It all started with a voicemail.

In April 2019, a person claiming to be a former member of Britney Spears' legal team left a message through the Britney's Gram podcast hotline and the allegations shocked already-concerned fans, many of whom were growing skeptical about the arrangement for a number of reasons. According to the anonymous source though, the star was allegedly being held against her will at a mental health facility and had stopped taking her medication, which had led to the cancellation of her Las Vegas Domination residency by her father, Jamie.

"I had chills down my spine just from the tone of his voice," comedian and Britney's Gram host Tess Barker said.

"It was just the tipping point for those of us who were paying attention and had concerns about the conservatorship and the control over Britney," co-host Babs Gray added. "What the paralegal revealed just validated that something was really amiss and lit fire to the flame."

What resulted was a "special emergency" episode of the podcast and a subsequent protest outside of West Hollywood City Hall on April 22. And just like that, the current iteration of the #FreeBritney movement was born.

For the past 12 years, Britney's conservatorship has drawn the concern and ire of her fiercely devoted fanbase. Following her highly publicized mental health breakdown in 2008, responsibility over the star's entire life — including her finances, health and personal decisions — was given to her father Jamie and lawyer Andrew Wallet (who resigned as co-conservator last year). But it's also a legal arrangement that violates her basic civil rights, according to a number of #FreeBritney supporters.

#FreeBritney Protest Outside Los Angeles Courthouse

"You wouldn't want that to happen to anyone, let alone someone you idolize," Jordan Miller explained. "It was this whole avalanche and tidal wave of emotion, and I think people tried to counter what had been reported with like, 'We need to free her from this situation.'"

Miller — who started Breathe Heavy as a Britney fan site in 2004 — said he first used the term "Free Britney" in a 2009 post arguing that her rights had been taken away before asking why there wasn't an independent conservator.

"I would sign off all my Britney posts at that time [with] 'Free Britney' and exclamation points and was a very die hard stan," Miller said, reflecting on the backlash he initially received from people who argued that he didn't know what he was talking about.

"But I always felt like something was there," he said. "Where there's smoke, there's fire. Even when I was young, I was like, 'How could this be happening to such a visible iconic and famous pop star?'"

And though the term itself faded over the years, Miller explained that the term was "re-energized" by his post about Britney's Gram's voicemail, and has since become the rallying cry for a growing number of fans demanding answers about Britney's autonomy and well-being within the conservatorship.

"Here's the thing, it wasn't a movement until last year," he said. "It was a term that existed but the movement itself, it needed all of these ears and circumstances to build on top of one another for it to then be deemed like, 'We need to have a movement as a fan base.'"

In the years since the conservatorship was put in place, few strides were made toward ensuring that the now 38-year-old would eventually be able to regain control over her life. The most promising developments have only come recently — almost a year after Jamie took a backseat due to his ongoing health issues. At the time, Jamie was acting as the star's sole conservator (following Wallet's resignation last year), but subsequently handed over the position to Britney's "care manager," Jodi Montgomery.

This past August though, documents filed by Britney's court-appointed lawyer, Sam Ingham, stated that she was "strongly opposed" to having Jamie return as the sole conservator over her person. Instead, the star reportedly preferred to have Montgomery stay on as her conservator. Soon afterwards, Britney also appointed her younger sister, Jamie Lynn — who's been a trustee of her estate since 2018 — as the overseer of her "SJB Revocable Trust," which would be distributed between her two sons in the event of her passing.

Most recently though, #FreeBritney advocates have pointed towards the star's request to make records concerning her ongoing conservatorship battle public as a sign that their efforts have encouraged her to finally speak up, even as Jamie continues to publicly decry the #FreeBritney movement as a "conspiracy theory."

#FreeBritney Protest Outside Los Angeles Courthouse

After all, as drag artist and vocal #FreeBritney supporter BibleGirl explained, the Britney's Gram voicemail kicked things into high-gear as it appeared to "corroborate things that we, as the fandom, [have been clued into] for years."

"There's been a control and a power dynamic since Britney's childhood with her father in the household, and I think there's a lot of deeply rooted stuff that we may not necessarily be able to put our finger on or define," she said, pointing toward a supposed 2009 voicemail in which Britney said her father had threatened to take away her kids "several times" during initial efforts to extricate herself from the conservatorship.

BibleGirl went on to say that alleged court documents from the beginning of her conservatorship show Jamie citing "dementia" as a reason why Britney needed to be placed in the arrangement. However, BibleGirl argued that in addition to the condition "not being scientifically recorded at her age when she was put in [an involuntary psychiatric hold]," symptoms of the condition also include memory loss, as well as warped judgment on time, speed and distance — things that don't make sense for someone who was performing on an international tour, doing aerial stunts and acting on How I Met Your Mother shortly thereafter.

"Those [dementia claims] have also since disappeared in other filings," BibleGirl said." So why, if it was used to file permanent conservatorship, has it since disappeared?"

BibleGirl continued, "She also did several world tours and international promotion. She did Vegas for four years. All of these things don't really add up to someone who otherwise is being considered incapacitated and unable to make decisions for herself."

