Archive for March, 2014

The Secret Government is an interlocking network of official functionaries, spies, mercenaries, ex-generals, profiteers and superpatriots, who, for a variety of motives, operate outside the legitimate institutions of government. Presidents have turned to them when they can’t win the support of the Congress or the people, creating that unsupervised power so feared by the framers of our Constitution…”—Journalist Bill Moyers and White House press secretary under President Johnson (1988)

Question: How can you tell when a politician is lying?  Answer: When he’s moving his lips.

If that didn’t generate a chuckle, how about:

Q: Why is honesty in politics like oxygen?

A: The higher you go, the scarcer it gets.

Then there’s President Obama’s gaffe on the Tonight Show: “We don’t have a domestic spying program,” which is downright laughable in light of this past year’s revelations about domestic spying by the National Security Agency. But if that still doesn’t push you over the edge into near hysterics, here’s one guaranteed to get the biggest laugh of all, at least from those clear-sighted enough to grasp the irony of a politician talking about “trust”:

If people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress, and don’t trust federal judges, to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law,” declared President Obama in June 2013, in response to questions about the government’s domestic spying program, “then we’re going to have some problems here.”

What’s not at all amusing, of course, is the fact that our nation is riddled with all manner of problems, and it’s becausewe have government officials in the executive branch, Congress, and the courts incapable of abiding by the Constitution. These people have proven time and again that they cannot be trusted to do what they say, and they certainly can’t be trusted to abide by their oaths of office to uphold and defend the Constitution.

Indeed, the American people have been cheated and lied to for so long that we’ve arrived at a stage of disbelief and skepticism. So when the Obama administration announces that it will be rolling out proposals to rein in the NSA bulk collection of data about Americans’ private communications, you’d be perfectly justified in wondering what other far-fetched schemes they plan to sell you next.

Minus a few bells and whistles, Obama’s new NSA scheme is no different from the old scheme (apart from the fact that it’s worse): In a nutshell, the NSA will stop storing the data generated by American phone calls and will, instead, have the phone companies collect and store it in their own databases. Rather than the government storing metadata for up to five years, phone companies would keep the data for as long as they please.

Here’s where we’re just being subjected to more of the same scam: While the Obama administration works its sleight of hand trick over the bulk collection of telephony metadata, specifically related to land line calls, the NSA is collecting some 5 billion records on cell phone location data every single day. As before, this surveillance will not be confined to the targeted number, but could be expanded as far away as two “hops” in a chain of phone calls (“meaning all the numbers connected to the suspect number, and all the numbers connected to that first set of connections”), exponentially expanding the amount of information collected.

The NSA also has a program of surveillance by which they penetrate digital devices not connected to the Internet by means of radio waves. This program has been active since at least 2008, and the NSA has penetrated almost 100,000 computers through this method. And then there’s XKeyscore, a surveillance program which “intercepts 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other types of communications each day” and “allows the government to enter a person’s name or other question into the program and sift through oceans of data to produce everything there is on the internet by or about that person or other search term.” These programs will continue unabated.

Also unfazed by Obama’s proposals regarding domestic phone calls are the NSA’s many nasty and nefarious methods of carrying out surveillance, including infecting target computers with malware by way of spam emails and Facebook in order to give NSA hackers access to the data stored on those devices and record audio or video from a computer’s microphone and webcam. This program, dubbed TURBINE, which has already infected up to 100,000 computers, can record conversations with computer microphones, snap photos with a webcam, record Internet browsing history, record login/password information, log keystrokes, and take data off of flash drives plugged into the computer.

Another program left untouched by Obama’s so-called NSA “reforms” is MYSTIC, which allows NSA agents to retrieve and listen to up to 30 days’ worth of all phone calls abroad, including Americans traveling abroad or placing calls outside the country. Clips of millions of those phone calls are then processed and kept for long-term storage.

Here’s where Obama’s new scheme would make things even worse: Under this new program, not only would government agents gain access to whatever data they please, but they would also receive real-time updates once a target number has been selected.

