Hey everyone, welcome to The Mind of a Skeptical Leftist. I’ve got another great interview for you. This time around I talked to Dr. Edwin Hodge who is a professor of sociology who specializes in extremist groups. I wanted to talk to him about the antimask/antivax movement and how it overlaps with the far right and white supremacist groups. We focus on Canada mostly but the conversation does cover other stuff a little bit and it made me think quite a bit about the way people misunderstand freedom or constitutions.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what my introduction this time around should look like. I was considering a bit of my personal story to let those who don’t know me yet hear a bit more about why I am the way I am. I was considering letting people in a bit on my life as it is now so that other workers know I’m not just some elite academic who looks down on them because they’re not educated like me. I wanted to talk about how a class analysis can really help the people who are falling into conspiracy thinking. There’s lots to discuss when talking about state communists and anarchism. There’s some serious failing on the left regarding critical thinking and using an evidence based analysis to accept that so called “actually existing socialism” is often more a mix of good and bad and that not all mainstream media is getting every single thing wrong or lying and we can’t uncritically accept the word of someone who defends say Assad while denying all evidence that Assad has done monstrous things. But instead because of the conversation I had with Edwin I would like to briefly talk about what is right and what is wrong with the “freemen on the land” and “sovereign citizen” movements.
Ok, so I want to start a little bit with what they get wrong and that is absolutely everything that has to do with the law, legal loopholes, the constitutions of whatever country they live in, and basically everything they think about how one interacts with the state. They’re also totally wrong about private property, capitalism, the Fed, centralized banking, and money in general. The gold standard hasn’t been a thing for a very long time and money isn’t inherently better when it’s attached to gold than it is when it isn’t. Cash isn’t really any more meaningful when it’s paper than when it’s digital ones and zeros. It’s all illegitimate and a tool to measure value in a market system. Of course market systems are not capitalism, necessarily but that’s a slightly different discussion. If you don’t think value ought to be determined by markets or that money is the right way to measure the value of the things that we all need to live then cash and digital currency is all nonsense.
Edwin and I get into it a little bit but many of the sovereign citizen types are basing their views on an american centric understanding of rights. Most of those from Canada haven’t even read the charter of human rights and freedoms and that’s a pretty big deal if you’re going to use that as the basis for your arguments.
One of the things they kind of have right is that the countries we live in, the states that we exist inside the borders of, are run by corporations. One could make a reasonable argument that states exist in the same way that corporations exist and are legal entities meant to benefit some while exploiting others. If they made those arguments I might actually agree with them. They don’t, of course. Sovereign citizens in the US argue that the country is actually a corporation and therefore has no legal power over them and this is just a fundamental misunderstanding of what gives a state it’s power. States hold power and legitimacy in so far as they are supposed to work in the best interests of the citizenry. Corporations are only beholden to shareholders while states are supposed to be beholden to those who live within their borders. In practice of course we know that states are much less legitimate than that but they still maintain a level of that legitimacy as long as enough of the population believes that they are serving the public. America in particular is showing who it really serves is capital and corporations and is losing legitimacy in the eyes of the public. This is why we see the uprisings that we do. Even those on the right are seeing the state in much the way it truly exists, as a tool for those with power over those without, with a police and military who will enact violence on those who push back against the state. Canada isn’t far behind and many countries have had uprisings the last few years of people seeing the oppressive state as a tool of the wealthy and powerful.
What sovereign citizens get right is how this state apparatus isn’t worthy of legitimacy. They get that the monopoly on violence is illegitimate. They get that coercion is bad and that we ought not let the state dictate to us what we do with our bodies or that we ought to be able to move freely or trade freely without interference. The trouble is that they think that extends to things like health orders. These things do present a bit of trouble for anarchists who want the world to be without states in that we will need to find a way to get everyone to take the health of those around them seriously and accept scientific data. This will be easier when there is no such thing as big pharma but we will still need to contend with issues like this until we have established a new order where corporations aren’t driven by profit and people can actually learn, accept, and trust scientific findings about medicine and health.
I’ve said it before and I stand by it despite it being an apparent contradiction with my other values but nothing turns me into an authoritarian quite like talking to anti-vaxxers. In the same way that sovereign citizens think that they have found loopholes in the legal system that they can exploit, antivaxxers with no actual research skills think that they have found a way to debunk scientific consensus. I think that the same mental faculties are being used in these two groups and that’s why you end up with such a big overlap in ideas. One of the keys here is that neither of these groups is an expert in the area they are discussing and ought to listen to those who are experts in those fields to inform their views.
As I said though, one of the differences I see between the anarchist movement and the sovereign citizens movements is that anarchists don’t believe the state should exist but we don’t’ deny the reality of its current existence and power where sovereign citizens think that a type of state still needs to exist but they don’t believe in the legitimacy or power of the current iterations of states. That’s why the sovereign citizens movement is so prevalent in Canada and the US and you don’t see a lot of that stuff in other parts of the world. Our states are actually very robust and powerful and weigh on the daily lives of citizens a lot, this results in a pushback but without the proper analysis of class, capital, and the power the state holds it results in a nonsense set of ideas that often contradict each other and rely on the state in order to subvert the state.
If it sounds like nonsense it’s because it largely is. I think they have the right sentiment but their analysis sucks so they have no idea what to do next and it results in a bunch of appeals to the legal system in order to avoid the legal system.
I don’t know if there’s much more I can say about the sovereign citizens movements without repeating myself but feel free to email me with your thoughts and I will try my best to address them.
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And with that I’m going to send you over to the interview with Dr. Edwin Hodge
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