WASHINGTON, D.C. — Citing restrictive legislation, disparate rulings by the various circuit courts, and the Supreme Court’s own unclear guidance, which have all combined to undermine the rights of prisoners to receive a fair and final review of their constitutional claims, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to remove unconstitutional roadblocks faced by state prisoners throughout the country in challenging their convictions in federal court.

In weighing in on the case of Jackie Ray King v. Mary Berghuis, Rutherford Institute attorneys point out that the federal courts have conflicting standards for what a person must do to “exhaust” his constitutional claims. Thus, depending on which judicial circuit hears a case, an accused might be subjected to unequal applications of what it means to present or “exhaust” one’s constitutional claim in the state courts. Jackie Ray King v. Mary Berghuis deals with the habeas corpus petition of a Michigan prisoner who was ordered to serve his sentences consecutively, rather than concurrently as agreed to in his plea deal, resulting in an increase of over 30 years in his prison time.

“The historical English Writ of habeas corpus has protected the rights of the convicted for hundreds of years, granting them one final opportunity to ensure that justice is indeed being served,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “Given the paramount importance of this right, it is our hope that the Supreme Court will adopt a consistent standard that guarantees all American prisoners a fair and full final review of their constitutional claims.”

Both the U.S. Constitution and federal statutory law allow persons who are in the custody of a state under a criminal conviction to ask the federal courts to review the legality of the confinement and whether a violation of the prisoner’s constitutional rights has occurred. These habeas corpus actions, also known as the “Great Writ,” have for centuries been applied as a bulwark against restraints on liberty resulting from fundamentally flawed criminal convictions. However, Congress has adopted restrictions on the right of prisoners to petition a federal court for relief, including a requirement that an application for habeas corpus shall not be granted unless “[t]he applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State[.]” Exhaustion includes the requirement that the prisoner have “fairly presented” the “substance” of his federal constitutional claim to the state courts.

King brought a habeas corpus petition in the federal courts alleging that his agreement to plead guilty was based on a promise that his sentence would be served concurrently with any sentence on another charge, but the state court ordered the sentences be served consecutively, resulting in an increase of over 30 years in his prison time. King argued in state court proceedings that his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary and violated the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment, but the state courts ruled against him. When King presented this claim to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, that court refused to hear the merits ruling that King had not fairly presented his federal claim to the state courts because he had not cited a specific Supreme Court decision.

In asking that the U.S. Supreme Court review and overturn the court of appeals’ decision, Rutherford Institute attorneys point to decisions of federal courts around the country showing that there is no consistency in the standard applied in determining whether a prisoner exhausted his federal claim. The amicus brief asks the Court to establish a uniform standard for prisoners and attorneys to follow to “ensure that habeas corpus proceedings are not rendered inaccessible to deserving petitioners solely on the basis of inflexible procedural traps.” Attorney Ross W. Bergethon of Atlanta, Georgia, assisted The Rutherford Institute in advancing the arguments in the amicus brief before the Supreme Court.

What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else.” —Author Tom Clancy

Call it what you will—taxes, penalties, fees, fines, regulations, tariffs, tickets, permits, surcharges, tolls, asset forfeitures, foreclosures, etc.—but the only word that truly describes the constant bilking of the American taxpayer by the government and its corporate partners is theft.

We’re operating in a topsy-turvy Sherwood Forest where instead of Robin Hood and his merry band of thieves stealing from the rich to feed the poor, you’ve got the government and its merry band of corporate thieves stealing from the poor to fatten the wallets of the rich. In this way, the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. All the while, the American Dream of peace, prosperity, and liberty has turned into a nightmare of endless wars, debilitating debt, and outright tyranny.

What Americans don’t seem to comprehend is that if the government can arbitrarily take away your property, without your having much say about it, you have no true rights. You’re nothing more than a serf or a slave.

In this way, the police state with all of its trappings—from surveillance cameras, militarized police, SWAT team raids, truancy and zero tolerance policies, asset forfeiture laws, privatized prisons and red light cameras to Sting Ray guns, fusion centers, drones, black boxes, hollow-point bullets, detention centers, speed traps and abundance of laws criminalizing otherwise legitimate conduct—is little more than a front for a high-dollar covert operation aimed at laundering as much money as possible through government agencies and into the bank accounts of corporations.

The rationalizations for the American police state are many. There’s the so-called threat of terrorism, the ongoing Drug War, the influx of illegal immigrants, the threat of civil unrest in the face of economic collapse, etc. However, these rationalizations are merely excuses for the growth of a government behemoth, one which works hand in hand with corporations to profit from a society kept under lockdown and in fear at all times.

Indeed, as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, the real motivating factor behind erecting a police state is not to protect the people, but to further enrich the powerful. Consider the following costly line items, all part of the government’s so-called quest to keep us safe and fight terrorism while entrenching the police state, enriching the elite, and further shredding our constitutional rights:

$4.2 billion for militarized police. Almost 13,000 agencies in all 50 states and four U.S. territories participate in a military “recycling” program which allows the Defense Department to transfer surplus military hardware to local and state police. In 2012 alone, $546 million worth of military equipment was distributed to law enforcement agencies throughout the country.

