun
lawyer in  L.A., who'd  helped formulate  the elaborate  language
state citizens  use to  ward off the feds.  "Jeffrey ben-Richard,
House of  Thayer, Sui Juris, Ingenuitas juris et de jure" was how
his business  card read.   It  might be  flowery and  stilted, he
explained, but  in the  shadowy world  of laws and contracts, the
specific meaning of each word, each letter, was crucial.  The so-
called normal  phrasing of  names and addresses and zip codes was
in fact  a lure to suck unwitting U.S. citizens deeper into a web
of lies, deceit, control, and slavery.  This language explicitly,
unequivocally declared  your status  to be  sovereign.  It served
notice to the authorities that you weren't buying into their word

Thayer had  also helped  devise the  idea of  jural societies  or
townships, chartered  communities of sovereigns that were totally
self-governing and truly republican -- all decisions were made by
unanimous vote.   In  1992, he'd  left L.A.  for  Santa  Fe,  New
Mexico, where he'd organized one of the country's most successful
jural societies.   Ultra-enlightened,  cosmic-muffin Santa Fe was
the furthest  possible psychic  distance from Bo Gritz territory.
Now Thayer  wanted to  start a  township in similarly progressive

Leman and  the group  went to  hear him  talk.  He looked like an
Austin guitar player, with his long gray-streaked brown hair tied
back in a neat ponytail, his well kept spade of a goatee, his hip
vest, and  his easy  manner.  Thayer started out by attacking the
stereotypes.   "We're not  gun nuts,"  he said.  "We're not white
supremacists.  We're not woman-haters or -subjugators.  We're not
evangelical Christians.   We're  not even America-firsters.  Is a
black kid  in South  Africa sovereign?   You  bet he is.  I'm not
interested in  continuing something  that isn't  more  inclusive.
I'm not  interested in  being angry  or confrontational.  I'm not
interested in  running around  waving guns.   There  are too many
people waving guns around already.

"Have you  ever noticed  that it's the men who are all gung ho on
state citizenship,  who make  a show  of giving  up their license
plates?"   Thayer said.   "But that it's usually the wife driving
home with  a bunch  of screaming  kids who  gets stopped  by  the
police and has the car towed out from under her?"

Talk like  that persuaded Leman to spend $2,000 on Thayer's House
of Common  Law course.   He  handed out a six-inch-thick stack of
laws to  read, letters to write, forms to file.  Thayer said that
if it  looked difficult and imposing, good.  It was imposing.  It
was difficult and could even be dangerous, if you made a mistake,
if you  left an  opening for  the government to come and get you.
Sovereign citizenship wasn't for everybody, he warned.  He quoted
Carlos Castenada:  You had to be impeccable.  A warrior.  You had
to follow  a path with heart.  You had to adopt a different state
of mind.   You  had to  realize that  you weren't  disobeying any
laws.   You were simply declaring that, through a careful reading
of the  government's own  codes and  statutes, you had determined
that the  laws duplicitously enslaving 14th Amendment, corporate,
U.S. citizens  simply didn't apply to you.  By rejecting a Social
Security card, voter registration, a driver's license, a marriage
license, a  regular bank  account, a  credit card -- all of it --
you were declaring yourself beyond them.

                     Citizens of No Country:
                          Page 7 of 15

But it  was frightening,  the idea  of cutting  loose -- although
Leman, of  course, was  much less  hooked in  than others  in the
group.  She was single, had no kids, was not paying income taxes,
and had  never vested  herself in  the Social Security scam.  She
wasn't like  the Lusks  with their  house and  legal troubles, or
Rocky with  his family,  or the  Murrills with  their  disability
pensions and  advancing age.   If they had the guts to do it, why
shouldn't she?

