“If you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?”—Sunil Dutta, an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department for 17 years

Life in the American police state is an endless series of don’ts delivered at the end of a loaded gun: don’t talk back to police officers, don’t even think about defending yourself against a SWAT team raid (of which there are 80,000 every year), don’t run when a cop is nearby lest you be mistaken for a fleeing criminal, don’t carry a cane lest it be mistaken for a gun, don’t expect privacy in public, don’t let your kids walk to the playground alone, don’t engage in nonviolent protest near where a government official might pass, don’t try to grow vegetables in your front yard, don’t play music for tips in a metro station, don’t feed whales, and on and on.

For those who resist, who dare to act independently, think for themselves, march to the beat of a different drummer, the consequences are invariably a one-way trip to the local jail or death.

What Americans must understand, what we have chosen to ignore, what we have fearfully turned a blind eye to lest the reality prove too jarring is the fact that we no longer live in the “city on the hill,” a beacon of freedom for all the world.

Far from being a shining example of democracy at work, we have become a lesson for the world in how quickly freedom turns to tyranny, how slippery the slope by which a once-freedom-loving people can be branded, shackled and fooled into believing that their prisons walls are, in fact, for their own protection.

Having spent more than half a century exporting war to foreign lands, profiting from war, and creating a national economy seemingly dependent on the spoils of war, we failed to protest when the war hawks turned their profit-driven appetites on us, bringing home the spoils of war—the military tanks, grenade launchers, Kevlar helmets, assault rifles, gas masks, ammunition, battering rams, night vision binoculars, etc.—to be distributed for free to local police agencies and used to secure the homeland against “we the people.”

It’s not just the Defense Department that is passing out free military equipment to local police. Since the early 1990s, the Justice Department has worked with the Pentagon to fund military technology for police departments. And then there are the billions of dollars’ worth of federal grants distributed by the Department of Homeland Security, enabling police departments to go on a veritable buying spree for highly questionable military-grade supplies better suited to the battlefield.

Is it any wonder that we now find ourselves in the midst of a war zone?

We live in a state of undeclared martial law. We have become the enemy.

In a war zone, there are no police—only soldiers. Thus, there is no more Posse Comitatus prohibiting the government from using the military in a law enforcement capacity. Not when the local police have, for all intents and purposes, already become the military.

In a war zone, the soldiers shoot to kill, as American police have now been trained to do. Whether the perceived “threat” is armed or unarmed no longer matters when police are authorized to shoot first and ask questions later.

In a war zone, even the youngest members of the community learn at an early age to accept and fear the soldier in their midst. Thanks to funding from the Obama administration, more schools are hiring armed police officers—some equipped with semi-automatic AR-15 rifles—to “secure” their campuses.

In a war zone, you have no rights. When you are staring down the end of a police rifle, there can be no free speech. When you’re being held at bay by a militarized, weaponized mine-resistant tank, there can be no freedom of assembly. When you’re being surveilled with thermal imaging devices, facial recognition software and full-body scanners and the like, there can be no privacy. When you’re charged with disorderly conduct simply for daring to question or photograph or document the injustices you see, with the blessing of the courts no less, there can be no freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

And when you’re a prisoner in your own town, unable to move freely, kept off the streets, issued a curfew at night, there can be no mistaking the prison walls closing in.

A Government of Wolves book coverThis is not just happening in Ferguson, Missouri. As I show in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, it’s happening and will happen anywhere and everywhere else in this country where law enforcement officials are given carte blanche to do what they like, when they like, how they like, with immunity from their superiors, the legislatures, and the courts.

You see, what Americans have failed to comprehend, living as they do in a TV-induced, drug-like haze of fabricated realities, narcissistic denial, and partisan politics, is that we’ve not only brought the military equipment used in Iraq and Afghanistan home to be used against the American people. We’ve also brought the very spirit of the war home.

This is what it feels like to be a conquered people. This is what it feels like to be an occupied nation. This is what it feels like to live in fear of armed men crashing through your door in the middle of the night, or to be accused of doing something you never even knew was a crime, or to be watched all the time, your movements tracked, your motives questioned.

This is what it’s like to be a citizen of the American police state. This is what it’s like to be an enemy combatant in your own country.

