Lexomancy: Law and Magic in the Pseudolegal Writings of the Sovereign Citizen Movement

David Griffin, J.D; “Lexomancy: Law and Magic in the Pseudolegal Writings of the Sovereign Citizen Movement“:

“The Sovereign Citizen movement is a loosely organized collection of anti-government conspiracy theorists found around the world. According to their pseudolegal theories, Sovereign Citizens believe that through the filing of certain forms and the raising of certain arguments in court, they can force the legal system and its representatives to do (or not do) anything they desire, including give them access to secret government funds or dismiss criminal charges against them. Though there are clear similarities between the documents that Sovereign Citizens submit to courts and those submitted by actual attorneys, Sovereign Citizen documents often contain features that are completely out of place in standard legal discourse, including the use of thumbprints as seals and atypical formatting when writing personal names (e.g. “first-middle;last”). With its focus on American Sovereign Citizens and the specific legal documents that they are imitating, this thesis is the first thorough linguistic examination of the relationship between the Sovereign Citizen pseudolegal courtroom filing (“PCF”) and legitimate courtroom filing (“LCF”) genres. The PCF genre, it is proposed, is best understood as a “parasitic” genre preying upon its “host,” the LCF genre. By incorporating aspects of LCFs into their own writings, the authors of PCFs hope to imbue them with the authority of the legitimate legal system. In this way, PCFs can also be understood as instances of imitative magical practice and their more distinctive elements as the magical “heightening” of features which their authors view as particularly emblematic of legitimate legal authority. Because the comparison of the PCF and LCF genres requires a greater understanding of the nature of legal language than currently exists in the literature, this thesis also makes a significant new contribution to the linguistic knowledge of the register of legal English. It is hoped that an increased understanding of the nature of Sovereign Citizen pseudolegal discourse will help representatives of the legal system understand and combat the spread of the Sovereign Citizen movement and related conspiracy theories.”