Many thanks to Sarah Phillimore for this fascinating blog post, guest written in 2014 by a Canadian contributor to the “Quatloos” discussion boards.
Many of us were complete newcomers to the wild and woolly world of “freeman on the land” woo when we first became aware of the Hampstead SRA hoax, but exposure to people like Neelu Berry and her Canadian guru Kevin Annett quickly made us realise that we were dealing with a special kind of
crazy alternative rationality. While not all Hoaxtead mobsters are fully formed FOTL adherents, elements of FOTL woo seem to have influenced the attitudes and ideas of many.
So we were pleased to find a post on the Child Protection Resource blog which took a step back and looked at the evolution and spread of what its author calls “Organised Pseudo-legal Commercial Argument” (OPCA)—an umbrella term which covers FOTL, Sovereign Citizen, detaxers, and other anti-government, anti-societal movements that reject the authority of law enforcement, courts, and banking regulations. The basic premise of OPCA ideology is that governments are illegitimate and have no power over individuals, but other details may vary.
Freeman woo as a virus
The author of the CPR blog post, who goes by the pseudonym “Hilfskreuzer Möwe”, writes that OPCA movements may be viewed as a kind of virus, which acts in a predictable manner:
These are a parasitic, highly pathogenic strain of ideas that rapidly transmit in susceptible peer groups. Emphasis there on “susceptible”. Our experience in Canada is that Freeman concepts are tightly concentrated in certain peer groups, where their ‘hosts’ reinforce one-another’s preconceptions and preoccupations. The preferred ‘hosts’ are those who usually are poorly educated but believe themselves highly sophisticated, typically with ‘alternative’, non-conformist, leftist, eco-nik, occupista views. This can both be ‘old hippies’ and their younger anti-authoritarian counterparts.
Another way of looking at OPCA susceptibility is by age, according to Dr Stephen Kent, a professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta. He notes that J.J. MacNab, a Forbes writer who focuses on anti-government extremism, breaks the appeal of OPCA ideas down by generation:
Sovereigns over the age of 60 most likely joined the movement following a personal bankruptcy or argument with government tax collectors. Those in the 35 to 60-year-old age group likely joined when they ran into trouble with a mortgage foreclosure or other debt problem. The youngest and newest recruits are either 1) children of sovereigns who were indoctrinated into this absurd belief system by their family, or 2) they were introduced to the belief system through an online conspiracy source such as the “9/11 Truth Movement”.
Vulnerability to OPCA ideas seems to be informed not only by personal socio-political conviction, but by financial circumstance. This is borne out by Dr Kent’s observation that OPCA woo gained significant traction in the wake of various financial and debt crises in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Hilfskreuzer Möwe elaborates on the epidemiological model as it applies to OPCA ideas:
Once OPCA ideas reach a susceptible but uninfected population they spread very rapidly, through social peer relationships. This is a period where gurus, old and new, surge their activities and obtain many subscribers. The combination of guru promotion and peer encouragement results in numerous attempts to apply these ideas.
The next stage is collapse. After a certain number of failures the peer groups abandon OPCA ideas, and move on to something else. The time to collapse is affected by whether there is a perception that the OPCA scheme is already complete, or if instead there is a need to adapt or grow ideas – a kind of “let’s do a trial and error” period. ‘Pre-fab’ schemes grow and collapse fast – an excellent example was an outfit called the One People’s Public Trust. It appeared in late 2012, attracted massive attention, but by summer 2013 had all but collapsed.
The spread of the “OPCA virus” can only be exacerbated by the internet, which enables “gurus” to carry their ideas further and faster.
However, it seems that the internet can also have a (somewhat) curative effect, as critics and opponents of OPCA ideas have found:
Another key ‘time to collapse’ factor is knowledge of in-court and other failures. OPCA litigants are notorious for lying and misrepresenting their degree of success. They also tend to interpret delay as success. Media, court judgment, and ‘skeptic’ reporting is very efficient at this stage. …
That in part is what myself and a few collaborators are doing on Quatloos at present with Dean Clifford [a Canadian FOTL adherent who was convicted of 12 out of 14 charges, including possession of drugs and guns, in 2015]. It’s costing us some cash but we’re ordering court materials and putting them online to demonstrate that his claims and what is actually going on do not match. Nothing wrecks a guru like proof of failure…
Once a surge of OPCA madness has subsided, says Hilfskreuzer Möwe, a small number of die-hard believers can be expected to shrug off the setback and carry on. “There’s not much that can be done about them – they just keep coming on, no matter the degree of state, court, and social sanction”. (Hello, Neelu!) Due to their small numbers, these few holdouts can usually be contained at this stage. However,
The interesting thing about the holdouts is that they are the pool from which the next wave of gurus emerge – they are the ‘disease carriers’ – once they find another susceptible and hitherto unexposed potential host population for their memes.
Post-script: ‘Elizabeth of the Family Watson’
In the UK and Ireland, Dr Kent notes, “Evidence that some Freeman ideas had entered popular culture came in March 2011 when an unspecified number of protesters espousing Freeman-related concepts “tried to arrest a judge after storming into a courtroom [i]n Merseyside”.
Later that year (in August 2011), a newspaper published an article about a mother and her investigator who had been involved in the manufacture and dissemination of false child sexual abuse allegations against the father. To the court the investigator gave her name as “Elizabeth of the Watson Family,” which is a typical way that Freemen attempt to demonstrate their sovereignty (by rejecting last names as a form of corporate domination by the state [PA Media Lawyer, 2011]). Five days later in a London Administrative Court, a man followed the same pattern with his last name when providing it to the judge. He called himself “Norman of the Family Scarth (The Living Man)”.
Long-time readers of this blog will no doubt recognise the case involving the manufacture and dissemination of false child sexual abuse allegations against an innocent father as the infamous Vicky Haigh case; when it was covered by Carl Gardner in his Head of Legal blog at the time, Elizabeth Watson (who seemed to have undergone a switch back to her former name) protested vigorously that the campaigning in the case had in fact been carried out by none other than Sabine McNeill. Similarly, Norman Scarth, one of Sabine and Belinda’s stable of nutters, is infamous for having attacked a bailiff with a chainsaw.
It seems that if we scratch the surface of Hoaxtead, we find nests of OPCA woo dating back years; suffice to say, Neelu is far from the only Hoaxtead mobster involved in this particular brand of anti-societal, delusional nuttiness.