Miller and BibleGirl both alluded to a 2009 MTV documentary on the star called For the Record — which was filmed to promote Britney's sixth studio album, Circus, but is now "almost impossible to find" online — as evidence that "gives a lot of fleshed-out context and understanding that there is a bit of a contentious dynamic between Britney and her father," per the latter.

As Miller added, a clip from the documentary, in which Britney talks about her life, shows her "crying about a situation that she's still in." She says, "It's never-ending," adding that "there's no excitement; there's no passion."

#FreeBritney Protest Outside Los Angeles Courthouse

"I think that was their attempt at transparency and resulted in Britney crying, and I think that's one reason perhaps why [her team is] like, 'Yeah, we don't want to do that again,'" he said. However, Miller also pointed toward speculation surrounding her 2016 Jonathan Ross Show interview and an alleged letter from the star that was shared by For the Record photographer Andrew Gallery as further indication that things weren't as they seemed.

"I wouldn't say there's a thing that's like, 'This is the straw that broke the camel's back.' It's been death by a thousand cuts. It's just been so many instances over the years of like, 'This isn't right,'" he said.

That said, Miller admitted there is a "very valid argument" that hinges on fans not knowing all the ins-and-outs of the arrangement. He believes that all this speculation — including "all of the conspiracy theories" — hasn't been helped by the fact that "there has been no transparency" from Britney's team.

"[On one hand], you have Jamie Spears saying it's a conspiracy theory, which is, if we had a scale of one to 10, that's a 10. That is the most," Miller said."He's Britney's father, he has inside information, he knows what's going on, he is a conservator. So he's calling this entire movement a conspiracy and that's not fair."

He continued, "And then you have the conspiracy theorists who were like, 'She's posing in a yoga pose and it spells out the word help.' And it's like, that's not helping. These extremes are ultimately what gets people so conflicted. The general public, it gets them so confused."

For her part, BibleGirl partially agrees that all of the conflicting information "does create a rabbit hole scenario" and makes it easy to feel "disillusioned that somehow you're completely wrong." However, she also said that seeing the way Jamie and Britney's business manager Lou Taylor — who reportedly also tried to set up a conservatorship for Lindsay Lohan — have operated throughout the star's career makes it seem like there is a legitimate cause for concern.

Pointing toward a 2011 lawsuit against Jamie by Brand Sense Partners — which brokered a deal with Britney's "Radiance" perfume-maker Elizabeth Arden for defraudment — BibleGirl also mentioned mounting fan backlash accusing Jamie Lynn of funneling Britney's money to a firm owned by Taylor as further indication that the entire system surrounding Britney was riddled with financially motivated corruption.

"I don't have an answer as to what Jamie's end goal is outside of this being something that's financially motivated," she said, before arguing that the misogyny that's followed Britney and public stigma surrounding mental health in general have likely played into "Jamie's whole smear campaign about how nobody knows what's going on."

She added, "But as with every key player in the conservatorship, they're all making a lot of money off the Britney enterprise. The Britney enterprise is a massive umbrella of different corporations and that's a Trumpian parallel of 'follow the money.'"

Meanwhile, Miller said he thinks there's also a "theme of control" at play, speculating that it could be because Jamie "feels so protective over her that it's warped over time."

#FreeBritney Protest Outside Los Angeles Courthouse

Now Miller argues that Jamie thinks he's the only one who can protect Britney, "and he's so close to the situation that he can't see the full scope of what's happened. Yes, you may be protecting her, but what a way to live. Is that truly living if things go about this way?"

With all this in mind though, BibleGirl said it finally feels as if "the facade is cracking," especially in the wake of Ingham's recent court filing stating that "Britney welcomes and appreciates the informed support of her many fans." And this particular sentiment was also shared by the Britney's Gram hosts, who expressed their gratitude for "everyone who has taken this to heart and not brushed it off as some pop music urban legend."

"Conservatorship abuse is very much a rampant issue in this country," Babs and Tess said. "There are many people who fall victim to the lack of checks and balances in the probate court system, who are not a beloved pop star and do not have an 'army' to advocate for them. We hope the attention around Britney's case can shed a light on this larger problem and give a voice to these people who have similarly been silenced."

As for Miller, while he also agreed that all of the recent developments have been encouraging, he also acknowledged that Britney likely wouldn't be getting out of the conservatorship in the near future. In the meantime, he believes the members of the #FreeBritney movement should keep advocating for her, especially as others argue that they should just "'leave it to the court system.'"

"There are countless examples in popular culture history where the family or the court system failed that artist. And I'm not saying that that's what's happening to Britney, I'm just saying that has happened," he said. "It almost feels like you're just turning a blind eye and just like, 'Yeah, yeah, everything is going to be fine.' Well, there's a mountain of evidence over the last decade and then some to point to the fact that things aren't necessarily right."

Welcome to "Internet Explorer," a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter's finest roasts, "Internet Explorer" is here to keep you up-to-date with the web's current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.

Photos via Getty

You May Also Like
America

Woman From a Magazine Chats With HAIM

Story by Katherine Gillespie / Photography by Dana Trippe / Styling by Rebecca Grice
America

Jari Jones Believes in a Brand New America

Story by Mikelle Street / Photography by Renell Medrano / Styling by Anatolli Smith / Hair by Evanie Frausto / Makeup by Marcelo Gutierrez