So if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, by all means, stand down. Cower in the face of the police, turn your eyes away from injustice, find any excuse to suggest that the so-called victims of the police state deserved what they got.

But remember, when that rifle finally gets pointed in your direction—and it will—when there’s no one left to stand up for you or speak up for you, remember that you were warned.

It works the same in every age. Martin Niemoller understood this. A German pastor who openly opposed Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in a concentration camp, Niemoller warned:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”—C.S. Lewis

Surveillance cameras, government agents listening in on your phone calls, reading your emails and text messages and monitoring your spending, mandatory health care, sugary soda bans, anti-bullying laws, zero tolerance policies, political correctness: these are all outward signs of a government—i.e., a societal elite—that believes it knows what is best for you and can do a better job of managing your life than you can.

This is tyranny disguised as “the better good.” Indeed, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, this is the tyranny of the Nanny State: marketed as benevolence, enforced with armed police, and inflicted on all those who do not belong to the elite ruling class that gets to call the shots. Thus, this explains the recent rash of parents getting charged with negligence and arrested for leaving their kids alone for any amount of time, whether at a park, in a store, in a car, or in their front yard—another sign of what C.S. Lewis referred to as tyranny exercised by “omnipotent moral busybodies.”

For example, working mom Debra Harrell was arrested, spent 17 days in jail, lost custody of her daughter, and if convicted, could spend up to 10 years in jail all because she let her 9-year-old daughter play alone at a nearby park.  Single mother Shanesha Taylor, unemployed and essentially homeless, was arrested for leaving her kids in her car during a 40-minute job interview.

For the so-called “crime” of allowing her 7-year-old son to visit a neighborhood playground located a half mile from their house, Nicole Gainey was interrogated, arrested and handcuffed in front of her son, and transported to the local jail where she was physically searched, fingerprinted, photographed and held for seven hours and then forced to pay almost $4000 in bond in order to return to her family. Gainey now faces a third-degree criminal felony charge that carries with it a fine of up to $5,000 and 5 years in jail.

A Connecticut mother was arrested after her 7-year-old, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, fell off his scooter and allegedly injured himself. Patricia Juarez was arrested after letting her 7-year-old son play at a Legoland store in the mall while she did her shopping. Tammy Cooper was arrested, jailed overnight and charged with child endangerment for letting her kids ride their scooters alone in the cul-de-sac outside her suburban home.

Jeffrey Williamson was arrested after his 8-year-old son skipped church to play with neighborhood children. The experience has left scars on the household. “Every time that we leave in our car or drive down the street or something like that, every time they see a cop in Blanchester, they freak out and say, ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, are they going to arrest you?’” Williamson said.

Crystal Byers was arrested after refusing to allow a social worker to take her children away, despite the fact that the state services worker was unable to provide any paperwork supporting the removal. Then there was the father arrested, charged with child cruelty, and banished from his family home after he spanked his 3-year-old daughter once for talking back to her mother, pushing the screen out of her window, refusing to pick up her toys and throwing a belt at him. The father was also ordered to undergo 52 weeks of parenting classes and two monitored visits with his daughter each week.

These manifestations of the criminalization of parenthood are worsened by what journalist Josh Harkinson more broadly refers to as the “criminalization of the working poor,” oftentimes targeting parents “struggling to make ends meet with no better child care options.” As Harkinson points out: “Is the seven-year-old son of the janitor in Jacksonville better off now that his dad is in jail? How about the baby left in a car at 8 a.m., shielded from the sun, with the windows cracked and sunroof open, while her mom took a final exam for cosmetology school? Or the mother who left her two kids in the car while she donated blood plasma to get gas money?

Indeed, in the rush to cast judgment on these “negligent” parents, arresting them, jailing them, and sentencing them to outrageous prison terms, there is little concern shown for the hapless kids who in one way or another contribute to their parents’ arrests and are then left to grapple with feelings of guilt, abandonment, etc., not to mention the trauma of foster care. It’s estimated that 2.7 million children in the U.S. have at least one parent in prison, whether it be a local jail or a state or federal penitentiary, due to a wide range of factors ranging from overcriminalization and surprise raids at family homes to roadside traffic stops.

