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Strawman theory

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Not to be confused with the logical fallacy Straw man.

Strawman theory (also called the Strawman illusion) is a pseudolegal theory prevalent in various movements such as sovereign citizen, tax protestor, freeman on the land, the redemption movement, and various "get out of debt free" scams.

The theory holds that an individual has two personas, one of him or herself as a real flesh and blood human being and the other, a separate legal personality or person (usually written in CAPITALS), who is the "strawman". The idea is that an individual’s debts, liabilities, taxes, and legal responsibilities belong to the strawman rather than the physical individual who ran up those obligations, conveniently allowing one to escape their debts and responsibilities.[1]

Strawman theory should not be confused with the actual legal concept of a strawperson, with which it only bears a tenuous similarity, or with the logical fallacy known as a straw man argument.

The strawman theory is recognised in law, but only as a scam: the FBI considers anyone promoting it a likely fraudster,[2] and the IRS considers it a frivolous argument that will get you a $5,000 fine if you use it on your tax return, and a $25,000 fine if you then try to argue the point in tax court.[3]


Strawman theory traces its origins to the ancient Roman legal practice of capitis deminutio ("decrease of head"), a term used in Roman trials for the extinguishment of a person's former legal capacity. Capitis deminutio minima meant a person ceased to belong to a particular family, without loss of liberty or citizenship. Capitis deminutio media involved loss of citizenship and family, but not liberty. Capitis deminutio maxima involved loss of family, citizenship, and liberty (e.g. being made a slave or a prisoner of war).[4]

The term was later revived in the US by the tax protestor and sovereign citizen movements and combined with a misreading of the definition of person from Black’s Law Dictionary (an American law dictionary). Strawman theory takes the term capitis deminutio, misspells it (commonly as "Capitis Diminutio"), and claims that capitis diminutio maxima was represented by an individual’s name being written entirely in capital letters (even though Latin only had capitals back then). This led to the idea that individuals had a separate legal personality now called a "strawman", represented in capitals.


Strawman theory holds that an individual has two personas. One of them is a physical, tangible human being, and the other as their legal person, personality, or strawman, often referred to as a legal fiction. (The term "legal fiction" is used by woos as if it were synonymous with intangible, rather than using its correct meaning.)

The main use of strawman theory is in escaping and denying debts, liabilities, and legal responsibility. Tax protestors, "commercial redemption", and "get out of debt free" scams claim that one’s debts and taxes are the responsibility of the strawman and not of the real person, freeing the real person from the need to pay them.

Sovereign citizen's movements and freemen on the land also extend this concept to law and legal responsibilities by claiming that it is only their strawman that is required to adhere to statutory laws such as paying taxes, having licenses, and obeying traffic laws. They also claim that all legal proceedings in courts are taken against your strawman rather than you as a person and that when one appears in court, they appear not as themselves but as representing their strawman. The justification for this is their false notion that governments cannot force anybody to do anything against their will. They therefore create a strawman which, being their own creation, they are free to boss about at will.

Woo peddlers believe that by separating oneself from their strawman or refusing to be identified as their strawman, they can escape their various liabilities and responsibilities such as paying their debts or obeying laws they don't like. This is typically done by denying they are a person and the same thing as their strawman or by writing their name in various bizarre ways such as the following:

  • John of the family Smith
  • John of Smith
  • John:Smith
  • John (commonly known as)

By doing this, they are refusing to represent the strawman. In addition to capitals, the use of titles such as Mr and Mrs are claimed to indicate a reference to a person’s strawman. Surnames are also typically referred to as part of the legal fiction and advocates will often insist that they don't have a surname but rather a family name.

Some woos believe that the strawman is created by the government when a birth certificate is filed. Woos sometimes then try and present their birth certificate when their strawman’s name is called for, such as in court.


There is a legal principle known as Idem sonans (Latin for "sounding the same") which states that similar sounding names are just as valid in referring to a person. The relevant UK precedent is R v Davis 1851.

If two names spelt differently necessarily sound alike, the court may, as matter of law, pronounce them to be idem sonantia; but if they do not necessarily sound alike, the question whether they are idem sonantia is a question of fact for the jury.

The strawman belief seems to stem from a misunderstanding of the concept of legal person-hood. In actual legal theory, there is a difference between what is known as a 'natural person' (which is a human being, i.e., not a legal fiction) and that of a corporate person (a legal fiction known as corporate personhood, which applies to businesses, charities, governments, and any recognised organisation). Courts recognise human beings as 'persons', not as a legal fiction joined to a flesh and blood human being but as one and the same (though in the past not everyone was recognised as a person before the law). They have never recognised a right to distance oneself from one's person, or the ability to opt out of personhood. Where this defence has been tried in court, judges have rejected it. It is impossible to dodge the law by insisting that you are different from your person. Whether or not a court can establish your identity, then regardless of whether you give consent or cooperation, it is free to engage in proceedings and sanctions against you.

The use of block capitals to fill in forms is often used as evidence for the existence of strawmen. The idea is that the form is asking for your strawman's identity. In reality, this is done for ease of reading by humans and computers alike; it is not evidence of some legal conspiracy.

See also[edit]


  1. Meet your Strawman (YouTube)
  4. wikipedia:Capitis deminutio, which refers to Thomas Mackenzie Mackenzie and John Kirkpatrick: Studies in Roman Law. Chapter II, pp. 71–2.