$34 billion for police departments to add to their arsenals of weapons and equipment. Since President Obama took office, 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.”While police departments like to frame the acquisition of military surplus as a money-saving method, in a twisted sort of double jeopardy, the taxpayer ends up footing a bigger bill. First, taxpayers are forced to pay millions of dollars for equipment which the Defense Department purchases from megacorporations only to abandon after a few years. Then taxpayers find themselves footing the bill to maintain the costly equipment once it has been acquired by the local police.

$6 billion in assets seized by the federal government in one year alone. Relying on the topsy-turvy legal theory that one’s property can not only be guilty of a crime but is also guilty until proven innocent, government agencies have eagerly cashed in on the civil asset forfeiture revenue scheme, which allows police to seize private property they “suspect” may be connected to criminal activity. Then whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, the cops keeps the citizen’s property. Eighty percent of these asset forfeiture cases result in no charge against the property owner. Some states are actually considering expanding the use of asset forfeiture laws to include petty misdemeanors. This would mean that property could be seized in cases of minor crimes such as harassment, possession of small amounts of marijuana, and trespassing in a public park after dark.

$11,000 per hour for a SWAT team raid on a government dissident. The raid was carried out against Terry Porter, a Maryland resident who runs a welding business, is married with three kids, is outspoken about his views of the government, and has been labeled a prepper because he has an underground bunker and food supplies in case things turn apocalyptic. The raiding team included “150 Maryland State Police, FBI, State Fire Marshal’s bomb squad and County SWAT teams, complete with two police helicopters, two Bearcat ‘special response’ vehicles, mobile command posts, snipers, police dogs, bomb disposal truck, bomb sniffing robots and a huge excavator. They even brought in food trucks.”

$3.8 billion requested by the Obama administration to send more immigration judges to the southern border, build additional detention camps and add border patrol agents. Border Patrol agents are already allowed to search people’s homes, intimately probe their bodies, and rifle through their belongings, all without a warrant. As one journalist put it, “The surveillance apparatus is in your face. The high-powered cameras are pointed at you; the drones are above you; you’re stopped regularly at checkpoints and interrogated.” For example, an American citizen entering the U.S. from Mexico was subjected to a full-body cavity search in which she was subjected to a variety of invasive procedures, including an observed bowel movement and a CT scan, all because a drug dog jumped on her when she was going through border security. Physicians found no drugs hidden in her body.

$61 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, one of the most notoriously bloated government agencies ever created. The third largest federal agency behind the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense, the DHS—with its 240,000 full-time workers and sub-agencies—has been aptly dubbed a “runaway train.”

$80 billion spent on incarceration by the states and the federal government in 2010. While providing security, housing, food, medical care, etc., for six million Americans is a hardship for cash-strapped states, it’s a gold mine to profit-hungry corporations such as Corrections Corp of America and GEO Group, the leaders in the partnership corrections industry. Thus, with an eye toward increasing its bottom line, CCA has floated a proposal to prison officials in 48 states offering to buy and manage public prisons at a substantial cost savings to the states. In exchange, the prisons would have to contain at least 1,000 beds and states would have to maintain a 90% occupancy rate for at least 20 years. This has led to the phenomenon of overcriminalization of everyday activities, in which mundane activities such as growing vegetables in your yard or collecting rainwater on your property are criminalized, resulting in jail sentences for individuals who might otherwise have never seen the inside of a jail cell.

$6.4 billion a year for the Bureau of Prisons and $30,000 a year to house an inmate. There are over 3,000 people in America serving life sentences for non-violent crimes. These include theft of a jacket, siphoning gasoline from a truck, stealing tools, and attempting to cash a stolen check. Most of the non-violent offenses which triggered life sentences were drug crimes involving trace amounts of heroin and cocaine. One person imprisoned for life was merely a go-between for an undercover officer buying ten dollars’ worth of marijuana. California has more money devoted to its prison system than its system of education. State spending on incarceration is the fastest growing budget item besides Medicaid.

93 cents an hour for forced, prison labor in service to for-profit corporations such as Starbucks, Microsoft, Walmart, and Victoria’s Secret. What this forced labor scheme has created, indirectly or not, is a financial incentive for both the corporations and government agencies to keep the prisons full to capacity. A good portion of the 2 million prisoners in public facilities are forced to work for corporations, making products on the cheap, undermining free laborers, and increasing the bottom line for many of America’s most popular brands. “Prison labor reportedly produces 100 percent of military helmets, shirts, pants, tents, bags, canteens, and a variety of other equipment. Prison labor makes circuit boards for IBM, Texas Instruments, and Dell. Many McDonald’s uniforms are sewn by inmates. Other corporations—Microsoft, Victoria’s Secret, Boeing, Motorola, Compaq, Revlon, and Kmart—also benefit from prison labor.”

