All posts by John W. Whitehead

A Badge of Shame: The Government’s War on America’s Military Veterans

For soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, coming home is more lethal than being in combat.

― Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, September 11, 2012.

Not all heroes wear the uniform of war.

In the United States, however, we take particular pride in recognizing as heroes those who have served in the military.

Yet while we honor our veterans with holidays, parades, discounts at retail stores and restaurants, and endless political rhetoric about their sacrifice and bravery, we do a pitiful job of respecting their freedoms and caring for their needs once out of uniform.

Despite the fact that the U.S. boasts more than 20 million veterans who have served in World War II through the present day, the plight of veterans today is America’s badge of shame, with large numbers of veterans impoverished, unemployed, traumatized mentally and physically, struggling with depression, suicide, and marital stress, homeless, subjected to sub-par treatment at clinics and hospitals, and left to molder while their paperwork piles up within Veterans Administration offices.

Still, the government’s efforts to wage war on veterans, especially those who speak out against government wrongdoing, is downright appalling.

Consider: we raise our young people on a steady diet of militarism and war, sell them on the idea that defending freedom abroad by serving in the military is their patriotic duty, then when they return home, bruised and battle-scarred and committed to defending their freedoms at home, we often treat them like criminals merely for having served in the military.

The government even has a name for its war on America’s veterans: Operation Vigilant Eagle.

As first reported by the Wall Street Journal, this Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program tracks military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and characterizes them as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.”

Coupled with the DHS’ dual reports on Rightwing and Leftwing “Extremism,” which broadly define extremists as individuals, military veterans and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,” these tactics bode ill for anyone seen as opposing the government.

Yet the government is not merely targeting individuals who are voicing their discontent so much as it is taking aim at individuals trained in military warfare.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that the DHS has gone extremely quiet about Operation Vigilant Eagle.

Where there’s smoke, there’s bound to be fire.

And the government’s efforts to target military veterans whose views may be perceived as “anti-government” make clear that something is afoot.

In recent years, military servicemen and women have found themselves increasingly targeted for surveillance, censorship, threatened with incarceration or involuntary commitment, labeled as extremists and/or mentally ill, and stripped of their Second Amendment rights.

An important point to consider, however, is that under the guise of mental health treatment and with the complicity of government psychiatrists and law enforcement officials, these veterans are increasingly being portrayed as threats to national security.

This is not the first time that psychiatry has been used to exile political prisoners.

Many times throughout history in totalitarian regimes, such governments have declared dissidents mentally ill and unfit for society as a means of rendering them, disempowering them.

As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Applebaum observes in Gulag: A History:

The exile of prisoners to a distant place, where they can ‘pay their debt to society,’ make themselves useful, and not contaminate others with their ideas or their criminal acts, is a practice as old as civilization itself. The rulers of ancient Rome and Greece sent their dissidents off to distant colonies. Socrates chose death over the torment of exile from Athens. The poet Ovid was exiled to a fetid port on the Black Sea.

For example, government officials in the Cold War-era Soviet Union often used psychiatric hospitals as prisons in order to isolate political prisoners from the rest of society, discredit their ideas, and break them physically and mentally through the use of electric shocks, drugs and various medical procedures.

Insisting that “ideas about a struggle for truth and justice are formed by personalities with a paranoid structure,” the psychiatric community actually went so far as to provide the government with a diagnosis suitable for locking up such freedom-oriented activists.

In addition to declaring political dissidents mentally unsound, Russian officials also made use of an administrative process for dealing with individuals who were considered a bad influence on others or troublemakers.

Author George Kennan describes a process in which:

The obnoxious person may not be guilty of any crime . . . but if, in the opinion of the local authorities, his presence in a particular place is “prejudicial to public order” or “incompatible with public tranquility,” he may be arrested without warrant, may be held from two weeks to two years in prison, and may then be removed by force to any other place within the limits of the empire and there be put under police surveillance for a period of from one to ten years. Administrative exile–which required no trial and no sentencing procedure–was an ideal punishment not only for troublemakers as such, but also for political opponents of the regime.

Sound familiar?

This age-old practice by which despotic regimes eliminate their critics or potential adversaries by declaring them mentally ill and locking them up in psychiatric wards for extended periods of time is a common practice in present-day China.

What is particularly unnerving, however, is how this practice of eliminating or undermining potential critics, including military veterans, is happening with increasing frequency in the United States.

Remember, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) opened the door for the government to detain as a threat to national security anyone viewed as a troublemaker. According to government guidelines for identifying domestic extremists—a word used interchangeably with terrorists—technically, anyone exercising their First Amendment rights in order to criticize the government qualifies.

It doesn’t take much anymore to be flagged as potentially anti-government in a government database somewhere—Main Core, for example—that identifies and tracks individuals who aren’t inclined to march in lockstep to the government’s dictates.

In fact, as the Washington Post reports, communities are being mapped and residents assigned a color-coded threat score—green, yellow or red—so police are forewarned about a person’s potential inclination to be a troublemaker depending on whether they’ve had a career in the military, posted a comment perceived as threatening on Facebook, suffer from a particular medical condition, or know someone who knows someone who might have committed a crime.

The case of Brandon Raub is a prime example of Operation Vigilant Eagle in action.

Raub, a 26-year-old decorated Marine, actually found himself interrogated by government agents about his views on government corruption, arrested with no warning, labeled mentally ill for subscribing to so-called “conspiratorial” views about the government, detained against his will in a psych ward for standing by his views, and isolated from his family, friends and attorneys.

On August 16, 2012, a swarm of local police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Raub’s Virginia home, asking to speak with him about posts he had made on his Facebook page made up of song lyrics, political opinions and dialogue used in a political thriller virtual card game.

Among the posts cited as troublesome were lyrics to a song by a rap group and Raub’s views, shared increasingly by a number of Americans, that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job.

After a brief conversation and without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, Raub was then handcuffed and transported to police headquarters, then to a medical center, where he was held against his will due to alleged concerns that his Facebook posts were “terrorist in nature.”

Outraged onlookers filmed the arrest and posted the footage to YouTube, where it quickly went viral. Meanwhile, in a kangaroo court hearing that turned a deaf ear to Raub’s explanations about the fact that his Facebook posts were being read out of context, Raub was sentenced to up to 30 days’ further confinement in a psychiatric ward.

Thankfully, The Rutherford Institute came to Raub’s assistance, which combined with heightened media attention, brought about his release and may have helped prevent Raub from being successfully “disappeared” by the government.

Even so, within days of Raub being seized and forcibly held in a VA psych ward, news reports started surfacing of other veterans having similar experiences.

“Oppositional defiance disorder” (ODD) is another diagnosis being used against veterans who challenge the status quo. As journalist Anthony Martin explains, an ODD diagnosis:

denotes that the person exhibits ‘symptoms’ such as the questioning of authority, the refusal to follow directions, stubbornness, the unwillingness to go along with the crowd, and the practice of disobeying or ignoring orders. Persons may also receive such a label if they are considered free thinkers, nonconformists, or individuals who are suspicious of large, centralized government… At one time the accepted protocol among mental health professionals was to reserve the diagnosis of oppositional defiance disorder for children or adolescents who exhibited uncontrollable defiance toward their parents and teachers.

Frankly, based on how well my personality and my military service in the U.S. Armed Forces fit with this description of “oppositional defiance disorder,” I’m sure there’s a file somewhere with my name on it.

That the government is using the charge of mental illness as the means by which to immobilize (and disarm) these veterans is diabolical. With one stroke of a magistrate’s pen, these veterans are being declared mentally ill, locked away against their will, and stripped of their constitutional rights.

If it were just being classified as “anti-government,” that would be one thing.

Unfortunately, anyone with a military background and training is also now being viewed as a heightened security threat by police who are trained to shoot first and ask questions later.

Feeding this perception of veterans as ticking time bombs in need of intervention, the Justice Department launched a pilot program in 2012 aimed at training SWAT teams to deal with confrontations involving highly trained and often heavily armed combat veterans.

The result?

Police encounters with military veterans often escalate very quickly into an explosive and deadly situation, especially when SWAT teams are involved.

For example, Jose Guerena, a Marine who served in two tours in Iraq, was killed after an Arizona SWAT team kicked open the door of his home during a mistaken drug raid and opened fire. Thinking his home was being invaded by criminals, Guerena told his wife and child to hide in a closet, grabbed a gun and waited in the hallway to confront the intruders. He never fired his weapon. In fact, the safety was still on his gun when he was killed. The SWAT officers, however, not as restrained, fired 70 rounds of ammunition at Guerena—23 of those bullets made contact. Apart from his military background, Guerena had had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home.

John Edward Chesney, a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran, was killed by a SWAT team allegedly responding to a call that the Army veteran was standing in his San Diego apartment window waving what looked like a semi-automatic rifle. SWAT officers locked down Chesney’s street, took up positions around his home, and fired 12 rounds into Chesney’s apartment window. It turned out that the gun Chesney reportedly pointed at police from three stories up was a “realistic-looking mock assault rifle.”

Ramon Hooks’ encounter with a Houston SWAT team did not end as tragically, but it very easily could have.

Hooks, a 25-year-old Iraq war veteran, was using an air rifle gun for target practice outside when a Homeland Security Agent, allegedly house shopping in the area, reported him as an active shooter. It wasn’t long before the quiet neighborhood was transformed into a war zone, with dozens of cop cars, an armored vehicle and heavily armed police. Hooks was arrested, his air rifle pellets and toy gun confiscated, and charges filed against him for “criminal mischief.”

Given the government’s increasing view of veterans as potential domestic terrorists, it makes one think twice about gpvernment programs encouraging veterans to include a veterans designation on their drivers’ licenses and ID cards.

Hailed by politicians as a way to “make it easier for military veterans to access discounts from retailers, restaurants, hotels and vendors across the state,” it will also make it that much easier for the government to identify and target veterans who dare to challenge the status quo.

Remember: no one is spared in a police state.

Eventually, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we all suffer the same fate.

It stands to reason that if the government can’t be bothered to abide by its constitutional mandate to respect the citizenry’s rights—whether it’s the right to be free from government surveillance and censorship, the right to due process and fair hearings, the right to be free from roadside strip searches and militarized police, or the right to peacefully assemble and protest and exercise our right to free speech—then why should anyone expect the government to treat our nation’s veterans with respect and dignity?

So if you really want to do something to show your respect and appreciation for the nation’s veterans, here’s a suggestion: skip the parades and the retail sales and the flag-waving and instead go exercise your rights—the freedoms that those veterans risked their lives to protect—by pushing back against the government’s tyranny.

Freedom is not free.

It’s time the rest of the nation started to pay the price for the freedoms we too often take for granted.

America Is on the Brink of a Nervous Breakdown

undefined

Yet another shooting.

Yet another smear of ugliness, hatred and violence.

Yet another ratcheting up of the calls for the government to clamp down on the citizenry by imposing more costly security measures without any real benefit, more militarized police, more surveillance, more gun control measures, more metal detectors and whole-body imaging devices, more roaming squads of militarized police empowered to do more stop-and-frisk searches, more fusion centers to centralize and disseminate information to law enforcement agencies, and more government monitoring of what Americans say and do, where they go, what they buy and how they spend their time.

All of these measures play into the government’s hands.

All of these measures add up to more government power, less real security and far less freedom.

As we have learned the hard way, the phantom promise of safety in exchange for restricted or regulated liberty is a false, misguided doctrine that has no basis in the truth.

Things are falling apart.

When things start to fall apart or implode, ask yourself: who stands to benefit?

In most cases, it’s the government that stands to benefit by amassing greater powers at the citizenry’s expense.

Unfortunately, the government’s answer to civil unrest and societal violence, as always, will lead us further down the road we’ve traveled since 9/11 towards totalitarianism and away from freedom.

With alarming regularity, the nation is being subjected to a spate of violence that not only terrorizes the public but also destabilizes the country’s fragile ecosystem, and gives the government greater justifications to crack down, lock down, and institute even more authoritarian policies for the so-called sake of national security without many objections from the citizenry.

Clearly, America is being pushed to the brink of a national nervous breakdown.

This breakdown is manifesting itself in madness, mayhem and an utter disregard for the very principles and liberties that have kept us out of the clutches of totalitarianism for so long.

Yet there is a method to this madness.

Remember, authoritarian regimes begin with incremental steps. Bit by bit, the citizenry finds its freedoms being curtailed and undermined for the sake of national security. And slowly the populace begins to submit.

No one speaks up for those being targeted.

No one resists these minor acts of oppression.

No one recognizes the indoctrination into tyranny for what it is.

Historically this failure to speak truth to power has resulted in whole populations being conditioned to tolerate unspoken cruelty toward their fellow human beings, a bystander syndrome in which people remain silent and disengaged—mere onlookers—in the face of abject horrors and injustice.

Yet whether or not we continue to operate in a state of denial, it won’t change the facts: the nation is imploding, and our republic is being pushed ever closer to martial law.

Mind you, this shift towards totalitarianism and martial law started long before Trump, set in motion by powers-that-be that see the government as a means to an end: power and profit.

Indeed, with every passing day, the United States government borrows yet another leaf from Nazi Germany’s playbook: Secret police. Secret courts. Secret government agencies. Surveillance. Censorship. Intimidation. Harassment. Torture. Brutality. Widespread corruption. Entrapment. Indoctrination. Indefinite detention.

