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“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”—Martin Luther King Jr. (A Knock at Midnight, June 11, 1967)

In every age, we find ourselves wrestling with the question of how Jesus Christ—the itinerant preacher and revolutionary activist who died challenging the police state of his time, namely, the Roman Empire—would respond to the moral questions of our day.

For instance, what would Jesus do in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic?

Would he disregard social distancing guidelines to visit and tend to the sick and dying? Would he take the assets belonging to those massive megachurches—the expensive real estate, the lucrative bank accounts—and put them to work where they can do the most good right now, tending to the sick, housing the homeless, and providing for the needy?

Would he advocate, as so many evangelical Christian leaders have done in recent years, for congregants to “submit to your leaders and those in authority,” which in the American police state translates to complying, conforming, submitting, obeying orders, deferring to authority and generally doing whatever a government official tells you to do? Or would he defy government shutdowns to hold church worship services as some have done?

It’s a quandary, all right: what would Jesus do?

Suddenly, that evangelical message of abject compliance to the government, no matter how immoral or unjust that government may seem, is running up against government mandates that test not only how far the religious community will go to exercise its religious freedoms but what that even means in a COVID-19 world.

As the world prepares to spend Holy Week and Easter Sunday in a state of near-isolation, varying degrees of lockdowns imposed by world governments to blunt the deadly impact of this novel coronavirus pandemic have all but ensured that there will be no massive Easter Egg hunts, no Easter parades, and no flower-bedecked church services this year.

We can debate and litigate and legislate whether churches have a lawful right to remain open during this pandemic and allow their congregants to worship in person, but surely Jesus would have us fight an altogether different battle.

Study the life and teachings of Jesus, and you may be surprised at how relevant he is to our modern age.

A radical nonconformist who challenged authority at every turn, Jesus spent his adult life speaking truth to power, challenging the status quo of his day, pushing back against the abuses of the Roman Empire, and providing a blueprint for standing up to tyranny that would be followed by those, religious and otherwise, who came after him.

Those living through this present age of militarized police, SWAT team raids, police shootings of unarmed citizens, roadside strip searches, invasive surveillance, and government lockdowns might feel as if these events are unprecedented, but the characteristics of a police state and its reasons for being are no different today than they were in Jesus’ lifetime: control, power and money.

Much like the American Empire today, the Roman Empire of Jesus’ day was characterized by secrecy, surveillance, a widespread police presence, a citizenry treated like suspects with little recourse against the police state, perpetual wars, a military empire, martial law, and political retribution against those who dared to challenge the power of the state.

A police state extends far beyond the actions of law enforcement.  In fact, a police state “is characterized by bureaucracy, secrecy, perpetual wars, a nation of suspects, militarization, surveillance, widespread police presence, and a citizenry with little recourse against police actions.”

Indeed, the police state in which Jesus lived and its striking similarities to modern-day America are beyond troubling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Professor Mark Lewis Taylor observed:

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

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

Unfortunately, the radical Jesus, the political dissident who took aim at injustice and oppression, has been largely forgotten today, replaced by a congenial, smiling Jesus trotted out for religious holidays but otherwise rendered mute when it comes to matters of war, power and politics.

Yet for those who truly study the life and teachings of Jesus, the resounding theme is one of outright resistance to war, materialism and empire.

Ultimately, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is the contradiction that must be resolved if the radical Jesus—the one who stood up to the Roman Empire and was crucified as a warning to others not to challenge the powers-that-be—is to be an example for our modern age.

After all, there is so much suffering and injustice in the world, and so much good that can be done by those who truly aspire to follow Jesus Christ’s example.

We must decide whether we will follow the path of least resistance—willing to turn a blind eye to what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as the “evils of segregation and the crippling effects of discrimination, to the moral degeneracy of religious bigotry and the corroding effects of narrow sectarianism, to economic conditions that deprive men of work and food, and to the insanities of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence”—or whether we will be transformed nonconformists “dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood.”

As King explained in a powerful sermon delivered in 1954, “This command not to conform comes … [from] Jesus Christ, the world’s most dedicated nonconformist, whose ethical nonconformity still challenges the conscience of mankind.”

We need to recapture the gospel glow of the early Christians, who were nonconformists in the truest sense of the word and refused to shape their witness according to the mundane patterns of the world.  Willingly they sacrificed fame, fortune, and life itself in behalf of a cause they knew to be right.  Quantitatively small, they were qualitatively giants.  Their powerful gospel put an end to such barbaric evils as infanticide and bloody gladiatorial contests.  Finally, they captured the Roman Empire for Jesus Christ… The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood.  The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and religious freedom have always been nonconformists.  In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist!

…Honesty impels me to admit that transformed nonconformity, which is always costly and never altogether comfortable, may mean walking through the valley of the shadow of suffering, losing a job, or having a six-year-old daughter ask, “Daddy, why do you have to go to jail so much?”  But we are gravely mistaken to think that Christianity protects us from the pain and agony of mortal existence.  Christianity has always insisted that the cross we bear precedes the crown we wear.  To be a Christian, one must take up his cross, with all of its difficulties and agonizing and tragedy-packed content, and carry it until that very cross leaves its marks upon us and redeems us to that more excellent way that comes only through suffering.

In these days of worldwide confusion, there is a dire need for men and women who will courageously do battle for truth.  We must make a choice. Will we continue to march to the drumbeat of conformity and respectability, or will we, listening to the beat of a more distant drum, move to its echoing sounds?  Will we march only to the music of time, or will we, risking criticism and abuse, march to the soul saving music of eternity?

Source: https://bit.ly/2yCtO0B

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  is available at 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.

 

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”—Viktor Frankl

We still have choices.

Just because we’re fighting an unseen enemy in the form of a virus doesn’t mean we have to relinquish every shred of our humanity, our common sense, or our freedoms to a nanny state that thinks it can do a better job of keeping us safe.

Whatever we give up willingly now—whether it’s basic human decency, the ability to manage our private affairs, the right to have a say in how the government navigates this crisis, or the few rights still left to us that haven’t been disemboweled in recent years by a power-hungry police state—we won’t get back so easily once this crisis is past.

The government never cedes power willingly.

Neither should we.

Every day brings a drastic new set of restrictions by government bodies (most have been delivered by way of executive orders) at the local, state and federal level that are eager to flex their muscles for the so-called “good” of the populace.

This is where we run the risk of this whole fly-by-night operation going completely off the rails.

It’s one thing to attempt an experiment in social distancing in order to flatten the curve of this virus because we can’t afford to risk overwhelming the hospitals and exposing the most vulnerable in the nation to unavoidable loss of life scenarios. However, there’s a fine line between strongly worded suggestions for citizens to voluntarily stay at home and strong-armed house arrest orders with penalties in place for non-compliance.

More than three-quarters of all Americans have now been ordered to stay at home and that number is growing as more states fall in line.

Schools have cancelled physical classes, many for the remainder of the academic year.

Many of the states have banned gatherings of more than 10 people.

At least three states (Nevada, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania) have ordered non-essential businesses to close.

In Washington, DC, residents face 90 days in jail and a $5,000 fine if they leave their homes during the coronavirus outbreak. Residents of Maryland, Hawaii and Washington State also risk severe penalties of up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine for violating the stay-at-home orders. Violators in Alaska could face jail time and up to $25,000 in fines.

Kentucky residents are prohibited from traveling outside the state, with a few exceptions.

New York City, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., is offering its Rikers Island prisoners $6 an hour to help dig mass graves.

In San Francisco, cannabis dispensaries were included among the essential businesses allowed to keep operating during the city-wide lockdown.

New Jersey’s governor canceled gatherings of any number, including parties, weddings and religious ceremonies, and warned the restrictions could continue for weeks or months. One city actually threatened to prosecute residents who spread false information about the virus.

Oregon banned all nonessential social and recreational gatherings, regardless of size.

Rhode Island has given police the go-ahead to pull over anyone with New York license plates to record their contact information and order them to self-quarantine for 14 days.

South Carolina’s police have been empowered to break up any public gatherings of more than three people.

Of course, there are exceptions to all of these stay-at-home orders (in more than 30 states and counting), the longest of which runs until June 10. Essential workers (doctors, firefighters, police and grocery store workers) can go to work. Everyone else will have to fit themselves into a variety of exceptions in order to leave their homes: for grocery runs, doctor visits, to get exercise, to visit a family member, etc.

Throughout the country, more than 14,000 “Citizen-Soldiers” of the National Guard have been mobilized to support the states and the federal government in their fight against the coronavirus. While the Guard officials insist they have not been tasked with martial law, they are coordinating with the Pentagon, FEMA and the states/territories on COVID-19 response missions.

