“There is evidence for being able to hang these [public officials]. I am so tired of ‘em. I’m just sick of it. I’ve had it, the Second Amendment is there for a reason.” Corey Eib, Agenda 31.
You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts–that’s the simplest, most basic credo of skepticism. Want to hold the opinion that extraterrestrial life exists out there? Great, me too. Want to insist that it built the pyramids? Now we’re talking pseudoscience.
I’ve been following a budding pseudolegal guru who’s become very frustrated and angry that his nonsense theories about citizenship and jurisdiction have yet to make him immune to the laws of the United States, where he lives. His case highlights an interesting difference between pseudoscience and pseudolaw.
Both turn on theories that don’t really fit the available facts, whether those facts relate to the building of the pyramids, the origin of species, or the text of the Fourteenth Amendment. When the theory doesn’t fit the facts, pseudoscientists and pseudolawyers both build walled gardens to protect their theories–that’s one of the crucial differences between a “pseudo” scientist or lawyer and the real thing. Those walls might be a community that doesn’t ask critical questions or conspiracy theories that provide a mechanism for disqualifying and ignoring such questions. A creationist, for example, can pretend that carbon dating proves the Earth is just 6,000 years old. And they’ll never have to emerge from their walled garden to compare that theory to the facts available to actual scientists. They can just keep reading creationist blogs and books and avoid the awkward mismatch between their beliefs and the outside world.
A pseudolawyer is in a different boat. Legal theories usually get decided in court, sooner or later. It forces a comparison between the irrational belief and reality, and exposes its flaws. That can happen with scientific and medical theories, such as when a miracle cancer cure fails to cure any cancer, but it’s less common for any individual believer to experience that. In the legal world, if you decide you’re allowed to drive without a driver’s license because you’re a special kind of super-citizen, sooner or later the system is going to force you to test that belief. And the theory is going to fail, because it’s wrong.
When those cherished, irrational beliefs fail, it’s at the end of a long and difficult process. The tribulations of trials encourage pseudolegal gurus to double down on their beliefs–they have to be truly committed to spend months litigating their beliefs, much less risk jail for them. And when the process that’s welded them more tightly to their ideology then exposes that ideology as false, the result is often going to be immense frustration and anger.
This is an exploration of one pseudolawyer’s mistaken ideas about the US Constitution, how they failed that empirical test, and how he’s responded with frustration, anger, and paranoia rather than reconsidering his own beliefs. It’s also about why just losing in court again and again and again isn’t enough to dissuade a budding guru. I’m not trying to do that with this piece, either. I don’t think it’s possible to talk such a person out of their beliefs.
But because this guru’s recent rhetoric has become extremely frantic and even he’s even suggested violence, it’s important to engage with the theories he preaches in case that helps dissuade people from falling for them. I don’t think this particular pseudolawyer is actually going to become violent, but the communities that form around such ideas can become unpredictable. (Just ask the Malheur occupiers.) So in addition to discussing those theories as a case study, at the end of this piece I’m going to outline some of the simplest and most obvious flaws with them. Engaging irrational beliefs that hurt people is, after all, the Good Fight.
Corey Eib is one of the hosts of the dependably erroneous “Agenda 31” podcast. Eib really, really wants to drive without a driver’s license. And he really wants to be seen as a legal expert. He does not, however, seem to want to actually do much studying. His legal theories are what Popehat calls “moon law.” They describe the law as he imagines it to be, but don’t have much to do with the world the rest of us live in.
Eib believes, wrongly, that when you get a driver’s license or agree to have a Social Security number, you’re consenting to be a US citizen under the 14th Amendment citizen instead of a state citizen under Article IV of the Constitution. And if that happens, he thinks, you become “federal personnel” and the government basically owns you, so it can do just about anything it wants to you. But if you can somehow reverse the process and stop being federal personnel, then the opposite happens: the government can’t regulate you. You could throw away your driver’s license and drive without insurance. You could buy a gun without showing ID, or just by showing your literally homemade “common law” ID card.
