Archive for August, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. — Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have filed a brief with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, asking the court to reinstate a lawsuit on behalf of a decorated Marine who was arrested by a swarm of Secret Service and FBI 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. Rutherford Institute attorneys filed the lawsuit in May 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia challenging the government’s actions as procedurally improper, legally unjustified, and in violation of Raub’s First Amendment rights.

In February 2014, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the lawsuit, rejecting concerns over government suppression of dissident speech as “far-fetched.” In asking the Court of Appeals to reinstate the lawsuit, Institute attorneys argue that Raub was unjustly deprived of his liberty because of a failure in the mental health system to competently evaluate Raub’s mental condition. The lawsuit also alleges that Raub’s seizure and detention were the result of a Chesterfield County mental health screener’s dislike of Raub’s “unpatriotic” views on federal government misconduct, thereby violating the ex-Marine’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

The Rutherford Institute’s brief in Brandon Raub v. Michael Campbell is available at www.rutherford.org.

A Government of Wolves book cover“What may sound far-fetched to the courts is a grim reality to Americans who are daily being targeted for daring to exercise their constitutional rights to speak their minds, worship as they please, criticize the government, defend themselves and their families against over-reaching government surveillance and heavy-handed police tactics,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “Ultimately, Brandon Raub’s case tests our tolerance for free speech and those dissidents who keep the First Amendment relevant, because if we cannot proclaim our feelings about the government, no matter how controversial—on our clothing, or to passersby, or to the users of the world wide web—then the First Amendment really has become an exercise in futility.”

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. A Special Justice subsequently ordered that Raub be held up to 30 more days for psychological evaluation and treatment. In coming to Raub’s aid, Rutherford Institute attorneys challenged the government’s actions as a violation of Raub’s First and Fourth 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.”

Attorneys Anthony Troy and Charles A. Zdebski of Eckert Seamens Cherin & Mellott, LLC, and William H. Hurd and Stephen C. Piepgrass of Troutman Sanders, LLP in Richmond are assisting The Rutherford Institute in bringing the lawsuit.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Weighing in on a case that will significantly impact expression on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who was charged with making unlawful threats (it was never proven that he intended to threaten anyone) and sentenced to 44 months in jail after he posted allusions to popular song lyrics and comedy routines on his Facebook page.

The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Anthony D. Elonis v. United States of America argues that the First Amendment protects even inflammatory statements that may give offense or cause concern to others unless the statements were a credible threat to engage in violence against another and made by the defendant with the intent to cause fear in the alleged victim. The case arises out of Facebook postings made by Anthony Elonis expressing his anger about events in his life, and which were based upon rap lyrics of artists such as Eminem and a comedy sketch of the group The Whitest Kids U’ Know.

The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Elonis v. United States is available at www.rutherford.org.

A Government of Wolves book cover“Whether it’s a Marine arrested for criticizing the government on Facebook or an ex-husband jailed for expressing his frustrations through rap lyrics on Facebook, the end result is the same—the criminalization of free speech,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “While social media and the Internet have become critical forums for individuals to freely share information and express their ideas, they have unfortunately also become tools for the government to monitor, control and punish the populace for behavior and speech that may be controversial but are far from criminal.”

Anthony Elonis was an active poster on Facebook who often used references to popular culture to express his views, feelings and frustration about events in his life. In May 2010, after Elonis’ wife left him and took his two children, he began listening to rap music and alluding to the sometimes violent lyrics of rap songs on his Facebook page. Elonis would couple these postings with statements acknowledging that the lyrics were fictitious and that he was simply exercising his First Amendment right of expression. After his estranged wife obtained a protection order against him, Elonis posted a reference to a comedy sketch of The Whitest Kids U’ Know about threatening language that Elonis changed to include a reference about harming his wife. In another post, Elonis used the lyrics of Eminem in which the rap artist included fantasized thoughts about shooting up a school. After federal agents were alerted to some of his postings, an investigator was sent to speak with Elonis. In response, Elonis posted rap lyrics he wrote containing fantasized language about having a bomb strapped to his body and doing violence to the agent.

In response to these postings, the federal government charged Elonis under a statute making it a crime to transmit in interstate commerce any communication containing a threat to injure another. Elonis was convicted on four counts of violating this statute but appealed his conviction, arguing that the government should have been required to prove that he intended to threaten the alleged victims, not simply that the victims could reasonably have believed the words were “true threats.” In weighing in on the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that “in order to protect the First Amendment rights of speakers, courts must ensure that they are criminalizing more than just the unrealized and unrealizable fears of particularly sensitive listeners.”

