Archive for November, 2018

The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.”— Justice William J. Brennan, City of Houston v. Hill

What the architects of the police state want are submissive, compliant, cooperative, obedient, meek citizens who don’t talk back, don’t challenge government authority, don’t speak out against government misconduct, and don’t step out of line.

What the First Amendment protects—and a healthy constitutional republic requires—are citizens who routinely exercise their right to speak truth to power.

It’s not an easy undertaking.

Weaponized by police, prosecutors, courts and legislatures, “disorderly conduct” charges have become a convenient means by which to punish those individuals who refuse to be muzzled.

Cases like these have become all too common, typical of the bipolar nature of life in the American police state today: you may have distinct, protected rights on paper, but dare to exercise those rights and you put yourself at risk for fines, arrests, injuries and even death.

This is the unfortunate price of freedom.

Yet these are not new developments.

We have been circling this particular drain hole for some time now.

Almost 50 years ago, in fact, Lewis Colten was arrested outside Lexington, Kentucky, for questioning police and offering advice to his friend during a traffic stop.

Colten was one of 20 or so college students who had driven to the Blue Grass Airport to demonstrate against then-First Lady Pat Nixon. Upon leaving the airport, police stopped one of the cars in Colten’s motorcade because it bore an expired, out-of-state license plate. Colten and the other drivers also pulled over to the side of the road.

Fearing violence on the part of the police, Colten exited his vehicle and stood nearby while police issued his friend, Mendez, a ticket and arranged to tow his car. Police repeatedly asked Colten to leave. At one point, a state trooper declared, “This is none of your affair . . . get back in your car and please move on and clear the road.”

Insisting that he wanted to make a transportation arrangement for his friend Mendez and the occupants of the Mendez car, Colten failed to move away and was arrested for violating Kentucky’s disorderly conduct statute.

Colten subsequently challenged his arrest as a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech and took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sided with the police.

Although the Court acknowledged that Colten was not trespassing or disobeying any traffic regulation himself, the majority affirmed that Colten “had no constitutional right to observe the issuance of a traffic ticket or to engage the issuing officer in conversation at that time.”

The Supreme Court’s bottom line: protecting police from inconvenience, annoyance or alarm is more important than protecting speech that, in the government’s estimation, has “no social value.”

While the ruling itself was unsurprising for a judiciary that tends to march in lockstep with the police, the dissent by Justice William O. Douglas is a powerful reminder that the government exists to serve the people and not the other way around.

Stressing that Colten’s speech was quiet, not boisterous, devoid of “fighting words,” and involved no overt acts, fisticuffs, or disorderly conduct in the normal meaning of the words, Douglas took issue with the idea that merely by speaking to a government representative, in this case the police—a right enshrined in the First Amendment, by the way—Colten was perceived as inconveniencing and annoying the police.

In a passionate defense of free speech, Douglas declared:

Since when have we Americans been expected to bow submissively to authority and speak with awe and reverence to those who represent us? The constitutional theory is that we the people are the sovereigns, the state and federal officials only our agents. We who have the final word can speak softly or angrily. We can seek to challenge and annoy, as we need not stay docile and quiet. The situation might have indicated that Colten’s techniques were ill-suited to the mission he was on, that diplomacy would have been more effective. But at the constitutional level speech need not be a sedative; it can be disruptive.

It’s a power-packed paragraph full of important truths that the powers-that-be would prefer we quickly forget: We the people are the sovereigns. We have the final word. We can speak softly or angrily. We can seek to challenge and annoy. We need not stay docile and quiet. Our speech can be disruptive. It can invite dispute. It can be provocative and challenging. We do not have to bow submissively to authority or speak with reverence to government officials.

Now in theory, “we the people” have a constitutional right to talk back to the government.

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded as much in City of Houston v. Hill when it struck down a city ordinance prohibiting verbal abuse of police officers as unconstitutionally overbroad and a criminalization of protected speech.

In practice, however, talking back—especially when the police are involved—can get you killed.

The danger is real.

We live in an age in which “we the people” are at the mercy of militarized, weaponized, immunized cops who have almost absolute discretion to decide who is a threat, what constitutes resistance, and how harshly they can deal with the citizens they were appointed to “serve and protect.”

While violent crime in America remains at an all-time low, the death toll as a result of police-sponsored violence continues to rise. In fact, more than 1,000 people are killed every year by police in America, more than any other country in the world.

What we are dealing with is a nationwide epidemic of court-sanctioned police violence carried out against individuals posing little or no real threat.

I’m not talking about the number of individuals—especially young people—who are being shot and killed by police for having a look-alike gun in their possession, such as a BB gun. I’m not even talking about people who have been shot for brandishing weapons at police, such as scissors.

I’m talking about the growing numbers of unarmed people are who being shot and killed for just standing a certain way, or looking a certain way, or moving a certain way, or not moving fast enough, or asking a question, or not answering a question, or holding something—anything—that police could misinterpret to be a gun, or igniting some trigger-centric fear in a police officer’s mind that has nothing to do with an actual threat to their safety.

