Archive for May, 2013

Marine veteran Brandon Raub is not the first veteran to be targeted for speaking out against the government. However, his case exposed the seedy underbelly of a governmental system that is targeting military veterans for expressing their discontent over America’s rapid transition to a police state. Hopefully, by holding officials accountable, we can ensure that Brandon is the last to suffer in this way.

That’s why attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have just filed a civil rights lawsuit against law enforcement and other government officials on behalf of   Raub. Last August, Raub was arrested by a swarm of FBI, Secret Service agents and local police and forcibly detained in a psychiatric ward for a week because of controversial song lyrics and political views posted on his Facebook page. The complaint, filed in federal court in Richmond, alleges that Raub’s seizure and detention were the result of a federal government program code-named “Operation Vigilant Eagle” that involves the systematic surveillance of military veterans who express views critical of the government. Institute attorneys allege that the attempt to label Raub as “mentally ill” and his involuntary commitment was a pretext designed to silence Raub’s speech critical of the government and that the defendants violated Raub’s rights under the First and Fourth Amendments.

Since coming to Raub’s defense, The Rutherford Institute has been contacted by military veterans across the country recounting similar incidents. In filing a civil suit against government officials, Rutherford Institute attorneys plan to take issue with the manner in which Virginia’s civil commitment statutes are being used to silence individuals engaged in lawfully exercising their free speech rights.

On Aug.16, 2012, Chesterfield police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Brandon Raub’s home, asking to speak with him about his Facebook posts. Like many Facebook users, Raub, a Marine who has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, uses his Facebook page to post song lyrics and air his political opinions. Without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, law enforcement officials handcuffed Raub and transported him to police headquarters, then to John Randolph Medical Center, where he was held against his will. In a hearing on Aug. 20, government officials pointed to Raub’s Facebook posts as the reason for his incarceration. While Raub stated that the Facebook posts were being read out of context, a Special Justice ordered Raub be held up to 30 more days for psychological evaluation and treatment.

In coming to Raub’s aid, Institute attorneys challenged the government’s actions as procedurally improper, legally unjustified, and in violation of Raub’s First Amendment rights. On Aug. 23, Circuit Court Judge Allan Sharrett ordered Raub’s immediate release, stating that the government’s case was “so devoid of any factual allegations that it could not be reasonably expected to give rise to a case or controversy.” In asking the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to acknowledge the harm done to Raub and to rectify the violation of his First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, Institute attorneys are requesting that Raub be awarded damages for the harm caused by the deprivation of his constitutional rights.

To support the Institute’s efforts on this and other cases, donate online at https://www.rutherford.org/donate/.

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In this next installment in the Pressure Points series which explores threatens to the Bill of Rights and our essential freedoms, I examine the language of fear and government paranoia.

View it here.

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”—James A. Baldwin

Just in time for Memorial Day, we’re being treated to a generous serving of praise and grandstanding by politicians, corporations and others with similarly self-serving motives eager to go on record as being pro-military. Patriotic platitudes aside, however, America has done a deplorable job of caring for her veterans. We erect monuments for those who die while serving in the military, yet for those who return home, there’s little honor to be found.

Despite the fact that the U.S. boasts more than 23 million veterans who have served in World War II through Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan, the plight of veterans today, while often overlooked, is common knowledge: impoverished, unemployed, lacking any decent health benefits, homeless, traumatized mentally and physically, struggling with depression, thoughts of suicide, marital stress.

Making matters worse, thanks to Operation Vigilant Eagle, a program launched by the Department of Homeland Security in 2009, military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are also being characterized as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.” As a result, these servicemen and women—many of whom are decorated—are finding themselves under surveillance, threatened with incarceration or involuntary commitment, or arrested, all for daring to voice their concerns about the alarming state of our union and the erosion of our freedoms.

An important point to consider, however, is that the government is not merely targeting individuals who are voicing their discontent so much as it is locking up individuals trained in military warfare who are voicing feelings of discontent. Under the guise of mental health treatment and with the complicity of government psychiatrists and law enforcement officials, these veterans are increasingly being portrayed as ticking time bombs in need of intervention. In 2012, for instance, the Justice Department launched a pilot program aimed at training SWAT teams to deal with confrontations involving highly trained and often heavily armed combat veterans.

In the four years since the start of Operation Vigilant Eagle, the government has steadily ramped up its campaign to “silence” dissidents, especially those with military backgrounds. Coupled with the DHS’ dual reports on Rightwing and Leftwing “Extremism,” which broadly define extremists as individuals and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,” these tactics have boded ill for anyone seen as opposing the government.