She  found   the  sovereign  life  in  general  exhilarating  and
interesting.   It was  like a  knob had  turned in her brain, and
every thing  that had  been murky  and confusing suddenly snapped
into focus.   Oklahoma  City, for example.  There was no question
in her  mind that Oklahoma City was a giant, ghastly setup by the
feds.   How else  could you  explain all  the  FBI  and  Treasury
agents' being  "out of the office" that morning?  It had all been
orchestrated to  discredit the  movement, to  make the mainstream
think that  they were  all gun  nuts.   Leman still  wasn't drawn
toward the  militia, but  the idea  didn't intimidate her either.
She wasn't afraid of guns.  She owned guns herself, a shotgun and
a pistol.   If  more people  had guns,  like in Switzerland, then
people would  act better  toward one  another.   They'd show more

So now,  on a  cold Friday evening in early spring, Leman sits in
an office-park  conference room  with Rocky and the Lusks and the
Murrills and  Jeff Thayer  and the other 20 members of the Austin
township.   They've reached  a crucial  point in  the community's
development:   their first  common-law jury  trial.  A common-law
jury, Thayer  explains, is a rightful function of a free-standing
township.    It's  a  jury  of  peers  --  real  peers,  personal
acquaintances of  the party  involved, not  the sullen,  sad-sack
crew of  distracted strangers  that lawyers stacked in supposedly
legitimate courtrooms.

Their first  case involves  the Lusks.   Over  the past year, the
Lusks' legal problems have deepened.  The IRS foreclosed on their
house and  sold it  at auction.  They impounded Tom's car.  These
actions were  blatant crimes  against the  jural society's common
law, of  course --  theft and  trespassing,  as  clear  as  cable
reception or  a baby's  conscience.  The IRS had no jurisdiction,
because  the  Lusks  weren't  U.S.  citizens.    They'd  declared
themselves outside the federal district.

Of course,  so had the Freemen in Montana.  The Lusks were in the
same situation  as those  cowboys, really:   rightfully occupying
property unlawfully foreclosed.  Unlike the Freemen, however, the
Austin township  wasn't going  to seize  TV cameras  or  frighten
reporters --  as much  as those  lying lackeys  deserved it -- or
antagonize their  neighbors.  No, they were going to respond in a
principled manner,  according to the Old Testament Mosaic law, in
the true  spirit of  the Constitution.   They  would use words as

                     Citizens of No Country:
                          Page 8 of 15

For hours  on end,  the words  flow.   Computer  engineers,  yoga
teachers, a  former attorney,  a retired  civil servant,  a real-
estate agent all weighing and parsing and polishing and chiseling
the words,  hammering  out  unanimously  agreed  upon  republican
truths instead of coerced, diluted, democratic "justice."  Leman,
characteristically, sits  at the  edge of the room, away from the
table, letting  Thayer and  the others  do most  of the  talking.
Every now  and then,  she chips  in with  a  bit  of  real-estate

Break times  come and go, and not until Rocky's kid comes in with
a pizza  does Leman  realize nobody's  bothered with dinner.  Now
they're discussing  damages --  to be  paid out  by the  criminal
government in troy ounces of gold, not the Monopoly money printed
by the Federal Reserve -- when suddenly Leman remembers her early
days as  a sovereign,  when she was still haunted by doubts about
the path she'd chosen.

For an  instant, she even imagines how this trial might appear to
an outsider:   a  bunch of  lunatics arguing  about what  Solomon
would've done  if his  house had been foreclosed on.  Grown women
and men  demanding with straight faces that the government own up
to its  sins and  pay for  them in  gold.  Who are they trying to
kid?   Some bought-and-paid-for  judge would  take one  glance at
this writ  they were  slaving over,  laugh, and  toss it into the
trash.  They might as well be home with the rest of the losers in
front of their V-chipped TV's.

What's going  to happen  to the Lusks?  What's going to happen to
all of us?

But Thayer keeps taking them through the writ, word by word.  "If
the judge  refuses us,  we'll  just  take  it  to  the  Court  of
Appeals," he  says quietly.   "If  Appellate won't hear us, we'll
take it  to the  Supreme Court.  And if the Supreme Court refuses
to hear  us, we'll  just keep going.  We'll go to the World Court
at the  Hague, if  we have  to.  We have the law on our side.  We
will be heard."

Leman relaxes,  letting herself  fall back under the spell of the
words.   For a  fleeting moment,  it's as if she were back at the
club, waiting  to step  onto the  stage, sensing  the eyes raking
her, pushing  the edges,  tasting pure freedom building into pure
energy, no one else to hang onto, no one else to blame.