The usual goal of schemes like this is to stop paying taxes, although to Eib’s credit, he hasn’t really been beating that particular drum. These schemes are all completely impossible, of course. They’re based on bizarre fantasies, simple misreading of the law, and urban legends. Down at the bottom of this post is a very simple and quick explanation; you can wait , but it will help put the silliness of these theories in context. Nevertheless Eib is a true believer, and he’s paid a high cost to maintain these fantasies. Now that he’s coming face-to-face once again with the fact that they don’t work in the real world, he’s getting angrier about it.
(I’m basing this piece on emails I’ve exchanged with Eib, his podcast, and his legal filings. He’s refused an interview so I can’t check my facts with him. I welcome any corrections.)
Eib apparently decided years ago that a state citizen, as opposed to a federal citizen, has the right to drive without a driver’s license. He wrote to the DMV, demanding that they take him out of their database, and hit the road without his little plastic card. Of course he was caught, charged, and convicted of driving without a license. After that he decided he needed to also withdraw from the Social Security program (which is not a thing you can actually do), apparently because then he would cease being “federal personnel” (which is not a thing that he ever was) and would therefore be immune to those damned license laws (which is not a thing he will ever be). So of course he was again caught, charged with driving without a license, and hauled into court. This time he got extremely lucky. The prosecutor was apparently more interested in fixing the underlying problem than beating up on a hopeless pseudolawyer; the state offered to drop the charges if Eib would just start driving with a license. (I thought this was a huge mistake when I learned about it, but as time goes on I’m starting to think it might be a brilliant approach.)
But even though the charges against him were dismissed, Eib suffered. He had to go through a long and stressful court proceeding with lots of hearings, he probably was afraid and frustrated at many points, and in the end, the system humbled him and he agreed to carry the license he believes he can drive without. He wants to keep fighting, but he doesn’t want to keep paying the costs. So rather than being a defendant, he’s decided to take a turn as plaintiff instead. He decided he’d file a lawsuit demanding that the courts emancipate him from the Social Security program and the California DMV.
Eib’s not a wealthy man, as far as I can tell. And lawsuits aren’t cheap. Just making all the copies he needed to file his lawsuit cost over a thousand dollars. Rather than carry that load himself, Eib put out a call for donations, soaking money from his followers to support the cause. I don’t know how much he raised, but while most must be pretty small I’ve heard him crow on his podcast about individual donations over a hundred dollars. And on Twitter, I’ve seen one of Eib’s followers apologize for being broke and having to cancel his recurring donation. (Taking money from the people who can least afford it, for such a frivolous and self-centered project, burns me.) But the cause these people are donating to isn’t winning lawsuits or changing the law—it’s inflating the ego of the pseudolaw guru. Eib, like most pseudolawyers, seems to have relied on his own intuition rather than any homework. He doesn’t appear to have put any real effort into making sure his lawsuit could work, such as running it by actual lawyers. And why would he? He doesn’t need to win to be a successful guru. Most pseudolaw gurus don’t win cases.
Here’s how bad Eib’s plan was. Just about every federal lawsuit has to start in federal district court, because that’s where trial happens. The side that loses at trial can appeal to the “circuit courts,” and whoever loses there can appeal to the Supreme Court. But filing in district court didn’t suit Eib. He has far too high an opinion of himself, his skills, and his theories for that. He went straight to the US Supreme Court, in a move that was absolutely against the most basic procedural rules. The US Constitution, federal law, and the rules on the Court’s website explicitly state that the Supreme Court won’t hear a case unless it’s on appeal from a lower court. (There are very specific exceptions, but they don’t even come close to applying here.) Any lawyer could have told him so, as would a few minutes on Google. But if your followers are footing the bill, you don’t mind starting over at someone else’s expense, and just filing the lawsuit makes you look like a bold legal rebel, why would you bother trying to get it right the first time?