$2.6 million pocketed by Pennsylvania judges who were paid to jail youths and send them to private prison facilities. The judges, paid off by the Mid Atlantic Youth Service Corporation, which specializes in private prisons for juvenile offenders, had more than 5,000 kids come through their courtrooms and sent many of them to prison for petty crimes such as stealing DVDs from Wal-Mart and trespassing in vacant buildings.

$1.4 billion per year reportedly lost to truancy by California school districts, which receive government funding based on student attendance. The so-called “solution” to student absences from school, has proven to be a financial windfall for cash-strapped schools, enabling them to rake in millions, fine parents up to $500 for each unexcused absence, with the potential for jail time, and has given rise to a whole new track in the criminal justice system devoted to creating new revenue streams for communities. For example, Eileen DiNino, a woman serving a two-day jail sentence for her children’s truancy violations, died while in custody. She is one of hundreds of people jailed in Pennsylvania over their inability to pay fines related to truancy, which include a variety of arbitrary fees meant to rack up money for the courts. For example, “[DiNino’s] bill included a laundry list of routine fees: $8 for a “judicial computer project”; $60 for Berks constables; $40 for “summary costs” for several court offices; and $10 for postage.” So even if one is charged with a $20 fine, they may end up finding themselves on the hook for $150 in court fees.

$84.9 million collected in one year by the District of Columbia as a result of tickets issued by speeding and traffic light cameras stationed around the city. Multiply that income hundreds of times over to account for the growing number of localities latching onto these revenue-generating, photo-enforced camera schemes, and you’ll understand why community governments and police agencies are lining up in droves to install them, despite reports of wide scale corruption by the companies operating the cameras. Although nine states have banned the cameras, they’re in 24 states already and rising.

$1.4 billion for fusion centers. These fusion centers, which represent the combined surveillance and intelligence efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement, have proven to be exercises in incompetence, often producing irrelevant, useless or inappropriate intelligence, while spending millions of dollars on “flat-screen televisions, sport utility vehicles, hidden cameras and other gadgets.”

In sum, the American police state is a multi-billion dollar boondoggle, meant to keep the property and the resources of the American people flowing into corrupt government agencies and their corporate partners. For those with any accounting ability, it’s clear that the total sum of the expenses being charged to the American taxpayer’s account by the government add up to only one thing: the loss of our freedoms. It’s time to seriously consider a plan to begin de-funding this beast and keeping our resources where they belong: in our communities, working for us.

Direct Action Against War

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

There’s a lot to love about America and its people: their pioneering spirit, their entrepreneurship, their ability to think outside the box, their passion for the arts, etc. Increasingly, however, as time goes by, I find the things I don’t like about living in a nation that has long since ceased to be a sanctuary for freedom are beginning to outnumber the things I love.

Here’s what I don’t like about living in the American police state: 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 and unwilling 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 how the presidency has developed into a neo-monarchy replete with all the luxury and lasciviousness of the feudal lords of old.

I don’t like politicians who spend most of their time running for office, fundraising and enjoying being feted by lobbyists and corporations alike. I don’t like being kept at a distance from my elected representatives, including the president (a.k.a. the Emperor). 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 home, growing 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 since President Obama took office, 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 over 3,000 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 government programs that reward cops for raiding homes and terrorizing homeowners. 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 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 feeling as if we’ve come full circle back to a pre-Revolutionary era.

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 the fact that 38 states require that a property owner prove his innocence when police have laid claim to it in a civil forfeiture proceeding, whether or not that individual has done anything wrong.

I don’t like technology being used as a double-edged sword against us. I don’t like agencies like DARPA developing weapons for the battlefield that get used against Americans back at home. I don’t like the fact that drones will be deployed domestically in 2015, yet the government has yet to establish any civil liberties protocols to prevent them from being used against the citizenry.

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. And there are certainly those among my fellow citizens who are leaving for friendlier shores. However, I happen to come from a long line of people who believe in the virtue of hard work and perseverance and in the principle that nothing worthwhile comes without effort.

So I’m not giving up, at least not anytime soon. But I’m also not waiting around for the government to clean up its act. I’m not making any deals with politicians who care nothing about me and mine. To quote Number Six, the character in the British television series The Prisoner: “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own!”

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.

As I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, we’re at a crisis point in American history. If we don’t get up off our duffs and get involved in the fight for freedom, then up ahead the graveyard beckons. As Martin Luther King Jr. warned, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.”

financial crisis

“The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself…Almost inevitably, he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, and intolerable.”—H.L. Mencken, American journalist

It’s vogue, trendy and appropriate to look to dystopian literature as a harbinger of what we’re experiencing at the hands of the government. Certainly, George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm have much to say about government tyranny, corruption, and control, as does Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report. Yet there are also older, simpler, more timeless stories—folk tales and fairy tales—that speak just as powerfully to the follies and foibles in our nature as citizens and rulers alike that give rise to tyrants and dictatorships.

