Archive for April, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In refusing to hear a legal challenge to the indefinite detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA), the United States Supreme Court has affirmed that the President and the U.S. military can arrest and indefinitely detain individuals, including American citizens.

By denying without comment a petition for review in Hedges v. Obama, the high court not only passed up an opportunity to overturn its 1944 Korematsu v. United States ruling allowing for the internment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, but also let stand a lower court ruling empowering the President to use “all necessary and appropriate force” to indefinitely detain persons associated with or “suspected” of aiding terrorist organizations. In weighing in on the case before the lower court, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute challenged the Obama administration’s claim that the NDAA does not apply to American citizens, arguing that the NDAA’s language is so unconstitutionally broad and vague as to open the door to arrests and indefinite detentions for speech and political activity that might be critical of the government.

“Once again, the U.S. Supreme Court has shown itself to be an advocate for the government, no matter how illegal its action, rather than a champion of the Constitution and, by extension, the American people,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “No matter what the Obama administration may say to the contrary, actions speak louder than words, and history shows that the U.S. government is not averse to locking up its own citizens for its own purposes. What the NDAA does is open the door for the government to detain as a threat to national security anyone viewed as a troublemaker. According to government guidelines for identifying domestic extremists—a word used interchangeably with terrorists, that technically applies to anyone exercising their First Amendment rights in order to criticize the government.”

The NDAA 2012, the mammoth defense bill passed by Congress in 2011 and signed into law by President Obama, contains a provision allowing for the indefinite detention of those who “associate” or “substantially support” enemies of the U.S. such as terrorist groups. These terms, however, are not defined in the statute, and the government itself is unable to say who exactly is subject to indefinite detention based upon these terms, leaving them open to wide ranging interpretations which threaten those engaging in legitimate First Amendment activities.

Soon after the NDAA was enacted, a lawsuit was filed by citizens and non-citizen activists and journalists alleging that it violated their constitutional rights by threatening them with indefinite detention for engaging in protected speech, such as protesting American foreign policy or interviewing suspected terrorists for journalistic purposes. On September 12, 2012, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest of the Southern District Court of New York ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and placed a permanent injunction on the indefinite detention provision. However, President Obama appealed the decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in July 2013 that the journalists and activists did not have standing to challenge the detention provisions. In rationalizing its decision, the court stressed that there had been no history of enforcement against persons such as these plaintiffs (activists and journalists, but non-combatants), the statute is not aimed at persons like them, and there has been no specific threat by the government to apply the statute to them.

Critics of the NDAA had hoped that the U.S. Supreme Court would agree to hear the case and, in so doing, reverse its 1944 ruling in Korematsu v. United States, which concluded that the government’s need to ensure the safety of the country trumped personal liberties and allowed for the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

LEGAL ACTION

Click Here to read The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Hedges v. Obama

[The aim of public education is not] to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. . . . Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim . . . is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States…”—Henry Mencken, American Journalist (April 1924)

How do you persuade a nation of relatively freedom-loving individuals to march in lock step with a police state? You start by convincing them that they’re in danger, and only the government can protect them. Keep them keyed up with constant danger alerts, and the occasional terrorist incident, whether real or staged. Distract them with wall-to-wall news coverage about sinking ships, disappearing planes and pseudo-celebrities spouting racist diatribes. Use blockbuster movies, reality shows and violent video games to hype them up on military tactics, and then while they’re distracted and numb to all that is taking place around them, indoctrinate their young people to your way of thinking, relying primarily on the public schools and popular culture.

After all, public education the world over has always been the vehicle for statist propaganda of one sort or another, whether it’s religion, militarism, democracy or totalitarianism, and America is no exception. In fact, today’s public schools, far from being bastions of free speech, are merely microcosms of the world beyond the schoolhouse gates, and increasingly, it’s a world hostile to freedom.

As I show in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, within America’s public schools can be found almost every aspect of the American police state that plagues those of us on the “outside”: metal detectors, surveillance cameras, militarized police, drug-sniffing dogs, tasers, cyber-surveillance, random searches, the list goes on. Whether it takes the form of draconian zero tolerance policies, overreaching anti-bullying statutes, police officers charged with tasering and arresting so-called unruly children, standardized testing with its emphasis on rote answers, political correctness, or the extensive surveillance systems cropping up in schools all over the country, young people in America are first in line to be indoctrinated into compliant citizens of the new American police state.