A quick civics lesson: Martial law is a raw exercise of executive power that can override the other branches of government and assume control over the functioning of a nation, state, or smaller area within a state. The power has been exercised by the president, as President Lincoln did soon after the start of the Civil War, and by governors, as was done in Idaho to quell a miner’s strike that broke out there in 1892.

In areas under martial law, all power rests with the military authority in charge. As British General Wellington wrote, “martial law” is not law at all, but martial rule; it abolishes all law and substitutes for it the will of the military commander. Military personnel are not bound by constitutional restrictions requiring a warrant, and may enter and search homes at without judicial authorization or oversight. Indeed, civil courts would no longer be functioning to hear citizen complaints or to enforce their constitutional rights.

Thus far, we have not breached the Constitution’s crisis point: martial law has yet to be overtly imposed (although an argument could be made to the contrary given the militarized nature of the American police state).

It’s just a matter of time before all hell breaks loose.

If this is not the defining point at which we cross over into all-out totalitarianism, then it is at a minimum a test to see how easily we will surrender.

Curiously enough, although Americans have been generally compliant with the government’s suggestions and orders with a few notable exceptions, there’s been a small groundswell of resistance within parts of the religious community over whether churches, synagogues and other religious institutions that hold worship services should be exempt from state-wide bans on mass gatherings. While many churches have resorted to drive-in services and live-streamed services for its congregants, others have refused to close their doors. One pastor of a 4,000-member church who stood his ground, claiming that the government’s orders violate his right to religious freedom, was arrested after holding multiple church services during which attendees were reportedly given hand sanitizer and made to keep a six-foot distance between family groups.

It’s an interesting test of the First Amendment’s freedom of assembly and religious freedom clauses versus the government’s compelling state interest in prohibiting mass gatherings in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

Generally, the government has to show a compelling state interest before it can override certain critical rights such as free speech, assembly, press, search and seizure, etc. Most of the time, it lacks that compelling state interest, but it still manages to violate those rights, setting itself up for legal battles further down the road.

These lockdown measures—on the right of the people to peaceably assemble, to travel, to engage in commerce, etc.—unquestionably restrict fundamental constitutional rights, which might pass muster for a short period of time, but can it be sustained for longer stretches legally?

That’s the challenge before us, of course, if these days and weeks potentially stretch into months-long quarantines.

For example, the First Amendment guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”  While the freedom to travel has been specifically recognized only as in the context of interstate or international travel, the freedom of movement is implicit liberty given that government agents may not stop and question or search persons unless they have some legal justification.

As Supreme Court Justice William Douglas once wrote:

The right to travel is a part of the “liberty” of which the citizen cannot be deprived without the due process of law under the Fifth Amendment. . . .  Freedom of movement across frontiers in either direction, and inside frontiers as well, was a part of our heritage. Travel abroad, like travel within the country, may be necessary for a livelihood. It may be as close to the heart of the individual as the choice of what he eats, or wears, or reads. Freedom of movement is basic in our scheme of values.

As a rule, people are free to roam and loiter in public places and are not required to provide police with their identity or give an account of their purpose for exercising their freedom.

However, as with all constitutional rights, these freedoms, as the Courts have ruled, are not unqualified. Even content-based restrictions on speech are allowed under the First Amendment if the restriction is needed to serve a compelling government interest.

The Supreme Court long ago “distinctly recognized the authority of a state to enact quarantine laws and health laws of every description[.]” Such laws are an exercise of the state’s police power, and if there is a rational basis for believing they are needed to protect the public health, they will be deemed to serve a compelling government interest.

The point was made over 100 years ago in circumstances similar to today’s COVID-19 outbreak when a smallpox outbreak occurred in Cambridge, Mass., invoking a state law allowing localities to make vaccinations mandatory and enforceable by criminal penalties.  In upholding the law and local order against a claim that it violated the constitutional liberty to control one’s own body and health, the Supreme Court declared:

The possession and enjoyment of all rights are subject to such reasonable conditions as may be deemed by the governing authority of the country essential to the safety, health, peace, good order, and morals of the community. Even liberty itself, the greatest of all rights, is not unrestricted license to act according to one’s own will.

The Court went on to write that “[u]pon the principle of self-defense, of paramount necessity, a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.”

Most states have enacted laws that recognize the need for prompt action in times of emergency, including epidemics, and have delegated the authority to and executive officer to take action to address that emergency.  For example, Tennessee law provides that the governor is given the power to issue orders that have the force and effect of law to address emergencies, which include disease outbreaks and epidemics. That state’s law similarly grants mayors or other local chief executive officers the power to issue orders and directives deemed necessary, including closing public facilities, in order to address civil emergencies.

Courts have ruled that they will defer to the decisions of an executive authority on the decision as to whether an emergency exists and whether the means employed to address the emergency are reasonable and legal, although there could be situations where a court would declare that the executive decision is arbitrary and unreasonable.

When governments act under their police power to control plagues and epidemics, those laws are valid even though they may restrict individuals in the exercise of constitutional rights.  As one legal scholar recently noted, the balance between individual rights and protection of the public “assumes that there will be times when there are truly compelling emergencies justifying severe measures. A global pandemic that spreads even among those who are asymptomatic and could exceed the capacity of the American health care system would appear to be just such a compelling situation.”

At the moment, the government believes it has a compelling interest—albeit a temporary one—in restricting gatherings, assemblies and movement in public in order to minimize the spread of this virus.

The key point is this: while we may tolerate these restrictions on our liberties in the short term, we should never fail to be on guard lest these one-time constraints become a slippery slope to a total lockdown mindset.

What we must guard against, more than ever before, is the tendency to become so accustomed to our prison walls—these lockdowns, authoritarian dictates, and police state tactics justified as necessary for national security—that we allow the government to keep having its way in all things, without any civic resistance or objections being raised.

Martin Niemoller learned that particular lesson the hard way.

A German military officer turned theologian, Niemoller was an early supporter of Hitler’s rise to power, having believed his promises to protect the church and not allow pogroms against the Jewish people. It didn’t take long for Hitler to break those promises, but by the time the German people realized they had been double-crossed, it was too late.

As 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.”

The lesson for those of us housebound and watching from a distance as the Fourth Reich emerges from the shadows is this: all freedoms hang together.

Niemoller’s warning for our modern age would probably go something like this: First the government went after the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and I did not object, because I had nothing to hide. Then they went after the right to not be spied upon, and I did not object, because I had done nothing wrong. Then they went after the right to criticize the government, and I still did not object, because I had nothing to criticize them for. Then they went after the right to speak—worship—and assemble freely, and I did not object, because I had nothing to say, no one to worship, and nowhere to congregate. By the time the government came to lock me up, there was no one left to set me free.

In other words, don’t be naïve: the government will use this crisis to expand its powers far beyond the reach of the Constitution. The Justice Department has already signaled its desire to suspend parts of the Constitution indefinitely.

That’s how it starts.

Travel too far down that slippery slope, and there will be no turning back.

Curiously enough, although Americans have not been inclined to agree on anything much lately, given the extreme polarization of the country politically, a recent survey indicates that “people of both parties seem rather okay with undermining core civil liberties in order to fight the pandemic.”

This way lies madness.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, if you wait to speak out—stand up—and resist until the government’s lockdowns impact your freedoms personally, it could be too late.

What would be far worse, however, is handing over your freedoms voluntarily—without even a semblance of protest—to a government that cares little to nothing about your freedoms or your lives.

Source: https://bit.ly/3aBsR6R

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  is available at 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.

 

“That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on.”― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

You can always count on the government to take advantage of a crisis, legitimate or manufactured.

This coronavirus pandemic is no exception.

Not only are the federal and state governments unraveling the constitutional fabric of the nation with lockdown mandates that are sending the economy into a tailspin and wreaking havoc with our liberties, but they are also rendering the citizenry fully dependent on the government for financial handouts, medical intervention, protection and sustenance.

Unless we find some way to rein in the government’s power grabs, the fall-out will be epic.

Everything I have warned about for years—government overreach, invasive surveillance, martial law, abuse of powers, militarized police, weaponized technology used to track and control the citizenry, and so on—has coalesced into this present moment.

The government’s shameless exploitation of past national emergencies for its own nefarious purposes pales in comparison to what is presently unfolding.

It’s downright Machiavellian.

Deploying the same strategy it used with 9/11 to acquire greater powers under the USA Patriot Act, the police state—a.k.a. the shadow government, a.k.a. the Deep State—has been anticipating this moment for years, quietly assembling a wish list of lockdown powers that could be trotted out and approved at a moment’s notice.