Despite the arrest-driven uproar over what constitutes negligent parenting and the government’s attitude that it—in concert with Social Services—knows what is best for your kids, it turns out that kids aren’t really in any greater danger today than they were 40 years ago, at least not from abductions by strangers. “What has changed over the last 40 years,” note journalists Jessica Grose and Hanna Rosin for Slate, “is our sense of community. Mothers work, neighbors talk less, and the divorce rate began to creep upward in the 1970s and has remained at around 45 percent…. Over the years, parental fears have also translated into the view that children are fragile, too tender to handle tricky emotional or physically risky activities.”

Having allowed our fears to be codified and our actions criminalized, we now find ourselves in a strange new world where just about everything we do is criminalized, not just our parenting decisions. Even so, how did we go from enacting laws to make our worlds safer to being saddled with a government that polices our social decisions?

As with most of the problems plaguing us in the American police state, we are the source of our greatest problems. As journalist Gracy Olmstead recognizes, the problem arose when we looked “first to the State to care for the situation, rather than exercising any sort of personal involvement… These actions reveal a more passive, isolated attitude. But here, again, we see the result of breakdown in modern American community—without a sense of communal closeness or responsibility, we act as bystanders rather than as stewards.”

Olmstead continues:

[Communitarian libertarian Robert] Nisbet predicted that, in a society without strong private associations, the State would take their place — assuming the role of the church, the schoolroom, and the family, asserting a “primacy of claim” upon our children. “It is hard to overlook the fact,” he wrote, “that the State and politics have become suffused by qualities formerly inherent only in the family or the church.” In this world, the term “nanny state” takes on a very literal meaning.

Unfortunately, even in the face of outright corruption and incompetency on the part of our elected officials, Americans in general remain relatively gullible, eager to be persuaded that the government can solve the problems that plague us—whether it be terrorism, an economic depression, an environmental disaster, how or what we eat or even keeping our children safe.

We have relinquished control over the most intimate aspects of our lives to government officials who, while they may occupy seats of authority, are neither wiser, smarter, more in tune with our needs, more knowledgeable about our problems, nor more aware of what is really in our best interests. Yet having bought into the false notion that the government does indeed know what’s best for us and can ensure not only our safety but our happiness and will take care of us from cradle to grave—that is, from daycare centers to nursing homes—we have in actuality allowed ourselves to be bridled and turned into slaves at the bidding of a government that cares little for our freedoms or our happiness.

A Government of Wolves book coverThe lesson is this: once a free people allows the government inroads into their freedoms or uses those same freedoms as bargaining chips for security, it quickly becomes a slippery slope to outright tyranny. Nor does it seem to matter whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican at the helm anymore, because the bureaucratic mindset on both sides of the aisle now seems to embody the same philosophy of authoritarian government, whose priorities are to remain in control and in power.

Modern government in general—ranging from the militarized police in SWAT team gear crashing through our doors to the rash of innocent citizens being gunned down by police to the invasive spying on everything we do—is acting illogically, even psychopathically. (The characteristics of a psychopath include a “lack of remorse and empathy, a sense of grandiosity, superficial charm, conning and manipulative behavior, and refusal to take responsibility for one’s actions, among others.” )

When our own government no longer sees us as human beings with dignity and worth but as things to be manipulated, maneuvered, mined for data, manhandled by police, conned into believing it has our best interests at heart, mistreated, and then jails us if we dare step out of line, punishes us unjustly without remorse, and refuses to own up to its failings, we are no longer operating under a constitutional republic. Instead, what we are experiencing is a pathocracy: tyranny at the hands of a psychopathic government, which “operates against the interests of its own people except for favoring certain groups.”

So where does that leave us?

Having allowed the government to expand and exceed our reach, we find ourselves on the losing end of a tug-of-war over control of our country and our lives. And for as long as we let them, government officials will continue to trample on our rights, always justifying their actions as being for the good of the people.

Yet the government can only go as far as “we the people” allow. Therein lies the problem.

The problem is that we have suspended our moral consciences in favor of the police state. As Chris Hedges rightly told me years ago, “Not having to make moral choice frees you from a great deal of anxiety. It frees you from responsibility. And it assures that you will always be wrapped in the embrace of the powerful as long as, of course, you will do or dance to the tune the powers play… when you do what is right, you often have to understand that you are not going to be lauded and praised for it. Making a moral decision always entails risks, certainly to one’s career and to one’s standing in the community.”