These are not tactics used by constitutional republics, where the rule of law and the rights of the citizenry reign supreme. Rather, they are the hallmarks of authoritarian regimes, where the only law that counts comes in the form of heavy-handed, unilateral dictates from a supreme ruler who uses a secret police to control the populace.

Can the Fourth Reich happen here?

It’s already happening. And like the German people, we remain inclined to “look the other way.”

Here are some of the looming problems we’re ignoring, caught up in a state of passivity, denial and indifference:

Our government is massively in debt.

Our education system is abysmal.

Our homes provide little protection against government intrusions.

Our prisons, housing the largest number of inmates in the world and still growing, have become money-making enterprises for private corporations that rely on the inmates for cheap labor.

We are no longer a representative republic.

The nation’s “infrastructure” is falling apart.

Americans know little to nothing about their rights or how the government is supposed to operate.

Nearly one out of every three American children live in poverty, ranking us among the worst in the developed world.

Patrolled by police, our schools have become little more than quasi-prisons.

In our present surveillance state, that burden of proof has now been shifted so that we are all suspects to be spied on, searched, scanned, frisked, monitored, tracked and treated as if we’re potentially guilty of some wrongdoing.

Americans can no longer rely on the courts to mete out justice.

Americans have little protection against police abuse.

These are problems that will continue to plague our nation—and be conveniently ignored by politicians—unless and until Americans wake up to the fact that we’re the only ones who can change things.

As always, the solution to most problems must start locally, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and in our communities.

We’ve got to refrain from the toxic us vs. them rhetoric that is consuming the nation.

We’ve got to work harder to build bridges, instead of burning them to the ground.

We’ve got to learn to stop bottling up dissent and disagreeable ideas and learn how to work through our disagreements without violence.

We’ve got to de-militarize our police and lower the levels of violence here and abroad, whether it’s violence we export to other countries, violence we glorify in entertainment, or violence we revel in when it’s leveled at our so-called enemies, politically or otherwise.

Remember that when you strip away all of the things that serve to divide us, we’re no different underneath: we all bleed red, and we all suffer when violence becomes the government’s calling card.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the oppression and injustice—be it in the form of shootings, surveillance, fines, asset forfeiture, prison terms, roadside searches, and so on—will come to all of us eventually unless we do something to stop it now.

Unless we can learn to live together as brothers and sisters and fellow citizens, we will perish as tools and prisoners of the American police state.

Reprinted with permission from The Rutherford Institute.

You Want to Make America Great Again? Start by Making America Free Again

If the freedom of speech be taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

— George Washington, Address to the Officers of the Army, Saturday, March 15, 1783

Living in a representative republic means that each person has the right to take a stand for what they think is right, whether that means marching outside the halls of government, wearing clothing with provocative statements, or simply holding up a sign.

That’s what the First Amendment is supposed to be about.

Yet through a series of carefully crafted legislative steps and politically expedient court rulings, government officials have managed to disembowel this fundamental freedom, rendering it with little more meaning than the right to file a lawsuit against government officials.

In the process, government officials have succeeded in insulating themselves from their constituents, making it increasingly difficult for average Americans to make themselves seen or heard by those who most need to hear what “we the people” have to say.

Indeed, President Trump—always keen to exercise his free speech rights to sound off freely on any topic that strikes his fancy—has not been as eager to protect the First Amendment rights of his fellow citizens to speak freely, assemble, protest and petition one’s government officials for a redress of grievances.

Not that long ago, in fact, Trump suggested that the act of protesting should be illegal. The president has also suggested demonstrators should lose their jobs or be met with violence for speaking out.

Mind you, this is the man who took an oath of office to uphold and defend the Constitution.

Perhaps someone should have made sure Trump had actually read the Constitution first.

Most recently, the Trump Administration proposed rules that would crack down on protests in front of the White House and on the National Mall.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The rules would restrict gatherings that now take place on a 25-foot-wide sidewalk in front of the White House to just a 5-foot sliver, severely limiting crowds. The NPS [National Park Service] also threatens to hit political protesters on the National Mall with large security and cleanup fees that historically have been waived for such gatherings, and it wants to make it easier to reject a spontaneous protest of the type that might occur, say, if Trump fires special counsel Robert Mueller.

Imagine if the hundreds of thousands of participants in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which culminated with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, had been forced into free speech zones or required to pay for the “privilege” of protest.

There likely would not have been a 1964 Civil Rights Act.

What is going on here?

Clearly, the government has no interest in hearing what “we the people” have to say.

It’s the message that is feared, especially if that message challenges the status quo.

That’s why so many hurdles are being placed in the path of those attempting to voice sentiments that may be construed as unpopular, offensive, conspiratorial, violent, threatening or anti-government.

Yet the right of political free speech is the basis of all liberty.

It’s the citizen’s right to confront the government and demand that it alter its policies. But first, citizens have to be seen and heard, and only under extraordinary circumstances should free speech ever be restricted.

No government that claims to value freedom would adopt such draconian measures to clamp down on lawful First Amendment activities. These tactics of censorship, suppression and oppression go hand-in-hand with fascism.

Efforts to confine and control dissenters are really efforts to confine and control the effect of their messages, whatever those might be.

That’s the point, isn’t it?

The powers-that-be don’t want us to be seen and heard.

Haven’t you noticed that interactions with elected representatives have become increasingly manufactured and distant over the past 50 years? Press conferences, ticketed luncheons, televised speeches and one-sided town hall meetings held over the phone now largely take the place of face-to-face interaction with constituents.

Additionally, there has been an increased use of so-called “free speech zones,” designated areas for expressive activity used to corral and block protestors at political events from interacting with public officials. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have used these “free speech zones,” some located within chain-link cages, at various conventions to mute any and all criticism of their policies.

This push to insulate government officials from those exercising their First Amendment rights stems from an elitist mindset which views them as different, set apart somehow, from the people they have been appointed to serve and represent.

We have litigated and legislated our way into a new governmental framework where the dictates of petty bureaucrats carry greater weight than the inalienable rights of the citizenry.

With every passing day, we’re being moved further down the road towards a totalitarian society characterized by government censorship, violence, corruption, hypocrisy and intolerance, all packaged for our supposed benefit in the Orwellian doublespeak of national security, tolerance and so-called “government speech.”

Indeed, while lobbyists mill in and out of the homes and offices of Congressmen, the American people are kept at a distance through free speech zones, electronic town hall meetings, and security barriers. And those who dare to breach the gap—even through silent forms of protest—are arrested for making their voices heard.

On paper, we are free to speak.

In reality, however, we are only as free to speak as a government official may allow.

Free speech zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws and a host of other legalistic maladies dreamed up by politicians and prosecutors have conspired to corrode our core freedoms.

Indeed, the Supreme Court has had the effrontery to suggest that the government can discriminate freely against First Amendment activity that takes place within a government forum, justifying such discrimination as “government speech.”

If it were just the courts suppressing free speech, that would be one thing to worry about, but First Amendment activities are being pummeled, punched, kicked, choked, chained and generally gagged all across the country.

Protest laws are not about protecting the economy or private property or public sidewalks. Rather, they are intended to keep us corralled, muzzle discontent and discourage anyone from challenging government authority.

The reasons for such censorship vary widely, but the end result remains the same: the complete eradication of what Benjamin Franklin referred to as the “principal pillar of a free government.”

If Americans are not able to peacefully assemble for expressive activity outside of the halls of government or on public roads on which government officials must pass, the First Amendment has lost all meaning.

If we cannot stand silently outside of the Supreme Court or the Capitol or the White House, our ability to hold the government accountable for its actions is threatened, and so are the rights and liberties which we cherish as Americans.

Free speech can certainly not be considered “free” when expressive activities across the nation are being increasingly limited, restricted to so-called free speech zones, or altogether blocked.

If citizens cannot stand out in the open on a public sidewalk and voice their disapproval of their government, its representatives and its policies, without fearing prosecution, then the First Amendment with all its robust protections for free speech, assembly and the right to petition one’s government for a redress of grievances is little more than window-dressing on a store window: pretty to look at but serving little real purpose.

What most people fail to understand is that the First Amendment is not only about the citizenry’s right to freely express themselves. Rather, the First Amendment speaks to the citizenry’s right to express their concerns about their government to their government, in a time, place and manner best suited to ensuring that those concerns are heard.

The First Amendment gives every American the right to “petition his government for a redress of grievances.”

This amounts to so much more than filing a lawsuit against the government. It works hand in hand with free speech to ensure, as Adam Newton and Ronald K.L. Collins report for the Five Freedoms Project, “that our leaders hear, even if they don’t listen to, the electorate. Though public officials may be indifferent, contrary, or silent participants in democratic discourse, at least the First Amendment commands their audience.”

As Newton and Collins elaborate:

“Petitioning” has come to signify any nonviolent, legal means of encouraging or disapproving government action, whether directed to the judicial, executive or legislative branch. Lobbying, letter-writing, e-mail campaigns, testifying before tribunals, filing lawsuits, supporting referenda, collecting signatures for ballot initiatives, peaceful protests and picketing: all public articulation of issues, complaints and interests designed to spur government action qualifies under the petition clause, even if the activities partake of other First Amendment freedoms.

There’s more.

Even more critical than the right to speak freely, or pray freely, or assemble freely, or petition the government for a redress of grievances, or have a free press is the unspoken freedom enshrined in the First Amendment that assures us of the right to think freely and openly debate issues without being muzzled or treated like a criminal.

Just as surveillance has been shown to “stifle and smother dissent, keeping a populace cowed by fear,” government censorship gives rise to self-censorship, breeds compliance and makes independent thought all but impossible.

In the end, censorship and political correctness not only produce people that cannot speak for themselves but also people who cannot think for themselves. And a citizenry that can’t think for itself is a citizenry that will neither rebel against the government’s dictates nor revolt against the government’s tyranny.

The end result: a nation of sheep who willingly line up for the slaughterhouse.

Still, as Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas advised in his dissent in Colten v.Kentucky, “we need not stay docile and quiet” in the face of authority.

The Constitution does not require Americans to be servile or even civil to government officials.

Neither does the Constitution require obedience (although it does insist on nonviolence).

If we just cower before government agents and meekly obey, we may find ourselves following in the footsteps of those nations that eventually fell to tyranny.

The alternative involves standing up and speaking truth to power.

Jesus Christ walked that road.

So did Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and countless other freedom fighters whose actions changed the course of history.

Indeed, had Christ merely complied with the Roman police state, there would have been no crucifixion and no Christian religion.

Had Gandhi meekly fallen in line with the British Empire’s dictates, the Indian people would never have won their independence.

Had Martin Luther King Jr. obeyed the laws of his day, there would have been no civil rights movement.

And if the founding fathers had marched in lockstep with royal decrees, there would have been no American Revolution.

In other words, if freedom means anything, it means that those exercising their right to protest are showing the greatest respect for the principles on which this nation was founded: the right to free speech and the right to dissent.

Clearly, the First Amendment to the Constitution assures Americans of the right to speak freely, assemble freely and protest (petition the government for a redress of grievances).

Whether those First Amendment activities take place in a courtroom or a classroom, on a football field or in front of the White House is not the issue. What matters is that Americans have a right—according to the spirit, if not always the letter, of the law—to voice their concerns without being penalized for it.

Frankly, the First Amendment does more than give us a right to criticize our country: it makes it a civic duty.

Let’s not confuse patriotism (love for or devotion to one’s country) with blind obedience to the government’s dictates. That is the first step towards creating an authoritarian regime.

One can be patriotic and love one’s country while at the same time disagreeing with the government or protesting government misconduct. As journalist Barbara Ehrenreich recognizes, “Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.”

Indeed, I would venture to say that if you’re not speaking out or taking a stand against government wrongdoing—if you’re marching in lockstep with everything the government and its agents dole out—and if you’re prioritizing partisan politics over the principles enshrined in the Constitution, then you’re not a true patriot.

Real patriots care enough to take a stand, speak out, protest and challenge the government whenever it steps out of line. There is nothing patriotic about the lengths to which Americans have allowed the government to go in its efforts to dismantle our constitutional republic and shift the country into a police state.

It’s not anti-American to be anti-war or anti-police misconduct or anti-racial discrimination, but it is anti-American to be anti-freedom.

Listen: I served in the Army.

I lived through the Civil Rights era.

I came of age during the Sixties, when activists took to the streets to protest war and economic and racial injustice.

As a constitutional lawyer, I defend people daily whose civil liberties are being violated, including high school students prohibited from wearing American flag t-shirts to school, allegedly out of a fear that it might be disruptive.

I understand the price that must be paid for freedom.

Responsible citizenship means being outraged at the loss of others’ freedoms, even when our own are not directly threatened.

The Framers of the Constitution knew very well that whenever and wherever democratic governments had failed, it was because the people had abdicated their responsibility as guardians of freedom. They also knew that whenever in history the people denied this responsibility, an authoritarian regime arose which eventually denied the people the right to govern themselves.

Citizens must be willing to stand and fight to protect their freedoms. And if need be, it will entail publicly criticizing the government.

This is true patriotism in action.

Never in American history has there been a more pressing need to maintain the barriers in the Constitution erected by our Founders to check governmental power and abuse.

Not only do we no longer have dominion over our bodies, our families, our property and our lives, but the government continues to chip away at what few rights we still have to speak freely and think for ourselves.

 If the government can control speech, it can control thought and, in turn, it can control the minds of the citizenry.

My friends, let us not be played for fools.