Moreover, by requiring phone companies to standardize their data, the government will be able to gain even greater access to Americans’ cell phone calls. And as always, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which meets in secret, holds secret hearings and issues secret rulings, has a history of rubberstamping the NSA’s surveillance programs, would be relied upon for oversight. In fact, out of a mind-boggling 34,000 requests for surveillance, the FISA court has denied only 11 such requests.

Unfortunately, with so much of the public attention focused on the NSA’s misdeeds, there is a tendency to forget that the NSA is merely one of a growing number of clandestine intelligence agencies tasked with spying on the American people. Indeed, as I point out in my book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, the CIA, FBI, DHS, and DEA among others, routinely step outside the bounds of the law in order to spy on the citizenry and will continue to do so.

The FBI, whose crimes against dissidents and minority groups stretch back to the founding of the organization, has been and will continue to serve as the NSA’s accomplice. One of the FBI’s most notorious tactics involves the use of National Security Letters, which are carried out without court approval and by which the agency “can demand financial records from any institution from banks to casinos, all telephone records, subscriber information, credit reports, employment information, and all email records of the target as well as the email addresses and screen names for anyone who has contacted that account.  Those who received the NSLs from the FBI are supposed to keep them secret.”  Moreover, tasked with collecting data from telecoms under the NSA’s Prism system, the FBI picked that data out of private servers, then turned around and handed it over to the NSA.

The FBI also conducts its own signals intelligence program, which focuses on collecting emails and other internet data from American companies. The main core of this operation is the Data Intercept Technology Unit (DITU), whose motto is “Vigilance Through Technology.” One of the DITU’s many responsibilities is making software that private companies install onto their networks in order to allow government agents ready access to personal information, whether emails or internet traffic. This surveillance is generally conducted without a warrant, as the FBI asserts the authority to collect metadata under the Patriot Act.

This is what is referred to as violating not only the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law, as well. By law, I am referring to the only law that truly matters—the U.S. Constitution—the only law that truly safeguards us against government abuse, overreach, expansion and secrecy, which for these very reasons continues to be trampled upon, shoved aside, disregarded, whittled down, choked to death, and generally castrated by the President, Congress, state governments, and the courts, who without fail march in lockstep to the bidding of the military and security industrial complexes, law enforcement officials, corporations and the like.

As journalist Bill Moyers, who served as White House Press Secretary during the Johnson administration, recognized in his 1987 expose book in which he interviews top military, intelligence, and government insiders to reveal the inner workings of the secret government:

[T]he powers claimed by presidents in national security have become the controlling wheel of government, driving everything else. Secrecy then makes it possible for the president to pose as the sole competent judge of what will best protect our security. Secrecy permits the White House to control what others know. How many times have we heard a president say, “If you only knew what I know, you would understand why I’m doing what I’m doing.” But it’s a self-defeating situation. As Lord Acton said, “Everything secret degenerates, even the administration of justice.” So in the bunker of the White House, the men who serve the president put loyalty above analysis. Judgment yields to obedience. Just salute and follow orders.

Pointing out that “surveillance is surveillance, whether carried out by government or the private sector,” John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, is calling on Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to take the lead in ensuring that legislative safeguards are adopted to protect all Americans from threats to their privacy and civil liberties by drones, regardless of whether the drone operator is a private citizen, a commercial entity or a government agent. Whitehead’s letter to Sen. Feinstein, who serves as the head of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, comes in the wake of expert testimony and remarks by Feinstein alleging that she may have been a target of surveillance by a privately operated micro-drone. Although Whitehead agrees with Feinstein that drones used by the government require close scrutiny, he noted that her requirement of a search warrant does not go far enough.