The choice before us is clear, and it is a moral choice. It is the choice between tyranny and freedom, dictatorship and autonomy, peaceful slavery and dangerous freedom, and manufactured pipedreams of what America used to be versus the gritty reality of what she is today.

Most of all, perhaps, the choice before us is that of being a child or a parent, of obeying blindly, never questioning, and marching in lockstep with the police state or growing up, challenging injustice, standing up to tyranny, and owning up to our responsibilities as citizens, no matter how painful, risky or uncomfortable.

As author Erich Fromm warned in his book Civil Disobedience, “At this point in history, the capacity to doubt, to criticize and to disobey may be all that stands between a future for mankind and the end of civilization.”

Never in the civilised world have so many been locked up for so little.”—“Rough Justice in America,” The Economist

Why are we seeing such an uptick in Americans being arrested for such absurd “violations” as letting their kids play at a park unsupervised, collecting rainwater and snow runoff on their own property, growing vegetables in their yard, and holding Bible studies in their living room?

Mind you, we’re not talking tickets or fines or even warnings being issued to these so-called “lawbreakers.” We’re talking felony charges, handcuffs, police cars, mug shots, pat downs, jail cells and criminal records.

Consider what happened to Nicole Gainey, the Florida mom who was arrested and charged with child neglect for allowing her 7-year-old son to visit a neighborhood playground located a half mile from their house.

For the so-called “crime” of allowing her son to play at the park unsupervised, Gainey was interrogated, arrested and handcuffed in front of her son, and transported to the local jail where she was physically searched, fingerprinted, photographed and held for seven hours and then forced to pay almost $4000 in bond in order to return to her family. Gainey’s family and friends were subsequently questioned by the Dept. of Child Services. Gainey now faces a third-degree criminal felony charge that carries with it a fine of up to $5,000 and 5 years in jail.

For Denise Stewart, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, whether or not she had done anything wrong, was sufficient to get her arrested.

The 48-year-old New York grandmother was dragged half-naked out of her apartment and handcuffed after police mistakenly raided her home when responding to a domestic disturbance call. Although it turns out the 911 call came from a different apartment on a different floor, Stewart is still facing charges of assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest.

And then there are those equally unfortunate individuals who unknowingly break laws they never even knew existed. John Yates is such a person. A commercial fisherman, Yates was sentenced to 30 days in prison and three years of supervised release for throwing back into the water some small fish which did not meet the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s size restrictions. Incredibly, Yates was charged with violating a document shredding provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was intended to prevent another Enron scandal.

The list of individuals who have suffered similar injustices at the hands of a runaway legal system is growing, ranging from the orchid grower jailed for improper paperwork and the lobstermen charged with importing lobster tails in plastic bags rather than cardboard boxes to the former science teacher labeled a federal criminal for digging for arrowheads in his favorite campsite.

As awful as these incidents are, however, it’s not enough to simply write them off as part of the national trend towards overcriminalization—although it is certainly that. Thanks to an overabundance of 4500-plus federal crimes and 400,000 plus rules and regulations, it’s estimated that the average American actually commits three felonies a day without knowing it.

Nor can we just chalk them up as yet another symptom of an overzealous police state in which militarized police attack first and ask questions later—although it is that, too.

Nor is the problem that we’re a crime-ridden society. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The number of violent crimes in the country is down substantially, the lowest rate in 40 years, while the number of Americans being jailed for nonviolent crimes, such as driving with a suspended license, is skyrocketing.

So what’s really behind this drive to label Americans as criminals?

A Government of Wolves book coverAs with most things, if you want to know the real motives behind any government program, follow the money trail. When you dig down far enough, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, you quickly find that those who profit from Americans being arrested are none other than the police who arrest them, the courts which try them, the prisons which incarcerate them, and the corporations, which manufacture the weapons and equipment used by police, build and run the prisons, and profit from the cheap prison labor.

Talk about a financial incentive.

First, there’s the whole make-work scheme. In the absence of crime, in order to keep the police and their related agencies employed, occupied, and utilizing the many militarized “toys” passed along by the Department of Homeland Security, one must invent new crimes—overcriminalization—and new criminals to be spied on, targeted, tracked, raided, arrested, prosecuted and jailed. Enter the police state.