One such tale, Hans Christian Andersen’s fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes, is a perfect paradigm of life today in the fiefdom that is the American police state, only instead of an imperial president spending money wantonly on lavish vacations, entertainment, and questionable government programs aimed at amassing greater power, Andersen presents us with a vain and thoughtless emperor, concerned only with satisfying his own needs at the expense of his people, even when it means taxing them unmercifully, bankrupting his kingdom, and harshly punishing his people for daring to challenge his edicts.

For those unfamiliar with the tale, the Emperor, a vain peacock of a man, is conned into buying a prohibitively expensive suit of clothes that is supposedly visible only to those who are smart, competent and well-suited to their positions. Surrounded by yes men, professional flatterers and career politicians who fawn, simper and genuflect, the Emperor—arrogant, pompous and oblivious to his nudity—prances through the town in his new suit of clothes until a child dares to voice what everyone else has been thinking but too afraid to say lest they be thought stupid or incompetent: “He isn’t wearing anything at all!”

Much like the people of the Emperor’s kingdom, we, too, have been conned into believing that if we say what we fear, if we dare to suggest that something is indeed “rotten in the state of Denmark,” we will be branded idiots and fools by the bureaucrats, corporate heads, governmental elites and media hotshots who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo—or who at least are determined to maintain the façade that is the status quo. Yet the truth is staring us in the face just as surely as the fact that the Emperor was wearing no clothes.

Truth #1: The U.S. is on the brink of bankruptcy, as many economists have been warning for some time now, with more than $16 trillion in debts owned by foreign nationals and corporations. As one financial news site reports: “Internationally, the world is fed up with The Fed and the U.S. government’s unabashed debt growth. China, Russia, Iran, India and a host of other countries are establishing trade relationships that are bypassing the U.S. dollar altogether, a move that will soon see the world’s reserve currency lose purchasing power and status. In anticipation of this imminent collapse gold is being hoarded by private and public entities from Berlin to Beijing in an effort to preserve wealth before the Tsunami hits.”

Truth #2: We no longer have a government that is “of the people, for the people and by the people.” What we have now is a feudal monarchy, run by wealthy overlords and financed with the blood, sweat and labor of the underclasses who are kept in check by the increasingly militarized police. This sorry state of affairs is reinforced by a study which found that average citizens have “little or no independent influence” on the policy-making process. A similar study published by the Political Research Quarterly revealed that members of the U.S. Senate represent their wealthiest constituents while ignoring those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.

Truth #3: Far from being a benevolent entity concerned with the well-being of its citizens, whether in matters of health, safety or security, the government is concerned with three things only: power, control and money. As an often quoted adage says, “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” Unfortunately, the master-servant relationship that once had the government answering to “we the people” has been reversed. Government agents now act as if they are the masters and we are the servants. Nowhere is this more evident than in the transformation of police officers from benevolent keepers of the peace to inflexible extensions of the military hyped up on the power of their badge.

Truth #4: Our primary use to the government is as consumers, worker bees and bits of data to be collected, catalogued, controlled, mined for information, and sold to the highest bidder. Working in cahoots with corporations, the government has given itself carte blanche access to our phone calls, emails, bank transactions, physical movements, even our travels on foot or in our cars. Cybersecurity expert Richard Clarke envisions a future where data about every aspect of our lives will be collected and analyzed. Thus, no matter what the U.S. Supreme Court might have said to the contrary, the government no longer needs a warrant to spy on your cell phone activity or anything else for that matter. As the Washington Post recently revealed, 9 out of 10 people caught up in the NSA’s surveillance net had done nothing wrong to justify such intrusions on their privacy. Clearly, the government now operates relatively autonomously, answering only to itself and unbridled by the courts, Congress, the will of the people or the Constitution.

Truth #5: Whatever problems we are grappling with in regards to illegal immigrants flooding over the borders has little to do with the fact that the borders are porous and everything to do with the government’s own questionable agenda. How is it that a government capable of locking down roads, open seas, and air routes is unable to prevent tens of thousands of women and children from crossing into the U.S. illegally? Conveniently, the Obama administration is asking Congress for $3.8 billion in emergency funding to send more immigration judges to the southern border, build additional detention facilities and add border patrol agents. The funds would be managed by the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, State and Health and Human Services, the very same agencies responsible for bringing about a rapid shift into a police state.

Truth #6: The U.S. government is preparing for massive domestic unrest, arising most likely from an economic meltdown. The government has repeatedly made clear its intentions, through its U.S. Army War College report alerting the military to prepare for a “violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States,” through its ongoing military drills in cities across the country, through its profiling of potential homegrown “dissidents” or extremists, and through the proliferation of detention centers being built across the country.