It should surprise no one, then, that the Trump Administration has asked Congress to allow it to suspend parts of the Constitution whenever it deems it necessary during this coronavirus pandemic and “other” emergencies.

It’s that “other” emergencies part that should particularly give you pause, if not spur you to immediate action (by action, I mean a loud and vocal, apolitical, nonpartisan outcry and sustained, apolitical, nonpartisan resistance).

In fact, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been quietly trotting out and testing a long laundry list of terrifying powers that override the Constitution.

We’re talking about lockdown powers (at both the federal and state level): the ability to suspend the Constitution, indefinitely detain American citizens, bypass the courts, quarantine whole communities or segments of the population, override the First Amendment by outlawing religious gatherings and assemblies of more than a few people, shut down entire industries and manipulate the economy, muzzle dissidents, “stop and seize any plane, train or automobile to stymie the spread of contagious disease,” reshape financial markets, create a digital currency (and thus further restrict the use of cash), determine who should live or die…

You’re getting the picture now, right?

These are powers the police state would desperately like to make permanent.

Specifically, the DOJ wants to be able to indefinitely detain American citizens without trial. The DOJ also wants to be able to pause court proceedings and suspend the statute of limitations on criminal and civil cases.

Both signify a clear violation of every right espoused in the Constitution, including habeas corpus.

Habeas corpus, a fundamental tenet of English common law that guards against arbitrary and lawless state action, does not appear anywhere in the Bill of Rights. Its importance was such that it was enshrined in the Constitution itself. And it is of such magnitude that all other rights, including those in the Bill of Rights, are dependent upon it. Without habeas corpus, the significance of all other rights crumbles.

The right of habeas corpus was important to the Framers of the Constitution because they knew from personal experience what it was like to be labeled enemy combatants, imprisoned indefinitely and not given the opportunity to appear before a neutral judge. Believing that such arbitrary imprisonment is “in all ages, the favorite and most formidable instrument of tyranny,” the Founders were all the more determined to protect Americans from such government abuses.

Translated as “you should have the body,” habeas corpus is a legal action, or writ, by which those imprisoned unlawfully can seek relief from their imprisonment. Derived from English common law, habeas corpus first appeared in the Magna Carta of 1215 and is the oldest human right in the history of English-speaking civilization. The doctrine of habeas corpus stems from the requirement that a government must either charge a person or let him go free.

While serving as President, Thomas Jefferson addressed the essential necessity of habeas corpus. In his first inaugural address on March 4, 1801, Jefferson said, “I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government cannot be strong; that this government is not strong enough.” But, said Jefferson, our nation was “the world’s best hope” and, because of our strong commitment to democracy, “the strongest government on earth.” Jefferson said that the sum of this basic belief was found in the “freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus; and trial by juries impartially selected. These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us, and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation.”

Throughout the twentieth century, the importance of the right of habeas corpus has repeatedly been confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet 200-plus years after America’s founders risked their lives to secure their freedoms, we find ourselves right back where we started, with a government determined to strip us of every vestige of our freedoms.

The DOJ’s latest request to Congress is merely a signal that the police state is ready to step out of the shadows, with the current national emergency being a convenient cover for their dastardly deeds.

Bear in mind, however, that these powers the Trump Administration, acting on orders from the police state, are officially asking Congress to recognize and authorize barely scratch the surface of the far-reaching powers the government has already unilaterally claimed for itself.

Unofficially, the police state has been riding roughshod over the rule of law for years now without any pretense of being reined in or restricted in its power grabs by Congress, the courts or the citizenry.

As David C. Unger, observes in The Emergency State: America’s Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs:

“For seven decades we have been yielding our most basic liberties to a secretive, unaccountable emergency state – a vast but increasingly misdirected complex of national security institutions, reflexes, and beliefs that so define our present world that we forget that there was ever a different America. … Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have given way to permanent crisis management: to policing the planet and fighting preventative wars of ideological containment, usually on terrain chosen by, and favorable to, our enemies. Limited government and constitutional accountability have been shouldered aside by the kind of imperial presidency our constitutional system was explicitly designed to prevent.”

This rise of an “emergency state” that justifies all manner of government tyranny in the so-called name of national security is all happening according to schedule.

The civil unrest, the national emergencies, “unforeseen economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters,” the government’s reliance on the armed forces to solve domestic political and social problems, the implicit declaration of martial law packaged as a well-meaning and overriding concern for the nation’s security: the powers-that-be have been planning and preparing for such a crisis for years now, not just with active shooter drills and lockdowns and checkpoints and heightened danger alerts, but with a sensory overload of militarized, battlefield images—in video games, in movies, on the news—that acclimate us to life in a police state.

Whether or not this particular crisis is of the government’s own making is not the point: to those for whom power and profit are everything, the end always justifies the means.

The seeds of this present madness were sown several decades ago when George W. Bush stealthily issued two presidential directives that granted the president the power to unilaterally declare a national emergency, which is loosely defined as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.

Comprising the country’s Continuity of Government (COG) plan, these directives (National Security Presidential Directive 51 and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20), which do not need congressional approval, provide a skeletal outline of the actions the president will take in the event of a “national emergency.”

Mind you, that national emergency can take any form, can be manipulated for any purpose and can be used to justify any end goal—all on the say so of the president.

Just what sort of actions the president will take once he declares a national emergency can barely be discerned from the barebones directives. However, one thing is clear: in the event of a national emergency, the president will become a dictator because while the COG directives ensure the continuity of executive branch functions, they do not provide for repopulating or reconvening Congress or the Supreme Court.

Thus, a debilitating attack would give unchecked executive, legislative and judicial power to the executive branch and its unelected minions. The country would then be subjected to martial law by default, and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights would be suspended.

Originally devised as a plan for quickly restoring constitutional government, the COG concept arose during the Cold War. The fear was that a nuclear strike would paralyze the federal government.

These concerns continued into the 1980s.

Under President Ronald Reagan, an elaborate plan was created in which three teams consisting of a cabinet member, an executive chief of staff and military and intelligence officials would practice evacuating and directing a counter nuclear strike against the Soviet Union from a variety of high-tech, mobile command vehicles. If the president and vice president were both killed, one of these teams would take control, with the ranking cabinet official serving as president.

Among those Reagan handpicked to advise an inexperienced and potentially incompetent successor in a time of crisis were Congressman Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, then a business executive with G. D. Searle & Co. At least once a year during the 1980s, Cheney and Rumsfeld vanished on top-secret training missions, where each of the teams practiced evacuating and directing a counter nuclear strike against Russia.

This all changed after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when it became clear that the assumptions that drove COG planning during the Cold War no longer applied: there would be no warning against a so-called “terrorist” attack. Thus, instead of relying on part-time bureaucrats and evacuation schematics, the Bush administration permanently appointed executive officials, stationed outside the capital, to run a shadow government.

The U.S. military has reportedly already been given standby orders under COG for this present coronavirus pandemic.

The plans for the shadow government administered by those who run the Deep State are more elaborate than many realize. Massive underground bunkers the size of small cities are sprinkled throughout the country for the government elite to escape to in the event of a national emergency. Mount Weather, near Bluemont, Va., is one of a number of such facilities. Built into the side of a mountain, this bunker contains, among other things, a hospital, crematorium, dining and recreation areas, sleeping quarters, reservoirs of drinking and cooling water, an emergency power plant and a radio/television studio.

There is also an Office of the Presidency at Mount Weather, which regularly receives top-secret national security information from all the federal departments and agencies. This facility was largely unknown to everyone, including Congress, until it came to light in the mid-1970s. Military personnel connected to the bunker have refused to reveal any information about it, even before congressional committees. In fact, Congress has no oversight, budgetary or otherwise, on Mount Weather, and the specifics of the facility remain top-secret.

What is the bottom line here?

We are, for all intents and purposes, one crisis away from having a full-fledged authoritarian state emerge from the shadows, at which time democratic government will be dissolved and the country will be ruled by an unelected bureaucracy.

This is exactly the kind of mischief that Thomas Jefferson warned against when he cautioned, “In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

Power corrupts.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Thus far, we have at least pretended that the government abides by the Constitution.

Those who wrote our Constitution sought to ensure our freedoms by creating a document that protects our God-given rights at all times, even when we are engaged in war, whether that is a so-called war on terrorism, a so-called war on drugs, a so-called war on illegal immigration, or a so-called war on disease.

The attempts by each successive presidential administration to rule by fiat merely plays into the hands of those who would distort the government’s system of checks and balances and its constitutional separation of powers beyond all recognition.

Remember, these powers do not expire at the end of a president’s term. They remain on the books, just waiting to be used or abused by the next political demagogue.