“Given the courts’ historic leniency towards police, predicating drone use on a warrant requirement would provide little protection for the average American,” warned Whitehead. “The only hope rests with Congress and state legislatures that they would ensure that Americans have a semblance of civil liberties protections against the drones.” In anticipation of at least 30,000 drones taking to the skies domestically by 2020, Rutherford Institute attorneys provided to state and local governments throughout the country model drone legislation to safeguard Americans’ privacy and civil liberties.

“Surveillance is surveillance, whether it is carried out by a commercial drone operator using an unmanned aerial vehicle or a government operative relying on sophisticated phone algorithms. As such, all Americans—not merely those who are in the public eye—have a right to be free of such invasions of their privacy and incursions on their Fourth Amendment rights,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “Although we are on the cusp of a technological revolution which will upend our concepts of society, freedom, justice and law, we have failed to establish any safeguards against future abuses. Drone technology is too powerful, too lethal and too indiscriminate for us to allow it to be unleashed on the American populace before any real protocols to protect our safety and privacy rights have been put in place.”

The FAA Reauthorization Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2012, authorized the use of drones domestically for a wide range of functions, both public and private, governmental and corporate. Yet as constitutional attorney John Whitehead points out, without proper safeguards, these drones, some of which are deceptively small and capable of videotaping the facial expressions of people on the ground from hundreds of feet in the air, will usher in a new age of surveillance in American society. Not even those indoors, in the privacy of their homes, will be safe from these aerial spies, which can be equipped with technology capable of peering through walls. In addition to their surveillance capabilities, drone manufacturers have confirmed that drones can also be equipped with automatic weapons, grenade launchers, tear gas, and tasers. Many local police departments throughout the country, including in Florida and California, have already begun utilizing drones in police procedures without any real regulations in place. The Rutherford Institute’s model drone legislation, which prohibits the federal government from using data recorded via surveillance drones in criminal prosecutions, in addition to prohibiting government agencies from utilizing drones outfitted with weapons and anti-personnel devices, whether lethal or non-lethal, was first adopted by Charlottesville, Va., in Feb. 2013.

Click here to read The Rutherford Institute’s letter to Sen. Feinstein

Click here to read The Rutherford Institute’s model legislation for federal legislatures.

“I’m suggesting Mr. President, there’s a military plot to take over the Government of these United States, next Sunday…”—Col. Martin ‘Jiggs’ Casey, Seven Days in May (1964)

With a screenplay written by Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone, director John Frankenheimer’s 1964 political thriller Seven Days in May is a clear warning to beware of martial law packaged as a well meaning and overriding concern for the nation’s security. Yet, incredibly enough, 50 years later, we find ourselves hostages to a government run more by military doctrine and corporate greed than by the rule of law established in the Constitution.

Indeed, proving once again that fact and fiction are not dissimilar, today’s current events—ranging from the government’s steady militarization of law enforcement agencies, and its urban training exercises wherein military troops rappel from Black Hawk helicopters in cities across the country, from Miami and Chicago to Minneapolis, to domestic military training drills timed and formulated to coincide with or portend actual crises, and the Obama administration’s sudden and growing hostilities with Russia—could well have been lifted straight out of Seven Days in May, which takes viewers into eerily familiar terrain.

The premise is straightforward enough: With the Cold War at its height, Jordan Lyman (played by Fredric March), an unpopular U.S. President, signs a momentous nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union. Believing that the treaty constitutes an unacceptable threat to the security of the United States and certain that he knows what is best for the nation, General James Mattoon Scott (Burt Lancaster), the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and presidential hopeful, plans a military takeover of the national government.  When Gen. Scott’s aide, Col. Casey (Kirk Douglas), discovers the planned military coup, he goes to the President with the information. The race for command of the U.S. government begins, with the clock ticking off the hours until Sunday, when the military plotters plan to overthrow the President.

Toward the climax of the film, President Lyman confronts Gen. Scott with knowledge of the coup, asking him to resign his position immediately. Gen. Scott refuses, insisting that his plan is necessary to ensure the future of the United States. President Lyman responds poignantly:

You have such a fervent, passionate, evangelical faith in this country…why in the name of God don’t you have any faith in the system of government you’re so hell-bent to protect? You want to defend the United States of America, then defend it with the tools it supplies you with—its Constitution. You ask for a mandate, General, from a ballot box. You don’t steal it after midnight, when the country has its back turned.