This is not what life should be like in a so-called “free” country.

Police encounters have deteriorated so far that anything short of compliance—including behavior the police perceive as disrespectful or “insufficiently deferential to their authority,” “threatening” or resistant—could get you arrested, jailed or killed.

The problem, of course, is that compliance is rarely enough to guarantee one’s safety.

Case in point: Miami-Dade police slammed a 14-year-old boy to the ground, putting him in a chokehold and handcuffing him after he allegedly gave them “dehumanizing stares” and walked away from them, which the officers found unacceptable.

According to Miami-Dade Police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta, “His body language was that he was stiffening up and pulling away… When you have somebody resistant to them and pulling away and somebody clenching their fists and flailing their arms, that’s a threat. Of course we have to neutralize the threat.

This mindset that any challenge to police authority is a threat that needs to be “neutralized” is a dangerous one that is part of a greater nationwide trend that sets the police beyond the reach of the First and Fourth Amendments.

When police officers are allowed to operate under the assumption that their word is law and that there is no room for any form of disagreement or even question, that serves to destroy the First Amendment’s assurances of free speech, free assembly and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Then again, this is what happens when you take a police recruit, hype him (or her) up on the power of the gun in his holster and the superiority of his uniform, render him woefully ignorant of how to handle a situation without resorting to violence, drill him in military tactics but keep him in the dark about the Constitution, and never stress to him that he is to be a peacemaker and a peacekeeper, respectful of and subservient to the taxpayers, who are in fact his masters and employers.

The problem, as one reporter rightly concluded, is “not that life has gotten that much more dangerous, it’s that authorities have chosen to respond to even innocent situations as if they were in a warzone.”

What we’re dealing with today is a skewed shoot-to-kill mindset in which police, trained to view themselves as warriors or soldiers in a war, whether against drugs, or terror, or crime, must “get” the bad guys—i.e., anyone who is a potential target—before the bad guys get them.

Never mind that the fatality rate of on-duty police officers is reportedly far lower than many other professions, including construction, logging, fishing, truck driving, and even trash collection.

The result of this battlefield approach to domestic peacekeeping is a society in which police shoot first and ask questions later.

The message being drummed into our heads with every police shooting of an unarmed citizen is this: if you don’t want to get probed, poked, pinched, tasered, tackled, searched, seized, stripped, manhandled, arrested, shot, or killed, don’t say, do or even suggest anything that even hints of noncompliance.

This is the “thin blue line” over which you must not cross in interactions with police if you want to walk away with your life and freedoms intact.

If ever there were a time to scale back on the mindset adopted by cops that they are the law and should be revered, feared and obeyed, it’s now.

It doesn’t matter where you live—big city or small town—it’s the same scenario being played out over and over again in which government agents, hyped up on their own authority and the power of their uniform, ride roughshod over the rights of the citizenry.

Americans as young as 4 years old are being leg shackledhandcuffedtasered and held at gun point for not being quiet, not being orderly and just being childlike—i.e., not being compliant enough.

Americans as old as 95 are being beaten, shot and killed for questioning an order, hesitating in the face of a directive, and mistaking a policeman crashing through their door for a criminal breaking into their home—i.e., not being submissive enough.

And Americans of every age and skin color are being taught the painful lesson that the only truly compliant, submissive and obedient citizen in a police state is a dead one.

As a result, Americans are being brainwashed into believing that anyone who wears a government uniform—soldier, police officer, prison guard—must be obeyed without question.

Of course, the Constitution takes a far different position, but does anyone in the government even read, let alone abide by, the Constitution anymore?

If we just cower before government agents and meekly obey, we may find ourselves following in the footsteps of those nations that eventually fell to tyranny.

The alternative involves standing up and speaking truth to power. Jesus Christ walked that road. So did Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and countless other freedom fighters whose actions changed the course of history.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the American dream was built on the idea that no one is above the law, that our rights are inalienable and cannot be taken away, and that our government and its appointed agents exist to serve us.

It may be that things are too far gone to save, but still we must try.

WC: 2215

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  is available online at http://www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

 

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“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”—John F. Kennedy

Listen: I know it’s been a hard, heart-wrenching, stomach-churning kind of year.

It’s been a year of hotheads and blowhards and killing sprees and bloodshed and takedowns.

It’s been a year in which tyranny took a few more steps forward and freedom got knocked down a few more notches.

It’s been a year with an abundance of bad news and a shortage of good news.

It’s been a year of too much hate and too little kindness.

It’s been a year in which politics and profit margins took precedence over decency, compassion and human-kindness.

We’ve been operating in this soul-sucking, topsy-turvy, inside-out, upside-down state for so long that it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by all that is wrong in the world in order to reflect and give thanks for what is good.

And now we find ourselves at this present moment, more than 200 years after George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation as a time to give thanks for a government whose purpose was to ensure the safety and happiness of its people and for a Constitution designed to safeguard civil and religious liberty.

But how do you give thanks for freedoms that are constantly being eroded?

How do you express gratitude for one’s safety when the perils posed by the American police state grow more treacherous by the day?