Zero tolerance policies, which punish all offenses severely, no matter how minor, condition young people to steer clear of doing anything that might be considered out of line, whether it’s pointing their fingers like a gun, drawing on their desks, or chewing their gum too loudly. Although the Obama administration recently called on schools to rethink how they discipline and punish students who misbehave, their guidelines to help schools re-evaluate their disciplinary policies fail to address the source of the problem: the quasi-prison atmosphere of public schools.

Surveillance technologies, used by school officials, police, NSA agents, and corporate entities to track the everyday activities of students, accustom young people to life in an electronic concentration camp, with all of their movements monitored, their interactions assessed, and their activities recorded and archived. For example, the Department of Education (DOE) has created a system to track, archive and disseminate data on every single part of a child’s educational career with colleges and state agencies such as the Department of Labor and the offices of Technology and Children and Family Services. The system relies on a database called inBloom, which is funded by corporate magnates such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. DOE has also received $40 million from various state and federal agencies to help fund the program.

Metal detectors at school entrances and police patrolling school hallways acclimatize young people to being viewed as suspects. Funded in part by federal grants, school districts across the country have “paid local police agencies to provide armed ‘school resource officers’ for high schools, middle schools and sometimes even elementary schools.” As the New York Times reports, “Hundreds of additional districts, including those in Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, have created police forces of their own, employing thousands of sworn officers.” The problem, of course, is that the very presence of these police officers in the schools results in greater numbers of students being arrested or charged with crimes for nonviolent, childish behavior. In Texas, for example, school police officers write more than 100,000 misdemeanor tickets a year, each ticket amounting to hundreds of dollars in court fines—a convenient financial windfall for the states. All too often, these incidents remain on students’ permanent records, impacting college and job applications.

Weapons of compliance, such as tasers which deliver electrical shocks lethal enough to kill, not only teach young people to fear the police, the face of our militarized government, but teach them that torture is an accepted means of controlling the population. It’s a problem that has grown exponentially as the schools have increasingly clamored for—and hired on—their own police forces. One high school student in Texas suffered severe brain damage and nearly died after being tasered. A 15-year-old disabled North Carolina student was tasered three times, resulting in punctured lungs. A New York student was similarly tasered for lying on the floor and crying.

Standardized testing and Common Core programs, which discourage students from thinking for themselves while rewarding them for regurgitating whatever the government, through its so-called educational standards, dictates they should be taught, will create a generation of test-takers capable of little else, molded and shaped by the federal government and its corporate allies into what it considers to be ideal citizens. Incredibly, despite the fact that the U.S. invests more money in public education (roughly $8,000 per child per year) than many other developed countries, we rank 27th in the world for school educational achievement.

Overt censorship, monitoring and political correctness, which manifest themselves in a variety of ways, from Internet filters on school computers to sexual harassment policies, habituate young people to a world in which nonconformist, divergent, politically incorrect ideas and speech are treated as unacceptable or dangerous. In such an environment, a science teacher criticizing evolution can get fired for insubordination, a 9-year-old boy remarking that his teacher is “cute” can be suspended for sexual harassment, students detected using their smart phones during class time can be reported for not paying attention in class, and those accused of engaging in “bullying, cyber-bullying, hate and shaming activities, depression, harm and self harm, self hate and suicide, crime, vandalism, substance abuse and truancy” on social media such as Twitter or Facebook, will have their posts and comments analyzed by an outside government contractor.

So far I’ve only mentioned what’s happening within the public schools. It doesn’t even begin to touch on extracurricular activities such as the Explorers program, which trains young people—“ages 14 to 21 who have a C average”—to be future agents of the police state. Explorers meet weekly, train for competitions and spend their weekends working on service projects. In one Border Patrol training exercise, teenagers as young as 14, suited up in military gear with lethal-looking airsoft guns, were “instructed on how to quiet an obstreperous lookout,” reports the New York Times. “Put him on his face and put a knee in his back,” a Border Patrol agent explained. “I guarantee that he’ll shut up.”