The government’s ongoing attempts to suppress lawful protest activities are intended to send a strong message that in the American police state, you’re either a patriot who marches in lockstep with the government’s dictates or you’re a pariah, a suspect, a criminal, a troublemaker, a terrorist, a radical, a revolutionary.

Yet by muzzling the citizenry, by removing the constitutional steam valves that allow people to speak their minds, air their grievances and contribute to a larger dialogue that hopefully results in a more just world, the government is deliberately stirring the pot, creating a climate in which violence becomes inevitable.

When there is no steam valve—when there is no one to hear what the people have to say, because government representatives have removed themselves so far from their constituents—then frustration builds, anger grows and people become more volatile and desperate to force a conversation.

Then again, perhaps that was the government’s plan all along.

As John F. Kennedy warned in March 1962, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

The government is making violent revolution inevitable.

How do you lock down a nation?

You sow discontent and fear among the populace.

You teach them to be non-thinkers who passively accept whatever is told them, whether it’s delivered by way of the corporate media or a government handler.

You brainwash them into believing that everything the government does is for their good and anyone who opposes the government is an enemy.

You acclimate them to a state of martial law, carried out by soldiers disguised as police officers but bearing the weapons of war.

You polarize them so that they can never unite and stand united against the government.

You create a climate in which silence is golden and those who speak up are shouted down.

You spread propaganda and lies.

You package the police state in the rhetoric of politicians.

And then, when and if the people finally wake up to the fact that the government is not and has never been their friend, when it’s too late for peaceful protests and violence is all that remains to them as a recourse against tyranny, you use all of the tools you’ve been so carefully amassing—the militarized police, the criminal databases and surveillance and identification systems and private prisons and protest laws—and you shut them down for good.

Divide and conquer.

It’s one of the oldest military strategies in the books, and it’s proven to be the police state’s most effective weapon for maintaining the status quo.

How do you conquer a nation?

Distract the populace with screen devices, with sports, entertainment spectacles, political circuses and materialism.

Keep them focused on their differences—economic, religious, environmental, political, racial—so they can never agree on anything.

And then, when they’re so divided that they are incapable of joining forces against a common threat, start picking them off one by one.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, what we’re witnessing is just the latest incarnation of the government’s battle plan for stamping out any sparks of resistance and keeping the populace under control: censorship, surveillance, battlefield tactics, military weaponry, and a complete suspension of the Constitution.

Creating a Suspect Society: The Scary Side of the Technological Police State

If, as it seems, we are in the process of becoming a totalitarian society in which the state apparatus is all-powerful, the ethics most important for the survival of the true, free, human individual would be: cheat, lie, evade, fake it, be elsewhere, forge documents, build improved electronic gadgets in your garage that’ll outwit the gadgets used by the authorities.

Philip K. Dick

It’s a given that Big Brother is always watching us.

Unfortunately, thanks to the government’s ongoing efforts to build massive databases using emerging surveillance, DNA and biometrics technologies, Big Brother (and his corporate partners in crime) is getting even creepier and more invasive, intrusive and stalker-like.

Indeed, every dystopian sci-fi film (and horror film, for that matter) we’ve ever seen is suddenly converging into this present moment in a dangerous trifecta between science and technology, Big Business, and a government that wants to be all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful—but not without help from the citizenry.

On a daily basis, Americans are relinquishing (in many cases, voluntarily) the most intimate details of who we are—our biological makeup, our genetic blueprints, and our biometrics (facial characteristics and structure, fingerprints, iris scans, etc.)—in order to navigate an increasingly technologically-enabled world.

As journalist Anna Myers notes:

Fingerprint readers, eye scans, and voice recognition are no longer just the security methods of high-tech spy movies. Millions of mobile phone, bank, and investment customers now have these technologies at their fingertips. Schwab uses voice recognition, Apple uses fingerprints, Wells Fargo scans eyes, and other companies are developing heartbeat or grip technology to verify user identity. Whether biometric technology will thrive or meet its demise depends not only on the security of the technology, but also whether the U.S. legal system will adapt to provide the privacy protections necessary for consumers to use it and for companies to invest in its development. Currently there is no federal law and only one state with a law protecting biometric information.

Translation: thus far, the courts have done little to preserve our rights in the face of technologies and government programs that have little respect for privacy or freedom.

Consider all the ways we continue to be tracked, hunted, hounded, and stalked by the government and its dubious agents:

By tapping into your phone lines and cell phone communications, the government knows what you say.

By uploading all of your emails, opening your mail, and reading your Facebook posts and text messages, the government knows what you write.

By monitoring your movements with the use of license plate readers, surveillance cameras and other tracking devices, the government knows where you go.

By churning through all of the detritus of your life—what you read, where you go, what you say—the government can predict what you will do.

By mapping the synapses in your brain, scientists—and in turn, the government—will soon know what you remember.

By mapping your biometrics—your “face-print”—and storing the information in a massive, shared government database available to bureaucratic agencies, police and the military, the government’s goal is to use facial recognition software to identify you (and every other person in the country) and track your movements, wherever you go.

And by accessing your DNA, the government will soon know everything else about you that they don’t already know: your family chart, your ancestry, what you look like, your health history, your inclination to follow orders or chart your own course, etc.

Of course, none of these technologies are foolproof.

Nor are they immune from tampering, hacking or user bias.

Nevertheless, they have become a convenient tool in the hands of government agents to render null and void the Constitution’s requirements of privacy and its prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Consequently, no longer are we “innocent until proven guilty” in the face of DNA evidence that places us at the scene of a crime, behavior sensing technology that interprets our body temperature and facial tics as suspicious, and government surveillance devices that cross-check our biometrics, license plates and DNA against a growing database of unsolved crimes and potential criminals.

Increasingly, we are all guilty until proven innocent as the government’s questionable acquisition and use of biometrics and DNA to identify individuals and “solve” crimes makes clear.

Indeed, for years now, the FBI and Justice Department have conspired to acquire near-limitless power and control over biometric information collected on law-abiding individuals, millions of whom have never been accused of a crime.

Going far beyond the scope of those with criminal backgrounds, the FBI’s Next Generation Identification database (NGID), a billion dollar boondoggle that is aimed at dramatically expanding the government’s ID database from a fingerprint system to a vast data storehouse of iris scans, photos searchable with face recognition technology, palm prints, and measures of gait and voice recordings alongside records of fingerprints, scars, and tattoos.

Launched in 2008, the NGID is a massive biometric database that contains more than 100 million fingerprints and 45 million facial photos gathered from a variety of sources ranging from criminal suspects and convicts to daycare workers and visa applicants, including millions of people who have never committed or even been accused of a crime.

In other words, innocent American citizens are now automatically placed in a suspect database.

For a long time, the government was required to at least observe some basic restrictions on when, where and how it could access someone’s biometrics and DNA and use it against them.

That is no longer the case.

The information is being amassed through a variety of routine procedures, with the police leading the way as prime collectors of biometrics for something as non-threatening as a simple moving violation. The nation’s courts are also doing their part to “build” the database, requiring biometric information as a precursor to more lenient sentences. And, of course, Corporate America has made it so easy to use one’s biometrics to access everything from bank accounts to cell phones.

We’ve made it so easy for the government to target, identify and track us—dead or alive.

It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

For instance, in March 2018, Florida police showed up at a funeral home, asked to see the corpse of 30-year-old Linus F. Phillip, and attempted to use the dead man’s finger to unlock his cell phone using his biometric fingerprint. (It turns out, cops unlocking cell phones with dead people’s fingerprints is now relatively common.)

In 2016, the Department of Justice secured a warrant allowing police to enter a California residence and force anyone inside to use their “biometric information to open their mobile devices.”

Two years earlier, in 2014, a Virginia court “declared it legal to use criminal suspects’ fingerprints to open up smartphones.”

This doesn’t even touch on the many ways in which the government is using our DNA against us, the Constitution be damned.

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand the Maryland Court of Appeals’ ruling in Raynor v. Maryland, which essentially determined that individuals do not have a right to privacy when it comes to their DNA.

Although Glenn Raynor, a suspected rapist, willingly agreed to be questioned by police, he refused to provide them with a DNA sample.

No problem: Police simply swabbed the chair in which Raynor had been sitting and took what he refused to voluntarily provide. Raynor’s DNA was a match, and the suspect became a convict. In refusing to hear the case, the U.S. Supreme Court gave its tacit approval for government agents to collect shed DNA, likening it to a person’s fingerprints or the color of their hair, eyes or skin.

Whereas fingerprint technology created a watershed moment for police in their ability to “crack” a case, DNA technology is now being hailed by law enforcement agencies as the magic bullet in crime solving.

It’s what police like to refer to as a “modern fingerprint.”

However, unlike a fingerprint, a DNA print reveals everything about “who we are, where we come from, and who we will be.”

With such a powerful tool at their disposal, it was inevitable that the government’s collection of DNA would become a slippery slope toward government intrusion.

Certainly, it was difficult enough trying to protect our privacy in the wake of a 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Maryland v. King that likened DNA collection to photographing and fingerprinting suspects when they are booked, thereby allowing the government to take DNA samples from people merely “arrested” in connection with “serious” crimes.

At that time, Justice Antonin Scalia warned that as a result of the Court’s ruling, “your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”

Now, Americans are vulnerable to the government accessing, analyzing and storing their DNA without their knowledge or permission.

As the dissenting opinion in Raynor for the Maryland Court of Appeals rightly warned:

A person desiring to keep her DNA profile private, must conduct her public affairs in a hermetically sealed hazmat suit…. The Majority’s holding means that a person can no longer vote, participate in a jury, or obtain a driver’s license, without opening up his genetic material for state collection and codification.

All 50 states now maintain their own DNA databases, although the protocols for collection differ from state to state. That DNA is also being collected in the FBI’s massive national DNA database, code-named CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), which was established as a way to identify and track convicted felons and has since become a de facto way to identify and track the American people from birth to death.

Indeed, hospitals have gotten in on the game by taking and storing newborn babies’ DNA, often without their parents’ knowledge or consent. It’s part of the government’s mandatory genetic screening of newborns. However, in many states, the DNA is stored indefinitely.

What this means for those being born today is inclusion in a government database that contains intimate information about who they are, their ancestry, and what awaits them in the future, including their inclinations to be followers, leaders or troublemakers.

For the rest of us, it’s just a matter of time before the government gets hold of our DNA, either through mandatory programs carried out in connection with law enforcement and corporate America, or through the collection of our “shed” or “touch” DNA.

While much of the public debate, legislative efforts and legal challenges in recent years have focused on the protocols surrounding when police can legally collect a suspect’s DNA (with or without a search warrant and whether upon arrest or conviction), the question of how to handle “shed” or “touch” DNA has largely slipped through without much debate or opposition.

Yet as scientist Leslie A. Pray notes:

We all shed DNA, leaving traces of our identity practically everywhere we go. Forensic scientists use DNA left behind on cigarette butts, phones, handles, keyboards, cups, and numerous other objects, not to mention the genetic content found in drops of bodily fluid, like blood and semen. In fact, the garbage you leave for curbside pickup is a potential gold mine of this sort of material. All of this shed or so-called abandoned DNA is free for the taking by local police investigators hoping to crack unsolvable cases. Or, if the future scenario depicted at the beginning of this article is any indication, shed DNA is also free for inclusion in a secret universal DNA databank.

What this means is that if you have the misfortune to leave your DNA traces anywhere a crime has been committed, you’ve already got a file somewhere in some state or federal database, albeit it may be a file without a name.

In other words, you’re a suspect to be watched.

As Forensic magazine reports:

As officers have become more aware of touch DNA’s potential, they are using it more and more. Unfortunately, some [police] have not been selective enough when they process crime scenes. Instead, they have processed anything and everything at the scene, submitting 150 or more samples for analysis.

Even old samples taken from crime scenes and “cold” cases are being unearthed and mined for their DNA profiles.

Today, helped along by robotics and automation, DNA processing, analysis and reporting takes far less time and can bring forth all manner of information, right down to a person’s eye color and relatives. Incredibly, one company specializes in creating “mug shots” for police based on DNA samples from unknown “suspects” which are then compared to individuals with similar genetic profiles.

If you haven’t yet connected the dots, let me point the way.

Having already used surveillance technology to render the entire American populace potential suspects, DNA technology in the hands of government will complete our transition to a suspect society in which we are all merely waiting to be matched up with a crime.

No longer can we consider ourselves innocent until proven guilty. Now we are all suspects in a DNA lineup until circumstances and science say otherwise.

Of course, there will be those who point to DNA’s positive uses in criminal justice, such as in those instances where it is used to absolve someone on death row of a crime he didn’t commit, and there is no denying its beneficial purposes at times.

However, as is the case with body camera footage and every other so-called technology that is hailed as a “check” on government abuses, in order for the average person—especially one convicted of a crime—to request and get access to DNA testing, they first have to embark on a costly, uphill legal battle through red tape and, even then, they are opposed at every turn by a government bureaucracy run by prosecutors, legislatures and law enforcement.

What this amounts to is a scenario in which we have little to no defense of against charges of wrongdoing, especially when “convicted” by technology, and even less protection against the government sweeping up our DNA in much the same way it sweeps up our phone calls, emails and text messages.

Yet if there are no limits to government officials being able to access your DNA and all that it says about you, then where do you draw the line?

As technology makes it ever easier for the government to tap into our thoughts, our memories, our dreams, suddenly the landscape becomes that much more dystopian.

