The sovereign citizen movement is a fringe conspiracy whose adherents claim to be immune from U.S. law. It’s completely bogus. But a New Hampshire lawmaker wants to fine state agencies $10,000 if they don’t play sovereign citizens’ game.
Republican state Rep. Richard Marple is scheduled to introduce a bill that treats sovereign citizens as a recognized legal class, and proposes a $10,000 fine for state agencies that don’t buy into sovereigns’ legal make believe. Marple champions sovereign citizen talking points, which typically draw a far-right fanbase, and has earned him the praise of white supremacist Christopher Cantwell.
Sovereign citizens claim to be emancipated from the U.S. government. And often their own beliefs—which run conspiratorial, libertarian, and ludicrous—are often at odds with other members of their loose-affiliated movement. Some sovereign citizens might believe local sheriffs to be the highest valid form of government. Others argue that all court proceedings are frauds, or that they don’t have to pay their taxes because IRS forms spell their names in capital letters, or that the government secretly owes every citizen $630,000.
Usually, sovereign citizens are harmless frequenters of conspiracy websites. More rarely, they’re violent, anti-government extremists. But never do their theories hold up in court, and Marple’s previous attempts to introduce sovereign citizen-style legislation have been defeated in committee.
Still, Marple’s latest bill reads like a glossary of sovereign citizen lingo. The bill proposes a modification to the Uniform Commercial Code, a set of commercial laws that sovereign citizens often use as the basis for their pseudo-legal arguments. (Many sovereigns “see most legal matters as financial transactions,” according to a 2014 report in the American Bar Association Journal.)
The bill refers to “sovereigns” as though they were a legitimate legal class, and requires “all corporations to disclose all elements of any contract,” “particularly those contracts involving an ens legis or strawman.”
The “contracts” referenced in the bill are a sovereign citizen term for agreements between individuals and the government. Contracts, in sovereign-speak, can include birth certificates or tax documents, but can also refer to interactions with courts or law enforcement. When sovereign citizens are arrested or face trial, some try to grill authorities about the specifics of their “contracts,” which often involves baffling judges with irrelevant questions about “maritime law.”
A “strawman” is a sovereign citizen myth that a person’s name, as it appears on legal documents like birth certificates and taxes, does not actually refer to that person, but to an unrelated “corporation” that shares their name. Sovereign citizens cite the strawman theory when trying to avoid court orders or taxes.
Under Marple’s bill, any “corporation” that does not fully explain the nature of a “contract” to a sovereign citizen is subject to a $10,000 fine. And because sovereign citizens often refer to all people as “corporations,” it’s unclear if the bill applies to individuals as well as government entities.
Reached by phone, a representative told The Daily Beast that Marple was unavailable to speak all week, and that no one from his office was available for comment on the bill. The bill’s three co-sponsors could not be reached for comment, except for one, Ed Comeau, who returned The Daily Beast’s phone call Wednesday and immediately hung up.
House Bill 1653 isn’t Marple’s first attempt to introduce sovereign-friendly laws in New Hampshire, although the bill has more co-sponsors than many of his previous attempts.
In 2015, Marple introduced a bill that would have allowed New Hampshire residents to declare themselves sovereign citizens, giving them legally recognized “status as free born American sovereigns without subjects,” and a second bill that would force “immediate removal from office with no appeal” for any official found to have violated what Marple described as New Hampshire’s state sovereignty. Both bills failed.
Marple also introduced a pseudo-secessionist bill in 2016, which would have declared New Hampshire landowners the absolute rulers of their property, thereby exempting them from taxes. Any attempt to collect property taxes or otherwise enforce the law on that property was treason under the bill’s text. That bill also failed.
But it won the backing of at least one prominent white supremacist. Christopher Cantwell, a New Hampshire racist currently facing assault charges for allegedly attacking counterprotestors the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August. Cantwell, who has advocated genocide for blacks and Jews, was an organizer at the rally, where a neo-Nazi drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring others.
When Marple introduced his 2016 property bill, Cantwell was still a well-known white supremacist. But he received a warm welcome when he testified in favor of the bill in a New Hampshire House committee meeting.
“I love that I live in a state where a guy like Dick Marple can get elected,” Cantwell told the committee.
Cantwell praised Marple’s bill and went on to recommend the committee read a book by the right-wing anarcho-capitalist Hans-Hermann Hoppe who, among recommending monarchy over democracy, has espoused hardline anti-immigrant views and advocated “physically removing” gay people from society.
Marple has his own checkered history with the law. On Election Day 2016, he was arrested outside a polling place. He had been carrying signs for his own re-election campaign, and a passing police officer recognized him as having an outstanding warrant. He had failed to show up at an October court appearance for driving with a suspended license in 2014. His license had been suspended because he failed to pay a court fee in 2013. Despite his Election Day arrest, Marple was re-elected.
When he returned to court on a charge of driving with a suspended license in May 2017, Marple launched into a conspiracy-tinged tirade against the judge, telling her she had no jurisdiction in his case, and that her authority was invalid because she had not signed an “affidavit of truth.”
“I am reading two judgements against you, filed with the secretary of state,” Marple told the judge in a rant sent him viral on sovereign citizen blogs. After a prolonged debate, the judge eventually left the courtroom and sentenced Marple to $310 in fines by mail.