Then there’s the military’s use of video games and blockbuster movies to propagandize war and recruit young people. Thanks to a collaboration between the Department of Defense and the entertainment industry, the American taxpayer is paying for what amounts to a propaganda campaign aimed at entrenching the power of the military in American society. As author Nick Turse points out, “Today, almost everywhere you look, whether at the latest blockbuster on the big screen or what’s on much smaller screens in your own home – likely made by a defense contractor like Sony, Samsung, Panasonic or Toshiba – you’ll find the Pentagon or its corporate partners.”

What’s really unnerving, however, are the similarities between our own system of youth indoctrination and that of Nazi Germany, with its Hitler Youth programs and overt campaign of educational indoctrination. Now before I’m drowned out by howls of outrage, note that while I am not suggesting the United States is deliberately attempting to raise up a generation of Hitler Youth, our schools and society at large are teaching young people to march in lockstep with the all-powerful government—which may be just as dangerous in the end.

You don’t have to take my word for it. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum provides some valuable insight into education in the Nazi state, which was responsible for winning “millions of German young people … over to Nazism in the classroom and through extracurricular activities.” The similarities are startling, ranging from the dismissal of teachers deemed to be “politically unreliable” to the introduction of classroom textbooks that taught students obedience to state authority and militarism. “Board games and toys for children served as another way to spread racial and political propaganda to German youth. Toys were also used as propaganda vehicles to indoctrinate children into militarism.” And then there was the Hitler Youth, a paramilitary youth group intended to train young people for future service in the armed forces and government.

Hitler himself recognized the value of indoctrinating young people. As he noted, “When an opponent declares, ‘I will not come over to your side, and you will not get me on your side,’ I calmly say, ‘Your child belongs to me already. A people lives forever. What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants however now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community.’”

We’re certainly not doing ourselves or our young people any favors by allowing them to be indoctrinated into a police state mindset from early on, with no knowledge that they have any their rights or any sense that they are the descendants of revolutionaries who stood up to tyrannical regimes.

If there is one glimmer of hope for this younger generation, it may be found in the unlikeliest of places: young adult literature, specifically dystopian literature, which is all the rage among young people today. Serial books such as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Bone Season and The Giver all speak to a growing awareness among young people that the future awaiting them is far from secure, and that freedom ultimately rests in their ability to take on the powers-that-be.

Warning against any effort to deprive parents of their fundamental right to be actively involved in their child’s educational experience, including access to school grounds, The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of a Texas mother who has been banned from her children’s elementary school campus and threatened with arrest, allegedly because she was overheard using “inappropriate language” in a conversation with another parent. The mother denies using any inappropriate language. Pointing out that the trespass warning against Yvonne Garcia, whose two children, ages 7 and 11, attend Forbes Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas, is overreaching, egregious and unlawful, Rutherford Institute attorneys are demanding that school officials immediately reinstate Ms. Garcia’s right of access to the school grounds. Institute attorneys also point out that the school’s decision to deprive Ms. Garcia of access to her children while at school, even to drop off or pick up her children, without explanation or an opportunity to defend herself, flies in the face of longstanding recognition by the courts that parents have a liberty interest in the “care, custody, and control of their children.”

“Hate crime laws, anti-bullying statutes, zero tolerance policies, trespassing warnings—these policies may have started out with the best of intentions to make students and schools safer, but what they have accomplished is transforming the schools into quasi-prisons, microcosms of the emerging American police state,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “This is the danger of allowing government officials to prioritize so-called security needs over Americans’ constitutional rights: rather than pursuing rational policies that foster safer environments, they demand total compliance and advocate a totalitarian mindset which punishes any deviation whatsoever, no matter how insignificant.”