Second, there’s the profit-incentive for states to lock up large numbers of Americans in private prisons. Just as police departments have quotas for how many tickets are issued and arrests made per month—a number tied directly to revenue—states now have quotas to meet for how many Americans go to jail. Having outsourced their inmate population to private prisons run by corporations such as Corrections Corp of America and the GEO Group, ostensibly as a way to save money, increasing numbers of states have contracted to keep their prisons at 90% to 100% capacity. This profit-driven form of mass punishment has, in turn, given rise to a $70 billion private prison industry that relies on the complicity of state governments to keep the money flowing and their privately run prisons full. No wonder the United States has the largest prison population in the world.

But what do you do when you’ve contracted to keep your prisons full but crime rates are falling? Easy. You create new categories of crime and render otherwise law-abiding Americans criminals. Notice how we keep coming full circle back to the point where it’s average Americans like you and me being targeted and turned into enemies of the state?

That brings me to the third factor contributing to Americans being arrested, charged with outrageous “crimes,” and jailed: the Corporate State’s need for profit and cheap labor. Not content to just lock up millions of people, corporations have also turned prisoners into forced laborers.

According to professors Steve Fraser and Joshua B. Freeman, “All told, nearly a million prisoners are now making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses, or manufacturing textiles, shoes, and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day.” Tens of thousands of inmates in U.S. prisons are making all sorts of products, from processing agricultural products like milk and beef, to packaging Starbucks coffee, to shrink-wrapping software for companies like Microsoft, to sewing lingerie for Victoria’s Secret.

What some Americans may not have realized, however, is that America’s economy has come to depend in large part on prison labor. “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.” The resulting prison labor industries, which rely on cheap, almost free labor, are doing as much to put the average American out of work as the outsourcing of jobs to China and India.

No wonder America is criminalizing mundane activities, arresting Americans for minor violations, and locking them up for long stretches of time. There’s a significant amount of money being made by the police, the courts, the prisons, and the corporations.

What we’re witnessing is the expansion of corrupt government power in the form of corporate partnerships which both increase the reach of the state into our private lives while also adding a profit motive into the mix, with potentially deadly consequences.

This perverse mixture of government authoritarianism and corporate profits is now the prevailing form of organization in American society today. We are not a nation dominated by corporations, nor are we a nation dominated by government. We are a nation dominated by corporations and government together, in
partnership, against the interests of individuals, society and ultimately our freedoms.

If it sounds at all conspiratorial, the idea that a government would jail its citizens so corporations can make a profit, then you don’t know your history very well. It has been well documented that Nazi Germany forced inmates into concentration camps such as Auschwitz to provide cheap labor to BASF, Bayer, Hoechst, and other major German chemical and pharmaceutical companies, much of it to produce products for European countries.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, whether what we are experiencing right now is fascism, American style, or Auschwitz revisited?

PORT ST. LUCIE, Florida. — Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have come to the defense of a Florida mother who was arrested and charged with child neglect for allowing her 7-year-old son to visit a neighborhood playground located a half mile from their house. For the so-called “crime” of allowing her son to play at the park unsupervised, Nicole Gainey was interrogated, arrested and handcuffed in front of her son, and transported to the local jail where she was physically searched, fingerprinted, photographed and held for seven hours and then forced to pay almost $4000 in bond in order to return to her family. Gainey’s family and friends were subsequently questioned by the Dept. of Child Services. Gainey now faces a third-degree criminal felony charge that carries with it a fine of up to $5,000 and 5 years in jail.

Insisting that parents have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing of their children, which includes determining when their children are mature enough to play outside or walk to a neighborhood park by themselves, Rutherford Institute attorneys plan to demand that the charges against Gainey be dropped.

“What this incident and others like it taking place across the country make clear is that the theater of the absurd that passes for life in the American police state grows more tragic and incomprehensible by the day,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “While we all want to ensure that our young people are safe and protected, the government cannot usurp a parent’s right to determine what is appropriate for their children. Unless we put a stop to this ‘government-knows-best’ nanny state mindset now, we may soon find that we have no rights whatsoever in a society that is increasingly bureaucratic, legalistic, politically correct, self-righteous and unconcerned about individual rights.”

Watch the video here.