In a related case, The Rutherford Institute is also representing Marine veteran Brandon Raub, who was arrested, detained in a psychiatric ward, and forced to undergo psychological evaluations based solely on the controversial nature of lines from song lyrics, political messages and virtual card games which he posted to his private Facebook page.

“Men fight for liberty and win it with hard knocks. Their children, brought up easy, let it slip away again, poor fools. And their grandchildren are once more slaves.”―D.H. Lawrence

No matter what your perspective on the showdown between locals and law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri, there can be no disputing the fact that “local” police should not be looking or acting like branches of the military.

Unfortunately, in the police state that is America today, we’re going to find ourselves revisiting Ferguson over and over again. Every time an unarmed citizen gets shot by a police officer who is armed to the hilt, or inclined to shoot first and ask questions later, or so concerned about their own safety, to the exclusion of all else, that everything becomes a potential threat, we’ll find ourselves back in Ferguson territory again.

Here’s the thing, though: whether or not it ever gets reported, whether it incites any protests or marches or showdowns of epic proportions, whether it elicits any outrage on the part of the citizenry, Ferguson is already happening over and over again, all around us.

It’s happening in small towns and big cities alike every time a citizen gets stopped and frisked for no better reason than they “look” suspicious. It’s happening on the nation’s highways and byways, where corporate greed disguised as road safety is making a hefty profit off of drivers who have the misfortune of passing a red light camera or a speed camera or a license plate reader. It’s happening in the privately run jails, which are teeming with prisoners doing time for nonviolent crimes that should have landed them with a slap on the wrist and a fine instead of hard time and forced labor.

It’s happening in our airports and train stations and shopping malls, where menacing squads of black-garbed, jack-booted, up-armored soldiers disguised as law enforcement officials are subjecting Americans to roving security checkpoints, allegedly in the pursuit of terrorists. And it’s happening in the schools, where the school-to-prison pipeline is fully operational and busy churning out newly minted citizens of the American police state who have been taught the hard way what it means to comply and march in lockstep with the government’s dictates.

Young Alex Stone didn’t even make it past the first week of school before he became a victim of the police state. Directed by his teacher to do a creative writing assignment involving a series of fictional Facebook statuses, Stone wrote, “I killed my neighbor’s pet dinosaur. I bought the gun to take care of the business.” Despite the fact that dinosaurs are extinct, the status fabricated, and the South Carolina student was merely following orders, his teacher reported him to school administrators, who in turn called the police.

What followed is par for the course in schools today: students were locked down in their classrooms while armed police searched the 16-year-old’s locker and bookbag, handcuffed him, charged him with disorderly conduct disturbing the school, arrested him, detained him, and then he was suspended from school. Stone’s mother was never alerted to the school’s concerns about her son’s creative writing assignment or his subsequent interrogation and arrest.

Keshana Wilson, a 14-year-old student at a Pennsylvania high school, was tasered in the groin by a police officer working as a school resource officer, allegedly because she resisted arrest for cursing, inciting a crowd of students, and walking on the highway. One might be hard pressed to find a teenager not guilty of one or the other at any given time. Nevertheless, the tasering came after the officer grabbed the teenager from behind and pushed her up against a car, without identifying himself as a police officer. “The teenager had to be taken to hospital to have the taser probes removed before she was arrested and charged with aggravated assault on the officer, simple assault, riot, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, failure to disperse and walking on the highway,” noted one reporter.

Rounding out the lesson in compliance, police officers who patrol schools in Compton, Calif., are now authorized to buy semi-automatic AR-15 rifles and carry them in their patrol car trunks while on duty—a practice that is becoming increasingly common, according to Joe Grubbs, president of the California Association of School Resource Officers. A few states away, in Missouri, a new state law actually requires that all school districts participate in live-action school shooting drills, including realistic gunfire, students covered in fake blood, and bodies strewn throughout the hallways.

Now these incidents may seem light years away from the all-too-grim reality of the events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri, but they are, in fact, mere stops along the way to the American police state, and parents with kids returning to school would do well to consider these incidents fair warning, because today’s public schools have become 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, senseless arrests, jail time, 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.