So, too, every action taken by Trump and his predecessors to weaken the system of checks and balances, sidestep the rule of law, and expand the power of the executive branch of government has made us that much more vulnerable to those who would abuse those powers in the future.

Although the Constitution invests the President with very specific, limited powers, in recent years, American presidents (Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton, etc.) have claimed the power to completely and almost unilaterally alter the landscape of this country for good or for ill.

The Trump Administration’s willingness to circumvent the Constitution by leaning heavily on the president’s so-called emergency powers constitutes a gross perversion of what limited power the Constitution affords the executive branch.

The powers amassed by each successive president through the negligence of Congress and the courts—powers which add up to a toolbox of terror for an imperial ruler—empower whomever occupies the Oval Office to act as a dictator, above the law and beyond any real accountability.

As law professor William P. Marshall explains, “every extraordinary use of power by one President expands the availability of executive branch power for use by future Presidents.” Moreover, it doesn’t even matter whether other presidents have chosen not to take advantage of any particular power, because “it is a President’s action in using power, rather than forsaking its use, that has the precedential significance.”

In other words, each successive president continues to add to his office’s list of extraordinary orders and directives, expanding the reach and power of the presidency and granting him- or herself near dictatorial powers.

This abuse of presidential powers has been going on for so long that it has become the norm, the Constitution be damned.

We no longer have a system of checks and balances.

“The system of checks and balances that the Framers envisioned now lacks effective checks and is no longer in balance,” concludes Marshall. “The implications of this are serious. The Framers designed a system of separation of powers to combat government excess and abuse and to curb incompetence. They also believed that, in the absence of an effective separation-of-powers structure, such ills would inevitably follow. Unfortunately, however, power once taken is not easily surrendered.”

All of the imperial powers amassed by Barack Obama and George W. Bush and now Trump—to kill American citizens without due process, to detain suspects (including American citizens) indefinitely, to strip Americans of their citizenship rights, to carry out mass surveillance on Americans without probable cause, to wage wars without congressional authorization, to suspend laws during wartime, to disregard laws with which he might disagree, to conduct secret wars and convene secret courts, to sanction torture, to sidestep the legislatures and courts with executive orders and signing statements, to direct the military to operate beyond the reach of the law, to establish a standing army on American soil, to operate a shadow government, to declare national emergencies for any manipulated reason, and to act as a dictator and a tyrant, above the law and beyond any real accountability—have become a permanent part of the president’s toolbox of terror.

These presidential powers—acquired through the use of executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements and which can be activated by any sitting president—enable past, president and future presidents to operate above the law and beyond the reach of the Constitution.

Think on this: the presidential election is right around the corner.

Suddenly, the improbable possibility of any incumbent president attempting to extend the police state’s stranglehold on power by using current events to justify postponing or doing away with an election—forfeiting the people’s rights to govern altogether—and establishing a totalitarian regime seems less far-fetched than it did even a few years ago.

The emergency state is now out in the open for all to see. Unfortunately, “we the people” refuse to see what’s before us. Most Americans, fearful and easily controlled, would sooner rouse themselves to fight for that last roll of toilet paper than they would their own freedoms.

This is how freedom dies.

We erect our own prison walls, and as our rights dwindle away, we forge our own chains of servitude to the police state.

Be warned, however: once you surrender your freedoms to the government—no matter how compelling the reason might be for doing so—you can never get them back.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, no government willingly relinquishes power.

If we continue down this road, there can be no surprise about what awaits us at the end.

The America metamorphosing before our eyes is almost unrecognizable from the country I grew up in, and that’s not just tragic—it’s downright terrifying.

Source: https://bit.ly/39invfc

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  is available at 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.

 

“Fear is a primitive impulse, brainless as hunger, and because the aim of horror fiction is the production of the deepest kinds of fears, the genre tends to reinforce some remarkably uncivilized ideas about self-protection. In the current crop of zombie stories, the prevailing value for the beleaguered survivors is a sort of siege mentality, a vigilance so constant and unremitting that it’s indistinguishable from the purest paranoia.”— Terrence Rafferty, New York Times

What do zombies have to do with the U.S. government’s plans for dealing with a coronavirus outbreak?

Read on, and I’ll tell you.

The zombie narrative was popularized by the hit television series The Walking Dead, in which a small group of Americans attempt to survive in a zombie-ridden, post-apocalyptic world where they’re not only fighting off flesh-eating ghouls but cannibalistic humans.

For a while there, zombies could be found lurking around every corner: wreaking havoc at gun shows, battling corsets in movies such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and running for their lives in 5K charity races.

Understandably, zombie fiction plays to our fears and paranoia, while allowing us to “envision how we and our own would thrive if everything went to hell and we lost all our societal supports.” Yet as journalist Syreeta McFadden points out, while dystopian stories used to reflect our anxieties, now they reflect our reality, mirroring how we as a nation view the world around us, how we as citizens view each other, and most of all how our government views us.

Indeed, the U.S. government has spent a lot of time and energy in recent years using zombies as the models for a variety of crisis scenarios not too dissimilar from what we are currently experiencing.

For instance, back in 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put together a zombie apocalypse preparation kit “that details everything you would need to have on hand in the event the living dead showed up at your front door.” The CDC, in conjunction with the Dept. of Defense, even used zombies to put government agents through their paces in mock military drills.

Fear the Walking Dead—AMC’s spinoff of its popular Walking Dead series—drove this point home by dialing back the clock to when the zombie outbreak first appears and setting viewers down in the midst of societal unrest not unlike our own experiences of recent years (“a bunch of weird incidents, police protests, riots, and … rapid social entropy”). Then, as Forbes reports, “the military showed up and we fast-forwarded into an ad hoc police state with no glimpse at what was happening in the world around our main cast of hapless survivors.”

Forbes found Fear’s quick shift into a police state to be far-fetched, but anyone who has been paying attention in recent years knows that the groundwork was laid long ago for the government—i.e., the military—to intervene and lock down the nation in the event of a national disaster.

We’re seeing this play out now as the coronavirus contagion spreads.

What we have yet to experience (although it may only be a matter of time) is that the government through the imposition of martial law could pose a greater threat to our safety (and our freedoms) than any virus.

As the Atlantic noted about Fear the Walking Dead: “The villains aren’t the zombies, who rarely appear, but the U.S. military, who sweep into an L.A. suburb to quarantine the survivors. Zombies are, after all, a recognizable threat—but Fear plumbs drama and horror from the betrayal by institutions designed to keep people safe.”

Indeed, zombie fiction perfectly embodies the government’s paranoia about the citizenry as potential threats that need to be monitored, tracked, surveilled, sequestered, deterred, vanquished and rendered impotent.

Why else would the government feel the need to monitor our communications, track our movements, criminalize our every action, treat us like suspects, and strip us of any means of defense while equipping its own personnel with an amazing arsenal of weapons?

For years now, the government has been carrying out military training drills with zombies as the enemy. In 2011, the DOD created a 31-page instruction manual for how to protect America from a terrorist attack carried out by zombie forces. In 2012, the CDC released a guide for surviving a zombie plague. That was followed by training drills for members of the military, police officers and first responders.

As journalist Andrea Peyser reports:

Coinciding with Halloween 2012, a five-day national conference was put on by the HALO Corp. in San Diego for more than 1,000 first responders, military personnel and law enforcement types. It included workshops produced by a Hollywood-affiliated firm in…overcoming a zombie invasion. Actors were made up to look like flesh-chomping monsters. The Department of Homeland Security even paid the $1,000 entry fees for an unknown number of participants…

“Zombie disaster” drills were held in October 2012 and ’13 at California’s Sutter Roseville Medical Center. The exercises allowed medical center staff “to test response to a deadly infectious disease, a mass-casualty event, terrorism event and security procedures”…

[In October 2014], REI outdoor-gear stores in Soho and around the country are to hold free classes in zombie preparedness, which the stores have been providing for about three years.

The zombie exercises appeared to be kitschy and fun—government agents running around trying to put down a zombie rebellion—but what if the zombies in the exercises were us, the citizenry, viewed by those in power as mindless, voracious, zombie hordes?

Consider this: the government started playing around with the idea of using zombies as stand-ins for enemy combatants in its training drills right around the time the Army War College issued its 2008 report, warning that an economic crisis in the U.S. could lead to massive civil unrest that would require the military to intervene and restore order.

That same year, it was revealed that the government had amassed more than 8 million names of Americans considered a threat to national security, to be used “by the military in the event of a national catastrophe, a suspension of the Constitution or the imposition of martial law.” The program’s name, Main Core, refers to the fact that it contains “copies of the ‘main core’ or essence of each item of intelligence information on Americans produced by the FBI and the other agencies of the U.S. intelligence community.”