On Monday, December 9, 2013, when Yvonne Garcia arrived at Forbes Elementary School to pick up her children, she was confronted by police officers who were awaiting her arrival. The officers informed her that she was barred from entering the school because she had allegedly used “inappropriate language” while on campus the previous Friday. Ms. Garcia was also given a letter informing her that she is banned from being present on school grounds, even to drop off and pick up her children, or meet with school personnel about her children’s health and educational progress. The following day, Ms. Garcia was granted “limited permission” to access school grounds when “dropping off [her] children,” which requires her to drop off her children in an inaccessible and inconvenient area behind the school gym. In order to pick up her children, Ms. Garcia has to park her vehicle across the street from the school grounds and wait while her children are escorted to her vehicle by a school official. This arrangement requires that the Garcia children leave class 15 minutes early each day and wait for their escort in the principal’s office, publicly embarrassing and stigmatizing them to the other schoolchildren. The trespass order also prevents Ms. Garcia from being present at her son’s upcoming graduation ceremony.

Noting that the situation has become untenable and is causing the Garcia children great anxiety, to such an extent that one of the children has suffered increasing bouts of anxiety attacks, Rutherford Institute attorneys have requested a response from school officials by Monday, April 28, 2014.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”—John F. Kennedy

Those tempted to write off the standoff at the Bundy Ranch as little more than a show of force by militia-minded citizens would do well to reconsider their easy dismissal of this brewing rebellion. This goes far beyond concerns about grazing rights or the tension between the state and the federal government.

Few conflicts are ever black and white, and the Bundy situation, with its abundance of gray areas, is no exception. Yet the question is not whether Cliven Bundy and his supporters are domestic terrorists, as Harry Reid claims, or patriots, or something in between. Nor is it a question of whether the Nevada rancher is illegally grazing his cattle on federal land or whether that land should rightfully belong to the government. Nor is it even a question of who’s winning the showdown— the government with its arsenal of SWAT teams, firepower and assault vehicles, or Bundy’s militia supporters with their assortment of weapons—because if such altercations end in bloodshed, everyone loses.

What we’re really faced with, and what we’ll see more of before long, is a growing dissatisfaction with the government and its heavy-handed tactics by people who are tired of being used and abused and are ready to say “enough is enough.” And it won’t matter what the issue is—whether it’s a rancher standing his ground over grazing rights, a minister jailed for holding a Bible study in his own home, or a community outraged over police shootings of unarmed citizens—these are the building blocks of a political powder keg. Now all that remains is a spark, and it need not be a very big one, to set the whole powder keg aflame.

As I show in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, there’s a subtext to this incident that must not be ignored, and it is simply this: America is a pressure cooker with no steam valve, and things are about to blow. This is what happens when a parasitical government muzzles the citizenry, fences them in, herds them, brands them, whips them into submission, forces them to ante up the sweat of their brows while giving them little in return, and then provides them with little to no outlet for voicing their discontent.

The government has been anticipating and preparing for such an uprising for years. For example, in 2008, a U.S. Army War College report warned that the military must be prepared for a “violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States,” which could be provoked by “unforeseen economic collapse,” “purposeful domestic resistance,” “pervasive public health emergencies” or “loss of functioning political and legal order”—all related to dissent and protests over America’s economic and political disarray. Consequently, predicted the report, the “widespread civil violence would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security.”

One year later, in 2009, the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama issued its infamous reports on Rightwing and Leftwing “Extremism.” According to these reports, an extremist is defined as anyone who subscribes to a particular political viewpoint. Rightwing extremists, for example, are broadly defined in the report as individuals and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely.”

Despite “no specific information that domestic rightwing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence,” the DHS listed a number of scenarios that could arise as a result of so-called rightwing extremists playing on the public’s fears and discontent over various issues, including the economic downturn, real estate foreclosures and unemployment.

Equally disconcerting, the reports use the words “terrorist” and “extremist” interchangeably. In other words, voicing what the government would consider to be extremist viewpoints is tantamount to being a terrorist. Under such a definition, I could very well be considered a terrorist. So too could John Lennon, Martin Luther King Jr., Roger Baldwin (founder of the ACLU), Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Adams—all of these men protested and passionately spoke out against government practices with which they disagreed and would be prime targets under this document.

The document also took pains to describe the political views of those who would qualify as being a rightwing extremist. For example, you are labeled a rightwing extremist if you voice concerns about a myriad of issues including: policy changes under President Obama; the economic downturn and home foreclosures; the loss of U.S. jobs in manufacturing and construction sectors; and social issues such as abortion, interracial crimes and immigration. DHS also issued a red-flag warning against anyone who promotes “conspiracy theories involving declarations of martial law, impending civil strife or racial conflict, suspension of the U.S. Constitution, and the creation of citizen detention camps.”