Nicole Gainey, a resident of Port St. Lucie, Fla., was arrested on Saturday, July 26, 2014, after allowing her 7-year-old son Dominic to walk by himself from their house to a popular neighborhood playground located a half mile away. According to Gainey, Dominic normally rides his bike (which was out of commission that day due to a flat tire) to Sportsmans’ Park, which is located along the same stretch of road as a fire station, community pool, library, church and a daycare. Dominic also rides his bike along that same route when going to school, which is two miles away, without anyone raising any concerns. As usual, Dominic carried a cell phone with him in order to check in with his mom. According to the 7-year-old, someone asked him where his mom was when he was walking past the pool. Police officers were called, went to the park, questioned Dominic, and then drove him home in their car, without alerting his mother that there was a concern or that they had picked up her son.

Upon arriving at Gainey’s home, officers questioned the single mother about her son’s whereabouts, without informing her that they had picked him up. The police then arrested Gainey, charged her with neglect, and took her to the local jail, where she was physically searched, fingerprinted, photographed and held for seven hours and then forced to pay almost $4000 in bond in order to return to her family. Gainey’s son was allowed to stay with her boyfriend in lieu of going to foster care.

In coming to Gainey’s defense, Rutherford Institute attorneys plan to challenge the arrest and charges, in light of the fact that there is no law specifying how old a child has to be before he or she can go somewhere unsupervised. State officials are allowed discretion to determine what is appropriate on a case-by-case basis. Institute attorneys argue that parents have every right to make their own determinations about when their children are mature enough and responsible enough to be permitted to safely play outside by themselves, wait in the car by themselves or walk to a neighborhood park unsupervised.

NEWARK, N.J. — Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have asked a federal court to hold a New Jersey school superintendent and “Bullying Specialist” accountable for unreasonably enforcing the state’s anti-bullying law as an unconstitutional restraint on students’ free speech rights. The Rutherford Institute’s brief comes in response to a federal judge’s question as to whether the individual defendants should be dismissed from the lawsuit.

Institute attorneys argue that the “Bullying Specialist” and Superintendent’s discretionary enforcement of the state’s anti-bullying act represents a violation of the student’s due process and equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and a violation of his free speech rights under New Jersey’s state constitution, and that school officials should be held accountable for their actions in enforcing the district policy. Institute attorneys filed the free speech lawsuit in December 2013 on behalf of a 4th grade boy who was punished under state’s anti-bullying law for truthfully stating that a fellow student had head lice.

“School administrators who engage in a pattern of overreach, effectively criminalizing student speech, must be held accountable,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “While administrators face a difficult task in providing a safe learning environment for our children, they must not enforce rules at the cost of running afoul of the Constitution’s protections for free speech and expression.”

In 2011, New Jersey amended its bullying law with sweeping reforms that significantly impacted student speech rights. Under the new law, the state created new “Anti-Bullying Specialist” positions in each district, who were responsible for identifying and reporting “harassment, intimidation or bullying” violations by students. Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that the law’s scope is unconstitutionally broad and the language is too vague to give parents or students adequate notice about what statements will or will not be prohibited.

For example, Institute attorneys pointed to an incident that took place in September 2011, when a 4th grade boy was punished under the act for correctly stating that a fellow student had head lice, despite the fact that a few days earlier, school officials had sent a note home to parents warning them that one of the students had head lice. In a subsequent conversation among several students, one student asked a female student why she had dyed her hair. After she failed to respond to the question, one young boy, L.L., correctly replied that she had done so because she was the student who had head lice. The female student complained to the teacher who in turn instructed L.L. to apologize. The teacher then reported the incident to the school’s “Anti-Bullying Specialist,” who filled out a bullying report and reported to the Superintendent. The student was subsequently forced to undergo a special sensitivity assignment, and the entire class was reminded about the need to be kind to each other, which further embarrassed the fourth grader.

L.L.’s parents appealed the bullying determination first with the local school board, and then with the state Board of Education, both of which affirmed the decision. Arguing that the statute punishes any speech deemed “hurtful,” even if factually true and non-disruptive, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute filed a free speech lawsuit in federal court, asking that the statute be struck down, and that students like L.L. not be penalized for exercising their constitutional rights. Affiliate attorney Mike Daily is assisting in the case.

