This is Day Seven, the last in my seven-day series of updates from or about the ConspiraSea Cruise. You can read Day 1 here, Day 2 here , Day 3 here, Day 4 here, Day 5 Part 1 here, Day 5 Part 2 here, Day 6 here, and an explanation for what I was doing here. We’ll have an index page up soon collecting these and future pieces. This is the last of the seven-day series, but not my last post about conspiracy theories. We’ll be posting an exclusive interview with Andrew Wakefield soon, and then I have a number of analytical pieces planned for future updates.
This is the most difficult of the ConspiraSea articles I’ve written. I have to confess a very personal and frustrating failure. I made just one serious attempt to persuade someone on the cruise to reject some very bad and dangerous advice. This was contrary to my “do not interfere” policy, but I couldn’t just stand by and watch someone’s future ruined by charlatans. And unlike many attendees, whose minds were made up before they ever boarded the boat, this person claimed to be persuadable and actively sought out my advice. I don’t know for certain whether I could have changed their mind, only that I didn’t. I hope this piece and the news in it reach that person, and I hope it’s not too late.
I can’t give you any details about the person I’m writing this for. I promised them anonymity, and I seriously considered not writing this at all. But if I don’t, then I have no way to reach them and give them an important update. And it’s important to show how dangerous some conspiracy theories can be; I have some responsibility to the people like this person who might be persuaded to make safer, better decisions. I’ll call that person Q, to protect their privacy while still telling a coherent story. Because this piece isn’t just for Q, but anyone in the same situation or who’s just curious about whether pseudolaw is as dangerous as pseudoscience or pseudomedicine.
As far as everyone but the two of us are concerned, this is what Q looks like:
Q’s age, race, gender, nationality, profession, education, marital status, shoe size, politics, military service—all of that is irrelevant. All you need to know is that Q is a human being. And Q’s future is in real danger because of the advice two pseudolegal gurus were selling on the ConspiraSea Cruise. Specifically, Q took advice from a dangerously incompetent and ignorant “attorney in law,” Sean David Morton. A man whom Q trusted. A man who never told Q that not long before the cruise began, he’d been indicted on serious criminal charges. Q probably has no idea that he was arrested by the IRS Criminal Investigation Division as soon as he got off the boat, or that he’s now facing over six hundred years of jail time for doing the same sort of things he advised his audiences to try for themselves.
I don’t know Q’s full name and I don’t have any way to make contact. And I’m sure there are other people from the cruise who are in the same situation, about to implement some of the horrible ideas they got from Morton. So I’ve asked the ConspiraSea Cruise organizers to notify attendees of these developments. I think they need to know that one of the lecturers who gave them legal advice is facing enormous criminal liability for taking his own medicine. I suggested they simply send out a request for prayers and good thoughts on Morton’s behalf in light of his recent legal issues. I thought that would be a decent compromise because people like Q would be put on alert, and cruise organizers wouldn’t have to explicitly criticize one of their guests. They’ve refused. The person I wrote to, whom I believe to be a personal friend of the guru in question, responded only, “I have no comment to make about Sean David Morton.”
I do. I hope it reaches you, Q.
A Quick Re-Introduction to Two Gurus
Winston Shrout and Sean David Morton were the subjects of my Day 2 post. That post was much more critical and aggressive than I expected any of my writing to be. To the extent that it earned me a little browbeating from a Shrout fan who was upset that I criticized him. (If you’re reading this, hi. Please keep reading. Don’t give up just because you don’t want to hear it.) I couldn’t hold back. As I’ve said I’m a lawyer, and I know that what Shrout and Morton were teaching was absolute crap. It wasn’t arguably right. It wasn’t thinking outside the box. It wasn’t creative reinterpretation of the law. It was complete nonsense, in that it literally did not make any sense.
How bad was it? Before the cruise started, Shrout went on record predicting that we’d have a new currency and that the IRS would be sent “back to Puerto Rico” by the time we sailed. When that didn’t happen, he bumped his prediction back to February 8, the date I’m writing this–and it still hasn’t happened, and won’t, because despite what he says the IRS is not a private corporation headquartered in Puerto Rico. He claimed that he once used an elf’s powers to move the Prime Meridian out of London, which I think he said is why the Federal Reserve banks couldn’t be rechartered and now the Fed is dissolved. He claimed he’d been working for six months to sell 350 tons of gold, which would be worth over $10 trillion. He told his audience that their birth certificate is actually title to a trust owned by the government and if they can recover ownership by having it verified by John Kerry (which you have to do by saying that it’s for use in Taiwan, or else they’ll notarize it instead of verifying it) then some kind of magic happens and you don’t have to pay taxes anymore. I could write ten paragraphs like this one just listing his bizarre, false, totally unsubstantiated made up stories. None of it makes any god damn sense. None of it.
You don’t have to take my word for it: none of it works. If he’s really unlocked the secret to limitless wealth, then why the hell is he selling you those secrets in a $30 DVD? Is Bill Gates doing lectures on a cruise ship, hawking merchandise to make ends meet?