Unfortunately for the American people, it’s long past midnight. Indeed, the coup d’etat wresting control of our government from civilians and delivering it into the hands of the military industrial complex happened decades ago, while our backs were turned and our minds distracted. Consequently, we now find ourselves in the unenviable position of longing for an elusive peace while trying to rein in a runaway militarized government with a gargantuan and profit-driven appetite for war.

Over the past half century, America has actually been at war more than we’ve been at peace. In fact, the U.S. has been involved in an average of at least one significant military action per year, “ranging from significant fighting in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan to lesser incursions in such far-flung countries as Kuwait, Bosnia, Pakistan, Libya, Grenada, Haiti and Panama… That total does not count more limited U.S. actions, such as drone strikes it now is carrying out against suspected Taliban insurgents in the Middle East.”

Here’s the problem, though: what happens to all those hefty profits for the military industrial complex when you start to scale back on 50 years’ worth of wars abroad? For example, the price of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone have cost taxpayers upwards of $1.5 trillion—that breaks down to roughly $10.54 million per hour since 2001—which does not include the billions being spent this year alone on the Department of Defense ($254 billion and counting), on nuclear weapons ($9 billion), and on an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter weapons system ($4 billion and counting).

If war is a business, as it has become, in order to maintain a profit margin when there are no more wars to be fought abroad, one would either have to find new enemies abroad or, as I show in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, focus on fighting a war at home, against the American people, and that’s exactly what we’re dealing with today. (In fact, domestic “terrorists”—citizens with anti-government views—have become frequent targets in military training deals. Just recently, it was revealed that the Ohio National Guard conducted a training exercise in which Second Amendment advocates were portrayed as domestic terrorists.)

This dangerous military expansion is one that outgoing president Dwight D. Eisenhower, a retired five-star Army general, warned against in his 1961 farewell address. Frankly, it’s a speech that bears re-reading for its chilling insight into the vastness of the military industrial complex, its grave warning against allowing the military to lead the way in dictating national and international policy, and its sound advice to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.” As Eisenhower noted:

The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Thus, the question is no longer whether the U.S. will be consumed by the military industrial complex. That happened when we failed to heed Eisenhower’s warning, and in the fifty years since, the already burgeoning military industrial complex has given rise to a security industrial complex, a.k.a. corporate surveillance state. Together, they serve as the iron-fisted right and left hands of the police state that now surrounds us and profits from us.

Consequently, we now find ourselves navigating a strange new world where the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) annually hands out millions of dollarsworth of grants to local police agencies for military weapons, vehicles, training and assistance. Virginia will receive $7.4 million in homeland security grant funding for 2014, in addition to $53 million for the areas near Washington, DC. Indiana will receive $5 million from DHS to “help it prepare for any potential terrorist attacks, major disasters or other emergencies.” Las Vegas will get $1 million out of the more than $400 million being distributed this year, while Boston will get an $18 million piece of the pie. Meanwhile, New York and its outlying metro regions will get $178 million in funding to advance its localized version of the “war on terror.”

These grants also provide for law enforcement and terrorism prevention and typically include planning, training and exercises, such as the training exercises that were scheduled to take place in Boston around the same time that the Boston Marathon bomber detonated several homemade backpack bombs. Curiously enough, as the Boston Globereported, the exercise, planned months in advance and dubbed “Operation Urban Shield” “has eerie similarities to the police investigation that led to the capture of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers.”