Truth #7: As Gerald Ford warned, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” Too often, Americans have fallen prey to the temptation to let the government take care of whatever ails them, whether it be financial concerns, health needs, childcare. As a result, we now find ourselves caught in a Catch-22 situation wherein the government’s so-called solutions to our problems have led to even graver problems. In this way, zero tolerance policies intended to outlaw drugs and weapons in schools result in young children being arrested and kicked out of school for childish behavior such as drawing pictures of soldiers and crying too much; truancy laws intended to keep students in school have resulted in parents being arrested and fined excessively; and zoning laws intended to protect homeowners have been used to prosecute residents who attempt to live off the grid.

Truth #8: The U.S. is following the Nazi blueprint to a “t,” whether through its storm trooper-like police in the form of heavily armed government agents, to its erection of an electronic concentration camp that not only threatens to engulf America but the rest of the world as well via NSA surveillance programs such as Five Eyes. Most damning of all is the Department of Homeland Security’s self-appointed role as a national police force, a.k.a. standing army, the fundamental and final building block for every totalitarian regime that has ever wreaked havoc on humanity. Indeed, just about every nefarious deed, tactic or thuggish policy advanced by the government today can be traced back to the DHS, its police state mindset, and the billions of dollars it distributes to police agencies in the form of grants.

Truth #9: Not only does the U.S. government perpetrate organized, systematic violence on its own citizens, especially those who challenge its authority nonviolently, in the form of SWAT team raids, militarized police, and roaming VIPR checkpoints, but it gets away with these clear violations of the Fourth Amendment because the courts grant them immunity from wrongdoing. Expanding its reach, the U.S. also exports its violence wholesale to other countries through armaments sales and the use of its military as a global police force. Yet no matter how well trained, well equipped and well financed, America cannot police the world. As history shows, military empires, once over extended, inevitably collapse into chaos.

Truth #10: As I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, the United States of America has become the new battlefield. In fact, the only real war being fought by the U.S. government today is the war on the American people, and it is being waged with deadly weapons, militarized police, surveillance technology, laws that criminalize otherwise lawful behavior, private prisons that operate on quota systems, and government officials who are no longer accountable to the rule of law.

So there you have it: facts rather than fiction, so naked that a child could call it for what it is, and yet so politically inconvenient, incorrect and uncomfortable that few dare to speak of them.

Even so, despite the fact that no one wants to be labeled dimwitted, or conspiratorial, or a right wing nut job, most Americans, if they were truly paying attention to what’s been going on in this country over the past few decades and willing to be truthful, at least to themselves, would have to admit that the outlook is decidedly grim. Indeed, unless something changes drastically for the good in the near future, it looks like this fairytale will not have a happy ending.

declaration

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”–Patrick Henry

Imagine living in a country where armed soldiers crash through doors to arrest and imprison citizens merely for criticizing government officials. Imagine that in this very same country, you’re watched all the time, and if you look even a little bit suspicious, the police stop and frisk you or pull you over to search you on the off chance you’re doing something illegal. Keep in mind that if you have a firearm of any kind while in this country, it may get you arrested and, in some circumstances, shot by police.

If you’re thinking this sounds like America today, you wouldn’t be far wrong. However, the scenario described above took place more than 200 years ago, when American colonists suffered under Great Britain’s version of an early police state. It was only when the colonists finally got fed up with being silenced, censored, searched, frisked, threatened, and arrested that they finally revolted against the tyrant’s fetters.

No document better states their grievances than the Declaration of Independence. A document seething with outrage over a government which had betrayed its citizens, the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, by 56 men who laid everything on the line, pledged it all–”our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor”–because they believed in a radical idea: that all people are created to be free.

Labeled traitors, these men were charged with treason, a crime punishable by death. For some, their acts of rebellion would cost them their homes and their fortunes. For others, it would be the ultimate price–their lives. Yet even knowing the heavy price they might have to pay, these men dared to speak up when silence could not be tolerated. Even after they had won their independence from Great Britain, these new Americans worked to ensure that the rights they had risked their lives to secure would remain secure for future generations. The result: our Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

Imagine the shock and outrage these 56 men would feel were they to discover that 238 years later, the government they had risked their lives to create has been transformed into a militaristic police state in which exercising one’s freedoms is often viewed as a flagrant act of defiance. Indeed, had the Declaration of Independence been written today, it would have rendered its signers terrorists, resulting in them being placed on a government watch list, targeted for surveillance of their activities and correspondence, and potentially arrested, held indefinitely, stripped of their rights and labeled enemy combatants.

Indeed, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, a cursory review of the true state of our freedoms as outlined in the Bill of Rights shows exactly how dismal things have become:

The First Amendment is supposed to protect the freedom to speak your mind and protest in peace 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 cannot be silenced by the government. Yet despite the clear protections found in the First Amendment, the freedoms described therein are under constant assault. Whether it’s a Marine detained for criticizing the government on Facebook, a reporter persecuted for refusing to reveal his sources, or a protester arrested for standing silently in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, these are dangerous times for those who choose to exercise their rights.