How do you come together as a nation in thanksgiving when the powers-that-be continue to polarize and divide us into warring factions?

Washington didn’t intend Thanksgiving to be a day for offering up glib platitudes that require no thought, no effort and no sacrifice. He wanted it to be a day of contemplation, in which we frankly assessed our shortcomings, acknowledged our wrongdoings, and resolved to be a better, more peaceable nation in the year to come.

Here’s what I know: this Thanksgiving finds us saddled with a government that is a far cry from Washington’s vision of a government that is:

  • governed by wise, just and constitutional laws
  • faithfully executed and obeyed by its agents
  • assisting foreign nations with good government, peace, and concord
  • promoting true religion, virtue and science
  • and enabling temporal prosperity.

Rather, with every passing day, the U.S. government more closely resembles an evil empire, governed by laws that are rash, unjust and unconstitutional; policed by government agents who are corrupt, hypocritical and abusive; a menace to its own people; and the antithesis of everything Washington hoped the government would be—a blessing to all the people.

Here’s a prime example of how out of whack things have become: just recently, government officials in Kansas City confiscated large quantities of food being served to homeless people and soaked them in bleach, rendering them inedible.

Why would the government poison food intended for the homeless?

According to city health officials, the soup kitchen providing the free food didn’t have sufficient permits to prepare and serve food, even if that food was being handed out for free.

The government’s rationale: it’s better to allow the homeless to starve than risk them getting sick from a food-borne illness since many have no health insurance.

There are people in this country who are homeless, hungry and in need of any small act of kindness, so why is the government placing bureaucratic roadblocks in the path of those who want to help?

I’m sorry, but this isn’t just misguided government officials run amok.

This is evil disguised as bureaucracy.

This is what Hannah Arendt referred to as the banality of evil.

Evil has a broad spectrum, and poisoning food for the homeless is by no means as monstrous as killing innocent people, but still… evil is evil.

This is what happens when the government is run by bureaucrats who unquestioningly carry out orders that are immoral, inhumane and evil; obey immoral instructions unthinkingly; march in lockstep with tyrants; mindlessly perpetuate acts of terror and inhumanity; and justify it all as just “doing one’s job.”

To that list, let me add one more: a populace that remains silent in the face of wrongdoing.

This is how evil prevails: when good men and women do nothing.

By doing nothing, by remaining silent, by being bystanders to injustice, hate and wrongdoing, good people become as guilty as the perpetrator.

There’s a term for this phenomenon where people stand by, watch and do nothing—even when there is no risk to their safety—while some horrific act takes place (someone is mugged or raped or bullied or left to die): it’s called the bystander effect.

It works the same whether you’re talking about kids watching bullies torment a fellow student on a playground, bystanders watching someone dying on a sidewalk, or citizens remaining silent in the face of government atrocities.

The stories are legion.

For example, there was the 15-year-old girl who was gang raped in a schoolyard during a homecoming dance. As many as 20 people witnessed the assault over the course of two and a half hours. No one intervened to stop it.

A 28-year-old woman was stabbed, raped and murdered outside her apartment early in the morning. Thirty-eight bystanders witnessed the attack and failed to intervene. The woman died from her wounds at the locked doorway to her apartment building.

A 58-year-old man waded into chest-deep water in the San Francisco Bay in an apparent suicide attempt. For an hour, Raymond Zack stood in the shallow water while 75 onlookers watched. Police and firefighters were called in but failed to intervene, citing budget cuts, a lack of training in water rescue, fear for their safety and a lack of proper equipment. The man eventually passed out and later died of hypothermia. Eventually, an onlooker volunteered to bring the body back to the beach.

A homeless man intervened to save a woman from a knife-wielding attacker. He saved the woman but was stabbed repeatedly in the process. As The Guardian reports, “For more than an hour he lay dying in a pool of his own blood as dozens walked by. Some paused to stare, others leaned in close. One even shook his body and then left, while someone else recorded a video of the entire proceeding.”

We need to stop being silent bystanders.

So what can you do about this bystander effect?

Be a hero, suggests psychologist Philip Zimbardo.

Each of us has an inner hero we can draw upon in an emergency,” Zimbardo concluded. “If you think there is even a possibility that someone needs help, act on it. You may save a life. You are the modern version of the Good Samaritan that makes the world a better place for all of us.”

Zimbardo is the psychologist who carried out the Stanford Prison Experiment which studied the impact of perceived power and authority on middleclass students who were assigned to act as prisoners and prison guards. The experiment revealed that power does indeed corrupt (the appointed guards became increasingly abusive), and those who were relegated to being prisoners acted increasingly “submissive and depersonalized, taking the abuse and saying little in protest.”

What is the antidote to group think and the bystander effect?

Be an individual. Listen to your inner voice. Take responsibility.

“If you find yourself in an ambiguous situation, resist the urge to look to others and go with your gut instinct,” advises Melissa Burkley in Psychology Today. “If you think there is even a possibility that someone is in need, act on it. At worst, you will embarrass yourself for a few minutes, but at best, you will save a life.”

