“The first and most important thing to understand about politics is this: forget Right, Left, Center, socialism, fascism, or democracy. Every government that exists — or ever existed, or ever will exist — is a kleptocracy, meaning ‘rule by thieves.’ Competing ideologies merely provide different excuses to separate the Productive Class from what they produce. If the taxpayer/voters won’t willingly fork over to end poverty, then maybe they’ll cough up to fight drugs or terrorism. Conflicting ideologies, as presently constituted, are nothing more than a cover for what’s really going on, like the colors of competing gangs.” — Author L. Neil Smith

The American kleptocracy (a government ruled by thieves) continues to suck the American people down a rabbit hole into a parallel universe in which the Constitution is meaningless, the government is all-powerful, and the citizenry is powerless to defend itself against government agents who steal, spy, lie, plunder, kill, abuse and generally inflict mayhem and sow madness on everyone and everything in their sphere.

Case in point: in the same week that Wikileaks dropped its bombshell about the CIA’s use of spy tools to subject law-abiding Americans to all manner of government surveillance and hacking—a revelation that caused barely a ripple of concern among the citizenry—the government quietly and with little fanfare continued to wage its devastating, stomach-churning, debilitating war on the American people.

Incredibly, hardly anyone noticed.

This begs the question: if the government is overstepping its authority, abusing its power, and disregarding the rule of law but no one seems to notice—and no one seems to care—does it matter if the government has become a tyrant?

Here’s my short answer: when government wrongdoing ceases to matter, America will have ceased to be.

Just consider the devastation wrought in one week in the life of our American kleptocracy:

On Monday, March 6, police were given the go-ahead to keep stealing from Americans who were innocent of any wrongdoing.

In refusing to hear a challenge to Texas’ asset forfeiture law, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Texas police to keep $201,000 in ill-gotten cash primarily on the basis that the seized cash—the proceeds of a home sale—was being transported on a highway associated with illegal drug trade, despite any proof of illegal activity by the owner. Asset forfeiture laws, which have come under intense scrutiny and criticism in recent years, allow the police to seize property “suspected” of being connected to criminal activity without having to prove the owner of the property is guilty of a criminal offense.

On April 1, 2013, James Leonard was driving with a companion, Nicosa Kane, on U.S. Highway 59 in Texas when the vehicle was stopped by a state police officer for allegedly speeding and following another vehicle too closely. A subsequent search of the vehicle disclosed a safe in the trunk, which Leonard explained belonged to his mother, Lisa Leonard, and contained cash. When the police officer contacted Lisa Leonard, she confirmed that the safe’s contents belonged to her, that the contents constituted personal business, and that she would not consent to allowing the officer to open the safe. After police secured a search warrant, the safe was opened and found to contain $201,000 and a bill of sale for a home in Pennsylvania.

Neither the Leonards nor Kane were found to be in possession of illegal drugs. However, the state initiated civil forfeiture proceedings against the $201,100 on the ground that it was substantially connected to criminal activity because Highway 59 is reputed to be a drug corridor. At trial, Lisa Leonard testified that the money was being sent to Texas so that she could use it to purchase a home for her son and Kane. Both the trial and appeals courts affirmed the authority of state officials to seize and keep Leonard’s funds under the state’s asset forfeiture law, basing their ruling on wholly circumstantial evidence and the reputation of Highway 59. Leonard then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to compel Texas to return her money, given that she was innocent of any crime. In refusing to hear the case on a technicality, the Supreme Court turned its back on justice and allowed the practice of policing for profit to continue.

On Tuesday, March 7, hacked information about the surveillance state was met with a collective shrug by the public, a sign of how indifferent the citizenry has become to living in an electronic concentration camp.

Wikileaks confirmed what we’ve suspected all along: the government’s ability to spy on law-abiding Americans is far more invasive than what we’ve been told. According to the Wikileaks Vault 7 data dump, government agencies such as the CIA and the NSA have been spying on the citizenry through our smart TVs, listening in on our phone calls, hacking into our computerized devices (including our cars), and compromising our security systems through the use of Trojan horses, spyware and malware.

As this Wikileaks revelation confirms, we now have a fourth branch of government. This fourth branch came into being without any electoral mandate or constitutional referendum, and yet it possesses superpowers, above and beyond those of any other government agency save the military. It is all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful. It operates beyond the reach of the president, Congress and the courts, and it marches in lockstep with the corporate elite who really call the shots in Washington, DC.

You might know this branch of government as Surveillance, but I prefer “technotyranny,” a term coined by investigative journalist James Bamford to refer to an age of technological tyranny made possible by government secrets, government lies, government spies and their corporate ties. Beware of what you say, what you read, what you write, where you go, and with whom you communicate, because it will all be recorded, stored and used against you eventually, at a time and place of the government’s choosing.

Privacy, as we have known it, is dead.

On Wednesday, March 8, police were given further incentives to use the “fear for my life” rationale as an excuse for shooting unarmed individuals.

