You are hereMother Jones: Explained: Jared Loughner’s Grammar Obsession

Mother Jones: Explained: Jared Loughner’s Grammar Obsession


January 13, 2011- What was going on in Jared Loughner's mind? Based on his online rantings, the man who allegedly emptied a 31-round clip into Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and dozens of bystanders Saturday was preoccupied with theories on a massive government fraud. Many of his seemingly random statements—on "grammar," "the ratifications," "the new currency," and more—echo the teachings of the "sovereign citizen" movement, a right-wing school of thought alleging that Americans have been surreptitiously stripped of their God-given rights.

These are not random parallels, as I discovered in reviewing Loughner's YouTube videos. In multiple instances, he uses the precise talking points sovereign-citizen theorists teach via a thriving cottage industry of books, websites, bogus legal companies, and seminars; one popular theorist, David Wynn Miller, told the New York Times that Loughner has "probably been on my website." (It's important to note that the sovereign-citizen movement is a philosophy, not an organized movement; Loughner's interest in its teachings doesn't implicate any individuals or organizations in his actions.) A few cases in point, taken from a video Loughner posted on December 15, 2010:

"The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar." (3:34)

As the Guardian's Peter Walker and Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown reports have pointed out, this is the basic premise of the sovereign-citizen argument, which posits that government has used linguistic devices in certain laws to strip us of our rights. "This is an extraordinary freaking word game," says Alfred Adask, a guru of the sovereign movement and former publisher of the sovereign-citizen magazine AntiShyster, told me. "Not many people know how to do it or even understand it. The government has ensnared us with the sophisticated use of words and put us back into bondage. You have to master the definitions and start working out with a law dictionary."

"I can't trust the current government because of the ratifications." (3:34)

To theorists like Robert Kelly, publisher of The American's Sovereign Bulletin, the leading publication in the sovereign-citizen world, it all started with the Constitution's Reconstruction Amendments—the 13th, 14th, and 15th—which established a secondary class of citizens under the control of the government. This was done by cleverly deploying phrases such as "citizens subject to the jurisdiction thereof" and "inalienable rights" (supposedly denoting rights that can be surrendered, as opposed to "unalienable rights" that can never be taken away). People in the sovereign citizens' movement believe that these subterfuges were originally used to limit African Americans' rights, but have been expanded over time to make all of us second-class citizens with limited rights. (Another favorite case in point: the use of the phrase "man or other animals" in the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act—implying, they argue, that humans have no more legal rights than animals).

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