The Second Amendment was intended to guarantee “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Yet while gun ownership has been recognized as an individual citizen right, Americans continue to face an uphill battle in the courts when it comes to defending themselves against militarized, weaponized government agents armed to the hilt. In fact, court rulings in recent years have affirmed that citizens don’t have the right to resist police officers who enter their homes illegally, mistakenly or otherwise.

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.” Unfortunately, the wall of separation between civilian and military policing has been torn down in recent years, as militarized SWAT teams are now allowed to burst into homes unannounced in order to investigate minor crimes such as marijuana possession and credit card fraud. With domestic police increasingly posing as military forces–complete with weapons, uniforms, assault vehicles, etc.–a good case could be made for the fact that SWAT team raids constitute the forced quartering of soldiers within the private home, which the Third Amendment was written to prevent.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits government agents from touching you or placing you under surveillance or entering your property without probable cause and even then, only with a court-sanctioned warrant. Unfortunately, the Fourth Amendment has been all but eviscerated in recent years by court rulings and government programs that sanction all manner of intrusions, including giving police carte blanche authority to break into homes or apartments without a warrant, conduct roadside strip searches, and generally manhandle any person in manner they see fit. Moreover, in the so-called name of national security, intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency now have the ability to conduct mass unwarranted electronic intrusions into the personal and private transactions of all Americans, including phone, mail, computer and medical records. All of this data is available to other government agencies, including local police.

The Fifth Amendment is supposed to ensure that you are innocent until proven guilty, and government authorities cannot deprive you of your life, your liberty or your property without following strict legal guidelines. Unfortunately, those protections have been largely extinguished in recent years, especially in the wake of Congress’ passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows the president and the military to arrest and detain Americans indefinitely without due process.

The Sixth Amendment was intended to not only ensure a “speedy and public trial,” but it was supposed to prevent the government from keeping someone in jail for unspecified offenses. That too has been a casualty of the so-called war on terror. Between the NDAA’s indefinite detention clause and the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) legislation, which has been used as justification for using drones to kill American citizens in the absence of a court trial, the Sixth Amendment’s guarantees become meaningless.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees citizens the right to a jury trial. However, 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.

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. America’s continued reliance on the death penalty, which has been shown to be flawed in its application and execution, is a perfect example of this.

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. Thus, once the government began violating the non-enumerated rights granted in the Ninth Amendment, it was only a matter of time before it began to trample the enumerated rights of the people, as explicitly spelled out in the rest of the Bill of Rights.

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, the federal government has stripped states of the right to regulate countless issues that were originally governed at the local level.

Thus, even on those rare occasions when the courts provide us with a slight glimmer of hope that all may not be lost, those brief reprieves of judicial sensibility are quickly overwhelmed by a bureaucratic machine that continues to march relentlessly in lockstep with the police state.

This brings me back to those 56 men who risked everything–their fortunes and their lives–to speak truth to power in that sweltering Philadelphia heat 238 summers ago. Of those 56 signers, 9 died during the Revolution, 5 were captured by British soldiers, 18 had their homes looted and burned by the Red Coats, 2 were wounded in battle and 2 lost their sons during the war. Remarkably, these men–who were community leaders, business owners, judges, lawyers and inventors–sacrificed their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor so that you and I could live freely in a nation where we have the right to stand up and speak out against tyrannical government. In the face of torture and even death, they did not waver.

The choice before us is clear. In the words of Patrick Henry, will we choose dangerous freedom or peaceful slavery?

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“[I]f the individual is no longer to be sovereign, if the police can pick him up whenever they do not like the cut of his jib, if they can ‘seize’ and ‘search’ him in their discretion, we enter a new regime. The decision to enter it should be made only after a full debate by the people of this country.”—U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

The U.S. Supreme Court was intended to be an institution established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds. Yet as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, Americans can no longer rely on the courts to mete out justice. In the police state being erected around us, the police and other government agents can probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts.

Whether it’s police officers breaking through people’s front doors and shooting them dead in their homes or strip searching innocent motorists on the side of the road, these instances of abuse are continually validated by a judicial system that kowtows to virtually every police demand, no matter how unjust, no matter how in opposition to the Constitution.

These are the hallmarks of the emerging American police state: where police officers, no longer mere servants of the people entrusted with keeping the peace, are part of an elite ruling class dependent on keeping the masses corralled, under control, and treated like suspects and enemies rather than citizens.

A review of the Supreme Court’s rulings over the past 10 years, including some critical ones this term, reveals a startling and steady trend towards pro-police state rulings by an institution concerned more with establishing order and protecting government agents than with upholding the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Police officers can use lethal force in car chases without fear of lawsuits. In Plumhoff v. Rickard (2014), the Court declared that police officers who used deadly force to terminate a car chase were immune from a lawsuit. The officers were accused of needlessly resorting to deadly force by shooting multiple times at a man and his passenger in a stopped car, killing both individuals.