With the entire governmental system shifting into a pre-crime mode aimed at detecting and pursuing those who “might” commit a crime before they have an inkling, let alone an opportunity, to do so, it’s not so far-fetched to imagine a scenario in which government agents (FBI, local police, etc.) target potential criminals based on their genetic disposition to be a “troublemaker” or their relationship to past dissenters.

Equally disconcerting: if scientists can, using DNA, track salmon across hundreds of square miles of streams and rivers, how easy will it be for government agents to not only know everywhere we’ve been and how long we were at each place but collect our easily shed DNA and add it to the government’s already burgeoning database?

It’s not just yourself you have to worry about, either.

It’s also anyone related to you who can be connected by DNA.

These genetic fingerprints, as they’re called, do more than just single out a person. They also show who you’re related to and how. As the Associated Press reports:

DNA samples that can help solve robberies and murders could also, in theory, be used to track down our relatives, scan us for susceptibility to disease, or monitor our movements.

Capitalizing on this, police in California, Colorado, Virginia and Texas use DNA found at crime scenes to identify and target family members for possible clues to a suspect’s whereabouts.

Who will protect your family from being singled out for “special treatment” simply because they’re related to you? As biomedical researcher Yaniv Erlich warns:

If it’s not regulated and the police can do whatever they want … they can use your DNA to infer things about your health, your ancestry, whether your kids are your kids.

For that matter, how do you protect yourself against having your DNA extracted, your biometrics scanned and the most intimate details of who you are—your biological footprint—uploaded into a government database?

What recourse do you have when that information, taken against your will, is shared, stolen, sold or compromised, as it inevitably will be in this age of hackers? We know that databases can be compromised. We’ve seen it happen to databases kept by health care companies, motor vehicle agencies, financial institutions, retailers and intelligence agencies such as the NSA.

And what about those cases in which the technology proved to be wrong, either through human error or tampering?

It happens more often than we are told.

For example, David Butler spent eight months in prison for a murder he didn’t commit after his DNA was allegedly found on the murder victim and surveillance camera footage placed him in the general area the murder took place. Conveniently, Butler’s DNA was on file after he had voluntarily submitted it during an investigation years earlier into a robbery at his mother’s home.

The case seemed cut and dried to everyone but Butler who proclaimed his innocence.

Except that the DNA evidence and surveillance footage was wrong: Butler was innocent.

That Butler’s DNA was supposedly found on the victim’s nails was attributed to three things: one, Butler was a taxi driver  and so it was possible for his DNA to be transferred from his taxi via money or another person, onto the murder victim”; two, Butler had a rare skin condition causing him to shed flakes of skin—i.e., more DNA to spread around, much more so than the average person; and three, police wanted him to be the killer, despite the fact that the DNA sample was only a partial match, of poor quality, and experts at the time said they could neither say that he was guilty nor rule him out.

Unfortunately, we now find ourselves in the unenviable position of being monitored, managed, convicted and controlled by our technology, which answers not to us but to our government and corporate rulers.

This is the fact-is-stranger-than-fiction lesson that is being pounded into us on a daily basis.

While the Fourth Amendment was created to prevent government officials from searching an individual’s person or property without a warrant and probable cause—evidence that some kind of criminal activity was afoot—the founders could scarcely have imagined a world in which we needed protection against widespread government breaches of our privacy on a cellular level.

Yet that’s exactly what we are lacking.

Once again, technology has outdistanced both our understanding of it and our ability to adequately manage the consequences of unleashing it on an unsuspecting populace.

In the end, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, what all of this amounts to is a carefully crafted campaign designed to give the government access to and control over what it really wants: you.

The Scary Side of the Technological Police State

undefined

It’s a given that Big Brother is always watching us.

Unfortunately, thanks to the government’s ongoing efforts to build massive databases using emerging surveillance, DNA and biometrics technologies, Big Brother (and his corporate partners in crime) is getting even creepier and more invasive, intrusive and stalker-like.

Indeed, every dystopian sci-fi film (and horror film, for that matter) we’ve ever seen is suddenly converging into this present moment in a dangerous trifecta between science and technology, Big Business, and a government that wants to be all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful—but not without help from the citizenry.

On a daily basis, Americans are relinquishing (in many cases, voluntarily) the most intimate details of who we are—our biological makeup, our genetic blueprints, and our biometrics (facial characteristics and structure, fingerprints, iris scans, etc.)—in order to navigate an increasingly technologically-enabled world.

Consider all the ways we continue to be tracked, hunted, hounded, and stalked by the government and its dubious agents:

By tapping into your phone lines and cell phone communications, the government knows what you say.

By uploading all of your emails, opening your mail, and reading your Facebook posts and text messages, the government knows what you write.

By monitoring your movements with the use of license plate readers, surveillance cameras and other tracking devices, the government knows where you go.

By churning through all of the detritus of your life—what you read, where you go, what you say—the government can predict what you will do.

By mapping the synapses in your brain, scientists—and in turn, the government—will soon know what you remember

By mapping your biometrics—your “face-print”—and storing the information in a massive, shared government database available to bureaucratic agencies, police and the military, the government’s goal is to use facial recognition software to identify you (and every other person in the country) and track your movements, wherever you go.

And by accessing your DNA, the government will soon know everything else about you that they don’t already know: your family chart, your ancestry, what you look like, your health history, your inclination to follow orders or chart your own course, etc.

Of course, none of these technologies are foolproof.

Nor are they immune from tampering, hacking or user bias.

Nevertheless, they have become a convenient tool in the hands of government agents to render null and void the Constitution’s requirements of privacy and its prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Consequently, no longer are we “innocent until proven guilty” in the face of DNA evidence that places us at the scene of a crimebehavior sensing technology that interprets our body temperature and facial tics as suspicious, and government surveillance devices that cross-check our biometricslicense plates and DNA against a growing database of unsolved crimes and potential criminals.

For a long time, the government was required to at least observe some basic restrictions on when, where and how it could access someone’s biometrics and DNA and use it against them. 

That is no longer the case.

The information is being amassed through a variety of routine procedures, with the police leading the way as prime collectors of biometrics for something as non-threatening as a simple moving violation. The nation’s courts are also doing their part to “build” the database, requiring biometric information as a precursor to more lenient sentences. And of course Corporate America has made it so easy to use one’s biometrics to access everything from bank accounts to cell phones.

This doesn’t even touch on the many ways in which the government is using our DNA against us, the Constitution be damned.

DNA technology, what police like to refer to as a “modern fingerprint,” reveals everything about “who we are, where we come from, and who we will be.”

With such a powerful tool at their disposal, it was inevitable that the government’s collection of DNA would become a slippery slope toward government intrusion.

Now, Americans are vulnerable to the government accessing, analyzing and storing their DNA without their knowledge or permission.

Even hospitals have gotten in on the game by taking and storing newborn babies’ DNA, often without their parents’ knowledge or consent. It’s part of the government’s mandatory genetic screening of newborns. However, in many states, the DNA is stored indefinitely.

What this means for those being born today is inclusion in a government database that contains intimate information about who they are, their ancestry, and what awaits them in the future, including their inclinations to be followers, leaders or troublemakers.

For the rest of us, it’s just a matter of time before the government gets hold of our DNA, either through mandatory programs carried out in connection with law enforcement and corporate America.

If you haven’t yet connected the dots, let me point the way.

Having already used surveillance technology to render the entire American populace potential suspects, DNA technology in the hands of government will complete our transition to a suspect society in which we are all merely waiting to be matched up with a crime.

No longer can we consider ourselves innocent until proven guilty.

Now we are all suspects in a DNA lineup until circumstances and science say otherwise.

It’s not just yourself you have to worry about, either.

It’s also anyone related to you who can be connected by DNA.

Unfortunately, we now find ourselves in the unenviable position of being monitored, managed, convicted and controlled by our technology, which answers not to us but to our government and corporate rulers. 

This is the fact-is-stranger-than-fiction lesson that is being pounded into us on a daily basis.

While the Fourth Amendment was created to prevent government officials from searching an individual’s person or property without a warrant and probable cause—evidence that some kind of criminal activity was afoot—the founders could scarcely have imagined a world in which we needed protection against widespread government breaches of our privacy on a cellular level.

Yet that’s exactly what we are lacking.

Once again, technology has outdistanced both our understanding of it and our ability to adequately manage the consequences of unleashing it on an unsuspecting populace.

In the end, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, what all of this amounts to is a carefully crafted campaign designed to give the government access to and control over what it really wants: you.

Reprinted with permission from The Rutherford Institute.

Empire of Lies: Are “We the People” Useful Idiots in the Digital Age?

Back in the heyday of the old Soviet Union, a phrase evolved to describe gullible western intellectuals who came to visit Russia and failed to notice the human and other costs of building a communist utopia. The phrase was “useful idiots” and it applied to a good many people who should have known better. I now propose a new, analogous term more appropriate for the age in which we live: useful hypocrites. That’s you and me, folks, and it’s how the masters of the digital universe see us. And they have pretty good reasons for seeing us that way. They hear us whingeing about privacy, security, surveillance, etc., but notice that despite our complaints and suspicions, we appear to do nothing about it. In other words, we say one thing and do another, which is as good a working definition of hypocrisy as one could hope for.

— John Naughton, The Guardian

“Who needs direct repression,” asked philosopher Slavoj Zizek, “when one can convince the chicken to walk freely into the slaughterhouse?”

In an Orwellian age where war equals peace, surveillance equals safety, and tolerance equals intolerance of uncomfortable truths and politically incorrect ideas, “we the people” have gotten very good at walking freely into the slaughterhouse, all the while convincing ourselves that the prison walls enclosing us within the American police state are there for our protection.

Call it doublespeak, call it hypocrisy, call it delusion, call it whatever you like, but the fact remains that while we claim to value freedom, privacy, individuality, equality, diversity, accountability, and government transparency, our actions and those of our government rulers contradict these much-vaunted principles at every turn.

For instance, we claim to disdain the jaded mindset of the Washington elite, and yet we continue to re-elect politicians who lie, cheat and steal.

We claim to disapprove of the endless wars that drain our resources and spread thin our military, and yet we repeatedly buy into the idea that patriotism equals supporting the military.

We claim to chafe at taxpayer-funded pork barrel legislation for roads to nowhere, documentaries on food fights, and studies of mountain lions running on treadmills, and yet we pay our taxes meekly and without raising a fuss of any kind.

We claim to object to the militarization of our local police forces and their increasingly battlefield mindset, and yet we do little more than shrug our shoulders over SWAT team raids and police shootings of unarmed citizens.

And then there’s our supposed love-hate affair with technology, which sees us bristling at the government’s efforts to monitor our internet activities, listen in on our phone calls, read our emails, track our every movement, and punish us for what we say on social media, and yet we keep using these very same technologies all the while doing nothing about the government’s encroachments on our rights.

This contradiction is backed up by a Pew Research Center study, which finds that “Americans say they are deeply concerned about privacy on the web and their cellphones. They say they do not trust Internet companies or the government to protect it. Yet they keep using the services and handing over their personal information.”

Let me get this straight: the government continues to betray our trust, invade our privacy, and abuse our rights, and we keep going back for more?

Sure we do.

After all, the alternative—taking a stand, raising a ruckus, demanding change, refusing to cooperate, engaging in civil disobedience—is not only a lot of work but can be downright dangerous.

What we fail to realize, however, is that by tacitly allowing these violations to continue, we not only empower the tyrant but we feed the monster.

In this way, what starts off as small, occasional encroachments on our rights, justified in the name of greater safety, becomes routine, wide-ranging abuses so entrenched as to make reform all but impossible.

We saw this happen with the police and their build-up of military arsenal, ostensibly to fight the war on drugs. The result: a transformation of America’s law enforcement agencies into extensions of the military, populated with battle-hardened soldiers who view “we the people” as enemy combatants.

The same thing happened with the government’s so-called efforts to get tough on crime by passing endless laws outlawing all manner of activities. The result: an explosion of laws criminalizing everything from parenting decisions and fishing to gardening and living off the grid.

And then there were the private prisons, marketed as a way to lower the government’s cost of locking up criminals. Only it turns out that private prisons actually cost the taxpayer more money and place profit incentives on jailing more Americans, resulting in the largest prison population in the world.

Are you starting to notice a pattern yet?

The government lures us in with a scheme to make our lives better, our families safer, and our communities more secure, and then once we buy into it, they slam the trap closed.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about red light cameras, DNA databases, surveillance cameras, or zero tolerance policies: they all result in “we the people” being turned into Enemy Number One.

In this way, the government campaign to spy on our phone calls, letters and emails was sold to the American people as a necessary tool in the war on terror.

Instead of targeting terrorists, however, the government has turned us into potential terrorists, so that if we dare say the wrong thing in a phone call, letter, email or on the internet, especially social media, we end up investigated, charged and possibly jailed.

If you happen to be one of the 1.31 billion individuals who use Facebook or one of the 255 million who tweet their personal and political views on Twitter, you might want to pay close attention.

This criminalization of free speech, which is exactly what the government’s prosecution of those who say the “wrong” thing using an electronic medium amounts to, was at the heart of Elonis v. United States, a case that wrestled with where the government can draw the line when it comes to expressive speech that is protected and permissible versus speech that could be interpreted as connoting a criminal intent.

The case arose after Anthony Elonis, an aspiring rap artist, used personal material from his life as source material and inspiration for rap lyrics which he then shared on Facebook.