Fast forward five years, with all that has transpired, from the Occupy Protests and the targeting of military veterans to domestic surveillance, especially of activist-oriented groups and now, most recently, the Bundy Ranch showdown, and it would seem clear that the government has not veered one iota from its original playbook. Indeed, the government’s full-blown campaign of surveillance of Americans’ internet activity, phone calls, etc., makes complete sense in hindsight.

All that we have been subjected to in recent years—living under the shadow of NSA spying; motorists strip searched and anally probed on the side of the road; innocent Americans spied upon while going about their daily business in schools and stores; homeowners having their doors kicked in by militarized SWAT teams serving routine warrants—illustrates how the government deals with people it views as potential “extremists”: with heavy-handed tactics designed to intimidate the populace into submission and discourage anyone from stepping out of line or challenging the status quo.

It’s not just the Cliven Bundys of the world who are being dealt with in this manner. Don Miller, a 91-year-old antiques collector, recently had his Indiana home raided by the FBI, ostensibly because it might be in the nation’s best interest if the rare and valuable antiques and artifacts Miller had collected over the course of 80 years were cared for by the government. Such tactics carried out by anyone other than the government would be considered grand larceny, and yet the government gets a free pass.

In the same way, the government insists it can carry out all manner of surveillance on us—listen in on our phone calls, read our emails and text messages, track our movements, photograph our license plates, even enter our biometric information into DNA databases—but those who dare to return the favor, even a little, by filming potential police misconduct, get roughed up by the police, arrested, charged with violating various and sundry crimes.

When law enforcement officials—not just the police, but every agent of the government entrusted with enforcing laws, from the president on down—are allowed to discard the law when convenient, and the only ones having to obey the law are the citizenry and not the enforcers, then the law becomes only a tool to punish us, rather than binding and controlling the government, as it was intended.

This phenomenon is what philosopher Abraham Kaplan referred to as the law of the instrument, which essentially says that to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In the scenario that has been playing out in recent years, we the citizenry have become the nails to be hammered by the government’s henchmen, a.k.a. its guns for hire, a.k.a. its standing army, a.k.a. the nation’s law enforcement agencies.

Indeed, there can no longer be any doubt that militarized police officers, the end product of the government—federal, local and state—and law enforcement agencies having merged, have become a “standing” or permanent army, composed of full-time professional soldiers who do not disband. Yet these permanent armies are exactly what those who drafted the U.S. Constitution feared as tools used by despotic governments to wage war against its citizens.

That is exactly what we are witnessing today: a war against the American citizenry. Is it any wonder then that Americans are starting to resist?

More and more, Americans are tired, frustrated, anxious, and worried about the state of their country. They are afraid of an increasingly violent and oppressive federal government, and they are worried about the economic insecurity which still grips the nation. And they’re growing increasingly sick of being treated like suspects and criminals. As former law professor John Baker, who has studied the growing problem of overcriminalization, noted, “There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime. That is not an exaggeration.”

To make matters worse, a recent scientific study by Princeton researchers confirms that the United States of America is not the democracy that is purports to be, but rather an oligarchy, in which “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy.” As PolicyMic explains, “An oligarchy is a system where power is effectively wielded by a small number of individuals defined by their status called oligarchs. Members of the oligarchy are the rich, the well connected and the politically powerful, as well as particularly well placed individuals in institutions like banking and finance or the military… In other words, their statistics say your opinion literally does not matter.

So if average Americans, having largely lost all of the conventional markers of influencing government, whether through elections, petition, or protest, have no way to impact their government, no way to be heard, no assurance that their concerns are truly being represented and their government is one “by the people, of the people, and for the people,” as opposed to being engineered expressly for the benefit of the wealthy elite, then where does that leave them?

To some, the choice is clear. As psychologist Erich Fromm recognized in his insightful book, On Disobedience: “If a man can only obey and not disobey, he is a slave; if he can only disobey and not obey, he is a rebel (not a revolutionary). He acts out of anger, disappointment, resentment, yet not in the name of a conviction or a principle.”