One particularly troubling mental health label being applied to veterans and others who challenge the status quo is “oppositional defiance disorder” (ODD). As journalist Anthony Martin explains, an ODD diagnosis

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

The case of 26-year-old decorated Marine Brandon Raub—who was targeted because of his Facebook posts, interrogated by government agents about his views on government corruption, arrested with no warning, labeled mentally ill for subscribing to so-called “conspiratorial” views about the government, detained against his will in a psych ward for standing by his views, and isolated from his family, friends and attorneys—is a prime example of the government’s war on veterans.

Raub’s case exposes the seedy underbelly of a governmental system that is targeting Americans—especially military veterans—for expressing their discontent over America’s rapid transition to a police state.

On Thursday, August 16, 2012, a swarm of local police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Raub’s home, asking to speak with him about posts he had made on his Facebook page made up of song lyrics, political opinions and dialogue used in a political thriller virtual card game. Among the posts cited as troublesome were lyrics to a song by the rap group Swollen Members and Raub’s views, shared increasingly by a number of Americans, that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job.

After a brief conversation and without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, law enforcement officials then handcuffed Raub and transported him first to the police headquarters, then to a medical center, where he was held against his will due to alleged concerns that his Facebook posts were “terrorist in nature.” Outraged onlookers filmed the arrest and posted the footage to YouTube, where it quickly went viral. Meanwhile, The Rutherford Institute came to Raub’s assistance, which combined with heightened media attention, may have helped prevent Raub from being successfully “disappeared” by the government.

In a hearing on August 20, government officials pointed to Raub’s Facebook posts as the sole reason for their concern and for his continued incarceration. Ignoring Raub’s explanations about the fact that the Facebook posts were being read out of context, Raub was sentenced to up to 30 days’ further confinement in a psychiatric ward. While in the psych ward, Raub reported being interrogated by medical staff about his views about the government and threatened by a doctor with brainwashing. Raub’s legal team, provided by The Rutherford Institute, immediately began petitioning the courts for his release.

On August 23, Circuit Court Judge Allan Sharrett declared the government’s case to be lacking in factual allegations and ordered Raub immediately released. However, for the tens of thousands of individuals detained—wrongfully or otherwise—under civil commitment laws every year, regaining their freedom is nearly impossible, predicated as it is on a bureaucratic legal and judicial system.

Within days of Raub being seized at his Virginia home on August 16, 2012, and forcibly held in a VA psych ward, news reports started surfacing of other veterans having similar experiences.

That the government is using the charge of mental illness as the means by which to immobilize (and disarm) these veterans is diabolically brilliant. With one stroke of a magistrate’s pen, these service men are being declared mentally ill, locked away against their will, and stripped of their constitutional rights. Make no mistake, these returning veterans are being positioned as enemy number one.

Given the government’s increasing view of veterans as potential domestic terrorists, it makes one think twice about a new Michigan law that adds a veterans designation on Michigan driver’s licenses and state IDs. Hailed by politicians as a way to “make it easier for military veterans to access discounts from retailers, restaurants, hotels and vendors across the state,” it will also make it that much easier for the government to identify and target veterans who dare to challenge the status quo.

Particularly telling is a training exercise for the Explorers program, which trains young people for careers in law enforcement, in which teenaged boys and girls dressed like quasi-SWAT teams and armed with pellet guns attempt to take down “a disgruntled Iraq war veteran [who] has already taken out two people, one slumped in his desk, the other covered in blood on the floor.” As a side note: this Explorers program, an extension of the Boy Scouts, is unnervingly similar to the Hitler Youth program used by the Nazis to indoctrinate young people into a police state mindset, chillingly documented by H.W. Koch in The Hitler Youth: Origins and Development 1922-1945.

This brings me back to present-day America, with its penchant for endless wars that empty our national coffers while fattening those of the military industrial complex. Does anyone else find it heartbreaking and ironic that we raise our young people on a steady diet of violence and military action, sell them on the idea that defending freedom abroad by serving in the military is their patriotic duty, then when they return home, bruised and battle-scarred and suddenly serious about defending their freedoms at home, we treat them like criminal suspects?