“Even if people recognize that they are witnessing a crime, they may still fail to intervene if they do not take personal responsibility for helping the victim,” writes Burkley. “The problem is that the more bystanders there are, the less responsible each individual feels.”

In other words, recognize injustice.

Don’t turn away from suffering.

Refuse to remain silent. Take a stand. Speak up. Speak out.

This is what Zimbardo refers to as “the power of one.”

All it takes is one person breaking away from the fold to change the dynamics of a situation. “Once any one helps, then in seconds others will join in because a new social norm emerges: Do Something Helpful.”

The Good Samaritans of this world don’t always get recognized, but they’re doing their part to push back against the darkness.

For instance, a few years ago in Florida, a family of six—four adults and two young boys—were swept out to sea by a powerful rip current in Panama City Beach. There was no lifeguard on duty. The police were standing by, waiting for a rescue boat. And the few people who had tried to help ended up stranded, as well.

Those on shore grouped together and formed a human chain. What started with five volunteers grew to 15, then 80 people, some of whom couldn’t swim.

One by one, they linked hands and stretched as far as their chain would go. The strongest of the volunteers swam out beyond the chain and began passing the stranded victims of the rip current down the chain.

One by one, they rescued those in trouble and pulled each other in.

There’s a moral here for what needs to happen in this country if we only can band together and prevail against the riptides that threaten to overwhelm us.

So here’s what I suggest.

Instead of just giving thanks this holiday season with words that are too soon forgotten, why not put your gratitude into action with deeds that spread a little kindness, lighten someone’s burden, and brighten some dark corner?

Pay your blessings forward in whatever way makes sense to you.

This is something that everyone can do no matter how tight our budgets or how crowded our schedules.

Engage in acts of kindness. Smile more. Fight less. Build bridges. Refuse to toxic politics define your relationships. Focus on the things that unite instead of that which divides. Be a hero, whether or not anyone ever notices.

Do your part to push back against the meanness of our culture with conscious compassion and humanity. Moods are contagious, the good and the bad. They can be passed from person to person. So can the actions associated with those moods, the good and the bad.

Even holding the door for someone or giving up your seat on a crowded train are acts of benevolence that, magnified by other such acts, can spark a movement.

Volunteer at a soup kitchen or donate to a charity that does good work. Take part in local food drives. Take a meal to a needy family. “Adopt” an elderly person at a nursing home. Support the creation of local homeless shelters in your community. Urge your churches, synagogues and mosques to act as rotating thermal shelters for the homeless during the cold winter months.

In other words, help those in need.

I know that fixing what’s wrong with this country is not going to happen overnight.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, there may not be much we can do to avoid the dismal reality of the police state in the long term—not so long as the powers-that-be continue to call the shots and allow profit margins to take precedence over the needs of people—but in the short term, there are things we can all do right now to make this world (or at least our small corners of it) a little bit kinder, a lot less hostile and more just.

On a larger scale, we need to stop being silent bystanders to our nation’s downfall.

Historically, this bystander syndrome in which people remain silent and disengaged—mere onlookers—in the face of abject horrors and injustice has resulted in whole populations being conditioned to tolerate unspoken cruelty toward their fellow human beings: the crucifixion and slaughter of innocents by the Romans, the torture of the Inquisition, the atrocities of the Nazis, the butchery of the Fascists, the bloodshed by the Communists, and the cold-blooded war machines run by the military industrial complex.

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation,” stated Holocaust Elie Wiesel in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1986. “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

It’s never too late to start making things right in the world.

So this year, don’t just give thanks at Thanksgiving.

Pay your blessings forward.

WC: 2160

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at http://www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

 

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”—George Santayana

We never learn.

In the right (or wrong) hands, benevolent plans can easily be put to malevolent purposes.

Even the most well-intentioned government law or program can be—and has been—perverted, corrupted and used to advance illegitimate purposes once profit and power are added to the equation.

The war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on illegal immigration, asset forfeiture schemes, road safety schemes, school safety schemes, eminent domain: all of these programs started out as legitimate responses to pressing concerns and have since become weapons of compliance and control in the police state’s hands.

Mark my words: red flag gun laws, which allow the police to remove guns from people suspected of being threats, will only add to the government’s power.

These laws, growing in popularity as a legislative means by which to seize guns from individuals viewed as a danger to themselves or others, are yet another Trojan Horse, a stealth maneuver by the police state to gain greater power over an unsuspecting and largely gullible populace.

Thirteen states now have red flag laws on their books. That number is growing.

As The Washington Post reports, these laws “allow a family member, roommate, beau, law enforcement officer or any type of medical professional to file a petition [with a court] asking that a person’s home be temporarily cleared of firearms. It doesn’t require a mental-health diagnosis or an arrest.

In the midst of what feels like an epidemic of mass shootings, these gun confiscation laws—extreme risk protection order (ERPO) laws—may appease the fears of those who believe that fewer guns in the hands of the general populace will make our society safer.

Of course, it doesn’t always work that way.

Anything—knives, vehicles, planes, pressure cookers—can become a weapon when wielded with deadly intentions.

