David Darby, the best evidence suggests, is a true believer. A rebel with a cause. A 69-year-old scofflaw whose ideology is so entrenched that he will travel down the most arcane of legal avenues in pursuit of his goal.
Darby, you see, is about to have his 4.7-acre parcel of land in Amboy sold out from under him. A court-ordered auction is scheduled for Sept. 16 on the land that has a taxable value of $154,712, which is what happens when you don’t pay your property taxes for five years because you don’t recognize the legitimacy of the Clark County government.
Darby has declared himself a “sovereign citizen,” which, in his mind, means he doesn’t have to pay taxes. “I believe in the constitution for the United States of America and the 1878 constitution for the state of Washington,” he said in a phone interview.
The problem is, Washington didn’t become a state until its 1889 constitution was approved, which seems to fit into Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution: “New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union.”
But Darby is clinging to his belief that the 1878 document provides the true guidelines for the state, and he’s not going to rest until he proves it. “I want to take it into court,” he said. “I want them to prove the original constitution has been terminated.”
I’m no legal scholar, and I won’t pretend to be one. But I find it telling that, as far as Darby knows, nobody in the past 125 years has argued in court for the legitimacy of the 1878 constitution. It seems that somebody would have made that argument if there were any twinkle of validity to it. And I find it telling that Darby lived more than 60 years under the laws that govern everybody else before deciding that he was sovereign.
Not that this sovereignty idea was wholly an epiphany for Darby. In the 1990s, according to Columbian reporter Tyler Graf, Darby was a proponent of “carving out a chunk of north Clark County to create a new government entity dubbed River County.”
If you ask me, Darby’s position on this is a little bit nutty. If you ask me, he’s simply reaching for a convoluted excuse to skirt the law and to get out of paying taxes.
But Darby does raise valid questions about the role of government and the social contract to which all citizens are party. You know, the whole “We the people” thing, in which the public bands together for the creation of a government to secure, defend, and promote individual rights. As philosopher John Locke wrote, individuals unite into a society “for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property.”
You can argue about how effectively government performs those functions these days, but the alternative is chaos. Take local fire departments, for example. In Darby’s world, they would be private entities that would negotiate individual contracts with each household; if a homeowner hadn’t signed up, firefighters wouldn’t bother to show up when a fire breaks out. “If my house burns down, it burns down,” Darby said, adding that he would not allow firefighters on his property.
All of which is his prerogative. But most of us don’t live on 4.7 acres; most of us are reliant upon our neighbors and upon a shared responsibility. If my neighbor’s house catches fire and burns to the ground, that fire could endanger my family’s home. If my neighbor falls off his roof and is yelling for help, it’s my moral duty to provide assistance and call 911. The day when responders say, “I’m sorry, but that person hasn’t signed up for service” will be a sad one indeed.
So what about this shared responsibility? What about shared expenses and shared benefits and living as a community? What about roads? “I pay taxes every time I buy a gallon of gas,” Darby explains.
That seems odd, considering he doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the Legislature that passed those taxes. Apparently, even true believers can’t entirely escape the reach of government.