Unfortunately, the intrepid, revolutionary American spirit that stood up to the British, blazed paths to the western territories, and prevailed despite a civil war, multiple world wars, and various economic depressions has taken quite a beating in recent years. Nevertheless, the time is coming when each American will have to decide: will you be a slave, rebel or revolutionary?

An Illinois federal court has ruled that Chicago school officials did not violate the rights of a second-grade teacher who was charged with possessing weapons on school grounds after he displayed garden-variety tools such as wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers in his classroom as part of his second grade teaching curriculum that required a “tool discussion.” In granting a motion to dismiss the complaint in Douglas Bartlett v. City of Chicago School District #299, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Dow, Jr., held that school officials at Washington Irving Elementary School acted properly when they applied a definition of “weapons” contained in a student handbook to the actions of teacher Douglas Bartlett.

Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute filed the civil rights lawsuit in April 2013 on behalf of Bartlett, a 17-year veteran in the classroom, who was suspended without pay for four days on the grounds that his use of the tools as visual aids endangered his students, despite the fact that all potentially hazardous items were kept out of the students’ reach.

“In an age where public schools face an unprecedented number of real challenges in maintaining student discipline, and addressing threats of real violence, surely no one benefits from trumped up charges where no actual ‘weapons’ violation has occurred and no threat is posed to any member of the school community,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “This school district’s gross overreaction to a simple teaching demonstration on basic tools such as wrenches and pliers underscores exactly what is wrong with our nation’s schools. Education truly suffers when school administrators exhibit such poor judgment and common sense, especially when it comes to their zealous misapplication of misguided zero tolerance policies. However, what makes this case stand out from the rest is that this victim of zero tolerance policies run amok happens to be a veteran school teacher.”

Doug Bartlett teaches second graders at Washington Irving Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois. On August 8, 2011, Bartlett displayed several garden-variety tools he used around the classroom, including wrenches, screwdrivers, a box cutter, a 2.25” pocketknife, and pliers, as visual aids for a “tool discussion” which is required by the teaching curriculum. It is common for teachers to use such visual aids to help students retain their lessons. As he displayed the box cutter and pocketknife in particular, Bartlett specifically described the proper uses of these tools. None of the tools were made accessible to the students. When not in use, the tools were secured in a toolbox on a high shelf out of reach of the students.

On August 19, 2011, Bartlett received notice that he was under investigation for, among other things, “possessing, carrying, storing, or using a weapon,” and for negligently supervising children.  Bartlett subsequently received a four-day suspension without pay. In coming to Bartlett’s defense, Rutherford Institute attorneys filed a civil rights lawsuit, challenging the constitutionality of such disciplinary action against Bartlett as a direct violation of Bartlett’s Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. Institute attorneys also pointed out that Bartlett had no intent to use the tools as weapons, nor did he ever receive notice that using such tools in an educational manner could even be construed as using a weapon.

Affiliate attorney Dmitry N. Feofanov is assisting The Rutherford Institute with Bartlett’s case.

Click here to read the Illinois federal court ruling in Bartlett v. Chicago Sch. Distr

Click here to read The Rutherford Institute’s complaint in Bartlett v. Chicago Sch. Distr

“There is no evidence that Jesus himself openly advocated violent actions. But he was certainly no pacifist. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword” (Matthew 10:34 | Luke 12:51).” ― Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Those living through this present age of SWAT team raids, police shootings of unarmed citizens, roadside strip searches, and invasive surveillance might feel as if these events are unprecedented. Yet while we in the United States may be experiencing a steady slide into a police state, we are neither the first nor the last nation to do so.

Although technology, politics and superpowers have changed over time, the characteristics of a police state and its reasons for being have remained the same: control, power and money. Indeed, as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, a police state extends far beyond the actions of law enforcement.  In fact, a police state “is characterized by bureaucracy, secrecy, perpetual wars, a nation of suspects, militarization, surveillance, widespread police presence, and a citizenry with little recourse against police actions.”

Just as police states have arisen throughout history, there have also been individuals or groups of individuals who have risen up to challenge the injustices of their age. Nazi Germany had its Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The gulags of the Soviet Union were challenged by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. America had its color-coded system of racial segregation and warmongering called out for what it was, blatant discrimination and profiteering, by Martin Luther King Jr.