Police officers can stop cars based only on “anonymous” tips. In a 5-4 ruling in Navarette v. California (2014), the Court declared that police officers can, under the guise of “reasonable suspicion,” stop cars and question drivers based solely on anonymous tips, no matter how dubious, and whether or not they themselves witnessed any troubling behavior. This ruling came on the heels of a ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in U.S. v. Westhoven that driving too carefully, with a rigid posture, taking a scenic route, and having acne are sufficient reasons for a police officer to suspect you of doing something illegal, detain you, search your car, and arrest you—even if you’ve done nothing illegal to warrant the stop in the first place.

Secret Service agents are not accountable for their actions, as long as they’re done in the name of security. In Wood v. Moss (2014), the Court granted “qualified immunity” to Secret Service officials who relocated anti-Bush protesters, despite concerns raised that the protesters’ First Amendment right to freely speak, assemble, and petition their government leaders had been violated. These decisions, part of a recent trend toward granting government officials “qualified immunity”—they are not accountable for their actions—in lawsuits over alleged constitutional violations, merely incentivize government officials to violate constitutional rights without fear of repercussion.

Citizens only have a right to remain silent if they assert it. The Supreme Court ruled in Salinas v. Texas (2013) that persons who are not under arrest must specifically invoke their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in order to avoid having their refusal to answer police questions used against them in a subsequent criminal trial. What this ruling says, essentially, is that citizens had better know what their rights are and understand when those rights are being violated, because the government is no longer going to be held responsible for informing you of those rights before violating them.

Police have free reign to use drug-sniffing dogs as “search warrants on leashes,” justifying any and all police searches of vehicles stopped on the roadside. In Florida v. Harris (2013), a unanimous Court determined that police officers may use highly unreliable drug-sniffing dogs to conduct warrantless searches of cars during routine traffic stops. In doing so, the justices sided with police by claiming that all that the police need to do to prove probable cause for a search is simply assert that a drug detection dog has received proper training. The ruling turns man’s best friend into an extension of the police state.

Police can forcibly take your DNA, whether or not you’ve been convicted of a crime. In Maryland v. King (2013), a divided Court determined that a person arrested for a crime who is supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty must submit to forcible extraction of their DNA. Once again the Court sided with the guardians of the police state over the defenders of individual liberty in determining that DNA samples may be extracted from people arrested for “serious offenses.” While the Court claims to have made its decision based upon concerns of properly identifying criminal suspects upon arrest, what they actually did is open the door for a nationwide dragnet of suspects targeted via DNA sampling.

Police can stop, search, question and profile citizens and non-citizens alike. The Supreme Court declared in Arizona v. United States (2012) that Arizona police officers have broad authority to stop, search and question individuals—citizen and non-citizen alike. While the law prohibits officers from considering race, color, or national origin, it amounts to little more than a perfunctory nod to discrimination laws on the books, while paving the way for outright racial profiling and destroying the Fourth Amendment.

Police can subject Americans to virtual strip searches, no matter the “offense.” A divided Supreme Court actually prioritized making life easier for overworked jail officials over the basic right of Americans to be free from debasing strip searches. In its 5-4 ruling in Florence v. Burlington (2012), the Court declared that any person who is arrested and processed at a jail house, regardless of the severity of his or her offense (i.e., they can be guilty of nothing more than a minor traffic offense), can be subjected to a virtual strip search by police or jail officials, which involves exposing the genitals and the buttocks. This “license to probe” is now being extended to roadside stops, as police officers throughout the country have begun performing roadside strip searches—some involving anal and vaginal probes—without any evidence of wrongdoing and without a warrant.

Immunity protections for Secret Service agents trump the free speech rights of Americans. The court issued a unanimous decision in Reichle v. Howards (2012), siding with two Secret Service agents who arrested a Colorado man simply for daring to voice critical remarks to Vice President Cheney. However, contrast the Court’s affirmation of the “free speech” rights of corporations and wealthy donors in McCutcheon v. FEC (2014), which does away with established limits on the number of candidates an entity can support with campaign contributions, and Citizens United v. FEC (2010) with its tendency to deny those same rights to average Americans when government interests abound, and you’ll find a noticeable disparity.

Police can break into homes without a warrant, even if it’s the wrong home. In an 8-1 ruling in Kentucky v. King (2011), the Supreme Court placed their trust in the discretion of police officers, rather than in the dictates of the Constitution, when they gave police greater leeway to break into homes or apartments without a warrant. Despite the fact that the police in question ended up pursuing the wrong suspect, invaded the wrong apartment and violated just about every tenet that stands between us and a police state, the Court sanctioned the warrantless raid, leaving Americans with little real protection in the face of all manner of abuses by police.

Police can interrogate minors without their parents present. In a devastating ruling that could very well do away with what little Fourth Amendment protections remain to public school students and their families—the Court threw out a lower court ruling in Camreta v. Greene (2011), which required government authorities to secure a warrant, a court order or parental consent before interrogating students at school. The ramifications are far-reaching, rendering public school students as wards of the state. Once again, the courts sided with law enforcement against the rights of the people.