Brandon Raub understands this all too well. While still serving with the Marines in Afghanistan in November 2011, Raub put pen to paper in order to flesh out some of his concerns about the dismantling of freedom in America. His concerns echo those of countless Americans like myself dismayed at the nation’s descent into authoritarianism:

America has lost itself. We have lost who we truly are… They are controlling your media. They have dumbed you down through your school systems. They have systematically dismantled the constitution. It is in rags. The bill of rights is being systematically dismantled. Men have spilled their blood for those rights. Your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters, and America’s best young men and women are losing their limbs. They are losing their lives. They are losing the hearts. They do not know why they are fighting. They are killing. And they do not know why. They have done some extraordinary acts. Their deeds go before them. But these wars are lies. They are lies. They deceived our entire nation with terrorism. They have gotten us to hand them our rights… We gave them the keys to our country. We were not vigilant with our republic. There is hope. BUT WE MUST TAKE OUR REPUBLIC BACK.

Second in the Pressure Points series: The Overcriminalization of America

In conjunction with the upcoming release of my new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, I wanted to discuss several “pressure points” that are threatening the Bill of Rights and undermining our essential freedoms. In part two of this special series, I examine the overcriminalization of America. — John W. Whitehead

“If you’re not a terrorist, if you’re not a threat, prove it. This is the price you pay to live in free society right now. It’s just the way it is.”—Sergeant Ed Mullins of the New York Police Department

Immediately following the devastating 9/11 attacks, which destroyed the illusion of invulnerability which had defined American society since the end of the Cold War, many Americans willingly ceded their rights and liberties to government officials who promised them that the feeling of absolute safety could be restored.

In the 12 years since, we have been subjected to a series of deceptions, subterfuges and scare tactics by the government, all largely aimed at amassing more power for the federal agencies and extending their control over the populace. Starting with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, continuing with the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and coming to a head with the assassination of American citizens abroad, the importing of drones and other weapons of compliance, and the rise in domestic surveillance, we have witnessed the onslaught of a full-blown crisis in government.

Still Americans have gone along with these assaults on their freedoms unquestioningly.

Even with our freedoms in shambles, our country in debt, our so-called “justice” system weighted in favor of corporations and the police state, our government officials dancing to the tune of corporate oligarchs, and a growing intolerance on the part of the government for anyone who challenges the status quo, Americans have yet to say “enough is enough.”

Now, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, we are once again being assured that if we only give up a few more liberties and what little remains of our privacy, we will achieve that elusive sense of security we’ve yet to attain. This is the same song and dance that comes after every tragedy, and it’s that same song and dance which has left us buying into the illusion that we are a free, safe society.

The reality of life in America tells a different tale, however. For example, in a May 2013 interview with CNN, former FBI counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente disclosed that the federal government is keeping track of all digital communications that occur within the United States, whether or not those communicating are American citizens, and whether or not they have a warrant to do so.

As revelatory as the disclosure was, it caused barely a ripple of dismay among Americans, easily distracted by the torrent of what passes for entertainment news today. Yet it confirms what has become increasingly apparent in the years after 9/11: the federal government is literally tracking any and all communications occurring within the United States, without concern for the legal limitations of such activity, and without informing the American people that they are doing so.

Clemente dropped his bombshell during a CNN interview about authorities’ attempts to determine the nature of communications between deceased Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his widow Katherine Russell. In the course of that conversation, Clemente revealed that federal officials will not only be able to access any voicemails that may have been left by either party, but that the entirety of the phone conversations they had will be at federal agents’ finger tips.

“We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation,” stated Clemente. “All of that stuff [meaning phone conversations occurring in America] is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.” A few days later, Clemente was asked to clarify his comments, at which point he said, “There is a way to look at all digital communications in the past. No digital communication is secure.”

In other words, there is no form of digital communication that the government cannot and does not monitor—phone calls, emails, text messages, tweets, Facebook posts, internet video chats, etc., are all accessible, trackable and downloadable by federal agents.

At one time, such actions by the government would not only have been viewed as unacceptable, they would also have been considered illegal. However, government officials have been engaged in an ongoing attempt to legitimize these actions by passing laws that make the lives of all Americans an open book for government agents. For example, while the nation was caught up in the drama of the Boston bombing and the ensuing military-style occupation of the city by local and federal police, Congress passed a little-noticed piece of legislation known as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). The legislation, which the House of Representatives approved by an overwhelming margin of 288-127, will allow internet companies to share their users’ private data with the federal government and other private companies in order to combat so-called “cyber threats.”