For instance, shortly after Elonis’ wife left him and he was fired from his job, his lyrics included references to killing his ex-wife, shooting a classroom of kindergarten children, and blowing up an FBI agent who had opened an investigation into his postings.

Despite the fact that Elonis routinely accompanied his Facebook posts with disclaimers that his lyrics were fictitious, and that he was using such writings as an outlet for his frustrations, he was charged with making unlawful threats (although it was never proven that he intended to threaten anyone) and sentenced to 44 months in jail.

Elonis is not the only Facebook user to be targeted for prosecution based on the content of his posts.

In a similar case that made its way through the courts only to be rebuffed by the Supreme Court, Brandon Raub, a decorated Marine, was arrested by a swarm of FBI, Secret Service agents and local police and forcibly detained in a psychiatric ward because of controversial song lyrics and political views posted on his Facebook page. He was eventually released after a circuit court judge dismissed the charges against him as unfounded.

Rapper Jamal Knox and Rashee Beasley were sentenced to jail terms of up to six years for a YouTube video calling on listeners to “kill these cops ‘cause they don’t do us no good.” Although the rapper contended that he had no intention of bringing harm to the police, he was convicted of making terroristic threats and intimidation of witnesses.

And then there was Franklin Delano Jeffries II, an Iraq war veteran, who, in the midst of a contentious custody battle for his daughter, shared a music video on YouTube and Facebook in which he sings about the judge in his case, “Take my child and I’ll take your life.” Despite his insistence that the lyrics were just a way for him to vent his frustrations with the legal battle, Jeffries was convicted of communicating threats and sentenced to 18 months in jail.

The common thread running through all of these cases is the use of social media to voice frustration, grievances, and anger, sometimes using language that is overtly violent.

The question the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to decide in Elonis is whether this activity, in the absence of any overt intention of committing a crime, rises to the level of a “true threat” or whether it is, as I would contend, protected First Amendment activity. (The Supreme Court has defined a “true threat” as “statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.”)

In an 8-1 decision that concerned itself more with “criminal-law principles concerning intent rather than the First Amendment’s protection of free speech,” the Court ruled that prosecutors had not proven that Elonis intended to harm anyone beyond the words he used and context.

That was three years ago.

Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Elonis, Corporate America has now taken the lead in policing expressive activity online, with social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube using their formidable dominance in the field to censor, penalize and regulate speech and behavior online by suspending and/or banning users whose content violated the companies’ so-called community standards for obscenity, violence, hate speech, discrimination, etc.

Make no mistake: this is fascism.

This is fascism with a smile.

As Bertram Gross, former presidential advisor, noted in his chilling book Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America:

Anyone looking for black shirts, mass parties, or men on horseback will miss the telltale clues of creeping fascism. . . . In America, it would be super modern and multi-ethnic—as American as Madison Avenue, executive luncheons, credit cards, and apple pie. It would be fascism with a smile. As a warning against its cosmetic façade, subtle manipulation, and velvet gloves, I call it friendly fascism. What scares me most is its subtle appeal.

The subtle appeal of this particular brand of fascism is its self-righteous claim to fighting the evils of our day (intolerance, hatred, violence) using the weapons of Corporate America.

Be warned, however: it is only a matter of time before these weapons are used more broadly, taking aim at anything that stands in its quest for greater profit, control and power.

This is what fascism looks like in a modern context, with corporations flexing their muscles to censor and silence expressive activity under the pretext that it is taking place within a private environment subject to corporate rules as opposed to activity that takes place within a public or government forum that might be subject to the First Amendment’s protection of “controversial” and/or politically incorrect speech.

Alex Jones was just the beginning.

Jones, the majordomo of conspiracy theorists who spawned an empire built on alternative news, was banned from Facebook for posting content that violates the social media site’s “Community Standards,” which prohibit posts that can be construed as bullying or hateful.

According to The Washington Post, Twitter suspended over 70 million accounts over the course of two months to “reduce the flow of misinformation on the platform.” Among those temporarily suspended was Daniel McAdams, Executive Director of the Ron Paul Institute.

Rightly contending that tech companies are just extensions of the government, former Texas congressman Ron Paul believes that social media networks under the control of Google, Apple, Twitter and Facebook are working with the U.S. government to silence dissent. “You get accused of treasonous activity and treasonous speech because in an empire of lies the truth is treason,” Paul declared. “Challenging the status quo is what they can’t stand and it unnerves them, so they have to silence people.”

Curiously enough, you know who has yet to be suspended? President Trump.

Twitter’s rationale for not suspending world leaders such as Trump, whom critics claim routinely violate the social media giant’s rules, is because “Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets, would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.”

Frankly, all individuals, whether or not they are world leaders, should be entitled to have their thoughts and ideas aired openly, pitted against those who might disagree with them, and debated widely, especially in a forum like the internet.

Why does this matter?

The internet and social media have taken the place of the historic public square, which has slowly been crowded out by shopping malls and parking lots.

As such, these cyber “public squares” may be the only forum left for citizens to freely speak their minds and exercise their First Amendment rights, especially in the wake of legislation that limits access to our elected representatives.

Unfortunately, the internet has become a tool for the government—and its corporate partners—to monitor, control and punish the populace for behavior and speech that may be controversial but are far from criminal.

Indeed, the government, a master in the art of violence, intrusion, surveillance and criminalizing harmless activities, has repeatedly attempted to clamp down on First Amendment activity on the web and in social media under the various guises of fighting terrorism, discouraging cyberbullying, and combatting violence.

Police and prosecutors have also targeted “anonymous” postings and messages on forums and websites, arguing that such anonymity encourages everything from cyber-bullying to terrorism, and have attempted to prosecute those who use anonymity for commercial or personal purposes.

We would do well to tread cautiously in how much authority we give the Corporate Police State to criminalize free speech activities and chill what has become a vital free speech forum.

Not only are social media and the Internet critical forums for individuals to freely share information and express their ideas, but they also serve as release valves to those who may be angry, seething, alienated or otherwise discontented.

Without an outlet for their pent-up anger and frustration, these thoughts and emotions fester in secret, which is where most violent acts are born.

In the same way, free speech in the public square—whether it’s the internet, the plaza in front of the U.S. Supreme Court or a college campus—brings people together to express their grievances and challenge oppressive government regimes.

Without it, democracy becomes stagnant and atrophied.

Likewise, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, if free speech is not vigilantly protected, democracy is more likely to drift toward fear, repression, and violence. In such a scenario, we will find ourselves threatened with an even more pernicious injury than violence itself: the loss of liberty.

More speech, not less, is the remedy.

Suspending the Constitution

That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on.

— Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

We can pretend that the Constitution, which was written to hold the government accountable, is still our governing document.

The reality we must come to terms with, however, is that in the America we live in today, the government does whatever it wants, freedom be damned.

“We the people” have been terrorized, traumatized, and tricked into a semi-permanent state of compliance by a government that cares nothing for our lives or our liberties.

The bogeyman’s names and faces may change over time (terrorism, the war on drugs, illegal immigration, etc.), but the end result remains the same: our unquestioning acquiescence to anything the government wants to do in exchange for the phantom promise of safety and security.

Thus, in the so-called name of national security, the Constitution has been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded to such an extent that what we are left with today is but a shadow of the robust document adopted more than two centuries ago.

Most of the damage, however, has been inflicted upon the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution—which historically served as the bulwark from government abuse.

A recitation of the Bill of Rights—set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, over-criminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches (all sanctioned by Congress, the White House, the courts and the like)—would understandably sound more like a eulogy to freedoms lost than an affirmation of rights we truly possess.

Here is what it means to live under the Constitution today.

The First Amendment is supposed to protect the freedom to speak your mind, assemble and protest nonviolently without being bridled by the government. It also protects the freedom of the media, as well as the right to worship and pray without interference. In other words, Americans should not be silenced by the government. To the founders, all of America was a free speech zone.

Despite the clear protections found in the First Amendment, the freedoms described therein are under constant assault. Increasingly, Americans are being arrested and charged with bogus “contempt of cop” charges such as “disrupting the peace” or “resisting arrest” for daring to film police officers engaged in harassment or abusive practices. Journalists are being prosecuted for reporting on whistleblowers. States are passing legislation to muzzle reporting on cruel and abusive corporate practices. Religious ministries are being fined for attempting to feed and house the homeless. Protesters are being tear-gassed, beaten, arrested and forced into “free speech zones.” And under the guise of “government speech,” the courts have reasoned that the government can discriminate freely against any First Amendment activity that takes place within a government forum.

The Second Amendment was intended to guarantee “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Essentially, this amendment was intended to give the citizenry the means to resist tyrannical government. Yet while gun ownership has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as an individual citizen right, Americans remain powerless to defend themselves against SWAT team raids and government agents armed to the teeth with military weapons better suited for the battlefield. As such, this amendment has been rendered null and void.

The Third Amendment reinforces the principle that civilian-elected officials are superior to the military by prohibiting the military from entering any citizen’s home without “the consent of the owner.” With the police increasingly training like the military, acting like the military, and posing as military forces—complete with heavily armed SWAT teams, military weapons, assault vehicles, etc.—it is clear that we now have what the founders feared most—a standing army on American soil.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits government agents from conducting surveillance on you or touching you or invading you, unless they have some evidence that you’re up to something criminal. In other words, the Fourth Amendment ensures privacy and bodily integrity. Unfortunately, the Fourth Amendment has suffered the greatest damage in recent years and has been all but eviscerated by an unwarranted expansion of police powers that include strip searches and even anal and vaginal searches of citizens, surveillance (corporate and otherwise) and intrusions justified in the name of fighting terrorism, as well as the outsourcing of otherwise illegal activities to private contractors.

The Fifth Amendment and the Sixth Amendment work in tandem. These amendments supposedly ensure that you are innocent until proven guilty, and government authorities cannot deprive you of your life, your liberty or your property without the right to an attorney and a fair trial before a civilian judge. However, in the new suspect society in which we live, where surveillance is the norm, these fundamental principles have been upended. Certainly, if the government can arbitrarily freeze, seize or lay claim to your property (money, land or possessions) under government asset forfeiture schemes, you have no true rights.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees citizens the right to a jury trial. Yet when the populace has no idea of what’s in the Constitution—civic education has virtually disappeared from most school curriculums—that inevitably translates to an ignorant jury incapable of distinguishing justice and the law from their own preconceived notions and fears. However, as a growing number of citizens are coming to realize, the power of the jury to nullify the government’s actions—and thereby help balance the scales of justice—is not to be underestimated. Jury nullification reminds the government that “we the people” retain the power to ultimately determine what laws are just.

The Eighth Amendment is similar to the Sixth in that it is supposed to protect the rights of the accused and forbid the use of cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Supreme Court’s determination that what constitutes “cruel and unusual” should be dependent on the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society” leaves us with little protection in the face of a society lacking in morals altogether.

The Ninth Amendment provides that other rights not enumerated in the Constitution are nonetheless retained by the people. Popular sovereignty—the belief that the power to govern flows upward from the people rather than downward from the rulers—is clearly evident in this amendment. However, it has since been turned on its head by a centralized federal government that sees itself as supreme and which continues to pass more and more laws that restrict our freedoms under the pretext that it has an “important government interest” in doing so.

As for the Tenth Amendment’s reminder that the people and the states retain every authority that is not otherwise mentioned in the Constitution, that assurance of a system of government in which power is divided among local, state and national entities has long since been rendered moot by the centralized Washington, DC, power elite—the president, Congress and the courts. Indeed, the federal governmental bureaucracy has grown so large that it has made local and state legislatures relatively irrelevant. Through its many agencies and regulations, the federal government has stripped states of the right to regulate countless issues that were originally governed at the local level.

If there is any sense to be made from this recitation of freedoms lost, it is simply this: our individual freedoms have been eviscerated so that the government’s powers could be expanded.

Yet those who gave us the Constitution and the Bill of Rights believed that the government exists at the behest of its citizens. It is there to protect, defend and even enhance our freedoms, not violate them.

It was no idle happenstance that the Constitution opens with these three powerful words: “We the people.” As the Preamble proclaims:

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this CONSTITUTION for the United States of America.

In other words, we have the power to make and break the government. We are the masters and they are the servants. We the American people—the citizenry—are the arbiters and ultimate guardians of America’s welfare, defense, liberty, laws and prosperity.

Still, it’s hard to be a good citizen if you don’t know anything about your rights or how the government is supposed to operate.

As the National Review rightly asks, “How can Americans possibly make intelligent and informed political choices if they don’t understand the fundamental structure of their government? American citizens have the right to self-government, but it seems that we increasingly lack the capacity for it.”

Americans are constitutionally illiterate.

Most citizens have little, if any, knowledge about their basic rights. And our educational system does a poor job of teaching the basic freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For instance, when Newsweek asked 1,000 adult U.S. citizens to take America’s official citizenship test, 44% were unable to define the Bill of Rights.

A survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that a little more than one-third of respondents (36 percent) could name all three branches of the U.S. government, while another one-third (35 percent) could not name a single one. Only a quarter of Americans (27 percent) know it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto. One in five Americans (21 percent) incorrectly thinks that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration. And more than half of Americans do not know which party controls the House and Senate.

A 2006 survey by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that only one out of a thousand adults could identify the five rights protected by the First Amendment. On the other hand, more than half (52%) of the respondents could name at least two of the characters in the animated Simpsons television family, and 20% could name all five. And although half could name none of the freedoms in the First Amendment, a majority (54%) could name at least one of the three judges on the TV program American Idol, 41% could name two and one-fourth could name all three.