In the training scenario, investigators participating in Urban Shield would have to track down footage of the bombers caught by street surveillance cameras and the phones of “witnesses.” They would have to call on intelligence analysts to figure out which terrorist cell might be threatening the city. In the scenario, the terrorists would flee police in stolen cars they would dump in cities outside Boston, which would compel detectives from different jurisdictions to cooperate and share intelligence. One major clue would have been the body of one of the terrorists found near a stolen car, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Believe it or not, these Live Active Shooter Drill training exercises, carried out at schools, in shopping malls, and on public transit, can and do fool law enforcement officials, students, teachers and bystanders into thinking it’s a real crisis. They come complete with their own set of professionally trained Crisis Actors playing the parts of shooters, bystanders and victims in order to help “schools and first responders create realistic drills, full-scale exercises, high-fidelity simulations, and interactive 3D films.” One Crisis Actors website, funded in part by the Dept. of Justice, even provides actors with a guide to suspicious behaviors they should study and adopt, as well as makeup recommendations, in order to better play their parts in training exercises.

Now it’s easy to write off as conspiracy-minded and sensationalist any suggestion that the government could be so calculating and diabolical as to not only deliberately plan and execute a terror exercise but pass it off as an actual event.

It’s easy to do so, that is, unless you’ve started to question whether your government actually exists to serve you, as growing numbers of Americans have. It’s certainly easy to do so unless you’ve started to read up on those less savory aspects of our nation’s history, the parts not included in public school textbooks, in which the government has, in fact, engaged in downright immoral and, at times, criminal behavior, including “giving hepatitis to mental patients in Connecticut, squirting a pandemic flu virus up the noses of prisoners in Maryland, and injecting cancer cells into chronically ill people at a New York hospital.”

And unless you’ve reached a point where you believe that the government views you as little more than a dollar sign, and prioritizes your rights far below your monetary worth, then you may not have a hard time believing that the government, marching in lockstep with the military and security industrial complexes, sold you out long ago.

So what do Seven Days in May and Ike’s farewell address have to do with the military/security-industrial complex, government grants for training exercises and terrorism preparedness, and military drills staged to look like the real thing?

Instead of an answer, let’s try another series of questions. How do you get a nation to docilely accept a police state? How do you persuade a populace to accept metal detectors and pat downs in their schools, bag searches in their train stations, tanks and military weaponry used by their small town police forces, surveillance cameras in their traffic lights, police strip searches on their public roads, unwarranted blood draws at drunk driving checkpoints, whole body scanners in their airports, and government agents monitoring their communications?

Try to ram such a state of affairs down their throats, and you might find yourself with a rebellion on your hands. Instead, you bombard them with constant color-coded alerts, terrorize them with shootings and bomb threats in malls, schools, and sports arenas, desensitize them with a steady diet of police violence, and sell the whole package to them as being for their best interests.

And when leaders like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lennon come about, who not only dare to challenge you by championing peace over war, but actually manage to get people to pay attention, you carry out surveillance on them, intimidate them, threaten them, and eventually do away with them, knowing full well that few will rise up to take their place.

Likewise, when individuals like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, lacking followers or name recognition, rise up and shine a spotlight on your misdeeds, you label them traitors, isolate them from their friends and loved ones, and make an example of them: this is what happens to those who challenge the police state. — John W. Whitehead

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — Challenging a March 18 compliance deadline issued by a Florida magistrate, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have filed a notice of appeal on behalf of a Florida homeowner who was charged with violating city code provisions because of her refusal to hook up to city water and electrical resources, choosing instead to live sustainably “off the grid.” Cape Coral homeowner Robin Speronis was ordered to hook her home up to city water, electrical, and sewer outlets by March 18, 2014—despite the fact that she has been self-sustainable for more than a year—or face $50 daily fines for noncompliance. Believing that property owners have a certain amount of sovereignty over what takes place on their own property, The Rutherford Institute has come to Speronis’ defense. A hearing date on the Special Magistrate’s compliance order is set for April 17, 2014.