A bitter,  massive, mutual  denial  fuels  the  war  between  the
sovereigns and the government.  Just as sovereign citizens refuse
to acknowledge  the legitimacy  of the federal government, so the
government refuses to acknowledge the sovereigns' very existence.
In the  taxonomy of  the IRS,  for example,  state citizens don't
rate their  own category  but  are  lumped  in  with  the  larger
classification of  tax  protesters.    And  tax  protesters,  IRS
spokesman Anthony  Burke insists,  raise barely  a  blip  on  the
agency's screen.

"Over and  over, the  courts have  held that  the tax protesters'
arguments are  spurious and  without merit,"  Burke says.    "And
traditionally, tax  protesters have  represented  a  very  small,
almost minuscule  percentage of  the tax  gap --  the  difference
between what taxpayers owe and what the service collects."

                     Citizens of No Country:
                          Page 9 of 15

When I  describe the extent of the sovereign operations in Austin
and Los  Angeles and  how rapidly  the  movement  appears  to  be
growing, Burke seems unimpressed.  "You can lose perspective," he
cautions.   "It even happens with our own agents sometimes.  They
get wrapped  up in  an especially challenging case, and they come
running to tell us we've got to put together a task force to deal
with this  huge, urgent,  nationwide problem.  But then they calm
down and  examine the  facts.   They see  that, when  you take  a
national perspective,  as the  service  must,  their  case  isn't
really such a huge problem after all."

Sovereigns respond  to the  government's seeming  dismissal  with
increasing  boldness.     In   general,  state   citizens  regard
government representatives  less as bogeymen to be feared than as
symbols  of  a  beleaguered,  fraying,  surprisingly  ineffectual
empire.   A rapidly  widening gulf separates the sovereign island
from the  establishment mainland.   "One  of my  big challenges,"
says Steve  Jones, a state citizen who works closely with Richard
McDonald in  Los Angeles,  "is not to be too condescending toward
people who,  whether out of ignorance or fear, still choose to be
U.S. citizens."

This growing  contempt, ironically,  has led to a decline in what
has been  state citizens'  signature characteristic:    paranoia.
Sovereigns, for  instance, despise  reporters nearly  as much  as
they do  IRS auditors.   They  assume that mainstream journalists
serve as  direct mouthpieces for the establishment and that if by
some miracle  an unbiased story got written -- if a reporter told
"truth" --  it would  never get  published or  broadcast.    Yet,
throughout my  travels in  sovereign country,  sources spoke with
unvarying candor  about their  flouting of the law.  In dozens of
interviews, my  credentials as  a journalist were challenged only

"I never  lock my  doors," Richard McDonald says.  "Why should I?
I've got  nothing to  hide.   Everything we're doing is perfectly
lawful.   I'd say  the  same  thing  to  you  whether  you're  an
undercover agent or a reporter or someone who's really interested
in becoming a state citizen."

"We don't  waste a  lot of energy looking up in the sky for black
helicopters," agrees  Alan Bird,  a close associate of McDonald's
in Los  Angeles County.    "Personally,  I've  gotten  away  from
worrying about  conspiracies or  trying to  puzzle  out  the  big
picture.   I don't know if we're in this mess due to people being
deliberately evil  or if  it's just  been a matter of business as
usual, of  people in  power naturally wanting to perpetuate their
power.  What difference does it make? I'm not concerned about how
well organized  the cabal  is.   I'm just  concerned about my own

                     Citizens of No Country:
                          Page 10 of 15

Alan Bird  is a  39-year-old husband  and father  of three  young
children.   He is  crisply articulate  and has  a sharp, analytic
turn of  mind.   The rigidity in his character is softened by his
surfer's dirty-blond  hair and  the offhand  ease of  a  longtime
Californian.   In 1993,  he  abandoned  a  prosperous  career  in
mortgage banking to commit himself to the sovereign movement.