And of course, it’s not just the procedure he used. Even if he files this lawsuit in the right court, it’s not going anywhere. The basic legal theory underlying his complaint is complete nonsense. Those theories will never prevail in a real, live court of law. But it’s easy for a guru to pretend otherwise as long as those theories look nice and complex to the suckers paying him attention and beer money.
Here’s where the anger comes in. Eib had no reason to suspect that his case would succeed, having put very little effort into learning the law. Indeed, he now claims he didn’t really think that this case—the one other people paid for him to file—would go through. But no one likes to lose, and now he’s clearly very frustrated. He’s sick and tired of having courts and lawyers disrespect his legal skills and intuitions. But rather than examining his own failing theories to see whether he’s made any mistakes, he’s externalized the blame. It’s not his half-baked, uneducated theories that are the problem, he says—it’s the god damn lawyers and bureaucrats who keep sabotaging him rather than acknowledging his legal genius!
In a recent podcast, Eib fumed, “Not only illegitimate, but corrupt government officials, in my opinion, they should be hung. There is evidence for being able to hang these bastards. I am so tired of ‘em. I’m just sick of it. I’ve had it, the Second Amendment is there for a reason.
The reason why the Second Amendment is there is because the framers got sick of the way the British parliament and the British soldiers were treating them so they shot ‘em. They killed ‘em. That’s why they have the Second Amendment.
These people in Sacramento – California is a fucking mess. It’s out of control, you can’t get an honest answer from anybody. The police are absolutely trained liars. Every government official you talk to, all they do is delay, they lie, they cheat, they steal. FUCK YOU GUYS!
When I win this case in the Supreme Court—I know it’s going to take awhile, but I’m going to do as much damage as I possibly can, individually, to every single one of these assholes that have been fucking with me for years.”
(The first part of that rant is referring to California officials he thinks have lied to him. By the end he’s venting his rage at all the esquires and government officials who don’t treat him with the deference he’s sure he deserves. Please note that I don’t have any reason to think that Eib actually intends to do anything violent. When he threatens to do “damage” to officials, I think he means legal consequences for them, not bullets. But I’m not positive.)
He’s hardly alone in this anger. Here’s another pseudolawyer with similar ideas about citizenship, ranting in a court filing at the judge who just won’t agree with the ideas she’s made up or read somewhere online:
These two pseudolawyers have a lot in common. They don’t know anything about the law in reality, but have an intense faith in elaborate fantasies. And they’re livid that they can’t get the system to agree with their fantasies. What I’ve seen, and what I suspect is happening here, is that the fantasy crowds out actual knowledge. The pseudolawyer can’t learn how the law actually works, because they’re over-invested in their fantasy. Eib is going to keep losing lawsuits he doesn’t know anything about the law. To change that, he’d have to learn some basics. But doing that would require admitting that his current beliefs are factually wrong–that California and Alaska and Hawaii really are states, for example (something he denies from time to time). That would mean admitting that he’s spent years preaching false ideas and racking up criminal charges based on incredible ignorance, arrogance, and silly mistakes. Maybe even worse, it would require admitting that those damned esquires understood this all along, and that they were right and he was wrong.
That would be a particularly bitter pill to swallow. Eib knows that lawyers don’t agree with his theories. And it infuriates him. His inability to engage productively with educated people, who read and understand and use the law on a daily basis, seems to be the source of tremendous personal frustration. In a recent podcast he spat, “I have such little respect, as soon as I see that term ‘esquire,’ I see dirt, I see scum, I see second class citizen, and I see exactly why the original 13th Amendment was [that] if you’re going to be an esquire, then you can’t be a citizen.” (He’s referring to the idea that there was a proposed amendment back in the day that would have made it illegal for any American to hold a title of nobility; lawyers are only called ‘esquire’ as an informal courtesy, though, so it would never have applied to us.)