“What happened to Robin Speronis should never have happened, and yet it is happening every day, to more and more Americans,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “Indeed, cases such as Robin’s are becoming increasingly common as overzealous government officials routinely enforce laws that penalize Americans for living off the grid, hosting a Bible study in one’s backyard, growing organic vegetables in one’s front yard, feeding wild animals, and collecting rainwater, to name just a few. Unfortunately, this disregard for private property by government officials brings us full circle, back to that pre-Revolutionary era when colonists had few to no rights whatsoever within their homes.”

For many months now, Robin Speronis, who doesn’t have a refrigerator, oven, running water or electricity in her home, has lived self-sustainably through the use of solar panels for her electricity needs and rainwater collection for her water supply. Speronis cooks on a propane camping stove, runs her electronics on solar-charged batteries, showers using a camping shower, and collects rainwater to fill the tank of her toilet and flush the waste. However, a day after Speronis was interviewed for a story about living “off the grid,” a city code enforcement official came to her home and issued her an eviction notice, deeming her home “unsafe/unfit for human habitation and occupancy” because she was living there without utilities. The city official reached this conclusion without ever having set foot inside Speronis’ home or carrying out any kind of inspection. Although city officials have since clarified that “municipalities don’t have the power to evict,” the city has maintained its insistence that Speronis comply with an international property maintenance code and city ordinances or face daily fines.

Determined to maintain her independence, Speronis fought back, challenging the city code provisions that required her to hook up to and use city utilities. On February 21, 2014, Special Magistrate Harold S. Eskin determined that Speronis was not guilty of violating the city codes requiring electrical and sewer systems, but that she was required under the codes to hook up to the city’s water system.  In reaching this decision, Eskin admitted that portions of the code “might be obsolete,” that “reasonableness and code requirements don’t always go hand-in-hand,” and that societal and technological developments might suggest that it’s time for a review of code ordinances.  Nonetheless, the Magistrate ordered Speronis to comply with the faulty and inherently conflicting code provisions by the end of March. City officials have since capped Speronis’ access to the sewer line so she can no longer use it for waste removal unless she pays for water service, which she does not use. Speronis, who lived in the woods for seven months, plans to use an alternative toilet and dispose of her waste in a sanitary way, rather than be forced to use the city’s sewer system.

More details at

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” — The Second Amendment to the US Constitution

You can largely determine where a person will fall in the debate over gun control and the Second Amendment based on their view of government and the role it should play in our lives.

Those who want to see government as a benevolent parent looking out for our best interests tend to interpret the Second Amendment’s “militia” reference as applying only to the military.

To those who see the government as inherently corrupt, the Second Amendment is a means of ensuring that the populace will always have a way of defending themselves against threats to their freedoms.

And then there are those who view the government as neither good nor evil, but merely a powerful entity that, as Thomas Jefferson recognized, must be bound “down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” To this group, the right to bear arms is no different from any other right enshrined in the Constitution, to be safeguarded, exercised prudently and maintained.

Unfortunately, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, while these three divergent viewpoints continue to jockey for supremacy, the U.S. government has adopted a “do what I say, not what I do” mindset when it comes to Americans’ rights overall. Nowhere is this double standard more evident than in the government’s attempts to arm itself to the teeth, all the while viewing as suspect anyone who dares to legally own a gun, let alone use one.

Indeed, while it still technically remains legal to own a firearm in America, possessing one can now get you pulled oversearchedarrested, subjected to all manner of surveillancetreated as a suspect without ever having committed a crime, shot at and killed. (This same rule does not apply to law enforcement officials, however, who are armed to the hilt and rarely given more than a slap on the wrists for using their weapons against unarmed individuals.)

Just recently, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case of a Texas man 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. Making matters worse, police panicked and opened fire through a solid wood door on the homeowner, who had already gone to bed.

Earlier in the year, a Florida man traveling through Maryland with his wife and kids was stopped by a police officer and interrogated about the whereabouts of his registered handgun. Despite the man’s insistence that the handgun had been left at home, the officer spent nearly two hours searching through the couple’s car, patting them down along with their children, and having them sit in the back of a patrol car. No weapon was found.