Bird graduated  from Pepperdine  University  and  worked  in  the
aerospace industry  before moving  into  mortgage  banking.    He
married and  started a family.  All the while he felt a political
restlessness,  a  dissatisfaction  that  led  him  to  study  but
ultimately  reject   mainstream  conservatism,   the  John  Birch
Society, and the Libertarian Party.  "I swore to myself if I ever
found a  system of  beliefs that  answered all my questions, that
provided a  legal basis  for effective  action, that I knew in my
heart to  be true,  then I  would follow it completely, no matter
what the  consequences," Bird  says.   "I've found that system in
state citizenship."

Bird began  studying with  Richard McDonald.   He  quickly became
fascinated by the intricate workings of the law and by McDonald's
rough-hewn  but  seemingly  brilliant  grasp  of  it.    He  even
developed a  fondness for McDonald's ornery style.  When Bird had
a question,  McDonald would  answer by throwing a law book at him
and snarling,  "Here, look it up yourself!"  Undaunted, Bird kept
grilling his  mentor.  He felt at times like a squirrel gathering
nuts.   But the  nuts, Bird  soon became  convinced, had sprouted
into a  towering forest  of  deceit,  coercion,  and  encroaching

Bird makes  his specific  stand on  the most hallowed of Southern
California ground:  the highway.  In 1992, he mailed his driver's
license and plates back to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  For
two years,  he roamed  the roads  and freeways  like a  sovereign
Flying Dutchman,  with a  bill of sale displayed in the window of
his '65  Mustang in  lieu of  license plates.   He  says  he  was
stopped twice  by the authorities but never ticketed or arrested.
Finally, in  September 1994,  Bird was driving in Ventura County.
In his  rear view  mirror, he  watched a  patrol car do a U-turn,
hustle up  on his tail, and follow him for seven miles.  Finally,
the siren blipped and the roof light began to spin.

"Sorry, I  don't have  one," Bird  said when the deputy asked for
his license.   "I sent it back to the DMV.  Would you like to see
the documentation?"

The deputy smiled as he wrote out the citation.  "No thanks."  He
ripped off the ticket and handed it to Bird "Sign this, please."

"If I don't, will you take me to jail?"

The deputy's  eyes flickered  as he  checked the  angles  of  the
windows and  the positioning  of hands,  trying to  guess  Bird's
intent.  "If it comes to that, sir."

"Very well.   I'll affix my seal to it"  -- only unwitting United
States citizens  "sign"   documents, thereby  surrendering  their
rights -- "but I am only doing so under duress."

The deputy relaxed.  "Tell it to the judge, sir."

                     Citizens of No Country:
                          Page 11 of 15

Bird, who  had studied  every California motor-vehicle law dating
from the  turn of  the century, did so.  He argued that the state
required a  Social Security number for an individual to be issued
a driver's  license, but  that the  Social  Security  system  was
voluntary.   Therefore, if  he declined  a Social Security number
because of  his political  and religious  convictions, it  was  a
legal impossibility  for him  to be  penalized for not carrying a
driver's license.   To  his  amazement  and  delight,  the  court
agreed.   After a  half-day trial,  Ventura Municipal Court judge
Thomas  Hutchins   found  Bird   not  guilty  --  on  grounds  of
insufficient evidence  -- of  driving without  a license, driving
without  registration,   and  having   no  registration   in  his
possession.     The  acquittal   made  news  throughout  Southern
California and  raised jubilation  in  state-citizen  communities

"The district  attorney tried  to shrug  it off,  saying that  an
inexperienced, overworked  prosecutor got  sandbagged and  made a
technical error," says Bird proudly.  "They wanted to contain the
damage by  writing me  off as a loose cannon, a guy with too much
time on  his hands.   They tried to trivialize what had happened.
But that  prosecutor never  proved I needed a license.  The truth
was I simply argued my case better."

Four months  later, Bird  was again  cited.   This  time  he  was
convicted of  failing to  display front  and rear license plates,
and his  car was impounded.  Heartened by his earlier victory and
still  flushed  from  facing  down  the  prosecutor  in  his  own
courtroom, Bird  appealed the  judgment.   He lost  again.  He is
appealing to a higher court.