It gets worse.

Many who responded to the survey had a strange conception of what was in the First Amendment. For example, 21% said the “right to own a pet” was listed someplace between “Congress shall make no law” and “redress of grievances.” Some 17% said that the First Amendment contained the “right to drive a car,” and 38% believed that “taking the Fifth” was part of the First Amendment.

Teachers and school administrators do not fare much better. A study conducted by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis found that one educator in five was unable to name any of the freedoms in the First Amendment.

In fact, while some educators want students to learn about freedom, they do not necessarily want them to exercise their freedoms in school. As the researchers conclude:

Most educators think that students already have enough freedom, and that restrictions on freedom in the school are necessary. Many support filtering the Internet, censoring T-shirts, disallowing student distribution of political or religious material, and conducting prior review of school newspapers.

Government leaders and politicians are also ill-informed. Although they take an oath to uphold, support and defend the Constitution against “enemies foreign and domestic,” their lack of education about our fundamental rights often causes them to be enemies of the Bill of Rights.

So what’s the solution?

Thomas Jefferson recognized that a citizenry educated on “their rights, interests, and duties” is the only real assurance that freedom will survive.

As Jefferson wrote in 1820:

I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of our society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.

From the President on down, anyone taking public office should have a working knowledge of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and should be held accountable for upholding their precepts. One way to ensure this would be to require government leaders to take a course on the Constitution and pass a thorough examination thereof before being allowed to take office.

Some critics are advocating that students pass the United States citizenship exam in order to graduate from high school. Others recommend that it must be a prerequisite for attending college. I’d go so far as to argue that students should have to pass the citizenship exam before graduating from grade school.

Here’s an idea to get educated and take a stand for freedom: anyone who signs up to become a member of The Rutherford Institute gets a wallet-sized Bill of Rights card and a Know Your Rights card. Use this card to teach your children the freedoms found in the Bill of Rights.

If this constitutional illiteracy is not remedied and soon, freedom in America will be doomed.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we have managed to keep the wolf at bay so far. Barely.

Our national priorities need to be re-prioritized. For instance, some argue that we need to make America great again. I, for one, would prefer to make America free again.

As actor-turned-activist Richard Dreyfuss warned:

Unless we teach the ideas that make America a miracle of government, it will go away in your kids’ lifetimes, and we will be a fable. You have to find the time and creativity to teach it in schools, and if you don’t, you will lose it. You will lose it to the darkness, and what this country represents is a tiny twinkle of light in a history of oppression and darkness and cruelty. If it lasts for more than our lifetime, for more than our kids’ lifetime, it is only because we put some effort into teaching what it is, the ideas of America: the idea of opportunity, mobility, freedom of thought, freedom of assembly.

What I Don’t Like About Life in Post-9/11 America

undefined

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”
―Edward Abbey, American author

Life in a post-9/11 America increasingly feels like an endless free fall down a rabbit hole into a terrifying, dystopian alternative reality in which the citizenry has no rights, the government is no friend to freedom, and everything we ever knew and loved about the values and principles that once made this country great has been turned on its head.

We’ve walked a strange and harrowing road since September 11, 2001, littered with the debris of our once-vaunted liberties.

We have gone from a nation that took great pride in being a model of a representative democracy to being a model of how to persuade the citizenry to march in lockstep with a police state.

Osama Bin Laden right warned that “freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The US government will lead the American people in — and the West in general — into an unbearable hell and a choking life.”

These past 17 years have proven Bin Laden right in his prediction.

What began with the passage of the USA Patriot Act in October 2001 has snowballed into the eradication of every vital safeguard against government overreach, corruption and abuse. 

The citizenry’s unquestioning acquiescence to anything the government wants to do in exchange for the phantom promise of safety and security has resulted in a society where the nation is being locked down into a militarized, mechanized, hypersensitive, legalistic, self-righteous, goose-stepping antithesis of every principle upon which this nation was founded.

This is not freedom.

This is a jail cell.

Set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, overcriminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches, roving VIPR raids and the like—all of which have been sanctioned by Congress, the White House and the courts—our constitutional freedoms have been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded.

Our losses are mounting with every passing day.

Free speech, the right to protest, the right to challenge government wrongdoing, due process, a presumption of innocence, the right to self-defense, accountability and transparency in government, privacy, press, sovereignty, assembly, bodily integrity, representative government: all of these and more have become casualties in the government’s war on the American people, a war that has grown more pronounced since 9/11.

Since the towers fell on 9/11, the American people have been treated like enemy combatants, to be spied on, tracked, scanned, frisked, searched, subjected to all manner of intrusions, intimidated, invaded, raided, manhandled, censored, silenced, shot at, locked up, and denied due process.

In allowing ourselves to be distracted by terror drills, foreign wars, color-coded warnings, underwear bombers and other carefully constructed exercises in propaganda, sleight of hand, and obfuscation, we failed to recognize that the true enemy to freedom was lurking among us all the while.

The US government now poses a greater threat to our freedoms than any terrorist, extremist or foreign entity ever could.

While nearly 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attacks, the US government and its agents have easily killed at least ten times that number of civilians in the US and abroad since 9/11 through its police shootings, SWAT team raids, drone strikes and profit-driven efforts to police the globe, sell weapons to foreign nations, and foment civil unrest in order to keep the military industrial complex gainfully employed.

No, the US government is not the citizenry’s friend, nor is it our protector, and life in the United States of America post-9/11 is no picnic.

In the interest of full disclosure, here are some of the things I don’t like about life in a post-9/11 America:

I don’t like being treated as if my only value to the government is as a source of labor and funds.

I don’t like being viewed as a consumer and bits of data.

I don’t like being spied on and treated as if I have no right to privacy, especially in my own home.

I don’t like government officials who lobby for my vote only to ignore me once elected. I don’t like having representatives incapable of andunwilling to represent me. I don’t like taxation without representation.

I don’t like being bullied by government bureaucrats, vigilantes masquerading as cops, or faceless technicians.

I don’t like being railroaded into financing government programs whose only purpose is to increase the power and wealth of the corporate elite.

I don’t like being forced to pay for wars abroad that serve no other purpose except to expand the reach of the military industrial complex.

I don’t like being subjected to scans, searches, pat downs and other indignities by the TSA.

I don’t like VIPR raids on so-called “soft” targets like shopping malls and bus depots by black-clad, Darth Vader look-alikes.

I don’t like fusion centers, which represent the combined surveillance efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement.

I don’t like being treated like an underling by government agents who are supposed to be working for me. I don’t like being threatened, intimidated, bribed, beaten and robbed by individuals entrusted with safeguarding my rights. I don’t like being silenced, censored and marginalized. I don’t like my movements being tracked, my conversations being recorded, and my transactions being catalogued.

I don’t like free speech zones, roving bubble zones and trespass laws that restrict Americans’ First Amendment rights.

I don’t like laws that criminalize Americans for otherwise lawful activities such as holding religious studies at homegrowing vegetables in their yard, and collecting rainwater.

I don’t like the NDAA, which allows the president and the military to arrest and detain American citizens indefinitely.

I don’t like the Patriot Act, which opened the door to all manner of government abuses and intrusions on our privacy.

I don’t like the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has become America’s standing army in direct opposition to the dire warnings of those who founded our country. 

I don’t like military weapons such as armored vehicles, sound cannons and the like being used against the American citizens.

I don’t like government agencies such as the DHS, Post Office, Social Security Administration and Wildlife stocking up on hollow-point bullets. And I definitely don’t like the implications of detention centers being built that could house American citizens. 

I don’t like the fact that police departments across the country “have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.”

I don’t like America’s infatuation with locking people up for life for non-violent crimes. There are thousands of people in America serving life sentences for non-violent crimes, including theft of a jacket, siphoning gasoline from a truck, stealing tools, and attempting to cash a stolen check.

I don’t like paying roughly $29,000 a year per inmate just to keep these nonviolent offenders in prison.

I don’t like having my hard-earned taxpayer dollars used against me.

I don’t like the partisan nature of politics today, which has so polarized Americans that they are incapable of standing in unity against the government’s abuses.

I don’t like the entertainment drivel that passes for news coverage today.

I don’t like the fact that those within a 25-mile range of the border are getting a front row seat to the American police state, as Border Patrol agents are now allowed to search people’s homes, intimately probe their bodies, and rifle through their belongings, all without a warrant.

I don’t like public schools that treat students as if they were prison inmates. I don’t like zero tolerance laws that criminalize childish behavior. I don’t like a public educational system that emphasizes rote memorization and test-taking over learning, synthesizing and critical thinking.

I don’t like police precincts whose primary purpose—whether through the use of asset forfeiture laws, speed traps, or red light cameras—is making a profit at the expense of those they have sworn to protect. I don’t like militarized police and their onerous SWAT team raids.

I don’t like Department of Defense and DHS programs that transfer surplus military hardware to local and state police. I don’t like local police dressing and acting as if they were the military while viewing me as an enemy combatant.

I don’t like government programs that reward cops for raiding homes and terrorizing homeowners.

I don’t like being treated as if I have no rights.

I don’t like cash-strapped states cutting deals with private corporations to run the prisons in exchange for maintaining 90% occupancy rates for at least 20 years. I don’t like the fact that American prisons have become the source of cheap labor for Corporate America.

I don’t like answering to an imperial president who operates above the law.

I don’t like the injustice that passes for justice in the courts.

I don’t like prosecutors so hell bent on winning that they allow innocent people to suffer for crimes they didn’t commit.

I don’t like the double standards that allow government officials to break laws with immunity, while average Americans get the book thrown at them.

I don’t like cops who shoot first and ask questions later.

I don’t like police dogs being treated with more respect and afforded more rights than American citizens.

I don’t like living in a suspect society.

I don’t like Americans being assumed guilty until they prove their innocence.

I don’t like technology being used as a double-edged sword against us.

Most of all, I don’t like feeling as if there’s no hope for turning things around.

Now there are those who would suggest that if I don’t like things about this country, I should leave and go elsewhere. Certainly, there are those among my fellow citizens who are leaving for friendlier shores. 

However, I’m not giving up on this country without a fight.

I plan to keep fighting, writing, speaking up, speaking out, shouting if necessary, filing lawsuits, challenging the status quo, writing letters to the editor, holding my representatives accountable, thinking nationally but acting locally, and generally raising a ruckus anytime the government attempts to undermine the Constitution and ride roughshod over the rights of the citizenry.

Our country may be in deep trouble, but all is not yet lost.

The first step begins with you. 

1. Get educated. Know your rights. Take time to read the Constitution. Study and understand history because the tales of those who seek power and those who resist them is an age-old one. The Declaration of Independence is a testament to this struggle and the revolutionary spirit that overcame tyranny. Understand the vital issues of the day so that you can be cognizant of the threats to freedom. Stay informed about current events and legislation.

2. Get involved. Become actively involved in local community affairs, politics and legal battles. As the adage goes, “Think nationally, act locally.” America was meant to be primarily a system of local governments, which is a far cry from the colossal federal bureaucracy we have today. Yet if our freedoms are to be restored, understanding what is transpiring practically in your own backyard—in one’s home, neighborhood, school district, town council—and taking action at that local level must be the starting point. Responding to unmet local needs and reacting to injustices is what grassroots activism is all about. Getting involved in local politics is one way to bring about change.

3. Get organized. Understand your strengths and weaknesses and tap into your resources. Play to your strengths and assets. Conduct strategy sessions to develop both the methods and ways to attack the problem. Prioritize your issues and battles. Don’t limit yourself to protests and paper petitions. Think outside the box. Time is short, and resources are limited, so use your resources in the way they count the most.

4. Be creative. Be bold and imaginative, for this is guerilla warfare—not to be fought with tanks and guns but through creative methods of dissent and resistance. Creatively responding to circumstances will often be one of your few resources if you are to be an effective agent of change. Every creative effort, no matter how small, is significant.

5. Use the media. Effective use of the media is essential. Attracting media coverage not only enhances and magnifies your efforts, it is also a valuable education tool. It publicizes your message to a much wider audience. 

6. Start brushfires for freedom. Take heart that you are not alone. You come from a long, historic line of individuals who have put their beliefs and lives on the line to keep freedom alive. Engage those around you in discussions about issues of importance. Challenge them to be part of a national dialogue. As I have often said, one person at a city planning meeting with a protest sign is an irritant. Three individuals at the same meeting with the same sign are a movement. You will find that those in power fear and respect numbers. This is not to say that lone crusaders are not important. There are times when you will find yourself totally alone in the stand you take. However, there is power in numbers. Politicians understand this. So get out there and start drumming up support for your cause.

7. Take action. Be prepared to mobilize at a moment’s notice. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re located or what resources are at your disposal. What matters is that you recognize the problems and care enough to do something about them. Whether you’re 8, 28 or 88 years old, you have something unique to contribute. You don’t have to be a hero. You just have to show up and be ready to take action.

8. Be forward-looking. Beware of being so “in the moment” that you neglect to think of the bigger picture. Develop a vision for the future. Is what you’re hoping to achieve enduring? Have you developed a plan to continue to educate others about the problems you’re hoping to tackle and ensure that others will continue in your stead? Take the time to impart the value of freedom to younger generations, for they will be at the vanguard of these battles someday.