Morton’s no better. As I wrote in my Day 2 piece, he’s apparently made a lot of dubious claims about his own background, from being a major player in getting Star Trek back on the air to being trained in secret sexual arts by “black hat” Tibetan monks. These guys claim to have checked it all out and documented a lot of lies. He spun more stories like that on the cruise, telling us that his book has been optioned for a $100 million movie or series and that he has psychic powers to predict stock market movements. I was going to fact-check the claim about his book deal, but obviously there’s no point now. I already know he doesn’t have the psychic power to predict the stock market; he couldn’t even predict the $11 million judgment the SEC won against him as a consequence of that scam.
One thing that comes across in that expose of Morton’s background is that he likes to pose as an expert. That’s what he did on the boat, trying to persuade people that he had figured out the secrets to beating the government in court, clearing debt without having to pay it yourself, and getting out of paying taxes forever. He gave a halfhearted disclaimer halfway through one lecture, insisting that this secret knowledge was for “entertainment purposes only,” but I don’t think anyone believed him. I certainly didn’t. It was painfully clear to me that Morton wanted people to believe him, and unfortunately people like Q did.
The View from Q
I think Q must have heard that I’d written something critical of Shrout. After one of the pseudolegal lectures, Q pulled me aside and asked what I thought of him and Morton. I said I thought they were con artists, and shouldn’t be trusted. Q allowed that this was possible, and maybe even likely. But Q’s not a lawyer and doesn’t have any basis for judging the accuracy of the stories people like Shrout and Morton spin. At the end of the day it was my arguments against Morton’s lectures. He won.
I can’t describe the conversations I had with Q without jeopardizing his/her privacy. I can say we had several discussions about whether it was safe to trust Morton’s advice. We never discussed the details of Q’s life, but just like everyone else it’s safe to assume that Q had some kind of debt. Taxes, student loans, mortgages, credit cards, car payments, could be anything–but Q didn’t seem desperate to me. Just willing to try unconventional methods to get rid of it, the way someone might try homeopathy or reiki to clear up an annoying rash.
I tried as hard as I could to persuade Q that Morton was untrustworthy. It’s hard for me to understand how someone could fail to see that, which is a testament to how hard it is to get outside of your own head and see the world from a different perspective.
For example, Morton claimed more than once that this is a “Supreme Court case,” handed down in September, that establishes that United States district courts have never had any jurisdiction outside of Washington, DC. Thus, presumably, no one can be tried in federal courts located in a state like California. None of us knew at the time that a federal grand jury in California had indicted Morton on serious criminal charges a couple of months before. You can sort of see how the idea that federal courts have no criminal jurisdiction in California would be tempting to a man in that position.
To a lawyer, Morton’s claim is incredibly foolish. There are lots of tells, from the subtle (Supreme Court cases aren’t handed down in September) to the blazingly obvious (the Supreme Court doesn’t use a WordPress blog to announce cases). And of course, if the Supreme Court had held last year that federal courts have no jurisdiction outside of Washington, DC, it would still be headline news today.
But if you don’t know anything about courts, and never think about courts, and someone you want to trust–like someone who’s been propped up as an expert by cruise organizers–tells you otherwise, it’s tempting to assume he must know what he’s talking about. And it’s not like Morton gave people a chance to really review the case. He briefly described it and flashed a page or two on the screen during a lecture.
Similarly, he told people that if they could change their status from Fourteenth Amendment citizen to plain old Constitutional citizen, they wouldn’t be taxable. No, that doesn’t make sense. It’s connected to a weird, very racist idea that the Fourteenth Amendment only applied to freed slaves and their children, making white and black people fundamentally different kinds of citizens even after the end of slavery. It’s not true. But if you’ve never studied constitutional law, would you know that? And would you stop to consider the strange racism of this fanciful segregation? Morton certainly didn’t dwell on it, although he did use some very ugly racial and sexist “humor” in his lectures.
Just like I can’t describe my conversations with Q, I can’t describe the decision Q made in any real detail. All I can say is that Q ultimately concluded that while Morton may be wrong about some things, it was worth trying at least. I don’t know exactly why Q wasn’t persuaded by my attempts to show how badly wrong Morton is. I suspect it was a combination of two things. First, Morton, as an invited lecturer and self-proclaimed expert, simply had more innate credibility with Q. He was part of Q’s culture in important ways, while I was a self-defined skeptic and outsider. Q and I built a wall in between ourselves just by the way we defined our respective communities, largely in opposition to one another. Second, Morton was promising something Q wanted to be true. Not just an end to debt, but a hard-won end to debt by means of secret knowledge most people aren’t clever enough or dogged enough to master. And of course, maybe I just plain failed. Morton was just more persuasive.
So in the end, Q decided to take Morton’s advice. I don’t know what advice in particular. I don’t know if Q’s going to be playing games with the IRS or sending phony bonds to creditors or issuing bogus promissory notes or just trying to change the name on a birth certificate from Q to q. I hope none of it. All of it is foolish, much of it will end in financial ruin, and some of it leads straight to prison. I didn’t get the details, because I don’t want to know. I just wanted to protect someone, at least one person, from Morton’s and Shrout’s incredibly irresponsible, stupid advice.