Alan Bird's existential leap against the Power seems in some ways
admirable;  his dedication, high-mindedness, and rigor represents
whatever good sovereign citizenship might have to offer.  But, at
the same  time, he  represents what's  most pernicious and wildly
wrongheaded about  the movement.   Bird claims little interest in
conspiracies, for  instance, when  in fact his tacit faith in the
Big Evil  informs all  his actions.  For without that evil -- the
existence of which can ultimately be neither proved nor disproved
-- Bird's  resistance loses  all honor  and validity.  He becomes
just another  cranky  citizen  with  a  grievance,  taking  easy,
constitutionally guaranteed  shots at  a sprawling system deeply,
perhaps inherently, but not criminally flawed.

As with  fundamentalist Christians whose love of God is rooted in
hatred of  the devil, state citizens stake their salvation on the
presence of  a shadow.   And,  as with  many fundamentalists, the
sovereigns' image of hell is far more vivid than their conception
of heaven.  State citizens spit out rapid, well-prepared ripostes
to every challenge I threw at their teachings.  When I asked what
the world would look like if they prevailed, however, they turned
strangely tongue-tied.   Some  stammered platitudes  about  small
utopian communities  in which  untrammeled personal freedom would
be balanced  by unending  personal  responsibility.    They  were
clearly relieved,  however, when the conversation returned to the
abominations of  government, against  which they were pitted in a
grim  yet  glorious  holy  war.    Hell  seemed  infinitely  more
familiar, authentic, and interesting.

                     Citizens of No Country:
                          Page 12 of 15

Jared  Held,   a  42-year-old  recording  engineer  and  Internet
consultant in  Studio City,  California,  tells  a  state-citizen
bedtime story.

A  genially   schizoid  blend  of  music  industry  longhair  and
practicing Mormon,  Held claims  not to  have paid  federal taxes
since 1974.   The story starts with Held sitting in his apartment
one day in 1993, talking with a friend.  Suddenly his door buzzer

"I press  the intercom,  and  it's  officer  so-and-so  from  the
Internal Revenue  Service," recalls  Held with  a gleeful  glint.
"My friend  says, `I  better go,'  but I  tell him, `No, no, it's
okay.'   I say  into the intercom, `Please state your business in
writing and  mail it  properly.  I will read it and make a timely
and appropriate response.'

"A minute  later, the  buzzer rings  again.   I push  the button.
`Mr.   Held, I  am here  on extremely urgent IRS business, and it
would be very much within your best interest if you come down and
discuss it  with me.'   I say no again.  But by now, my friend is
getting really uncomfortable and wants to leave.

"So we're  walking downstairs,  and  there's  this  agent.    The
building manager  has buzzed  him in.   My  friend leaves.    The
agent's confident,  he's coming  on strong.  I tell him I want to
tape-record our  conversation.   He says,  `You have to notify us
ten  days   in  advance   if  you   want   to   tape-record   our

Held slaps  his knees  and rocks  forward,  laughing.    "So,  of
course, I  answer, `How  can I  notify you ten days in advance if
you show  up unannounced?'   Then  he changes his tack.  `Is that
your Volvo  parked in  front?'   I say, yes, that's my Volvo, but
it's not  registered in  my name.   That quiets him down.  Then I
start playing with him a little.

"'You've sworn  to uphold  and defend  democracy, right?' The guy
puffs up  his chest  and says,  yeah, sure, damn straight.  And I
say, `Have  you read  the  Constitution  lately?    Our  form  of
government is  a republic, not a democracy.  It looks like you've
been defending  the wrong  government.'  The guy backed off after
that.   Before he  left, he  told me  that I'd  be  dealing  with
another agent  from then on.  He said he was going to resign from
the service.  I haven't heard a word from the IRS since."

A sovereign  citizen could  delightedly imagine  the loutish evil
revenuer and  Jared Held  as Grasshopper.   The evil man attacks,
and Grasshopper,  the sovereign,  uses  nifty  kung-fu  moves  to
induce the  revenuer to  defeat himself with his own dark energy.
Afterward,  Grasshopper   kindly  and  humorously  instructs  his
vanquished  opponent.     The  revenuer  goes  away  enlightened.
Grasshopper bows and walks back upstairs to his computer.