Assume that Eib’s theories are wrong and that the lawyers who have tried to tell him so (I’m one of them) are right. How could he ever come to terms with that? Given the choice between admitting that he should have listened to the “dirt … scum … second class citizens” all along on the one hand, and doubling down on the conspiracy theories on the other, which is more likely? I think the latter, by a long shot. Eib’s built a wall around his theories to defend them against pressure from the outside world. Dismantling that wall, and admitting that he was wrong, would put tremendous pressure on the renegade legal expert persona he’s crafted for himself. So he won’t. He’ll build the wall higher and stronger, isolating himself as far as possible from criticism and engagement with the outside world.
Conspiracy theories are the bricks and mortar of that wall. Eib is already in a place where he needs to accuse a critic (me) of being a paid disinformation agent, sent by the conspiracy, to discredit him. He’s declared that he may even be under surveillance, and that the government knows who he is when they see his name on legal filings. Paranoid beliefs like that isolate the conspiracy theorist, because why would you listen to criticism from a paid disinformation agent? And they substitute for evidence—sure, his legal theories keep failing, but if he wasn’t on to something big, why would the conspiracy be out to get him? (Corey, if you’re reading this: no one’s out to get you. Your theories are just wrong. And no one sent me or pays me to discredit you. Engaging pseudolaw gurus and sovereign citizens is just the right thing to do.) In that mental environment, every loss and slight and insult and frustration helps build the wall. If there’s any sure way to pierce it, I haven’t found it. That’s why I think it’s so important to point out nonsense when we see it, so that people who haven’t yet built their walls can see the facts for what they are.
But Eib, and pseudolawyers like him, can keep their theories isolated from outside criticism and inconvenient facts for a long time. They build communities around those ideas, like the community that paid Eib to file his ludicrous, guaranteed-to-fail lawsuit in the Supreme Court. Those communities provide an almost inexhaustible supply of praise and encouragement, and often a little cash. But unlike pseudoscientists, at some point every pseudolawyer winds up in court and has their theory put to the test. Maybe they go there voluntarily to prove their ideas, or the law catches up to them and they eat a criminal charge. But either way, the theory fails. It happens every single day, as people lose despite trotting out their very best arguments: but the flag has a gold fringe and therefore this is an admiralty court… but I named the judge as my fiduciary… but I am not the birth certificate named in the indictment… Those are all real, irrational theories that lose in court every time. I predict that Eib’s theories will lose in court, every time. I can be very confident about that prediction because they aren’t based on real law. They’re based on the fantasy version of the law he built to support his theories, and can only exist in that careful, nurturing environment. Moon law only works on the moon, and pseudolaw only works in the pseudolawyer’s head. The real world cares about real law, and such theories fall apart there.
There will probably be more tests and failures ahead for Eib and his theories. He’s relatively young and is still establishing his bona fides as a guru. He doesn’t have many followers yet, and hasn’t taken all that much money from the ones he does have. So why write a profile like this? Largely because this is a larval pseudolegal community. Eib is still finding his identity as a pseudolaw guru, building a community around that identity, and adapting his tactics to shift the risk from himself to his followers. That makes this a great case study in how irrational beliefs form and change over time. The heart of my project, and the point of my book, is exploring how we can we push back against this kind of nonsense.
This case shows us both that it’s impossible in some cases, and that there’s hope. I’m increasingly convinced that once someone has really invested in a conspiracy theory—by making part of their sense of identity, for example—it’s almost impossible for them to back down from it. A true believer might change how they believe, but they’ll almost never really question whether they’re just plain wrong. So if the goal is to persuade the guru that he’s wrong, that will almost never succeed. I can’t think of any facts or arguments that would ever persuade Eib that he’s wrong; he’s had numerous lawyers and judges tell him and demonstrate for him that his ideas don’t work, but that only strengthens his faith. He despises the educated, experienced lawyers who doubt his brilliance. That contempt encourages him to reject education and experience here generally, and go with his own failed notions instead. He seems to take the fact that they (we) all disagree with his notions as a point of pride rather than a clue that his ideas are actually wrong.