With these red flag gun laws, the intention is to disarm individuals who are potential threats.

We need to stop dangerous people before they act”: that’s the rationale behind the NRA’s support of these red flag laws, and at first glance, it appears to be perfectly reasonable to want to disarm individuals who are clearly suicidal and/or pose an “immediate danger” to themselves or others.

Where the problem arises, of course, is when you put the power to determine who is a potential danger in the hands of government agencies, the courts and the police.

We’ve been down this road before.

Remember, this is the same government that uses the words “anti-government,” “extremist” and “terrorist” interchangeably.

This is the same government whose agents are spinning a sticky spider-web of threat assessments, behavioral sensing warnings, flagged “words,” and “suspicious” activity reports using automated eyes and ears, social media, behavior sensing software, and citizen spies to identify potential threats.

This is the same government that keeps re-upping the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows the military to detain American citizens with no access to friends, family or the courts if the government believes them to be a threat.

This is the same government that has a growing list—shared with fusion centers and law enforcement agencies—of ideologies, behaviors, affiliations and other characteristics that could flag someone as suspicious and result in their being labeled potential enemies of the state.

For instance, if you believe in and exercise your rights under the Constitution (namely, your right to speak freely, worship freely, associate with like-minded individuals who share your political views, criticize the government, own a weapon, demand a warrant before being questioned or searched, or any other activity viewed as potentially anti-government, racist, bigoted, anarchic or sovereign), you could be at the top of the government’s terrorism watch list.

Moreover, as a New York Times editorial warns, you may be an anti-government extremist (a.k.a. domestic terrorist) in the eyes of the police if you are afraid that the government is plotting to confiscate your firearms, if you believe the economy is about to collapse and the government will soon declare martial law, or if you display an unusual number of political and/or ideological bumper stickers on your car.

Let that sink in a moment.

Now consider what happened in Maryland after a police officer attempted to “enforce” the state’s new red flag law, which went into effect on Oct. 1.

At 5 am on a Monday, two police officers showed up at 61-year-old Gary Willis’ house to serve him with a court order requiring that he surrender his guns. Willis answered the door holding a gun.

Mind you, in some states, merely answering the door holding a gun is enough to get you killed by police who have a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later.

Willis initially set his gun aside while he spoke with the police. However, when the police attempted to serve him with the gun confiscation order, Willis reportedly became “irate” and picked up his gun again. At that point, a struggle ensued, causing the gun to go off. Although no one was harmed, one of the cops shot and killed Willis.

According to the Anne Arundel County police chief, the shooting was a sign that the red flag law is needed.

What the police can’t say with any certainty is what they prevented by shooting and killing Willis.

Therein lies the danger of these red flag laws, specifically, and pre-crime laws such as these generally.

This is the world that science fiction author Philip K. Dick envisioned for Minority Report in which the government is all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful, and if you dare to step out of line, dark-clad police SWAT teams will crack a few skulls to bring the populace under control.

In Dick’s dystopian police state, the police combine widespread surveillance, behavior prediction technologies, data mining and precognitive technology to capture would-be criminals before they can do any damage: precrime.

In Minority Report, directed by Steven Spielberg, the technology that John Anderton, Chief of the Department of Pre-Crime in Washington, DC, relies on for his predictive policing proves to be fallible, identifying him as the next would-be criminal and targeting him for preemptive measures. Consequently, Anderton finds himself not only attempting to prove his innocence but forced to take drastic measures in order to avoid capture in a surveillance state that uses biometric data and sophisticated computer networks to track its citizens.

With every passing day, the American police state moves that much closer to mirroring the fictional pre-crime prevention world of Minority Report.

For instance, police in major American cities have been testing a tool that allows them to identify individuals—or groups of individuals—most likely to commit a crime in a given community. Those individuals are then put on notice that their movements and activities will be closely monitored and any criminal activity (by them or their associates) will result in harsh penalties.

In other words, the burden of proof is reversed: you are guilty before you are given any chance to prove you are innocent.

Dig beneath the surface of this kind of surveillance/police state, however, and you will find that the real purpose of pre-crime is not safety but control.

Red flag gun laws merely push us that much closer towards a suspect society where everyone is potentially guilty of some crime or another and must be preemptively rendered harmless.

Where many Americans go wrong is in naively assuming that you have to be doing something illegal or harmful in order to be flagged and targeted for some form of intervention or detention.

In fact, U.S. police agencies have been working to identify and manage potential extremist “threats,” violent or otherwise, before they can become actual threats for some time now.

In much the same way that the USA Patriot Act was used as a front to advance the surveillance state, allowing the government to establish a far-reaching domestic spying program that turned every American citizen into a criminal suspect, the government’s anti-extremism program renders otherwise lawful, nonviolent activities as potentially extremist.