9. Develop fortitude. What is it that led to the successful protest movements of the past headed by people such as Martin Luther King Jr.? Resolve. King refused to be put off. And when the time came, he was willing to take to the streets for what he believed and even go to jail if necessary. King risked having an arrest record by committing acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. A caveat is appropriate here. Before resorting to nonviolent civil disobedience, all reasonable alternatives should be exhausted. If there is an opportunity to alter the course of events through normal channels (for example, negotiation, legal action or legislation), they should be attempted.

10. Be selfless and sacrificial. Freedom is not free—there is always a price to be paid and a sacrifice to be made. If any movement is to be truly successful, it must be manned by individuals who seek a greater good and do not waver from their purposes. It will take boldness, courage and great sacrifice. Rarely will fame, power and riches be found at the end of this particular road. Those who travel it inevitably find the way marked by hardship, persecution and strife. Yet there is no easy way. 

11. Remain optimistic and keep hope alive. Although our rights are increasingly coming under attack, we still have certain freedoms. As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we can still fight back. We have the right to dissent, to protest and even to vigorously criticize or oppose the government and its laws. The Constitution guarantees us these rights. In a country such as the United States, a citizen armed with a knowledge of the Bill of Rights and the fortitude to stand and fight can still be a force to be reckoned with, but it will mean speaking out when others are silent.

Practice persistence, along with perseverance, and the possibilities are endless. You can be the voice of reason. Use your voice to encourage others. Much can be accomplished by merely speaking out. Oftentimes, all it takes is one lone voice to get things started. So if you really care and you’re serious and want to help change things for the better, dust off your First Amendment tools and take a stand—even if it means being ostracized by those who would otherwise support you.

It won’t be easy, but take heart. And don’t give up.

Reprinted with permission from the Rutherford Institute.

Criminalizing Childhood: School Safety Measures Aren’t Making the Schools Any Safer

Every day in communities across the United States, children and adolescents spend the majority of their waking hours in schools that have increasingly come to resemble places of detention more than places of learning. From metal detectors to drug tests, from increased policing to all-seeing electronic surveillance, the public schools of the twenty-first century reflect a society that has become fixated on crime, security and violence.

— Annette Fuentes, Investigative Journalist, Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse becomes a Jailhouse, February 12, 2013

It used to be that if you talked back to a teacher, or played a prank on a classmate, or just failed to do your homework, you might find yourself in detention or doing an extra writing assignment after school.

Of course, that was before school shootings became a part of our national lexicon.

Nowadays, as a result of the government’s profit-driven campaign to keep the nation “safe” from drugs, weapons and terrorism, students are not only punished for minor transgressions such as playing cops and robbers on the playground, bringing LEGOs to school, or having a food fight, but they are being punished with suspension, expulsion, and even arrest.

Welcome to Compliance 101: the police state’s primer in how to churn out compliant citizens and transform the nation’s school’s into quasi-prisons through the use of surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs, strip searches and active shooter drills.

If you were wondering, these police state tactics have not made the schools any safer.

Rather, they’ve turned the schools into authoritarian microcosms of the police state, containing almost every aspect of the militarized, intolerant, senseless, overcriminalized, legalistic, surveillance-riddled, totalitarian landscape that plagues those of us on the “outside.”

If your child is fortunate enough to survive his encounter with the public schools, you should count yourself fortunate.

Most students are not so lucky.

From the moment a child enters one of the nation’s 98,000 public schools to the moment he or she graduates, they will be exposed to a steady diet of draconian zero tolerance policies that criminalize childish behavior, overreaching anti-bullying statutes that criminalize speech, school resource officers (police) tasked with disciplining and/or arresting so-called “disorderly” students, standardized testing that emphasizes rote answers over critical thinking, politically correct mindsets that teach young people to censor themselves and those around them, and extensive biometric and surveillance systems that, coupled with the rest, acclimate young people to a world in which they have no freedom of thought, speech or movement.

By the time the average young person in America finishes their public school education, nearly one out of every three of them will have been arrested.

More than 3 million students are suspended or expelled from schools every year, often for minor misbehavior, such as “disruptive behavior” or “insubordination.”

Black students are three times more likely than white students to face suspension and expulsion.

Zero tolerance policies that were intended to make schools safer by discouraging the use of actual drugs and weapons by students have turned students into suspects to be treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike, while criminalizing childish behavior.

For instance, 9-year-old Patrick Timoney was sent to the principal’s office and threatened with suspension after school officials discovered that one of his LEGOs was holding a 2-inch toy gun.

David Morales, an 8-year-old Rhode Island student, ran afoul of his school’s zero tolerance policies after he wore a hat to school decorated with an American flag and tiny plastic Army figures in honor of American troops. School officials declared the hat out of bounds because the toy soldiers were carrying miniature guns.

A 7-year-old New Jersey boy, described by school officials as “a nice kid” and “a good student,” was reported to the police and charged with possessing an imitation firearm after he brought a toy Nerf-style gun to school. The gun shoots soft ping pong-type balls.

Things have gotten so bad that it doesn’t even take a toy gun to raise the ire of school officials.

A high school sophomore was suspended for violating the school’s no-cell-phone policy after he took a call from his father, a master sergeant in the U.S. Army who was serving in Iraq at the time.

A 12-year-old New York student was hauled out of school in handcuffs for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker.

In Houston, an 8th grader was suspended for wearing rosary beads to school in memory of her grandmother (the school has a zero tolerance policy against the rosary, which the school insists can be interpreted as a sign of gang involvement).

Six-year-old Cub Scout Zachary Christie was sentenced to 45 days in reform school after bringing a camping utensil to school that can serve as a fork, knife or spoon.

Even imaginary weapons (hand-drawn pictures of guns, pencils twirled in a “threatening” manner, imaginary bows and arrows, even fingers positioned like guns) can also land a student in detention.

Equally outrageous was the case in New Jersey where several kindergartners were suspended from school for three days for playing a make-believe game of “cops and robbers” during recess and using their fingers as guns.

With the distinctions between student offenses erased, and all offenses expellable, we now find ourselves in the midst of what Time magazine described as a “national crackdown on Alka-Seltzer.” Students have actually been suspended from school for possession of the fizzy tablets in violation of zero tolerance drug policies.

Students have also been penalized for such inane “crimes” as bringing nail clippers to school, using Listerine or Scope, and carrying fold-out combs that resemble switchblades.

A 13-year-old boy in Manassas, Virginia, who accepted a Certs breath mint from a classmate, was actually suspended and required to attend drug-awareness classes, while a 12-year-old boy who said he brought powdered sugar to school for a science project was charged with a felony for possessing a look-alike drug.

Acts of kindness, concern, basic manners or just engaging in childish behavior can also result in suspensions.

One 13-year-old was given detention for exposing the school to “liability” by sharing his lunch with a hungry friend. A third grader was suspended for shaving her head in sympathy for a friend who had lost her hair to chemotherapy. And then there was the high school senior who was suspended for saying “bless you” after a fellow classmate sneezed.

In South Carolina, where it’s against the law to disturb a school, more than a thousand students a year—some as young as 7 years old—“face criminal charges for not following directions, loitering, cursing, or the vague allegation of acting ‘obnoxiously.’ If charged as adults, they can be held in jail for up to 90 days.”

Another 12-year-old was handcuffed and jailed after he stomped in a puddle, splashing classmates.

Things get even worse when you add police to the mix.

Thanks to a combination of media hype, political pandering and financial incentives, the use of armed police officers (a.k.a. school resource officers) to patrol school hallways has risen dramatically in the years since the Columbine school shooting (nearly 20,000 by 2003).

What this means, notes Mother Jones, is greater police “involvement in routine discipline matters that principals and parents used to address without involvement from law enforcement officers.”

Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, these school resource officers (SROs) have become de facto wardens in the elementary, middle and high schools, doling out their own brand of justice to the so-called “criminals” in their midst with the help of tasers, pepperspray, batons and brute force.

As a result, students are not only being ticketed, fined and sent to court for behavior perceived as defiant, disruptive or disorderly such as spraying perfume and writing on a desk, but they are also finding themselves subjected to police tactics such as handcuffs, leg shackles, tasers and excessive force for “acting up.”

In the absence of school-appropriate guidelines, police are more and more “stepping in to deal with minor rulebreaking: sagging pants, disrespectful comments, brief physical skirmishes. What previously might have resulted in a detention or a visit to the principal’s office was replaced with excruciating pain and temporary blindness, often followed by a trip to the courthouse.”

The horror stories are legion.

One SRO is accused of punching a 13-year-old student in the face for cutting in the cafeteria line. That same cop put another student in a chokehold a week later, allegedly knocking the student unconscious and causing a brain injury.

In Pennsylvania, a student was tased after ignoring an order to put his cell phone away.

On any given day when school is in session, kids who “act up” in class are pinned face down on the floor, locked in dark closets, tied up with straps, bungee cords and duct tape, handcuffed, leg shackled, tasered or otherwise restrained, immobilized or placed in solitary confinement in order to bring them under “control.”

Roughly 1500 kids are tied up or locked down every day by school officials in the United States.

At least 500 students are locked up in some form of solitary confinement every day, whether it be a padded room, a closet or a duffel bag. In many cases, parents are rarely notified when such methods are used.

In almost every case, these undeniably harsh methods are used to punish kids for simply failing to follow directions or throwing tantrums.

Very rarely do the kids pose any credible danger to themselves or others.

For example, a 4-year-old Virginia preschooler was handcuffed, leg shackled and transported to the sheriff’s office after reportedly throwing blocks and climbing on top of the furniture. School officials claim the restraints were necessary to protect the adults from injury.

A 6-year-old kindergarten student in a Georgia public school was handcuffed, transported to the police station, and charged with simple battery of a schoolteacher and criminal damage to property for throwing a temper tantrum at school.

Unbelievably, these tactics are all legal, at least when employed by school officials or school resource officers in the nation’s public schools.

According to a ProPublica investigative report, such harsh punishments are part of a widespread phenomenon plaguing school districts across the country.

Indeed, as investigative reporter Heather Vogell points out, this is a local story everywhere.

It’s happening in my town.

It’s happening in your town.

It’s happening in every school district in America.

This is the end product of all those so-called school “safety” policies, which run the gamut from zero tolerance policies that punish all infractions harshly to surveillance cameras, metal detectors, random searches, drug-sniffing dogs, school-wide lockdowns, active-shooter drills and militarized police officers.

Mind you, this is all part of the government’s plan to “harden” the schools.

What exactly does hardening the schools entail?

More strident zero tolerance policiesgreater numbers of school cops, and all the trappings of a prison complex (unsurmountable fences, entrapment areas, no windows or trees, etc.).

Schools acting like prisons.

School officials acting like wardens.

Students treated like inmates and punished like hardened criminals.

Even in the face of parental outrage, lawsuits, legislative reforms, investigative reports and endless cases showing that these tactics are not working and “should never be used for punishment or discipline,” full-grown adults—police officers and teachers alike—insist that the reason they continue to handcuff, lock up and restrain little kids is because they fear for their safety and the safety of others.

“Fear for one’s safety” has become such a hackneyed and threadbare excuse for behavior that is inexcusable.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that explanation covers a multitude of sins, whether it’s poorly trained police officers who shoot first and ask questions later, or school officials who are ill-equipped to deal with children who act like children, meaning they don’t always listen, they sometimes throw tantrums, and they have a hard time sitting still.

Unfortunately, advocates for such harsh police tactics and weaponry like to trot out the line that school safety should be our first priority lest we find ourselves with another Sandy Hook. What they will not tell you is that such shootings are rare. As one congressional report found, the schools are, generally speaking, safe places for children.

In their zeal to crack down on guns and lock down the schools, these cheerleaders for police state tactics in the schools might also fail to mention the lucrative, multi-million dollar deals being cut with military contractors such as Taser International to equip these school cops with tasers, tanks, rifles and $100,000 shooting detection systems.

Indeed, the transformation of hometown police departments into extensions of the military has been mirrored in the public schools, where school police have been gifted with high-powered M16 rifles, MRAP armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and other military gear. One Texas school district even boasts its own 12-member SWAT team.

According to one law review article on the school-to-prison pipeline:

Many school districts have formed their own police departments, some so large they rival the forces of major United States cities in size. For example, the safety division in New York City’s public schools is so large that if it were a local police department, it would be the fifth-largest police force in the country.

The ramifications are far-reaching.

The term “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to a phenomenon in which children who are suspended or expelled from school have a greater likelihood of ending up in jail.

As if it weren’t bad enough that the nation’s schools have come to resemble prisons, the government is also contracting with private prisons to lock up our young people for behaviour that once would have merited a stern lecture. Nearly 40 percent of those young people who are arrested will serve time in a private prison, where the emphasis is on making profits for large megacorporations above all else.

This profit-driven system of incarceration has also given rise to a growth in juvenile prisons and financial incentives for jailing young people.

Indeed, young people have become easy targets for the private prison industry, which profits from criminalizing childish behavior and jailing young people. For instance, two Pennsylvania judges made headlines when it was revealed that they had been conspiring with two businessmen in a $2.6 million “kids for cash” scandal that resulted in more than 2500 children being found guilty and jailed in for-profit private prisons.

So what’s the answer, not only for the here-and-now—the children growing up in these quasi-prisons—but for the future of this country?

Peter Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston College, believes that school is a prison that is damaging our kids, and it’s hard to disagree, especially with the numbers of police officers being assigned to schools on the rise.