But what about his followers, and most importantly, people who aren’t yet but might one day become followers of this kind of nonsense? Those people, call them the conspiracy-curious, have more flexible beliefs. They might just be interested in these theories today, but if they never hear how and why those ideas are wrong, they become gradually more plausible. The road to being a true believer (and in this case, getting arrested for driving without a license) is a gradual downwards spiral. Those are the people who might rethink their belief in these pseudolegal theories.
When we talk about engaging irrational beliefs, what that really means is putting out good information to counter bad information, so that someone who’s putting a toe in the conspiracy theory waters doesn’t mistakenly think the baloney they’re reading online is plausible. In other words, if this particular conspiracy theory turns out to have legs, I’d like there to be at least one google result flatly and simply pointing out all the blazingly obvious problems with it. And more importantly, I’d like there to be a broader conversation that shows not just how wrong theories like Eib’s are, but how insular and flawed the process that creates those pseudolegal theories is. How they’re based more on ego and anger than actual knowledge or expertise, and how little progress they make in the face of constant failure.
With that in mind, I have two things to end with. The first is that if you’ve read this piece and you think I’m a real sonofabitch for criticizing Eib and his theories, I’d like to hear about it. I want to know how you came to your beliefs, why you think they’re right, what they mean to you, and anything else you’d like to share. You can leave your thoughts in the comments here or email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Second, below the bar I’m going to leave a more detailed explanation of why Eib’s theories are bunk. (I’ve linked to this section above, too.) Again, if you disagree, I’d love to hear why. But I think we won’t hear much disagreement. Pseudolaw, like pseudoscience, thrives in insular and isolated communities. It doesn’t do well engaging critics. And that’s why active criticism is so important in stifling the growth of such communities before they generate angry, frustrated pseudolawyers spouting violent rhetoric based on nonsense ideas.
A Little More Detail
There are many, many problems with Eib’s legal fantasies. We’ll just focus on two: Article IV citizenship and being “federal personnel.” I’ve made these explanations as short and simple as possible, because I know lots of readers will bounce off of dense legalese. I think it’s important to include them so that people on the edge of falling for nonsense like Eib’s theories can find simple explanations for why they’re wrong.
When is a Citizen Not a Citizen?
Primarily Eib believes that there are two ways to be a citizen: Article IV of the US Constitution, and the 14th Amendment. He also believes that you can be an Article IV citizen without being a 14th Amendment citizen. And he is confident that Article IV citizens get special perks that 14th Amendment citizens don’t. He’s completely wrong.
The very short version is this: the 14th Amendment sets the rules for both state and national citizenship. The original Constitution doesn’t have much to say about citizenship, but it does refer (in Article IV) to the “citizens of each state.” So, the theory goes, back in the day people were citizens of the state where they lived, not of the country as a whole. An “Article IV” citizen would be someone who was just a citizen of Texas or Illinois or whatever state they lived in, not of the country. That’s an iffy interpretation, but it’s also irrelevant. We changed the Constitution after the Civil War by adding the 14th Amendment, which creates a whole new rule for citizenship.
The 14th Amendment says that everyone born in any state is a citizen “of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Many, many court cases have explained that this means that if you’re born in any state, you’re a citizen of the country. And you cannot just be a citizen under Article IV; state and federal citizenship comes under the 14th Amendment. The first case I found on this subject, after a very quick and easy search, was Kantor v. Wellesley Galleries, ¶¶ 9-10. “Relying on this Supreme Court authority, circuit and district courts have treated the question before us today as one long decided: ‘[I]n order to be a citizen of a state, it is elementary law that one must first be a citizen of the United States.’”