“The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.”—C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Whether it’s the working mother arrested for letting her 9-year-old play unsupervised at a playground, the teenager forced to have his genitals photographed by police, the underage burglar sentenced to 23 years for shooting a retired police dog, or the 43-year-old man who died of a heart attack after being put in a chokehold by NYPD officers allegedly over the sale of untaxed cigarettes, the theater of the absurd that passes for life in the American police state grows more tragic and incomprehensible by the day.

Debra Harrell, a 46-year-old South Carolina working mother, was arrested, charged with abandonment and had her child placed in state custody after allowing the 9-year-old to spend unsupervised time at a neighborhood playground while the mom worked a shift at McDonald’s. Mind you, the child asked to play outside, was given a cell phone in case she needed to reach someone, and the park—a stone’s throw from the mom’s place of work—was overrun with kids enjoying its swings, splash pad, and shade.

A Connecticut mother was charged with leaving her 11-year-old daughter in the car unsupervised while she ran inside a store—despite the fact that the child asked to stay in the car and was not overheated or in distress. A few states away, a New Jersey man was arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of his children after leaving them in a car parked in a police station parking lot, windows rolled down, while he ran inside to pay a ticket.

A Virginia teenager was charged with violating the state’s sexting law after exchanging sexually provocative videos with his girlfriend. Instead of insisting that the matter be dealt with as a matter of parental concern, police charged the boy with manufacturing and distributing child pornography and issued a search warrant to “medically induce an erection” in the 17-year-old boy in order to photograph his erect penis and compare it to the images sent in the sexting exchange.  The police had already taken an initial photograph of the boy’s penis against his will, upon his arrest.

In Georgia, a toddler had his face severely burned when a flash bang grenade, launched by a SWAT team during the course of a no-knock warrant, landed in his portable crib, detonating on his pillow. Also in Georgia, a police officer shot and killed a 17-year-old boy who answered the door, reportedly with a Nintendo Wii controller in his hands. The cop claimed the teenager pointed a gun at her, thereby justifying the use of deadly force. Then there was the incident wherein a police officer, responding to a complaint that some children were “chopping off tree limbs” creating “tripping hazards,” pulled a gun on a group of 11-year-old boys who were playing in a wooded area, attempting to build a tree fort.

While the growing phenomenon of cops shooting family pets only adds to the insanity (it is estimated that a family pet is killed by law enforcement every 98 minutes in America), it’s worse for those who dare to shoot a police dog. Ivins Rosier was 16 when he broke into the home of a Florida highway patrol officer and shot (although he didn’t kill) the man’s retired police dog. For his crime, the teenager was sentenced to 23 years in prison, all the while police officers who shoot family pets are rarely reprimanded.

Meanwhile if you’re one of those hoping to live off the grid, independent of city resources, you might want to think again. Florida resident Robin Speronis was threatened with eviction for living without utilities. Speronis was accused of violating the International Property Maintenance Code by relying on rain water instead of the city water system and solar panels instead of the electric grid.

Now we can shrug these incidents off as isolated injustices happening to “other” people. We can rationalize them away by suggesting that these people “must” have done something to warrant such treatment. Or we can acknowledge that this slide into totalitarianism—helped along by overcriminalization, government surveillance, militarized police, neighbors turning in neighbors, privatized prisons, and forced labor camps, to name just a few similarities—is tracking very closely with what we saw happening in Germany in the years leading up to Hitler’s rise to power.

When all is said and done, what these incidents reflect is a society that has become so bureaucratic, so legalistic, so politically correct, so militaristic, so locked down, so self righteous, and so willing to march in lockstep with the corporate-minded police state that any deviations from the norm—especially those that offend the sensibilities of the “government-knows-best” nanny state or challenge the powers that be—become grist for prosecution, persecution and endless tribulations for the poor souls who are caught in the crosshairs.

Then there are the incidents, less colorful perhaps but no less offensive to the sensibilities of any freedom-loving individual, which should arouse outrage among the populace but often slip under the radar of a sleeping nation.

For instance, not only is the NSA spying on and collecting the content of your communications, but it’s also going to extreme lengths to label as “extremists” anyone who attempts to protect their emails from the government’s prying eyes. Adding insult to injury, those same government employees and contractors spying on Americans’ private electronic communications are also ogling their private photos. Recent revelations indicate that NSA employees routinely pass around intercepted nude photos, considered a “fringe benefit” of surveillance positions.