Clearly, the pathology that characterizes the American police state has passed down to the schools. Now in addition to the government and its agents viewing the citizenry as suspects to be probed, poked, pinched, tasered, searched, seized, stripped and generally manhandled, all with the general blessing of the court, our children in the public schools are also fair game.

Instead of raising up a generation of freedom fighters, however, we seem to be busy churning out newly minted citizens of the American police state who are being taught the hard way what it means to comply, fear and march in lockstep with the government’s dictates.

After all, how do you convince a child who has been routinely handcuffed, shackled, tied down, locked up, and immobilized by government officials—all before he reaches the age of adulthood—that he has any rights at all, let alone the right to challenge wrongdoing, resist oppression and defend himself against injustice?

Most of all, how do you persuade a fellow American that the government works for him when for most of his young life, he has been incarcerated in an institution that teaches young people to be obedient and compliant citizens who don’t talk back, don’t question and don’t challenge authority?

What can be done?

Without a doubt, change is needed, but that will mean taking on the teachers’ unions, the school unions, the educators’ associations, and the police unions, not to mention the politicians dependent on their votes and all of the corporations that profit mightily from an industrial school complex.

As we’ve seen with other issues, any significant reforms will have to start locally and trickle upwards.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, with every school police raid and overzealous punishment that is carried out in the name of school safety, the lesson being imparted is that Americans—especially young people—have no rights at all against the state or the police.

If we do not rein in the police state’s influence in the schools, the future to which we are sending our children will be characterized by a brutal, totalitarian regime.

Vigilantes with a Badge: Warrior Cops Endanger Our Lives and Freedoms

There are always risks in challenging excessive police power, but the risks of not challenging it are more dangerous, even fatal.

— Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century

I have known a lot of good cops, I have defended a lot of good cops, and I have been fortunate to call a number of good cops friends.

So when I say that warrior cops—hyped up on their own authority and the power of the badge—have not made America any safer or freer, I am not disrespecting any of the fine, decent, lawful police officers who take seriously their oath of office to serve and protect their fellow citizens, uphold the Constitution, and maintain the peace.

My beef is with the growing squads of warrior cops who have been given the green light to kill, shoot, taser, abuse and steal from American citizens in the so-called name of law and order.

These cops are little more than vigilantes with a badge.

Indeed, it is increasingly evident that militarized police armed with weapons of war who are allowed to operate above the law and break the laws with impunity have not made America any safer or freer.

Don’t take my word for it.

A new study by a political scientist at Princeton University concludes that militarizing police and SWAT teams “provide no detectable benefits in terms of officer safety or violent crime reduction.”

In fact, according to researcher Jonathan Mummolo, if police in America are feeling less safe, it’s because the process of transforming them into extensions of the military makes them less safe, less popular and less trust-worthy.

The study, the first systematic analysis on the use and consequences of militarized force, reveals that “police militarization neither  reduces rates of violent crime nor changes the number of officers assaulted or killed.”

In other words, warrior cops aren’t making us or themselves any safer.

Consider that not a day goes by without reports of police officers overstepping the bounds of the Constitution and brutalizing, terrorizing and killing the citizenry. Indeed, the list of incidents in which unaccountable police abuse their power, betray their oath of office and leave taxpayers bruised, broken and/or killed grows longer and more tragic by the day.

Americans are now eight times more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist.

The problem, as one reporter rightly concluded, is “not that life has gotten that much more dangerous, it’s that authorities have chosen to respond to even innocent situations as if they were in a warzone.”

This battlefield mindset has gone hand in hand with the rise of militarized SWAT (“special weapons and tactics”) teams.

Frequently justified as vital tools necessary to combat terrorism and deal with rare but extremely dangerous criminal situations, such as those involving hostages, SWAT teams—which first appeared on the scene in California in the 1960s—have now become intrinsic parts of local law enforcement operations, thanks in large part to substantial federal assistance and the Pentagon’s military surplus recycling program, which allows the transfer of military equipment, weapons and training to local police for free or at sharp discounts.

Ponder this: In 1980, there were roughly 3,000 SWAT team-style raids in the US.

Incredibly, that number has since grown to more than 80,000 SWAT team raids per year.

There are few communities without a SWAT team today.

Where this becomes a problem of life and death for Americans is when these SWAT teams dressed, armed and trained in military tactics are assigned to carry out routine law enforcement tasks, such as serving a search warrant.

No longer reserved exclusively for deadly situations, SWAT teams are now increasingly being deployed for relatively routine police matters, with some SWAT teams being sent out as much as five times a day. In the state of Maryland alone, 92 percent of 8200 SWAT missions were used to execute search or arrest warrants.

For example, police in both Baltimore and Dallas have used SWAT teams to bust up poker games.

A Connecticut SWAT team swarmed a bar suspected of serving alcohol to underage individuals.

In Arizona, a SWAT team was used to break up an alleged cockfighting ring.

An Atlanta SWAT team raided a music studio, allegedly out of a concern that it might have been involved in illegal music piracy.

A Minnesota SWAT team raided the wrong house in the middle of the night, handcuffed the three young children, held the mother on the floor at gunpoint, shot the family dog, and then “forced the handcuffed children to sit next to the carcass of their dead pet and bloody pet for more than an hour” while they searched the home.

A California SWAT team drove an armored Lenco Bearcat into Roger Serrato’s yard, surrounded his home with paramilitary troops wearing face masks, threw a fire-starting flash-bang grenade into the house in order, then when Serrato appeared at a window, unarmed and wearing only his shorts, held him at bay with rifles. Serrato died of asphyxiation from being trapped in the flame-filled house. Incredibly, the father of four had done nothing wrong. The SWAT team had misidentified him as someone involved in a shooting.

And then there was the police officer who tripped and “accidentally” shot and killed Eurie Stamps, an unarmed grandfather of 12, who had been forced to lie facedown on the floor of his home at gunpoint while a SWAT team attempted to execute a search warrant against his stepson.

Equally outrageous was the four-hour SWAT team raid on a California high school, where students were locked down in classrooms, forced to urinate in overturned desks and generally terrorized by heavily armed, masked gunmen searching for possible weapons that were never found.

These incidents are just the tip of the iceberg.

Nationwide, SWAT teams have been employed to address an astonishingly trivial array of criminal activity or mere community nuisances: angry dogs, domestic disputes, improper paperwork filed by an orchid farmer, and misdemeanor marijuana possession, to give a brief sampling.

If these raids are becoming increasingly common and widespread, you can chalk it up to the “make-work” philosophy, in which you assign at-times unnecessary jobs to individuals to keep them busy or employed. In this case, however, the make-work principle is being used to justify the use of sophisticated military equipment and, in the process, qualify for federal funding.

Remember, SWAT teams originated as specialized units dedicated to defusing extremely sensitive, dangerous situations. They were never meant to be used for routine police work such as serving a warrant.

As the role of paramilitary forces has expanded, however, to include involvement in nondescript police work targeting nonviolent suspects, the mere presence of SWAT units has actually injected a level of danger and violence into police-citizen interactions that was not present as long as these interactions were handled by traditional civilian officers.

What we are witnessing is an inversion of the police-civilian relationship.

Rather than compelling police officers to remain within constitutional bounds as servants of the people, ordinary Americans are being placed at the mercy of militarized police units.

This is what happens when paramilitary forces are used to conduct ordinary policing operations, such as executing warrants on nonviolent defendants.

Moreover, general incompetence, collateral damage (fatalities, property damage, etc.) and botched raids tend to go hand in hand with an overuse of paramilitary forces.

In some cases, officers misread the address on the warrant.

In others, they simply barge into the wrong house or even the wrong building.

In another subset of cases (such as the Department of Education raid on Anthony Wright’s home), police conduct a search of a building where the suspect no longer resides.

SWAT teams have even on occasion conducted multiple, sequential raids on wrong addresses or executed search warrants despite the fact that the suspect is already in police custody. Police have also raided homes on the basis of mistaking the presence or scent of legal substances for drugs. Incredibly, these substances have included tomatoes, sunflowers, fish, elderberry bushes, kenaf plants, hibiscus, and ragweed.

As you can see, all too often, botched SWAT team raids have resulted in one tragedy after another for the residents with little consequences for law enforcement.

Unfortunately, judges tend to afford extreme levels of deference to police officers who have mistakenly killed innocent civilians but do not afford similar leniency to civilians who have injured police officers in acts of self-defense.

Even homeowners who mistake officers for robbers can be sentenced for assault or murder if they take defensive actions resulting in harm to police.

And as journalist Radley Balko shows in his in-depth study of police militarization, the shock-and-awe tactics utilized by many SWAT teams only increases the likelihood that someone will get hurt.

Drug warrants, for instance, are typically served by paramilitary units late at night or shortly before dawn. Unfortunately, to the unsuspecting homeowner—especially in cases involving mistaken identities or wrong addresses—a raid can appear to be nothing less than a violent home invasion, with armed intruders crashing through their door. The natural reaction would be to engage in self-defense. Yet such a defensive reaction on the part of a homeowner, particularly a gun owner, will spur officers to employ lethal force.

That’s exactly what happened to Jose Guerena, the young ex-Marine who was killed after a SWAT team kicked open the door of his Arizona home during a drug raid and opened fire. According to news reports, Guerena, 26 years old and the father of two young children, grabbed a gun in response to the forced invasion but never fired. In fact, the safety was still on his gun when he was killed. Police officers were not as restrained. The young Iraqi war veteran was allegedly fired upon 71 times. Guerena had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home.

The problems inherent in these situations are further compounded by the fact that SWAT teams are granted “no-knock” warrants at high rates such that the warrants themselves are rendered practically meaningless.

This sorry state of affairs is made even worse by U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have essentially done away with the need for a  “no-knock” warrant altogether, giving the police authority to disregard the protections afforded American citizens by the Fourth Amendment.

In the process, Americans are rendered altogether helpless and terror-stricken as a result of these confrontations with the police.

Indeed, “terrorizing” is a mild term to describe the effect on those who survive such vigilante tactics. “It was terrible. It was the most frightening experience of my life. I thought it was a terrorist attack,” said 84-year-old Leona Goldberg, a victim of such a raid.

Yet this type of “terrorizing” activity is characteristic of the culture that we have created.

If ever there were a time to de-militarize and de-weaponize local police forces, it’s now.

While we are now grappling with a power-hungry police state at the federal level, the militarization of domestic American law enforcement is largely the result of the militarization of local police forces, which are increasingly militaristic in their uniforms, weaponry, language, training, and tactics and have come to rely on SWAT teams in matters that once could have been satisfactorily performed by traditional civilian officers.

Yet American police forces were never supposed to be a branch of the military, nor were they meant to be private security forces for the reigning political faction.

Instead, they were intended to be an aggregation of countless local police units, composed of citizens like you and me that exist for a sole purpose: to serve and protect the citizens of each and every American community.

As a result of the increasing militarization of the police in recent years, however, the police now not only look like the military—with their foreboding uniforms and phalanx of lethal weapons—but they function like them, as well.

Thus, no more do we have a civilian force of peace officers entrusted with serving and protecting the American people.  Instead, today’s militarized law enforcement officials have shifted their allegiance from the citizenry to the state, acting preemptively to ward off any possible challenges to the government’s power, unrestrained by the boundaries of the Fourth Amendment.

As journalist Herman Schwartz observed, “The Fourth Amendment was designed to stand between us and arbitrary governmental authority. For all practical purposes, that shield has been shattered, leaving our liberty and personal integrity subject to the whim of every cop on the beat, trooper on the highway and jail official.”

Armed police officers, the end product of the government—federal, local and state—and law enforcement agencies having merged, have become a “standing” or permanent army, composed of full-time professional soldiers who do not disband.

Yet these permanent armies are exactly what those who drafted the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights feared as tools used by despotic governments to wage war against its citizens.

This phenomenon we are experiencing with the police is what philosopher Abraham Kaplan referred to as the law of the instrument, which essentially says that to a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

In the scenario that has been playing out in recent years, we the citizenry have become the nails to be hammered by the government’s henchmen, a.k.a. its guns for hire, a.k.a. its standing army, a.k.a. the nation’s law enforcement agencies.

Yet the tension inherent in most civilian-police encounter these days can’t be blamed exclusively on law enforcement’s growing reliance on SWAT teams and donated military equipment.

It goes far deeper, to a transformation in the way police view themselves and their line of duty.

Specifically, what we’re dealing with today is a skewed shoot-to-kill mindset in which police, trained to view themselves as warriors or soldiers in a war, whether against drugs, or terror, or crime, must “get” the bad guys; i.e., anyone who is a potential target, before the bad guys get them.

The result is a spike in the number of incidents in which police shoot first, and ask questions later.

Making matters worse, when these officers, who have long since ceased to be peace officers, violate their oaths by bullying, beating, tasering, shooting and killing their employers—the taxpayers to whom they owe their allegiance—they are rarely given more than a slap on the hands before resuming their patrols.

As I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this lawlessness on the part of law enforcement, an unmistakable characteristic of a police state, is made possible in large part by police unions which routinely oppose civilian review boards and resist the placement of names and badge numbers on officer uniforms; police agencies that abide by the Blue Code of Silence, the quiet understanding among police that they should not implicate their colleagues for their crimes and misconduct; prosecutors who treat police offenses with greater leniency than civilian offenses; courts that sanction police wrongdoing in the name of security; and legislatures that enhance the power, reach and arsenal of the police, and a citizenry that fails to hold its government accountable to the rule of law.

Clearly, it’s time for a reality check, for both the police and the citizens of this nation.