                     Citizens of No Country:
                          Page 13 of 15

A burdened,  tax paying, fully licensed, and insured U.S. citizen
might envision  a different  script.  In this version, the action
is ongoing.   Jared  Held is  still living  on borrowed  --  more
accurately, stolen  -- time.   A better-prepared IRS agent simply
hasn't gotten  around to  him yet.    The  story  ends  not  with
Grasshopper bowing and heading back up to his computer but with a
tax chiseler  being led  off in  handcuffs,  watching  his  Volvo
slowly rise on the tow-truck hook.

"Our  government's  gotten  so  big,"  says  Gail  Reese,  deputy
secretary of  taxation and  revenue for  the state of New Mexico,
"that if you decide you don't want to play along with it, you can
go for a long time before anybody catches on."

Reese has  recently begun the protracted, delicate, and difficult
process of  settling New  Mexico's business  with  the  Santa  Fe
jural-society township.   She  explains  that  she's  received  a
respectful letter  from the township requesting a "dialogue" with
her agency.

"Maybe the  most sincere  and  ethical  of  these  people  really
consider themselves  utopians, not so different from the Amish or
Quakers," she  muses.  "They picture themselves living out on the
frontier, taking  care of  themselves  and  each  other,  neither
expecting anything  from the government nor owing it anything.  A
nice picture.   Except  where's the frontier today?  America used
to have  all this  room.   We just  don't  have  that  much  room

Kristi Daniell, a 40-year-old telemarketing executive for a major
West Coast  bank, drives  up Box  Canyon Road  on a bright Sunday
morning in  midwinter,  bound  for  the  weekly  state  citizens'
introductory meeting  at Richard  McDonald's house.  The gleaming
flagships of  the  great  retail  chains  are  just  opening  for
business on  Topanga Canyon Boulevard.  Along the arroyos and dry
washes, soft-bellied  middle-aged men in blinding shades of Lycra
pedal thousand-dollar  mountain bikes.   High  above, hawks drift
the thermals, and coyotes drowse on ridgelines in the early sun.

Daniell  drives   distractedly,  trying  to  follow  the  cryptic
directions she  scribbled down the day before.  Follow Box Canyon
Road to  the carcass  of the  old school  bus parked on the right

There's the  bus, and there's the rutted dirt road, the oak trees
tucked into  a cleavage  between steep brown bluffs.  A long, low
stone-and-beam building  pokes out  from the  trees.    Daniell's
throat tightens  as she  climbs out  of her car.  The enormity of
what she's  considering -- giving up the taxes, the licenses, the
Social  Security,   the  whole   tangled  nest   of  plastic  and
accreditation and  identification that  she knows is the problem,
but from  which she  also draws  such comfort, such deep American
confidence that  everything  ultimately  will  be  all  right  --
suddenly strikes.

                     Citizens of No Country:
                          Page 14 of 15

In her  mind's eye,  she jumps  back into  her car,  cranks  into
reverse,  and  fishtails  away  from  this  whole  creepy  scene.
Tomorrow morning it'll all just be a funny story she can tell her
friends at the office.

Daniell shakes  off the  vision and continues walking tentatively
across the dry creek bed to the spooky sign -- YOU ARE ENTERING A
SACRED PLACE  -- and into the, well, compound.  She keeps walking
because everything  isn't all  right.    Because  the  Stars  and
Stripes that  John Wayne  died for in all those late shows flies,
in fact, over a land of shadows.

Daniell enters  the dark book-lined house to meet Citizen Richard
J. McDonald,  Sui Juris  -- to take her first free, halting steps
toward certainty and sovereignty.

                             #  #  #

[This  essay  was  sent  by  Richard  McDonald  to  Paul  Andrew 
Mitchell,  who  edited the essay for punctuation and spelling by 
carefully  comparing  the  electronic version with the hard-copy 
original as found in Worth magazine, September 1996 issue.

                     Citizens of No Country:
                          Page 15 of 15

                             #  #  #


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John Brant