PropertyProf Blog

Editor: Stephen Clowney
Univ. of Kentucky College of Law

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Property is Power, or How to Claim a Country (Estate)

Adam Clulow, writing for The Atlantic, highlights the wonderfully weird criminal case against Lamont Maurice Butler.  Butler was recently charged with conspiracy to commit burglary, burglary, and attempted theft for taking possession of a $6 million 12-bedroom, 17-bathroom estate in suburban Maryland.  Butler's defense:

[O]n December 17 last year, he presented himself before the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation to demand that the records be altered to reflect the fact that he was assuming ownership as a representative of the so-called Moorish Nation of Northwest Amexem, North America, an imagined community that supposedly predated both the modern United States and European colonization of the Americas. Some weeks later on January 3, he employed a similarly bold strategy when questioned by his new neighbors, who had noticed unexpected activity on the property. His response was a detailed “history lesson” that was repeated to police officers arriving on the scene two days later.

Clulow then shows that Butler's claims aren't actually that outlandish when viewed through the lens of history.  They mirror, quite nicely, the declarations of some early European explorers in the New World:

One example comes from exactly five hundred years before Butler-El claimed his Bethesda mansion when Vasco Núñez de Balboa, a Spanish adventurer, crossed the Panamanian isthmus with a small party in search of the mysterious ‘other sea.’ Arriving at the shores of the Pacific Ocean, he paused for a moment, waiting on the beach for the tide to come in before staging an act of possession of such audacity that it still retains the power, even centuries later, to stun. Wading into the warm waters up his knees, he proceeded to claim the ocean itself “now and for all time so long as the world shall last, until the final universal judgment of all mortals.” The unlimited ambition of such moments, and here again there is a parallel with what happened in Bethesda, meant that they frequently crossed the line into farce. 

Steve Clowney

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/property/2013/10/property-is-power-or-how-to-claim-a-country-estate.html

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