Kantor is particularly relevant to Eib’s theories because it’s a Ninth Circuit case, binding over the trial courts in California where he lives. It’s not like the rule would be different anywhere else in the country, though. Kantor cites many other cases, like the Supreme Court cases of Sun Printing & Publishing Association v. Edwards, Anderson v. Watt, and Colgate v. Harvey, and the federal and circuit court cases of City of Minneapolis v. Reum, Factor v. Pennington Press, Inc., Sadat v. Mertes, Mas v. Perry, Delaware, L. & W.R. Co. v. Petrowsky, Avins v. Hannum, Kaufman & Broad, Inc. v. Gootrad, Fahrner v. Gentzsch, and Codagnone v. Perrin.
In other words, a huge body of case law makes it clear that there’s no such thing as an Article IV citizen who’s not a 14th Amendment citizen. And there’s no case to the contrary. So how do pseudolaw gurus explain away those massive piles of cases that disagree with them? They ignore it. A good guru just doesn’t tell his followers about all these cases, he just insists—without evidence—that all the cases are on his side. If his followers were inclined (or able) to do the research themselves, they wouldn’t be following an incompetent guru in the first place. So he can ignore the cases for as long as he likes—or, at least, until he gets to court and loses. Then it’s back to conspiracy theories: I totally would have won but for those rascally dishonest esquires, etc.
You’re Not Federal Personnel If You Don’t Work for the Feds
The second example has to do with the idea that anyone with a Social Security number is “federal personnel.” Eib believes that the government can do pretty much whatever it wants to federal personnel, because for some unexplained reason they have no rights. Both ideas are false: having a Social Security number doesn’t make anyone “federal personnel,” and even if it did, it wouldn’t affect their rights. Let’s focus on the first one, because it’s so easily disproved and makes the second claim irrelevant.
Eib’s theory is based on 5 USC 552a(a)(13), which is one of the definitions included in a federal law titled “Records Maintained on Individuals.” The definition says that “the term ‘Federal personnel’ means … individuals entitled to receive immediate or deferred retirement benefits under any retirement program of the Government of the United States….” Eib’s reasoning is that Social Security is a “retirement program of the Government of the United States,” so if you’ve got a Social Security number then this federal law says that you’re “federal personnel.”
He’s wrong. Eib wants to take this definition and apply it universally to all people everywhere in all circumstances, so that anyone who has Social Security is “federal personnel” for all purposes. But setting aside that being “federal personnel” wouldn’t actually affect your rights, it’s not how statutes work. Their definitions only apply internally, to the law in which they’re found, not to all law generally.
The very first words of the section say that its definitions only apply “for purposes of this section.” In other words, by its own language, the definitions in 5 USC 522a only apply for the purposes of Section 552a. And Section 552a doesn’t have anything to do with citizenship or losing access to the Bill of Rights or any of Eib’s theories. Whenever Eib or any other conspiracy theorist cites this law and the “federal personnel” definition, but doesn’t show how they’re relating it to some specific reference to “federal personnel” in the operational parts of 522a, they’re just blowing smoke.
That shaky logic says a lot about how pseudolaw gurus operate. Pseudolawyers, like pseudoscientists, don’t approach a field and try to learn all about it. They pick a theory—creationism or flat earth or “Article IV citizenship”—and try to build a case for that theory by taking facts out of context or just making evidence up. Actually reading the statute and understanding in context would take real effort. So would learning enough law to have a stronger understanding of how statutes and definitions work. Why would a guru bother doing that, when the suckers who fall for his theories also won’t go reading the entire section in context, and won’t realize how little their guru knows about the law?
So, two huge problems with a very elaborate and incredibly wrong theory of law. Hardly the only problems with Eib’s self-proclaimed legal expertise; he also insists that Hawaii and Alaska are not states, and that pseudolegal ninjas can send mail in the US for just two cents a letter. Both wrong, by the way. Given that this is how Eib approaches the law, as a kind of careening, ad hoc Mad Lib, it’s hardly surprising that I’ve been teargassed more times than he’s won a case. (That would be once and never, respectively.)