A trove of leaked documents reveals the government’s unmitigated gall in labeling Americans as terrorists for little more than being suspected of committing “any act that is ‘dangerous’ to property and intended to influence government policy through intimidation.” As The Intercept reports: “This combination—a broad definition of what constitutes terrorism and a low threshold for designating someone a terrorist—opens the way to ensnaring innocent people in secret government dragnets.” All the while, the TSA, despite the billions of dollars we spend on the agency annually and the liberties to which its agents subject travelers, has yet to catch a single terrorist.

No less disconcerting are the rash of incidents in which undercover government agents encourage individuals to commit crimes they might not have engaged in otherwise. This “make work” entrapment scheme runs the gamut from terrorism to drugs. In fact, a recent report released by Human Rights Watch reveals that “nearly all of the highest-profile domestic terrorism plots in the United States since 9/11 featured the ‘direct involvement’ of government agents or informants.”

Most outrageous of all are the asset forfeiture laws that empower law enforcement to rake in huge sums of money by confiscating cash, cars, and even homes based on little more than a suspicion of wrongdoing. In this way, Americans who haven’t been charged with a crime, let alone convicted of wrongdoing, are literally being subjected to highway robbery by government agents offering profit-driven, cash-for-freedom deals.

So who or what is to blame for this bureaucratic nightmare delivered by way of the police state? Is it the White House? Is it Congress? Is it the Department of Homeland Security, with its mobster mindset? Is it some shadowy, power-hungry entity operating off a nefarious plan?

Or is it, as Holocaust survivor Hannah Arendt suggests, the sheepish masses who mindlessly march in lockstep with the government’s dictates—expressing no outrage, demanding no reform, and issuing no challenge to the status quo—who are to blame for the prison walls being erected around us? The author of The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt warned that “the greatest evil perpetrated is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons.”

This is where democracy falls to ruin, and bureaucracy and tyranny prevail.

 

A Government of Wolves book coverAs I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, we have only ourselves to blame for this bureaucratic hell that has grown up around us. Too many of us willingly, knowingly and deliberately comprise what Arendt refers to as “cogs in the mass-murder machine.”

These cogs are none other than those of us who have turned a blind eye to the government corruption, or shrugged dismissively at the ongoing injustices, or tuned out the mayhem in favor of entertainment distractions. Just as guilty are those who have traded in their freedoms for a phantom promise of security, not to mention those who feed the machine unquestioningly with their tax dollars and partisan politics.

And then there are those who work for the government, federal, state, local or contractor. These government employees—the soldiers, the cops, the technicians, the social workers, etc.—are neither evil nor sadistic. They’re simply minions being paid to do a job, whether that job is to arrest you, spy on you, investigate you, crash through your door, etc. However, we would do well to remember that those who worked at the concentration camps and ferried the victims to the gas chambers were also just “doing their jobs.”

Then again, if we must blame anyone, blame the faceless, nameless, bureaucratic government machine—which having been erected and set into motion is nearly impossible to shut down—for the relentless erosion of our freedoms through a million laws, statutes, and prohibitions.

If there is any glimmer of hope to be found, it will be at the local level, but we cannot wait for things to get completely out of control. If you wait to act until the SWAT team is crashing through your door, until your name is placed on a terror watch list, until you are reported for such outlawed activities as collecting rainwater or letting your children play outside unsupervised, then it will be too late.

Obedience is the precondition to totalitarianism, and the precondition to obedience is fear. Regimes of the past and present understand this. “The very first essential for success,” Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, “is a perpetually constant and regular employment of violence.” Is this not what we are seeing now with the SWAT teams and the security checkpoints and the endless wars?

This much I know: we are not faceless numbers. We are not cogs in the machine. We are not slaves. We are people, and free people at that. As the Founders understood, our freedoms do not flow from the government. They were not given to us, to be taken away at the will of the State; they are inherently ours. In the same way, the government’s appointed purpose is not to threaten or undermine our freedoms, but to safeguard them.

Until we can get back to this way of thinking, until we can remind Americans what it really means to be a free American, and learn to stand our ground in the face of threats to those freedoms, and encourage our fellow citizens to stop being cogs in the machine, we will continue as slaves in thrall to the bureaucratic police state.

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.