International Journal of Coercion, Abuse, and Manipulation (IJCAM)
Vo. 6, (2023). Published June 07, 2023.
PDF of Article | PDF of Issue (in development)
“I hereby and herein claim liberties”: Identity and Power in Sovereign Citizen Pseudolegal Courtroom Filings
David Griffin, PhD, JD
While the documents produced by members of the Sovereign Citizen movement are not legitimate legal documents, there is a distinctly legal character to them. This article examines the ways that Sovereign Citizen pseudolegal documents acquire that legal-seeming character by considering the degree to which the language present in them resembles that of documents written by actual attorneys. A comparison of a corpus of Sovereign Citizen documents filed in an American courthouse to a corpus of attorney-authored documents obtained from that same courthouse reveals that the authors of the pseudolegal courtroom filings (PCFs) examined are generally adept at identifying those features of legitimate courtroom filings (LCFs) that most clearly differentiate them from documents written in more “general” varieties of English. These Sovereign Citizen authors do more than simply imitate, however; they frequently heighten or in some way emphasize those features of LCFs that appear to them to be the most legally or authoritatively salient. By considering both the features of LCFs that have been heightened in this way and those features of PCFs that have no immediately clear legitimate legal analogue, several trends become apparent: 1) PCFs are highly and perhaps primarily concerned with establishing the identity and power of their authors as individuals; 2) PCFs frame judges and other representatives of the legitimate legal system as a single collective out-group; and 3) PCFs present their authors as the wielders of true legal authority while simultaneously, if implicitly, acknowledging the real-world power that the legitimate legal system wields over them.