Also in 2008, the Pentagon launched the Minerva Initiative, a $75 million military-driven research project focused on studying social behavior in order to determine how best to cope with mass civil disobedience or uprisings. The Minerva Initiative has funded projects such as “Who Does Not Become a Terrorist, and Why?” which “conflates peaceful activists with ‘supporters of political violence’ who are different from terrorists only in that they do not embark on ‘armed militancy’ themselves.”

In 2009, the Dept. of Homeland Security issued its reports on Rightwing and Leftwing Extremism, in which the terms “extremist” and “terrorist” were used interchangeably to describe citizens they perceived to be disgruntled or anti-government.

Meanwhile, a government campaign was underway to spy on Americans’ mail, email and cell phone communications. News reports indicate that the U.S. Postal Service has handled more than 150,000 requests by federal and state law enforcement agencies to monitor Americans’ mail, in addition to photographing every piece of mail sent through the postal system.

Fast forward a few years more and local police were being transformed into extensions of the military, taught to view members of their community as suspects, trained to shoot first and ask questions later, and equipped with all of the technology and weaponry of a soldier on a battlefield.

The Obama administration then hired a domestic terrorism czar whose job is to focus on anti-government American “extremists” who have been designated a greater threat to America than ISIS or al Qaeda. As part of the government’s so-called war on right-wing extremism, the Obama administration agreed to partner with the United Nations to take part in its Strong Cities Network program, which is training local police agencies across America in how to identify, fight and prevent extremism.

Nothing has changed for the better under the Trump Administration.

Those who believe in and exercise their rights under the Constitution (namely, the right to speak freely, worship freely, associate with like-minded individuals who share their 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), continue to be promoted to the top of the government’s terrorism watch list.

“We the people” or, more appropriately, “we the zombies” are the enemy in the eyes of the government. This coronavirus merely ups the ante.

So when presented with the Defense Department’s battle plan for defeating an army of the walking dead, you might find yourself tempted to giggle over the fact that a taxpayer-funded government bureaucrat actually took the time to research and write about vegetarian zombies, evil magic zombies, chicken zombies, space zombies, bio-engineered weaponized zombies, radiation zombies, symbiant-induced zombies, and pathogenic zombies.

However, in an age of extreme government paranoia, this is no laughing matter.

The DOD’s strategy for dealing with a zombie uprising, outlined in “CONOP 8888,” is for all intents and purposes a training manual for the government in how to put down a citizen uprising or at least an uprising of individuals “infected” with a dangerous disease or dangerous ideas about freedom.

Rest assured that the tactics and difficulties outlined in the “fictional training scenario” are all too real, beginning with martial law.

As the DOD training manual states: “zombies [stand-ins for “we the people”] are horribly dangerous to all human life and zombie infections have the potential to seriously undermine national security and economic activities that sustain our way of life. Therefore having a population that is not composed of zombies or at risk from their malign influence is vital to U.S. and Allied national interests.”

So how does the military plan to put down a zombie (a.k.a. citizen) uprising?

The strategy manual outlines five phases necessary for a counter-offensive: shape, deter, seize initiative, dominate, stabilize and restore civil authority. Here are a few details:

Phase 0 (Shape): Conduct general zombie awareness training. Monitor increased threats (i.e., surveillance). Carry out military drills. Synchronize contingency plans between federal and state agencies. Anticipate and prepare for a breakdown in law and order.

Phase 1 (Deter): Recognize that zombies cannot be deterred or reasoned with. Carry out training drills to discourage other countries from developing or deploying attack zombies and publicly reinforce the government’s ability to combat a zombie threat. Initiate intelligence sharing between federal and state agencies. Assist the Dept. of Homeland Security in identifying or discouraging immigrants from areas where zombie-related diseases originate.

Phase 2 (Seize initiative): Recall all military personal to their duty stations. Fortify all military outposts. Deploy air and ground forces for at least 35 days. Carry out confidence-building measures with nuclear-armed peers such as Russia and China to ensure they do not misinterpret the government’s zombie countermeasures as preparations for war. Establish quarantine zones. Distribute explosion-resistant protective equipment. Place the military on red alert. Begin limited scale military operations to combat zombie threats. Carry out combat operations against zombie populations within the United States that were “previously” U.S. citizens.

Phase 3 (Dominate): Lock down all military bases for 30 days. Shelter all essential government personnel for at least 40 days. Equip all government agents with military protective gear. Issue orders for military to kill all non-human life on sight. Initiate bomber and missile strikes against targeted sources of zombie infection, including the infrastructure. Burn all zombie corpses. Deploy military to lock down the beaches and waterways.

Phase 4 (Stabilize): Send out recon teams to check for remaining threats and survey the status of basic services (water, power, sewage infrastructure, air, and lines of communication). Execute a counter-zombie ISR plan to ID holdout pockets of zombie resistance. Use all military resources to target any remaining regions of zombie holdouts and influence. Continue all actions from the Dominate phase.

Phase 5 (Restore civil authority): Deploy military personnel to assist any surviving civil authorities in disaster zones. Reconstitute combat capabilities at various military bases. Prepare to redeploy military forces to attack surviving zombie holdouts. Restore basic services in disaster areas.

Notice the similarities?

Surveillance. Military drills. Awareness training. Militarized police forces. Martial law.

As I point out in my book, Battlefield America: The War on the American People, if there is any lesson to be learned, it is simply this: whether the threat to national security comes in the form of imaginary zombies, actual terrorists, American citizens infected with the coronavirus, or disgruntled American citizens infected with dangerous ideas about freedom, the government’s response to such threats remains the same: detect, deter and annihilate.

Source: https://bit.ly/2IOD4Ra

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  is available at 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.

 

“It takes a remarkable force to keep nearly a million people quietly indoors for an entire day, home from work and school, from neighborhood errands and out-of-town travel. It takes a remarkable force to keep businesses closed and cars off the road, to keep playgrounds empty and porches unused across a densely populated place 125 square miles in size. This happened … not because armed officers went door-to-door, or imposed a curfew, or threatened martial law. All around the region, for 13 hours, people locked up their businesses and ‘sheltered in place’ out of a kind of collective will. The force that kept them there wasn’t external – there was virtually no active enforcement across the city of the governor’s plea that people stay indoors. Rather, the pressure was an internal one – expressed as concern, or helpfulness, or in some cases, fear – felt in thousands of individual homes.”—Journalist Emily Badger, “The Psychology of a Citywide Lockdown”

This is a test.

This is not a test of our commitment to basic hygiene or disaster preparedness or our ability to come together as a nation in times of crisis, although we’re not doing so well on any of those fronts.

No, what is about to unfold over the next few weeks is a test to see how well we have assimilated the government’s lessons in compliance, fear and police state tactics; a test to see how quickly we’ll march in lockstep with the government’s dictates, no questions asked; and a test to see how little resistance we offer up to the government’s power grabs when made in the name of national security.

Most critically of all, this is a test to see whether the Constitution—and our commitment to the principles enshrined in the Bill of Rights—can survive a national crisis and true state of emergency.

Here’s what we know: whatever the so-called threat to the nation—whether it’s civil unrest, school shootings, alleged acts of terrorism, or the threat of a global pandemic in the case of COVID-19—the government has a tendency to capitalize on the nation’s heightened emotions, confusion and fear as a means of extending the reach of the police state.

This coronavirus epidemic, which has brought China’s Orwellian surveillance out of the shadows and caused Italy to declare a nationwide lockdown, threatens to bring the American Police State out into the open on a scale we’ve not seen before.

If and when a nationwide lockdown finally hits—if and when we are forced to shelter in place— if and when militarized police are patrolling the streets— if and when security checkpoints have been established— if and when the media’s ability to broadcast the news has been curtailed by government censors—if and when public systems of communication (phone lines, internet, text messaging, etc.) have been restricted—if and when those FEMA camps the government has been surreptitiously building finally get used as quarantine detention centers for American citizens—if and when military “snatch and grab” teams are deployed on local, state, and federal levels as part of the activated Continuity of Government plans to isolate anyone suspected of being infected with COVID-19—and if and when martial law is enacted with little real outcry or resistance from the public—then we will truly understand the extent to which the government has fully succeeded in recalibrating our general distaste for anything that smacks too overtly of tyranny.

This is how it begins.

The coronavirus epidemic may well be a legitimate health concern, but it’s the government’s response to it that worries me more in the long term.

Based on the government’s track record and its long-anticipated plans for instituting martial law (using armed forces to solve domestic political and social problems) in response to a future crisis, there’s good reason to worry.

This is not a government with a rosy view of the future.

To the contrary, the government’s vision of the future is particularly ominous if a Pentagon training video created by the Army for U.S. Special Operations Command is anything to go by.