Gurus or Villains?
When I boarded the boat, I had a pretty strong suspicion that Shrout was a true believer in this pseudolaw nonsense, but probably not foolish enough to try it himself–I assumed he just thought he hadn’t quite cracked the code, but was still willing to sell the guidebook. I presumed that Morton was smarter than that, and an outright con artist just pretending to be a pseudolaw believer to make a quick buck.
I was very wrong. Shrout and Morton are both believers. They both practice what they preach. And because what they preach is a completely fictitious made-up version of law, they can’t actually navigate the world of taxes and debts and court cases. And when you decide to stop paying taxes, as Shrout and Morton did and as their audiences may be enticed into doing, it’s kind of a big problem when your ideas turn out to be worthless in real-world courts. Morton’s trying to fight his criminal case with the same goofy nonsense he and Shrout taught on board the boat, like using “cestui que” trusts and appointing his own prosecutor as his fiduciary. I can’t imagine the frustration his public defender must feel.
Want to take a guess whether those tactics are working? This is an excerpt from one hugely pointless motion he filed, appointing his own prosecutors as the fiduciaries for a mythical trust that may or may not include his body as a trust asset.
There’s so much wrong with this paragraph I won’t even try to list it all. Basically, Morton doesn’t know how trusts work. The federal government didn’t create one in his name the day he was born. And you can’t just declare someone to be your fiduciary. And if you could, it wouldn’t stop the prosecution. I suspect people file things like this because it makes them feel better to pretend to themselves they’ve got a fighting chance to win the case. He doesn’t.
And yet, even though I walked away convinced that Shrout and Morton are true believers, I still think they’re con men. Why, if they really believe in the product they’re selling? Because they knew it didn’t work. Maybe they thought it could work, maybe they thought it would eventually work. But they both knew they had lost prior judicial proceedings, and were each currently facing criminal charges, based on the same behavior they were teaching to others, like ducking taxes and issuing bonds and promissory notes they never intended to pay. And I think they both knew that the “legal” arguments they were teaching others, for money, don’t really work in court. They each had lots of little anecdotes about tiny victories, like a traffic court judge throwing out their case because he was tired of the vast quantities of nonsense they filed to bury the court in paper. But when I asked Shrout what major cases he’d won, for example, he wilted. He promised he’d look some up and get back to me, but obviously he never did.
Even if Shrout and Morton honestly believed their pitch, they had a clear, basic moral duty to warn their customers. Something like, “I think this could work, but you should know I’m currently under indictment for doing something very much like this.” “I think I’m going to win my case, but I don’t know for sure, so you should be careful.” “I know how to unlock billions of dollars in secret government money, but I’ve never actually been able to get my hands on it, which is why I’m here selling books to make ends meet.” What their customers got instead was a half-assed disclaimer from Morton, warning that his ideas were for “entertainment purposes only” – but still for sale in private sessions, away from the prying eyes of skeptics.
So what about the cruise organizers? Not the logistics people, but the ones who found and promoted the speakers? As I said in my last update, overall I’m a big fan of the ConspiraSea project. It was a brave notion to put a hundred conspiracy theorists together and let them explore some out-there ideas. It was even braver to let a skeptical author and a few professional journalists tag along. In the long run that kind of transparency humanizes conspiracy theorists in the eyes of skeptics, but it must be stressful to have your beliefs exposed to criticism and even potential ridicule. That’s one reason why I’ve been reluctant to criticize the organizers.
This is one place where it’s very appropriate to criticize them. They aren’t lawyers, and it may not have been obvious to them that Shrout and Morton were hugely incompetent. And I doubt that they knew that both men had been indicted for serious crime related to the bad advice they were giving; they had already signed on to the cruise by the time either one was indicted. But now the organizers know. I’ve told them very explicitly, in person and with my posts, that Morton and Shrout are dangerous. I’ve told them that I know of at least one person who left the boat intending to follow their advice. And they’ve washed their hands of it.
That’s not acceptable. The cruise promoted Shrout and Morton and gave them the credibility they used to put people like Q in danger. Its promoters share some of the responsibility. I’m not naming names because I can’t tell, from the outside, where that responsibility should fall. But I know that they have the power to notify the people who paid them money for the privilege of learning at Morton’s feet that his lessons bear tragic fruit. And I don’t think they’re going to do it. For all the cruise’s high rhetoric about fighting abuses of power and supporting light energy and peace and justice, they seem very unconcerned with actually reaching out to help their own customers.
Q, I Hope You’re Reading This
That’s the overall picture for all our readers. I hope you’ve all found it interesting. But really, I only need one person to read this. I said on the cruise, to Q, that I’d be proud of myself if I could just convince one person not to follow Morton’s horrible, dangerous advice. I failed. I’m sorry. Please look at where Morton is now–out on bail, awaiting trial–and reconsider. Please don’t fall for his tricks. Please save yourself.