In fact, all you need to do these days to end up on a government watch list or be subjected to heightened scrutiny is use certain trigger words (like cloud, pork and pirates), surf the internet, communicate using a cell phone, limp or stutterdrive a car, stay at a hotel, attend a political rally, express yourself on social mediaappear mentally ill, serve in the militarydisagree with a law enforcement officialcall in sick to work, purchase materials at a hardware store, take flying or boating lessons, appear suspicious, appear confused or nervous, fidget or whistle or smell bad, be seen in public waving a toy gun or anything remotely resembling a gun (such as a water nozzle or a remote control or a walking cane), stare at a police officer, question government authority, appear to be pro-gun or pro-freedom, or generally live in the United States.

Be warned: once you get on such a government watch list—whether it’s a terrorist watch list, a mental health watch list, a dissident watch list, or a red flag gun watch list—there’s no clear-cut way to get off, whether or not you should actually be on there.

You will be tracked wherever you go.

You will be flagged as a potential threat and dealt with accordingly.

This is pre-crime on an ideological scale and it’s been a long time coming.

The government has been building its pre-crime, surveillance network in concert with fusion centers (of which there are 78 nationwide, with partners in the private sector and globally), data collection agencies, behavioral scientists, corporations, social media, and community organizers and by relying on cutting-edge technology for surveillance, facial recognition, predictive policing, biometrics, and behavioral epigenetics (in which life experiences alter one’s genetic makeup).

It’s the American police state’s take on the dystopian terrors foreshadowed by George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Phillip K. Dick all rolled up into one oppressive pre-crime and pre-thought crime package.

If you’re not scared yet, you should be.

Connect the dots.

Start with the powers amassed by the government under the USA Patriot Act, note the government’s ever-broadening definition of what it considers to be an “extremist,” then add in the government’s detention powers under NDAA, the National Security Agency’s far-reaching surveillance networks, and fusion centers that collect and share surveillance data between local, state and federal police agencies.

To that, add tens of thousands of armed, surveillance drones that will soon blanket American skies, facial recognition technology that will identify and track you wherever you go and whatever you do. And then to complete the picture, toss in the real-time crime centers being deployed in cities across the country, which will be attempting to “predict” crimes and identify criminals before they happen based on widespread surveillance, complex mathematical algorithms and prognostication programs.

Hopefully you’re starting to understand how easy we’ve made it for the government to identify, label, target, defuse and detain anyone it views as a potential threat for a variety of reasons that run the gamut from mental illness to having a military background to challenging its authority to just being on the government’s list of persona non grata.

This brings me back to those red flag gun laws.

In the short term, these gun confiscation laws may serve to temporarily delay or discourage those wishing to inflict violence on others, but it will not resolve whatever madness or hate or instability therein that causes someone to pull a trigger or launch a bomb or unleash violence on another.

Nor will these laws save us from government-instigated and directed violence at the hands of the American police state or the blowback from the war-drenched, violence-imbued, profit-driven military industrial complex, both of which remain largely overlooked and underestimated pieces of the discussion on gun violence in America.

In the long term, all these gun confiscation laws will do is ensure that when the police state finally cracks down, “we the people” are defenseless in the face of the government’s arsenal of weapons.

After all, the most important and most consistent theme throughout the Constitution, including the Second Amendment, is the fact that it is not merely an enumeration of our rights but was intended to be a clear shackle on the government’s powers.

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas understood this tension well. “The Constitution is not neutral,” he remarked. “It was designed to take the government off the backs of people.”

In this way, the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights in their entirety stand as a bulwark against a police state. To our detriment, these rights have been steadily weakened, eroded and undermined in recent years.

Yet without any one of them, including the Second Amendment right to own and bear arms, we are that much more vulnerable to the vagaries of out-of-control policemen, benevolent dictators, genuflecting politicians, and overly ambitious bureaucrats.

You can eliminate all of guns, but it will not necessarily eliminate violence. Those same individuals sick enough to walk into an elementary school or a movie theater and open fire using a gun can and do wreak just as much havoc with homemade bombs made out of pressure cookers and a handful of knives.

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

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

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

The Constitution is clear on this particular point, with its multitude of prohibitions on government overreach. As author Edmund A. Opitz observed in 1964:

No one can read our Constitution without concluding that the people who wrote it wanted their government severely limited; the words “no” and “not” employed in restraint of government power occur 24 times in the first seven articles of the Constitution and 22 more times in the Bill of Rights.

In a nutshell, then, the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms reflects not only a concern for one’s personal defense but serves as a check on the political power of the ruling authorities. It represents an implicit warning against governmental encroachments on one’s freedoms, the warning shot over the bow to discourage any unlawful violations of our persons or property. As such, it reinforces that necessary balance in the citizen-state relationship.

Certainly, dictators in past regimes have understood this principle only too well. As Adolf Hitler noted, “The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that starting in December 1935, Jews in Germany were prevented from obtaining shooting licenses, because authorities believed that to allow them to do so would “endanger the German population.”

In late 1938, special orders were delivered barring Jews from owning firearms, with the punishment for arms possession being twenty years in a concentration camp.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Yet as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it is a history that we should be wary of repeating.

WC: 2755

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at http://www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

This commentary originally appeared at www.rutherford.org.

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

 

veteran-1807121_1280

For soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, coming home is more lethal than being in combat.” ― Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston

Not all heroes wear the uniform of war.