Obtained by The Intercept through a FOIA request, the training video titled “Megacities: Urban Future, the Emerging Complexity” provides a chilling glimpse of what the government expects the world to look like in 2030, a world bedeviled by “criminal networks,” “substandard infrastructure,” “religious and ethnic tensions,” “impoverishment, slums,” “open landfills, over-burdened sewers,” a “growing mass of unemployed,” and an urban landscape in which the prosperous economic elite must be protected from the impoverishment of the have nots.

Add health contagions to the mix, and we’re arrived there, ten years ahead of schedule.

The training video is only five minutes long, but it says a lot about the government’s mindset and the way its views the citizenry. Even more troubling, however, is what this military video doesn’t say about the Constitution and the rights of the citizenry: nothing at all.

In typical fashion, the government seems to consider the Constitution only when forced to do so. It complies with the dictates of the Constitution even less frequently. Indeed, the government’s efforts to systematically lock down the nation and shift us into martial law have not been stymied one iota by the restraints imposed upon it by the Constitution: when it’s not bulldozing its way through the Fourth Amendment, the government just sidesteps it (with the help of the courts).

So what should you expect if the government decides to declare a national state of emergency and institute a nationwide lockdown?

More of the same of what we’ve been seeing in recent years.

After all, like the proverbial boiling frogs, the government has been gradually acclimating us to the specter of a police state for years now: Militarized police. Riot squads. Camouflage gear. Black uniforms. Armored vehicles. Mass arrests. Pepper spray. Tear gas. Batons. Strip searches. Surveillance cameras. Kevlar vests. Drones. Lethal weapons. Less-than-lethal weapons unleashed with deadly force. Rubber bullets. Water cannons. Stun grenades. Arrests of journalists. Crowd control tactics. Intimidation tactics. Brutality.

This is how you prepare a populace to accept a police state willingly, even gratefully.

You don’t scare them by making dramatic changes. Rather, you acclimate them slowly to their prison walls. Persuade the citizenry that their prison walls are merely intended to keep them safe and danger out. Desensitize them to violence, acclimate them to a military presence in their communities, and persuade them that only a militarized government can alter the seemingly hopeless trajectory of the nation.

It’s happening already.

The sight of police clad in body armor and gas masks, wielding semiautomatic rifles and escorting an armored vehicle through a crowded street, a scene likened to “a military patrol through a hostile city,” no longer causes alarm among the general populace.

We’ve allowed ourselves to be acclimated to the occasional lockdown of government buildings, Jade Helm military drills in small towns so that special operations forces can get “realistic military training” in “hostile” territory, and  Live Active Shooter Drill training exercises, carried out at schools, in shopping malls, and on public transit, which can and do fool law enforcement officials, students, teachers and bystanders into thinking it’s a real crisis.

Still, you can’t say we weren’t warned.

Back in 2008, an Army War College report revealed that “widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security.” The 44-page report went on to warn that potential causes for such civil unrest could include another terrorist attack, “unforeseen economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters.”

In 2009, reports by the Department of Homeland Security surfaced that called on the government to subject right-wing and left-wing activists and military veterans to full-fledged pre-crime surveillance.

Meanwhile, the government has been amassing an arsenal of military weapons, including hollow point bullets, for use domestically and equipping and training their “troops” for war. Even government agencies with largely administrative functions such as the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Smithsonian have been acquiring body armor, riot helmets and shields, cannon launchers and police firearms and ammunition. In fact, there are now at least 120,000 armed federal agents carrying such weapons who possess the power to arrest.

Rounding out this profit-driven campaign to turn American citizens into enemy combatants (and America into a battlefield) is a technology sector that has been colluding with the government to create a Big Brother that is all-knowing, all-seeing and inescapable. It’s not just the drones, fusion centers, license plate readers, stingray devices and the NSA that you have to worry about. You’re also being tracked by the black boxes in your cars, your cell phone, smart devices in your home, grocery loyalty cards, social media accounts, credit cards, streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, and e-book reader accounts.

All of this has taken place right under our noses, funded with our taxpayer dollars and carried out in broad daylight without so much as a general outcry from the citizenry.

And then you have the government’s Machiavellian schemes for unleashing all manner of dangers on an unsuspecting populace, then demanding additional powers in order to protect “we the people” from the threats. Almost every national security threat that the government has claimed greater powers in order to fight—all the while undermining the liberties of the American citizenry—has been manufactured in one way or another by the government.

We have made it way too easy for the government to lockdown the nation.

Consider that it was seven years ago when the city of Boston was locked down while police carried out a military-style manhunt for suspects in the 2013 Boston Marathon explosion.

Six years ago, the city of Ferguson, Missouri, was locked down, with government officials deploying a massive SWAT team, an armored personnel carrier, men in camouflage pointing heavy artillery at the crowd, smoke bombs and tear gas to quell citizen unrest over a police shooting of a young, unarmed black man.

Five years ago, the city of Baltimore was put under a military-enforced lockdown after civil unrest over police brutality erupted into rioting. More than 1,500 national guard troops were deployed while residents were ordered to stay inside their homes and put under a 10 pm curfew.

Three years ago, it was Charlottesville, Va., population 50,000, that was locked down while government officials declared a state of emergency and enacted heightened security measures tantamount to martial law, despite the absence of any publicized information about credible threats to public safety.

Fast forward to the present moment, with the world on the verge of a possible coronavirus pandemic, and growing numbers of Americans are already voluntarily sheltering in place in an effort to avoid falling ill.

For those like myself who have studied emerging police states, the sight of any American city placed under martial law—its citizens essentially under house arrest (officials used the Orwellian phrase “shelter in place” in Boston to describe the mandatory lockdown), military-style helicopters equipped with thermal imaging devices buzzing the skies, tanks and armored vehicles on the streets, and snipers perched on rooftops, while thousands of black-garbed police swarmed the streets and SWAT teams carried out house-to-house searches—leaves us in a growing state of unease.

Watching the events of the various lockdowns unfold, I couldn’t help but think of Nazi Field Marshal Hermann Goering’s remarks during the Nuremberg trials. As Goering noted:

It is always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.

It does indeed work the same in every country.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much for the American people to be terrorized into compliance by the government’s latest and greatest scare tactic, even if it means being stripped of one’s constitutional rights at a moment’s notice.

This continual undermining of the rules that protect civil liberties has far-reaching consequences on a populace that not only remains ignorant about their rights but is inclined to sacrifice their liberties for phantom promises of safety.

It may be that we’ve already gone too far down this road. However, don’t let this latest “crisis” cause you to panic to such an extent that you relinquish your fundamental right to make decisions for yourself and your loved ones and willingly surrender what remains of your freedoms.

This too shall pass.

Remember, a police state does not come about overnight.

Yet as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American Peopleno matter how it starts, with a questionable infringement justified in the name of safety or a nationwide lockdown to guard against a global pandemic, it always ends the same: by pushing us one step closer to a future in which the government has all the power and “we the people” have none.

Source: https://bit.ly/2TWMT4v

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  is available at 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.

 

“If, as it seems, we are in the process of becoming a totalitarian society in which the state apparatus is all-powerful, the ethics most important for the survival of the true, free, human individual would be: cheat, lie, evade, fake it, be elsewhere, forge documents, build improved electronic gadgets in your garage that’ll outwit the gadgets used by the authorities.”—Philip K. Dick

Emboldened by the citizenry’s inattention and willingness to tolerate its abuses, the government has weaponized one national crisis after another in order to expands its powers.

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.

It doesn’t even matter what the nature of the crisis might be—civil unrest, the national emergencies, “unforeseen economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters”—as long as it allows the government to justify all manner of government tyranny in the so-called name of national security.

Now we find ourselves on the brink of a possible coronavirus contagion.

I’ll leave the media and the medical community to speculate about the impact the coronavirus will have on the nation’s health, but how will the government’s War on the Coronavirus impact our freedoms?

For a hint of what’s in store, you can look to China—our role model for all things dystopian—where the contagion started.

In an attempt to fight the epidemic, the government has given its surveillance state apparatus—which boasts the most expansive and sophisticated surveillance system in the world—free rein. Thermal scanners using artificial intelligence (AI) have been installed at train stations in major cities to assess body temperatures and identify anyone with a fever. Facial recognition cameras and cell phone carriers track people’s movements constantly, reporting in real time to data centers that can be accessed by government agents and employers alike. And coded color alerts (red, yellow and green) sort people into health categories that correspond to the amount of freedom of movement they’re allowed: “Green code, travel freely. Red or yellow, report immediately.”