In short, the law dismantles any notion of privacy on the internet, opening every action one undertakes online, whether emailing, shopping, banking, or just browsing, to scrutiny by government agents. While CISPA has yet to clear the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the spirit of it is alive and well. In fact, officials in the Obama administration have for some time now been authorizing corporate information sharing and spying in secret through the use of executive orders and other tactics.

The Justice Department, for instance, has been issuing so-called “2511 letters” to various internet service providers like AT&T, which immunize them from being prosecuted under federal wiretapping laws for providing the federal government with private information. Despite federal court rulings to the contrary, the Department of Justice continues to assert that it does not require a warrant to access Americans’ emails, Facebook chats, and other forms of digital communication.

NSA Surveillance Octopus

While it may be tempting to lay the full blame for these erosions of our privacy on the Obama administration, they are simply continuing a system of mass surveillance, the seeds of which were planted in the weeks after 9/11, when the National Security Agency (NSA) began illegally tracking the communications of American citizens. According to a Washington Post article published in 2010, the NSA continues to collect 1.7 billion communications, whether telephone, email or otherwise, every single day.

The NSA and Department of Justice are just two pieces of a vast surveillance network which encompasses and implicates most of the federal government, as well as the majority of technology and telecommunications companies in the United States. For the past two years, the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has approved literally every single request by the federal government to spy on people within the United States. There have been some 4,000 applications rubberstamped by the court in the past two years, applications which allow federal officials to monitor the communications of any person in the United States, including American citizens, if they are believed to be in contact with someone overseas.

These government-initiated spying programs depend in large part on the willingness of corporations to hand over personal information about their customers to government officials. Sometimes the government purchases the information outright. At other times, the government issues National Security Letters, which allow the government to force companies to hand over personal information without a warrant or probable cause.

Some web companies, such as Skype, have already altered their products to allow government access to personal information. In fact, government agents can now determine the credit card information and addresses of Skype users under suspicion of criminal activity. Aside from allowing government agents backdoor access to American communications, corporations are also working on technologies to allow government agents even easier access to Americans’ communications.

For example, Google has filed a patent for a “Policy Violation Checker,” software which would monitor an individual’s communications as they type them out, whether in an email, an Excel spreadsheet or some other digital document, then alert the individual, and potentially their employer or a government agent, if they type any “problematic phrases” which “present policy violations, have legal implications, or are otherwise troublesome to a company, business, or individual.” The software would work by comparing the text being typed to a pre-defined database of “problematic phrases,” which would presumably be defined on a company-by-company basis.

The emergence of this technology fits in well with Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s view on privacy, which is that “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Unfortunately, this is not just the attitude of corporate benefactors who stand to profit from creating spy technology and software but government officials as well.

Additionally, police officials throughout the country have become increasingly keen on monitoring social media websites in real time. Rob D’Ovido, a criminal justice professor at Drexel University, has noted that, “The danger of this in light of the tragedy in Boston is that law enforcement is being so risk-averse they are in danger of crossing that line and going after what courts would ultimately deem as free speech.”

Cameron Dambrosio

For example, Cameron Dambrosio, a teenager and self-styled rap artist living in Metheun, Massachusetts, posted a video of one of his original songs on the internet which included references to the White House and the Boston bombing. While the song’s lyrics may well have been crude and ill-advised in the wake of the Boston bombing, police officers exacerbated the situation by arresting Dambrosio and charging him with communicating terrorist threats, a felony charge which could land him in prison for twenty years.

Unfortunately, cases like Dambrosio’s may soon become the norm, as the FBI’s Next Generation Cyber Initiative has announced that its “top legislative priority” this year is to get social media giants like Facebook and Google to comply with requests for access to real-time updates of social media websites. The proposed method of encouraging compliance is legal inquiries and hefty fines leveled at these companies. The Obama administration is expected to support the proposal.

The reality is this:  we no longer live in a free society. Having traded our freedoms for a phantom promise of security, we now find ourselves imprisoned in a virtual cage of cameras, wiretaps and watchful government eyes. All the while, the world around us is no safer than when we started on this journey more than a decade ago. Indeed, it well may be that we are living in a far more dangerous world, not so much because the terrorist threat is any greater but because the government itself has become the greater threat to our freedoms. — John W. Whitehead

In conjunction with the upcoming release of my new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, I set some time aside to sit down and discuss several “pressure points” that are threatening the Bill of Rights and undermining our essential freedoms. In part one of this special series, I examine the increased presence of militarized police. 

Watch it here.