In 2011, a 25-year-old Philadelphia man was confronted by police, verbally threatened and arrested for carrying a gun in public, which is legal within the city. When Mark Fiorino attempted to explain his rights under the law to police, police ordered him to get on his knees or else “I am gonna shoot ya.” Fiorino was later released without charges.

provision in a Washington State bill would have authorized police to search and inspect gun owners’ homes yearly. Connecticut has adopted a law banning the sale of large-capacity magazines and assault weapons. And a bill moving through the New Jersey legislature would reduce the number of bullets an ammunition magazine could hold from 15 to 10.

Under a proposal by the Department of Health and Human Services, anyone seeking mental health treatment–no matter how benign–could find themselves entered into the FBI’s criminal background check system and have their Second Amendment rights in jeopardy. They would join the ranks of some 175,000 veterans who have been barred from possessing firearms based solely on the fact that they received psychiatric treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Meanwhile, the government’s efforts to militarize and weaponize its agencies and employees is reaching epic proportions, with federal agencies as varied as the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration placing orders for hundreds of millions of rounds of hollow point bullets. Moreover, under the auspices of a military “recycling” program, which allows local police agencies to acquire military-grade weaponry and equipment, $4.2 billion worth of equipment has been transferred from the Defense Department to domestic police agencies since 1990. Included among these “gifts” are tank-like 20-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, tactical gear, and assault rifles.

Ironically, while the Obama administration continues its efforts to “pass the broadest gun control legislation in a generation,” which would include bans on military-style assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and armor-piercing bullets, expanded background checks, and tougher gun-trafficking laws, the U.S. military boasts some weapons the rest of the world doesn’t have. Included in its arsenal are armed, surveillance Reaper drones capable of reading a license plate from over two miles away; an AA12 Atchisson Assault Shotgun that can shoot five 12-gauge shells per second and “can fire up to 9,000 rounds without being cleaned or jamming”; an ADAPTIV invisibility cloak that can make a tank disappear or seemingly reshape it to look like a car; a PHASR rifle capable of blinding and disorienting anyone caught in its sights; a Taser shockwave that can electrocute a crowd of people at the touch of a button; an XM2010 enhanced sniper rifle with built-in sound and flash suppressors that can hit a man-sized target nine out of ten times from over a third of a mile away; and an XM25 “Punisher” grenade launcher that can be programmed to accurately shoot grenades at a target up to 500 meters away.

Talk about a double standard. The government’s arsenal of weapons makes the average American’s handgun look like a Tinker Toy.

It’s no laughing matter, and yet the joke is on us. “We the people” have been so focused on debating who or what is responsible for gun violence–the guns, the gun owners, or our violent culture–and whether the Second Amendment “allows” us to own guns that we’ve overlooked the most important and most consistent theme throughout the Constitution: the fact that it is not merely an enumeration of our rights but was intended to be a clear shackle on the government’s powers.

When considered in the context of prohibitions against the government, the Second Amendment reads as a clear rebuke against any attempt to restrict the citizenry’s gun ownership. As such, it is as necessary an ingredient for maintaining that tenuous balance between the citizenry and their republic as any of the other amendments in the Bill of Rights, especially the right to freedom of speech, assembly, press, petition, security, and due process.

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas understood this tension well. “The Constitution is not neutral,” he remarked, “It was designed to take the government off the backs of people.” In this way, the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights in their entirety stand as a bulwark against a police state. To our detriment, these rights have been steadily weakened, eroded and undermined in recent years. Yet without any one of them, including the Second Amendment right to own and bear arms, we are that much more vulnerable to the vagaries of out-of-control policemen, benevolent dictators, genuflecting politicians, and overly ambitious bureaucrats.

When all is said and done, the debate over gun ownership really has little to do with gun violence in America. Eliminating guns will not necessarily eliminate violence. Those same individuals sick enough to walk into an elementary school or a movie theater and open fire using a gun can and do wreak just as much havoc with homemade bombs made out of pressure cookers and a handful of knives.