And then there was Jesus Christ, an itinerant preacher and revolutionary activist, who not only died challenging the police state of his day—namely, the Roman Empire—but provided a blueprint for civil disobedience that would be followed by those, religious and otherwise, who came after him. Yet for all the accolades poured out upon Jesus, little is said about the harsh realities of the police state in which he lived and its similarities to modern-day America, and yet they are striking.

Secrecy, surveillance and rule by the elite. As the chasm between the wealthy and poor grew wider in the Roman Empire, the ruling class and the wealthy class became synonymous, while the lower classes, increasingly deprived of their political freedoms, grew disinterested in the government and easily distracted by “bread and circuses.” Much like America today, with its lack of government transparency, overt domestic surveillance, and rule by the rich, the inner workings of the Roman Empire were shrouded in secrecy, while its leaders were constantly on the watch for any potential threats to its power. The resulting state-wide surveillance was primarily carried out by the military, which acted as investigators, enforcers, torturers, policemen, executioners and jailers. Today that role is fulfilled by increasingly militarized police forces across the country.

Widespread police presence. The Roman Empire used its military forces to maintain the “peace,” thereby establishing a police state that reached into all aspects of a citizen’s life. In this way, these military officers, used to address a broad range of routine problems and conflicts, enforced the will of the state. Today SWAT teams, comprised of local police and federal agents, are employed to carry out routine search warrants for minor crimes such as marijuana possession and credit card fraud.

Citizenry with little recourse against the police state. As the Roman Empire expanded, personal freedom and independence nearly vanished, as did any real sense of local governance and national consciousness. Similarly, in America today, citizens largely feel powerless, voiceless and unrepresented in the face of a power-hungry federal government. As states and localities are brought under direct control by federal agencies and regulations, a sense of learned helplessness grips the nation.

Perpetual wars and a military empire. Much like America today with its practice of policing the world, war and an over-arching militarist ethos provided the framework for the Roman Empire, which extended from the Italian peninsula to all over Southern, Western, and Eastern Europe, extending into North Africa and Western Asia as well. In addition to significant foreign threats, wars were waged against inchoate, unstructured and socially inferior foes.

Martial law. Eventually, Rome established a permanent military dictatorship that left the citizens at the mercy of an unreachable and oppressive totalitarian regime. In the absence of resources to establish civic police forces, the Romans relied increasingly on the military to intervene in all matters of conflict or upheaval in provinces, from small-scale scuffles to large-scale revolts. Not unlike police forces today, with their militarized weapons and “shoot first, ask questions later” mindset, the Roman soldier had “the exercise of lethal force at his fingertips” with the potential of wreaking havoc on normal citizens’ lives.

A nation of suspects. Just as the American Empire looks upon its citizens as suspects to be tracked, surveilled and controlled, the Roman Empire looked upon all potential insubordinates, from the common thief to a full-fledged insurrectionist, as threats to its power. The insurrectionist was seen as directly challenging the Emperor.  A “bandit,” or revolutionist, was seen as capable of overturning the empire, was always considered guilty and deserving of the most savage penalties, including capital punishment. Bandits were usually punished publicly and cruelly as a means of deterring others from challenging the power of the state.  Jesus’ execution was one such public punishment.

Acts of civil disobedience by insurrectionists. Starting with his act of civil disobedience at the Jewish temple, the site of the administrative headquarters of the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish council, Jesus branded himself a political revolutionary. When Jesus “with the help of his disciples, blocks the entrance to the courtyard” and forbids “anyone carrying goods for sale or trade from entering the Temple,” he committed a blatantly criminal and seditious act, an act “that undoubtedly precipitated his arrest and execution.” Because the commercial events were sponsored by the religious hierarchy, which in turn was operated by consent of the Roman government, Jesus’ attack on the money chargers and traders can be seen as an attack on Rome itself, an unmistakable declaration of political and social independence from the Roman oppression.