In the United States, however, we take particular pride in recognizing as heroes those who have served in the military.

Yet while we honor our veterans with holidays, parades, discounts at retail stores and restaurants, and endless political rhetoric about their sacrifice and bravery, we do a pitiful job of respecting their freedoms and caring for their needs once out of uniform.

Despite the fact that the U.S. boasts more than 20 million veterans who have served in World War II through the present day, the plight of veterans today is America’s badge of shame, with large numbers of veterans impoverished, unemployed, traumatized mentally and physically, struggling with depression, suicide, and marital stress, homeless, subjected to sub-par treatment at clinics and hospitals, and left to molder while their paperwork piles up within Veterans Administration offices.

Still, the government’s efforts to wage war on veterans, especially those who speak out against government wrongdoing, is downright appalling.

Consider: we raise our young people on a steady diet of militarism and war, sell them on the idea that defending freedom abroad by serving in the military is their patriotic duty, then when they return home, bruised and battle-scarred and committed to defending their freedoms at home, we often treat them like criminals merely for having served in the military.

The government even has a name for its war on America’s veterans: Operation Vigilant Eagle.

As first reported by the Wall Street Journal, this Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program tracks military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and characterizes them as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.”

Coupled with the DHS’ dual reports on Rightwing and Leftwing “Extremism,” which broadly define extremists as individuals, military veterans and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,” these tactics bode ill for anyone seen as opposing the government.

Yet the government is not merely targeting individuals who are voicing their discontent so much as it is taking aim at individuals trained in military warfare.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that the DHS has gone extremely quiet about Operation Vigilant Eagle.

Where there’s smoke, there’s bound to be fire.

And the government’s efforts to target military veterans whose views may be perceived as “anti-government” make clear that something is afoot.

In recent years, military servicemen and women have found themselves increasingly targeted for surveillance, censorship, threatened with incarceration or involuntary commitment, labeled as extremists and/or mentally ill, and stripped of their Second Amendment rights.

An important point to consider, however, is that under the guise of mental health treatment and with the complicity of government psychiatrists and law enforcement officials, these veterans are increasingly being portrayed as threats to national security.

This is not the first time that psychiatry has been used to exile political prisoners.

Many times throughout history in totalitarian regimes, such governments have declared dissidents mentally ill and unfit for society as a means of rendering them disempowering them.

As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Applebaum observes in Gulag: A History: “The exile of prisoners to a distant place, where they can ‘pay their debt to society,’ make themselves useful, and not contaminate others with their ideas or their criminal acts, is a practice as old as civilization itself. The rulers of ancient Rome and Greece sent their dissidents off to distant colonies. Socrates chose death over the torment of exile from Athens. The poet Ovid was exiled to a fetid port on the Black Sea.”

For example, government officials in the Cold War-era Soviet Union often used psychiatric hospitals as prisons in order to isolate political prisoners from the rest of society, discredit their ideas, and break them physically and mentally through the use of electric shocks, drugs and various medical procedures.

Insisting that “ideas about a struggle for truth and justice are formed by personalities with a paranoid structure,” the psychiatric community actually went so far as to provide the government with a diagnosis suitable for locking up such freedom-oriented activists.

In addition to declaring political dissidents mentally unsound, Russian officials also made use of an administrative process for dealing with individuals who were considered a bad influence on others or troublemakers.

Author George Kennan describes a process in which:

The obnoxious person may not be guilty of any crime . . . but if, in the opinion of the local authorities, his presence in a particular place is “prejudicial to public order” or “incompatible with public tranquility,” he may be arrested without warrant, may be held from two weeks to two years in prison, and may then be removed by force to any other place within the limits of the empire and there be put under police surveillance for a period of from one to ten years. Administrative exile–which required no trial and no sentencing procedure–was an ideal punishment not only for troublemakers as such, but also for political opponents of the regime.

Sound familiar?

This age-old practice by which despotic regimes eliminate their critics or potential adversaries by declaring them mentally ill and locking them up in psychiatric wards for extended periods of time is a common practice in present-day China.

What is particularly unnerving, however, is how this practice of eliminating or undermining potential critics, including military veterans, is happening with increasing frequency in the United States.

Remember, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) opened 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—technically, anyone exercising their First Amendment rights in order to criticize the government qualifies.

It doesn’t take much anymore to be flagged as potentially anti-government in a government database somewhere—Main Core, for example—that identifies and tracks individuals who aren’t inclined to march in lockstep to the government’s dictates.

In fact, as the Washington Post reports, communities are being mapped and residents assigned a color-coded threat score—green, yellow or red—so police are forewarned about a person’s potential inclination to be a troublemaker depending on whether they’ve had a career in the military, posted a comment perceived as threatening on Facebook, suffer from a particular medical condition, or know someone who knows someone who might have committed a crime.

The case of Brandon Raub is a prime example of Operation Vigilant Eagle in action.

Raub, a 26-year-old decorated Marine, actually found himself interrogated by government agents about his views on government corruption, arrested with no warning, labeled mentally ill for subscribing to so-called “conspiratorial” views about the government, detained against his will in a psych ward for standing by his views, and isolated from his family, friends and attorneys.