Mind you, prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese surveillance state had already been hard at work tracking its citizens through the use of some 200 million security cameras installed nationwide. Equipped with facial recognition technology, the cameras allow authorities to track so-called criminal acts, such as jaywalking, which factor into a person’s social credit score.

Social media credit scores assigned to Chinese individuals and businesses categorize them on whether or not they are “good” citizens. A real-name system—which requires people to use government-issued ID cards to buy mobile sims, obtain social media accounts, take a train, board a plane, or even buy groceries—coupled with social media credit scores ensures that those blacklisted as “unworthy” are banned from accessing financial markets, buying real estate or travelling by air or train. Among the activities that can get you labeled unworthy are taking reserved seats on trains or causing trouble in hospitals.

That same social credit score technology used to identify, track and segregate citizens is now one of China’s chief weapons in its fight to contain the coronavirus from spreading. However, it is far from infallible and a prime example of the difficulties involved in navigating an autonomous system where disembodied AI systems call the shots. For instance, one woman, who has no symptoms of the virus but was assigned a red code based on a visit to her hometown, has been blocked from returning to her home and job until her color code changes. She has been stuck in this state of limbo for weeks with no means of challenging the color code or knowing exactly why she’s been assigned a red code.

Fighting the coronavirus epidemic has given China the perfect excuse for unleashing the full force of its surveillance and data collection powers. The problem, as Eamon Barrett acknowledges in Fortune magazine, is what happens after: “Once the outbreak is controlled, it’s unclear whether the government will retract its new powers.”

The lesson for the ages: once any government is allowed to expand its powers, it’s almost impossible to pull back.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the government thus far has limited its coronavirus preparations to missives advising the public to stay calm, wash their hands, and cover their mouths when they cough and sneeze.

Don’t go underestimating the government’s ability to lock the nation down if the coronavirus turns into a pandemic, however. After all, the government has been planning and preparing for such a crisis for years now.

The building blocks are already in place for such an eventuality: the surveillance networks, fusion centers and government contractors that already share information in real time; the government’s massive biometric databases that can identify individuals based on genetic and biological markers; the militarized police, working in conjunction with federal agencies, ready and able to coordinate with the federal government when it’s time to round up the targeted individuals; the courts that will sanction the government’s methods, no matter how unlawful, as long as it’s done in the name of national security; and the detention facilities, whether private prisons or FEMA internment camps, that have been built and are waiting to be filled.

Now all of this may sound far-fetched to you now, but we’ve already arrived at the dystopian futures prophesied by George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report.

It won’t take much more to push us over the edge into Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium, in which the majority of humanity is relegated to an overpopulated, diseased, warring planet where the government employs technologies such as drones, tasers and biometric scanners to track, target and control the populace.

Mind you, while these technologies are already in use today and being hailed for their potentially life-saving, cost-saving, time-saving benefits, it won’t be long before the drawbacks to having a government equipped with technology that makes it all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful——helped along by the citizenry—far outdistance the benefits.

On a daily basis, Americans are relinquishing (in many cases, voluntarily) the most intimate details of who we are—their biological makeup, our genetic blueprints, and our biometrics (facial characteristics and structure, fingerprints, iris scans, etc.)—in order to navigate an increasingly technologically-enabled world.

Consider all the ways you continue to be tracked, hunted, hounded, and stalked by the government and its dubious agents:

By tapping into your phone lines and cell phone communications, the government knows what you say. By uploading all of your emails, opening your mail, and reading your Facebook posts and text messages, the government knows what you write. By monitoring your movements with the use of license plate readers, surveillance cameras and other tracking devices, the government knows where you go. By churning through all of the detritus of your life—what you read, where you go, what you say—the government can predict what you will do.

By mapping the synapses in your brain, scientists—and in turn, the government—will soon know what you remember. By mapping your biometrics—your “face-print”—and storing the information in a massive, shared government database available to bureaucratic agencies, police and the military, the government’s goal is to use facial recognition software to identify you (and every other person in the country) and track your movements, wherever you go. And by accessing your DNA, the government will soon know everything else about you that they don’t already know: your family chart, your ancestry, what you look like, your health history, your inclination to follow orders or chart your own course, etc.

Of course, none of these technologies are foolproof.

Nor are they immune from tampering, hacking or user bias.

Nevertheless, they have become a convenient tool in the hands of government agents to render null and void the Constitution’s requirements of privacy and its prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The ramifications of a government—any government—having this much unregulated, unaccountable power to target, track, round up and detain its citizens is beyond chilling.

Imagine what a totalitarian regime such as Nazi Germany could have done with this kind of unadulterated power.

Imagine what the next police state to follow in Germany’s footsteps will do with this kind of power. Society is rapidly moving in that direction.

We’ve made it so easy for the government to watch us.

Government eyes see your every move: what you read, how much you spend, where you go, with whom you interact, when you wake up in the morning, what you’re watching on television and reading on the internet.

Every move you make is being monitored, mined for data, crunched, and tabulated in order to form a picture of who you are, what makes you tick, and how best to control you when and if it becomes necessary to bring you in line.

Chances are, as the Washington Post has reported, you have already been assigned a color-coded threat assessment score—green, yellow or red—so police are forewarned about your potential inclination to be a troublemaker depending on whether you’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.

In other words, you’re most likely already flagged in a government database somewhere.

The government has the know-how.

Indeed, for years now, the FBI and Justice Department have conspired to acquire near-limitless power and control over biometric information collected on law-abiding individuals, millions of whom have never been accused of a crime.

Going far beyond the scope of those with criminal backgrounds, the FBI’s Next Generation Identification database (NGID), a billion dollar boondoggle that is aimed at dramatically expanding the government’s ID database from a fingerprint system to a vast data storehouse of iris scans, photos searchable with face recognition technology, palm prints, and measures of gait and voice recordings alongside records of fingerprints, scars, and tattoos.

Launched in 2008, the NGID is a massive biometric database that contains more than 100 million fingerprints and 45 million facial photos gathered from a variety of sources ranging from criminal suspects and convicts to daycare workers and visa applicants, including millions of people who have never committed or even been accused of a crime.

In other words, innocent American citizens are now automatically placed in a suspect database.

For a long time, the government was required to at least observe some basic restrictions on when, where and how it could access someone’s biometrics and DNA and use it against them.

That is no longer the case.

The information is being amassed through a variety of routine procedures, with the police leading the way as prime collectors of biometrics for something as non-threatening as a simple moving violation. The nation’s courts are also doing their part to “build” the database, requiring biometric information as a precursor to more lenient sentences. And of course Corporate America (including Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.) has made it so easy to use one’s biometrics to access everything from bank accounts to cell phones.

We’ve made it so easy for the government to target, identify and track us.

Add pre-crime programs into the mix with government agencies and corporations working in tandem to determine who is a potential danger and spin 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, and you having the makings for a perfect dystopian nightmare.

This is the kind of oppressive pre-crime and pre-thought crime package foreshadowed by George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Phillip K. Dick.

Remember, 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.

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

Surveillance, digital stalking and the data mining of the American people add up to a society in which there’s little room for indiscretions, imperfections, or acts of independence.

This is the creepy, calculating yet diabolical genius of the American police state: the very technology we hailed as revolutionary and liberating has become our prison, jailer, probation officer, Big Brother and Father Knows Best all rolled into one.

It turns out that we are Soylent Green.

The 1973 film of the same name, starring Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson, is set in 2022 in an overpopulated, polluted, starving New York City whose inhabitants depend on synthetic foods manufactured by the Soylent Corporation for survival.

Heston plays a policeman investigating a murder, who discovers the grisly truth about the primary ingredient in the wafer, soylent green, which is the principal source of nourishment for a starved population. “It’s people. Soylent Green is made out of people,” declares Heston’s character. “They’re making our food out of people. Next thing they’ll be breeding us like cattle for food.”

Oh, how right he was.

Soylent Green is indeed people or, in our case, Soylent Green is our own personal data, repossessed, repackaged and used by corporations and the government to entrap us.

Without constitutional protections in place to guard against encroachments on our rights when power, technology and militaristic governance converge, it won’t be long before we find ourselves, much like Edward G. Robinson’s character in Soylent Green, looking back on the past with longing, back to an age where we could speak to whom we wanted, buy what we wanted, think what we wanted, and go where we wanted without those thoughts, words and movements being tracked, processed and stored by corporate giants such as Google, sold to government agencies such as the NSA and CIA, and used against us by militarized police with their army of futuristic technologies.

We’re not quite there yet. But that moment of reckoning is getting closer by the minute.

In the meantime, we’ve got an epidemic to survive, so go ahead and wash your hands. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. And stock up on whatever you might need to survive this virus if it spreads to your community.