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.

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 not only create a generation of test-takers capable of little else, but it will also constitute massive data collection on virtually every aspect of our children’s lives which will be accessed by government agents and their corporate allies.

A Government of Wolves book coverOvert 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.

As problematic as all of these programs are, however, what’s really unnerving are the similarities between the American system of public education and that of totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany, with their overt campaigns of educational indoctrination. And while those who run America’s schools may not be deliberately attempting to raise up a generation of Hitler Youth, they 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.’”

In the face of such a mechanized, bureaucratic school system that demands conformity, indoctrinating and enslaving their minds while punishing anyone who dares step out of line, American school children are indeed powerless. And they will remain helpless, powerless and in bondage to the police state unless “we the people” take the steps to set them free. — John W. Whitehead

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Weighing in on a case that will significantly impact expression on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who was charged with making unlawful threats (it was never proven that he intended to threaten anyone) and sentenced to 44 months in jail after he posted allusions to popular song lyrics and comedy routines on his Facebook page.

The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Anthony D. Elonis v. United States of America argues that the First Amendment protects even inflammatory statements that may give offense or cause concern to others unless the statements were a credible threat to engage in violence against another and made by the defendant with the intent to cause fear in the alleged victim. The case arises out of Facebook postings made by Anthony Elonis expressing his anger about events in his life, and which were based upon rap lyrics of artists such as Eminem and a comedy sketch of the group The Whitest Kids U’ Know.

The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Elonis v. United States is available at www.rutherford.org.

A Government of Wolves book cover“Whether it’s a Marine arrested for criticizing the government on Facebook or an ex-husband jailed for expressing his frustrations through rap lyrics on Facebook, the end result is the same—the criminalization of free speech,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “While social media and the Internet have become critical forums for individuals to freely share information and express their ideas, they have unfortunately also become tools for the government to monitor, control and punish the populace for behavior and speech that may be controversial but are far from criminal.”

Anthony Elonis was an active poster on Facebook who often used references to popular culture to express his views, feelings and frustration about events in his life. In May 2010, after Elonis’ wife left him and took his two children, he began listening to rap music and alluding to the sometimes violent lyrics of rap songs on his Facebook page. Elonis would couple these postings with statements acknowledging that the lyrics were fictitious and that he was simply exercising his First Amendment right of expression. After his estranged wife obtained a protection order against him, Elonis posted a reference to a comedy sketch of The Whitest Kids U’ Know about threatening language that Elonis changed to include a reference about harming his wife. In another post, Elonis used the lyrics of Eminem in which the rap artist included fantasized thoughts about shooting up a school. After federal agents were alerted to some of his postings, an investigator was sent to speak with Elonis. In response, Elonis posted rap lyrics he wrote containing fantasized language about having a bomb strapped to his body and doing violence to the agent.

In response to these postings, the federal government charged Elonis under a statute making it a crime to transmit in interstate commerce any communication containing a threat to injure another. Elonis was convicted on four counts of violating this statute but appealed his conviction, arguing that the government should have been required to prove that he intended to threaten the alleged victims, not simply that the victims could reasonably have believed the words were “true threats.” In weighing in on the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that “in order to protect the First Amendment rights of speakers, courts must ensure that they are criminalizing more than just the unrealized and unrealizable fears of particularly sensitive listeners.”

In a related case, The Rutherford Institute is also representing Marine veteran Brandon Raub, who was arrested, detained in a psychiatric ward, and forced to undergo psychological evaluations based solely on the controversial nature of lines from song lyrics, political messages and virtual card games which he posted to his private Facebook page.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olmstead continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where does that leave us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about a financial incentive.

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

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

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

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

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

What some Americans may not have realized, however, is that America’s economy has come to depend in large part on prison labor. “Prison labor reportedly produces 100 percent of military helmets, shirts, pants, tents, bags, canteens, and a variety of other equipment. Prison labor makes circuit boards for IBM, Texas Instruments, and Dell. Many McDonald’s uniforms are sewn by inmates. Other corporations—Microsoft, Victoria’s Secret, Boeing, Motorola, Compaq, Revlon, and Kmart—also benefit from prison labor.” The resulting prison labor industries, which rely on cheap, almost free labor, are doing as much to put the average American out of work as the outsourcing of jobs to China and India.

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

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

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

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

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