Detail from Hans Holbein the Younger, The Passion of Christ (1524-25, Kunstmuseum, Basel)

Military-style arrests in the dead of night. Jesus’ arrest account testifies to the fact that the Romans perceived Him as a revolutionary. Eerily similar to today’s SWAT team raids, Jesus was arrested in the middle of the night, in secret, by a large, heavily armed fleet of soldiers.  Rather than merely asking for Jesus when they came to arrest him, his pursuers collaborated beforehand with Judas. Acting as a government informant, Judas concocted a kiss as a secret identification marker, hinting that a level of deception and trickery must be used to obtain this seemingly “dangerous revolutionist’s” cooperation.

Torture and capital punishment. In Jesus’ day, religious preachers, self-proclaimed prophets and nonviolent protesters were not summarily arrested and executed. Indeed, the high priests and Roman governors normally allowed a protest, particularly a small-scale one, to run its course. However, government authorities were quick to dispose of leaders and movements that appeared to threaten the Roman Empire. The charges leveled against Jesus—that he was a threat to the stability of the nation, opposed paying Roman taxes and claimed to be the rightful King—were purely political, not religious. To the Romans, any one of these charges was enough to merit death by crucifixion, which was usually reserved for slaves, non-Romans, radicals, revolutionaries and the worst criminals.

Jesus was presented to Pontius Pilate “as a disturber of the political peace,” a leader of a rebellion, a political threat, and most gravely—a claimant to kingship, a “king of the revolutionary type.” After Jesus is formally condemned by Pilate, he is sentenced to death by crucifixion, “the Roman means of executing criminals convicted of high treason.”  The purpose of crucifixion was not so much to kill the criminal, as it was an immensely public statement intended to visually warn all those who would challenge the power of the Roman Empire. Hence, it was reserved solely for the most extreme political crimes: treason, rebellion, sedition, and banditry. After being ruthlessly whipped and mocked, Jesus was nailed to a cross.

As Professor Mark Lewis Taylor observed:

The cross within Roman politics and culture was a marker of shame, of being a criminal. If you were put to the cross, you were marked as shameful, as criminal, but especially as subversive. And there were thousands of people put to the cross. The cross was actually positioned at many crossroads, and, as New Testament scholar Paula Fredricksen has reminded us, it served as kind of a public service announcement that said, “Act like this person did, and this is how you will end up.”

Jan Provoost, Crucifixion, 1500.

Jesus—the revolutionary, the political dissident, and the nonviolent activist—lived and died in a police state.Any reflection on Jesus’ life and death within a police state must take into account several factors: Jesus spoke out strongly against such things as empires, controlling people, state violence and power politics. Jesus challenged the political and religious belief systems of his day. And worldly powers feared Jesus, not because he challenged them for control of thrones or government but because he undercut their claims of supremacy, and he dared to speak truth to power in a time when doing so could—and often did—cost a person his life.

Unfortunately, the radical Jesus, the political dissident who took aim at injustice and oppression, has been largely forgotten today, replaced by a congenial, smiling Jesus trotted out for religious holidays but otherwise rendered mute when it comes to matters of war, power and politics. Yet for those who truly study the life and teachings of Jesus, the resounding theme is one of outright resistance to war, materialism and empire.

As Professor Taylor notes, “The power of Jesus is one that enables us to critique the nation and the empire. Unfortunately, that gospel is being sacrificed and squandered by Christians who have cozied up to power and wealth.” Ultimately, this is the contradiction that must be resolved if the radical Jesus—the one who stood up to the Roman Empire and was crucified as a warning to others not to challenge the powers-that-be—is to be an example for our modern age. — John W. Whitehead

Just as police states have arisen throughout history, there have also been individuals or groups of individuals who have risen up to challenge the injustices of their age. Jesus Christ, an itinerant preacher and revolutionary activist, was one such activist who lived and died in a police state—namely, the Roman Empire. Yet for all the religious accolades poured out upon Christ, little is said about the harsh realities of the world in which he lived and its similarities to modern-day America, and yet they are striking. Set against the backdrop of police brutality and militarization occurring in America today, “Jesus Lived in a Police State” is John Whitehead’s musical tribute to a revolutionary giant who forged a path of nonviolence for all to follow.

Click here to watch the music video.

 

 

For more of Whitehead’s analysis of the emerging American police state, read his new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.