It’s also not even a question of whether Americans need weapons to defend themselves against any overt threats to our safety or wellbeing, although a recent study by a Quinnipiac University economist indicates that less restrictive concealed carry laws save lives, while gun control can endanger them. In fact, journalist Kevin Carson, writing for Counter Punch, suggests that prohibiting Americans from owning weapons would be as dangerously ineffective as Prohibition and the War on the Drugs:

“[W]hat strict gun laws will do is take the level of police statism, lawlessness and general social pathology up a notch in the same way Prohibition and the Drug War have done. I’d expect a War on Guns to expand the volume of organized crime, and to empower criminal gangs fighting over control over the black market, in exactly the same way Prohibition did in the 1920s and strict drug laws have done since the 1980s. I’d expect it to lead to further erosion of Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure, further militarization of local police via SWAT teams, and further expansion of the squalid empire of civil forfeiture, perjured jailhouse snitch testimony, entrapment, planted evidence, and plea deal blackmail.”

Truly, the debate over gun ownership in America is really a debate over who gets to call the shots and control the game. In other words, it’s that same tug-of-war that keeps getting played out in every confrontation between the government and the citizenry over who gets to be the master and who is relegated to the part of the servant.

The Constitution is clear on this particular point, with its multitude of prohibitions on government overreach. As 20thcentury libertarian Edmund A. Opitz observed in 1964, “No one can read our Constitution without concluding that the people who wrote it wanted their government severely limited; the words “no’ and “not’ employed in restraint of government power occur 24 times in the first seven articles of the Constitution and 22 more times in the Bill of Rights.”

In a nutshell, then, the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms reflects not only a concern for one’s personal defense, but serves as a check on the political power of the ruling authorities. It represents an implicit warning against governmental encroachments on one’s freedoms, the warning shot over the bow to discourage any unlawful violations of our persons or property. As such, it reinforces that necessary balance in the citizen-state relationship. As George Orwell noted, “That rifle hanging on the wall of the working-class flat or labourer’s cottage is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.”

Certainly, dictators in past regimes have understood this principle only too well. As Adolf Hitler noted, “The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing.” It should come as no surprise, then, that starting in December 1935, Jews in Germany were prevented from obtaining shooting licenses, because authorities believed that to allow them to do so would “endanger the German population.” In late 1938, special orders were delivered barring Jews from owning firearms, with the punishment for arms possession being 20 years in a concentration camp.

The rest, as they say, is history. Yet it is a history that we should be wary of repeating. — John W. Whitehead

NOW PLAYING: It wouldn’t be a week in America without another slew of children being punished for childish behavior under the regime of zero tolerance. Call it the end of childhood, call it the end of innocence, call it the end of imagination—what it will eventually amount to is the termination of freedom in the United States.  — John W. Whitehead

Likening the National Security Agency’s (NSA) domestic spying program to a modern-day incarnation of the abusive colonial-era general warrants and writs of assistance which prompted the Framers of the U.S. Constitution to adopt the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures, The Rutherford Institute has asked the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to strike down the government’s surveillance program. In filing an amicus curiae brief in ACLU v. Clapper, Institute attorneys have asked the court to enforce the historic purposes of the Fourth Amendment by reversing a district court ruling that the government’s broad monitoring of citizens’ telephone calls does not constitute an illegal search.

“James Madison, who was one of the primary drafters of our Constitution, once warned that we should take alarm at the first experiment with our liberties,” stated John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “He also warned that ‘the essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.’ To our detriment, we have failed to heed Madison’s warning. As a result, we now find ourselves operating in a strange paradigm where the government not only views the citizenry as suspects but treats them as suspects, as well. Thus, the fact that the NSA is routinely operating outside of the law and overstepping its legal authority by carrying out surveillance on American citizens is not really much of a surprise. This is what happens when you give the government broad powers and allow government agencies to routinely sidestep the Constitution.”