We are indeed at our most vulnerable right now, but as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it’s the American Surveillance State—not the coronavirus—that poses the greatest threat to our freedoms.

Source: https://bit.ly/2PJRRAG

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  is available at 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.

 

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.” ― Frédéric Bastiat, French economist

Let’s talk numbers, shall we?

The national debt (the amount the federal government has borrowed over the years and must pay back) is $23 trillion and growing.

The amount this country owes is now greater than its gross national product (all the products and services produced in one year by labor and property supplied by the citizens). We’re paying more than $270 billion just in interest on that public debt annually. And the top two foreign countries who “own” our debt are China and Japan.

The national deficit (the difference between what the government spends and the revenue it takes in) is projected to surpass $1 trillion every year for the next 10 years.

The United States spends more on foreign aid than any other nation ($50 billion in 2017 alone). More than 150 countries around the world receive U.S. taxpayer-funded assistance, with most of the funds going to the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Meanwhile, almost 60% of Americans are so financially strapped that they don’t have even $500 in savings and nothing whatsoever put away for retirement, and yet they are being forced to pay for government programs that do little to enhance or advance their lives.

Folks, if you haven’t figured it out yet, we’re not living the American dream.

We’re living a financial nightmare.

The U.S. government—and that includes the current administration—is spending money it doesn’t have on programs it can’t afford, and “we the taxpayers” are the ones who will pay for it.

As financial analyst Kristin Tate explains, “When the government has its debt bill come due, all of us will be on the hook.” It’s happened before: during the European debt crisis, Cypress seized private funds from its citizens’ bank accounts to cover its debts, with those who had been careful to save their pennies forced to relinquish between 40% to 60% of their assets.

Could it happen here? Could the government actually seize private funds for its own gain?

Look around you. It’s already happening.

In the eyes of the government, “we the people, the voters, the consumers, and the taxpayers” are little more than pocketbooks waiting to be picked.

Consider: The government can seize your home and your car (which you’ve bought and paid for) over nonpayment of taxes. Government agents can freeze and seize your bank accounts and other valuables if they merely “suspect” wrongdoing. And the IRS insists on getting the first cut of your salary to pay for government programs over which you have no say.

We have no real say in how the government runs, or how our taxpayer funds are used, but we’re being forced to pay through the nose, anyhow.

We have no real say, but that doesn’t prevent the government from fleecing us at every turn and forcing us to pay for endless wars that do more to fund the military industrial complex than protect us, pork barrel projects that produce little to nothing, and a police state that serves only to imprison us within its walls.

If you have no choice, no voice, and no real options when it comes to the government’s claims on your property and your money, you’re not free.

It wasn’t always this way, of course.

Early Americans went to war over the inalienable rights described by philosopher John Locke as the natural rights of life, liberty and property.

It didn’t take long, however—a hundred years, in fact—before the American government was laying claim to the citizenry’s property by levying taxes to pay for the Civil War. As the New York Times reports, “Widespread resistance led to its repeal in 1872.”

Determined to claim some of the citizenry’s wealth for its own uses, the government reinstituted the income tax in 1894. Charles Pollock challenged the tax as unconstitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor. Pollock’s victory was relatively short-lived. Members of Congress—united in their determination to tax the American people’s income—worked together to adopt a constitutional amendment to overrule the Pollock decision.

On the eve of World War I, in 1913, Congress instituted a permanent income tax by way of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution and the Revenue Act of 1913. Under the Revenue Act, individuals with income exceeding $3,000 could be taxed starting at 1% up to 7% for incomes exceeding $500,000.

It’s all gone downhill from there.

Unsurprisingly, the government has used its tax powers to advance its own imperialistic agendas and the courts have repeatedly upheld the government’s power to penalize or jail those who refused to pay their taxes.

Irwin A. Schiff was one of the nation’s most vocal tax protesters. He spent a good portion of his life arguing that the income tax was unconstitutional, and he put his wallet where his conscience was: Schiff stopped paying federal taxes in 1974.

Schiff paid the price for his resistance, too: he served three separate prison terms (more than 10 years in all) over his refusal to pay taxes. He died at the age of 87 serving a 14-year prison term. As constitutional activist Robert L. Schulz noted in Schiff’s obituary, “In a society where there is so much fear of government, and in particular of the I.R.S., [Schiff] was probably the most influential educator regarding the illegal and unconstitutional operation and enforcement of the Internal Revenue Code. It’s very hard to speak to power, but he did, and he paid a very heavy price.”

It’s still hard to speak to power, and those who do are still paying a very heavy price.

All the while the government continues to do whatever it likes—levy taxes, rack up debt, spend outrageously and irresponsibly—with little thought for the plight of its citizens.

To top it all off, all of those wars the U.S. is so eager to fight abroad are being waged with borrowed funds. As The Atlantic reports, “For 15 years now, the United States has been putting these wars on a credit card… U.S. leaders are essentially bankrolling the wars with debt, in the form of purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds by U.S.-based entities like pension funds and state and local governments, and by countries like China and Japan.”

If Americans managed their personal finances the way the government mismanages the nation’s finances, we’d all be in debtors’ prison by now.

Still, the government remains unrepentant, unfazed and undeterred in its money grabs.

While we’re struggling to get by, and making tough decisions about how to spend what little money actually makes it into our pockets after the federal, state and local governments take their share (this doesn’t include the stealth taxes imposed through tolls, fines and other fiscal penalties), the police state is spending our hard-earned tax dollars to further entrench its powers and entrap its citizens.

For instance, American taxpayers have been forced to shell out more than $5.6 trillion since 9/11 for the military industrial complex’s costly, endless so-called “war on terrorism.”

That translates to roughly $23,000 per taxpayer to wage wars abroad, occupy foreign countries, provide financial aid to foreign allies, and fill the pockets of defense contractors and grease the hands of corrupt foreign dignitaries.

Mind you, that staggering $6 trillion is only a portion of what the Pentagon spends on America’s military empire.

That price tag keeps growing, too.

In this way, the military industrial complex will get even richer, and the American taxpayer will be forced to shell out even more funds for programs that do little to enhance our lives, ensure our happiness and well-being, or secure our freedoms.

As Dwight D. Eisenhower warned in a 1953 speech:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. […] Is there no other way the world may live?

This is still no way of life.

Yet it’s not just the government’s endless wars that are bleeding us dry.

We’re also being forced to shell out money for surveillance systems to track our movements, money to further militarize our already militarized police, money to allow the government to raid our homes and bank accounts, money to fund schools where our kids learn nothing about freedom and everything about how to comply, and on and on.

Are you getting the picture yet?

The government isn’t taking our money to make our lives better. Just take a look at the nation’s failing infrastructure, and you’ll see how little is being spent on programs that advance the common good.

We’re being robbed blind so the governmental elite can get richer.

This is nothing less than financial tyranny.

“We the people” have become the new, permanent underclass in America.

It’s tempting to say that there’s little we can do about it, except that’s not quite accurate.

There are a few things we can do (demand transparency, reject cronyism and graft, insist on fair pricing and honest accounting methods, call a halt to incentive-driven government programs that prioritize profits over people), but it will require that “we the people” stop playing politics and stand united against the politicians and corporate interests who have turned our government and economy into a pay-to-play exercise in fascism.

We’ve become so invested in identity politics that label us based on our political leanings that we’ve lost sight of the one label that unites us: we’re all Americans.

The powers-that-be want to pit us against one another. They want us to adopt an “us versus them” mindset that keeps us powerless and divided.

Trust me, the only “us versus them” that matters anymore is “we the people” against the police state.

We’re all in the same boat, folks, and there’s only one real life preserver: that’s the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The Constitution starts with those three powerful words: “We the people.”

The message is this: there is power in our numbers.

That remains our greatest strength in the face of a governmental elite that continues to ride roughshod over the populace. It remains our greatest defense against a government that has claimed for itself unlimited power over the purse (taxpayer funds) and the sword (military might).

This holds true whether you’re talking about health care, war spending, or the American police state.

While we’re on the subject, do me a favor and don’t let yourself be fooled into believing that the next crop of political saviors will be any different from their predecessors. They all talk big when they’re running for office, and when they get elected, they spend big at our expense.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is how the middle classes, who fuel the nation’s economy and fund the government’s programs, get screwed repeatedly.

George Harrison, who would have been 77 this year, summed up this outrageous state of affairs in his song Taxman:

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street,

If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.

If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat,

If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.

 

Don’t ask me what I want it for

If you don’t want to pay some more

‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman

 

Now my advice for those who die

Declare the pennies on your eyes

‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman

And you’re working for no one but me.

Source: https://www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/the_looming_financial_nightmare_so_much_for_living_the_american_dream

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  is available at 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.