It’s a crime to not identify yourself when a policeman asks your name. In Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada (2004), a majority of the high court agreed that refusing to answer when a policeman asks “What’s your name?” can rightfully be considered a crime under Nevada’s “stop and identify” statute. No longer will Americans, even those not suspected of or charged with any crime, have the right to remain silent when stopped and questioned by a police officer.

The cases the Supreme Court refuses to hear, allowing lower court judgments to stand, are almost as critical as the ones they rule on. Some of these cases, turned away in recent years alone, have delivered devastating blows to the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Legally owning a firearm is enough to justify a no-knock raid by police. Justices refused to hear Quinn v. Texas (2014) the case of a Texas man who was shot by police through his closed bedroom door and whose home was subject to a no-knock, SWAT-team style forceful entry and raid based solely on the suspicion that there were legally-owned firearms in his household.

The military can arrest and detain American citizens. In refusing to hear Hedges v. Obama (2014), a legal challenge to the indefinite detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA), the Supreme Court affirmed that the President and the U.S. military can arrest and indefinitely detain individuals, including American citizens. In so doing, the high court also passed up an opportunity to overturn its 1944 Korematsu v. United States ruling allowing for the internment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps.

Students can be subjected to random lockdowns and mass searches at school. The Court refused to hear Burlison v. Springfield Public Schools (2013), a case involving students at a Missouri public school who were subjected to random lockdowns, mass searches and drug-sniffing dogs by police. In so doing, the Court let stand an appeals court ruling that the searches and lockdowns were reasonable in order to maintain the safety and security of students at the school.

Police officers who don’t know their actions violate the law aren’t guilty of breaking the law. The Supreme Court let stand a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Brooks v. City of Seattle (2012) in which police officers who clearly used excessive force when they repeatedly tasered a pregnant woman during a routine traffic stop were granted immunity from prosecution. The Ninth Circuit actually rationalized its ruling by claiming that the officers couldn’t have known beyond a reasonable doubt that their actions—tasering a pregnant woman who was not a threat in any way until she was unconscious—violated the Fourth Amendment.

When all is said and done, what these assorted court rulings add up to is a disconcerting government mindset that interprets the Constitution one way for the elite—government entities, the police, corporations and the wealthy—and uses a second measure altogether for the underclasses—that is, you and me.

Keep in mind that in former regimes such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the complicity of the courts was the final piece to fall into place before the totalitarian beast stepped out of the shadows and into the light. If history is a guide, then the future that awaits us is truly frightening.

Time, as they say, grows short.

Insisting that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” when it comes to police officers being permitted to violate American citizens’ constitutional rights, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hold law enforcement officials accountable to knowing and abiding by the rule of law. Specifically, in filing an amicus curiae brief  in Heien v. State of North Carolina, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that courts must suppress evidence seized as a result of an improper stop of a motorist even though the police officer reasonably, but mistakenly, believed he was authorized by law to stop the vehicle.

“It’s a toss up which is worse—law enforcement officials who know nothing about the laws they have sworn to uphold, support and defend, or a constitutionally illiterate citizenry so clueless about their rights that they don’t even know when those rights are being violated,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of the award-winning book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “Thomas Jefferson recognized that an educated citizenry is the only real assurance that freedom will survive. At the very least, anyone taking public office or working for the government in any capacity—whether it’s a police officer, a school teacher, or a member of Congress—should be required to have a working knowledge of the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights, and should be held accountable for upholding their precepts. At heart, that’s what this Heien case is really all about: ensuring that ignorance of the law, especially the Fourth Amendment, does not become a ready excuse for government officials to routinely violate the law.”

In April 2009, a Surry County (N.C.) law enforcement officer stopped a car traveling on Interstate 77, allegedly because of a brake light which at first failed to illuminate and then flickered on. The officer mistakenly believed that state law prohibited driving a car with one broken brake light. In fact, the state traffic law requires only one working brake light. Nevertheless, operating under a mistaken understanding of the law, during the course of the stop, the officer asked for permission to search the car. Nicholas Heien, the owner of the vehicle, granted his consent to a search. Upon the officer finding cocaine in the vehicle, he arrested and charged Heien with trafficking.

Prior to his trial, Heien moved to suppress the evidence seized in light of the fact that the officer’s pretext for the stop was erroneous and therefore unlawful. Although the trial court denied the motion to suppress evidence, the state court of appeals determined that since the police officer had based his initial stop of the car on a mistaken understanding of the law, there was no valid reason for the stop in the first place.

On appeal, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that even though the officer was wrong in concluding that the inoperable brake light was an offense, because the officer’s mistake was a “reasonable” one, the stop of the car did not violate the Fourth Amendment and the evidence resulting from the stop did not need to be suppressed. In weighing in on the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Rutherford Institute attorneys warn against allowing government agents to “benefit” from their mistakes of law, deliberate or otherwise, lest it become an incentive for abuse.  Affiliate attorney Christopher F. Moriarty assisted The Rutherford Institute in advancing the arguments in the amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Click here to read The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Heien v. State of North Carolina