On August 16, 2012, a swarm of local police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Raub’s Virginia home, asking to speak with him about posts he had made on his Facebook page made up of song lyrics, political opinions and dialogue used in a political thriller virtual card game.

Among the posts cited as troublesome were lyrics to a song by a rap group and Raub’s views, shared increasingly by a number of Americans, that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job.

After a brief conversation and without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, Raub was then handcuffed and transported to police headquarters, then to a medical center, where he was held against his will due to alleged concerns that his Facebook posts were “terrorist in nature.”

Outraged onlookers filmed the arrest and posted the footage to YouTube, where it quickly went viral. Meanwhile, in a kangaroo court hearing that turned a deaf ear to Raub’s explanations about the fact that his Facebook posts were being read out of context, Raub was sentenced to up to 30 days’ further confinement in a psychiatric ward.

Thankfully, The Rutherford Institute came to Raub’s assistance, which combined with heightened media attention, brought about his release and may have helped prevent Raub from being successfully “disappeared” by the government.

Even so, within days of Raub being seized and forcibly held in a VA psych ward, news reports started surfacing of other veterans having similar experiences.

“Oppositional defiance disorder” (ODD) is another diagnosis being used against veterans who challenge the status quo. As journalist Anthony Martin explains, an ODD diagnosis

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

Frankly, based on how well my personality and my military service in the U.S. Armed Forces fit with this description of “oppositional defiance disorder,” I’m sure there’s a file somewhere with my name on it.

That the government is using the charge of mental illness as the means by which to immobilize (and disarm) these veterans is diabolical. With one stroke of a magistrate’s pen, these veterans are being declared mentally ill, locked away against their will, and stripped of their constitutional rights.

If it were just being classified as “anti-government,” that would be one thing.

Unfortunately, anyone with a military background and training is also now being viewed as a heightened security threat by police who are trained to shoot first and ask questions later.

Feeding this perception of veterans as ticking time bombs in need of intervention, the Justice Department launched a pilot program in 2012 aimed at training SWAT teams to deal with confrontations involving highly trained and often heavily armed combat veterans.

The result?

Police encounters with military veterans often escalate very quickly into an explosive and deadly situation, especially when SWAT teams are involved.

For example, Jose Guerena, a Marine who served in two tours in Iraq, was killed after an Arizona SWAT team kicked open the door of his home during a mistaken drug raid and opened fire. Thinking his home was being invaded by criminals, Guerena told his wife and child to hide in a closet, grabbed a gun and waited in the hallway to confront the intruders. He never fired his weapon. In fact, the safety was still on his gun when he was killed. The SWAT officers, however, not as restrained, fired 70 rounds of ammunition at Guerena—23 of those bullets made contact. Apart from his military background, Guerena had had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home.

John Edward Chesney, a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran, was killed by a SWAT team allegedly responding to a call that the Army veteran was standing in his San Diego apartment window waving what looked like a semi-automatic rifle. SWAT officers locked down Chesney’s street, took up positions around his home, and fired 12 rounds into Chesney’s apartment window. It turned out that the gun Chesney reportedly pointed at police from three stories up was a “realistic-looking mock assault rifle.”

Ramon Hooks’ encounter with a Houston SWAT team did not end as tragically, but it very easily could have. Hooks, a 25-year-old Iraq war veteran, was using an air rifle gun for target practice outside when a Homeland Security Agent, allegedly house shopping in the area, reported him as an active shooter. It wasn’t long before the quiet neighborhood was transformed into a war zone, with dozens of cop cars, an armored vehicle and heavily armed police. Hooks was arrested, his air rifle pellets and toy gun confiscated, and charges filed against him for “criminal mischief.”

Given the government’s increasing view of veterans as potential domestic terrorists, it makes one think twice about government programs encouraging veterans to include a veterans designation on their drivers’ licenses and ID cards.

Hailed by politicians as a way to “make it easier for military veterans to access discounts from retailers, restaurants, hotels and vendors across the state,” it will also make it that much easier for the government to identify and target veterans who dare to challenge the status quo.

Remember: no one is spared in a police state.

Eventually, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we all suffer the same fate.

It stands to reason that if the government can’t be bothered to abide by its constitutional mandate to respect the citizenry’s rights—whether it’s the right to be free from government surveillance and censorship, the right to due process and fair hearings, the right to be free from roadside strip searches and militarized police, or the right to peacefully assemble and protest and exercise our right to free speech—then why should anyone expect the government to treat our nation’s veterans with respect and dignity?

So if you really want to do something to show your respect and appreciation for the nation’s veterans, here’s a suggestion: skip the parades and the retail sales and the flag-waving and instead go exercise your rights—the freedoms that those veterans risked their lives to protect—by pushing back against the government’s tyranny.

Freedom is not free.

It’s time the rest of the nation started to pay the price for the freedoms we too often take for granted.

WC: 2299

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at http://www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission. This article originally appeared at https://rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/a_badge_of_shame_the_governments_war_on_americas_military_veterans.