Upon arriving on the scene of a nighttime traffic accident, an Alabama police officer shot a driver exiting his car, mistakenly believing the wallet in his hand to be a gun. From the time the driver stumbled out of his car, waving his wallet in the air, to the time he was shot in the abdomen, only six seconds had elapsed. Although the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals concluded “that a reasonable officer in Hancock’s position would have feared for his life,” the video footage makes clear that the courts continue to march in lockstep with the police, because no reasonable person would shoot first and ask questions later.

A report by the Justice Department on police shootings in Philadelphia, which boasts the fourth largest police department in the country, found that half of the unarmed people shot by police over a seven-year span were “shot because the officer saw something (like a cellphone) or some action (like a person pulling at the waist of their pants) and misidentified it as a threat.”

What exactly are we teaching these young officers in the police academy when the slightest thing, whether it be a hand in a pocket, a man running towards them, a flashlight on a keychain, a wallet waved in a hand, or a dehumanizing stare can ignite a strong enough “fear for their safety” to justify doing whatever is deemed necessary to neutralize the threat, even if it means firing on an unarmed person?

On Thursday, March 9, police were given even more leeway in how much damage they can inflict on those they serve and the extent to which they can disregard the Constitution.  

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a police officer who allowed a police dog to maul a homeless man innocent of any wrongdoing. The case arose in 2010 after a police dog attacked a homeless man near an abandoned house where police were tracking a robbery suspect. The cop refused to call off the dog immediately, despite the man’s pleading and the fact that he did not match the description of the robbery suspect. The homeless man suffered deep bites on his hand, arm and thigh, that required a nearly 16-inch skin graft, as well as severe bleeding, bruising, swelling and an arterial blood clot. Incredibly, not only did the court declare that the police officer was protected by qualified immunity, which incentivizes government officials to violate constitutional rights without fear of repercussion, but it had the nerve to suggest that being mauled by a police dog is the equivalent of a lawful Terry stop in which police may stop and hold a person for questioning on the basis of “reasonable suspicion.”

Also on March 9, government officials assured the Michigan Supreme Court that there was nothing unlawful, unreasonable or threatening about the prospect of armed police dressed in SWAT gear knocking on doors at 4 a.m. and “asking” homeowners to engage in warrantless “knock-and-talk” sessions. Although government lawyers insist citizens can choose to say no to such heavy-handed requests by police to conduct unwarranted interrogations, if such coercive tactics are allowed, it would give SWAT teams further incentive to further terrorize anyone even remotely—or mistakenly—suspected of wrongdoing without fear of repercussion.

On Friday, March 10, the military industrial complex continued to wage war abroad, while government agencies, including members of the military, remained embroiled in controversies over sexual misconduct.

A day after military brass defended the U.S.-led raid in Yemen that killed 10 children and at least six women, Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, informed members of Congress that even more U.S. troops were needed in Afghanistan to combat the Taliban. Some 8400 American troops have been stationed in Afghanistan since the U.S. invaded the country post 9/11. Approximately 400 more Marines are being sent to Syria to aid U.S. forces in their fight against ISIS.

That same day, news reports indicated that members of several branches of the U.S. military, including the Marines, have been using online bulletin boards to either share or solicit nude or explicit photos and videos of women in the military. One Facebook page for Marines, which has nearly 30,000 followers, contained graphic language about how the women photographed, some without their knowledge or consent, should be treated. As the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) revealed, “One member of the Facebook group suggested that the service member sneaking the photos should ‘take her out back and pound her out.’ Others suggested more than vaginal sex: ‘And butthole. And throat. And ears. Both of them. Video it though … for science.’” According to CIR, the photo sharing began less than a month after the first Marine infantry unit was assigned women.

The FBI has also been getting in on the photo-sharing gig, only its agents have been distributing child porn, allegedly in an effort to catch consumers of child porn. Curiously, the Department of Justice has opted to drop its case against a man accused of child pornography rather than be forced to disclose the FBI’s tactics for spying on suspected child porn consumers and entrapping them as part of its Operation Pacifier sting. What the case revealed was that for a little while, in its single-minded pursuit of lawbreakers, the FBI became a lawbreaker itself as the largest distributor of child pornography. All told, the FBI uploaded tens of thousands of images of child pornography to the “dark web.”

As reporter Bryan Clark points out:

At the intersection of technology and law, we’ve proven two things as the result of Operation Pacifier: 1. Government bodies have proven their willingness to circumvent — or even break — the law to capture suspected criminals it’s not even willing to prosecute. 2. We’re living in an age where — to agencies like the FBI — criminals and their victims are less important than the tools used to track them down. It’s hard to argue on the side of an alleged pedophile. But in this case, the FBI was the pedophile’s equal. It was the agency, you’ll recall, that disseminated these images to some 150,000 registered members… this means the FBI perpetrated the same heinous crime it attempted to charge others with, all while securing what could result in zero convictions.

Mind you, this was just one week of shootings, degradation, excessive force, abuse of power and complicity in the American police state. Magnify the impact of these events 52 times over, because they are taking place every week in this country, and you will find yourself weak at the knees.

Somewhere over the course of the past 240-plus years, democracy has given way to kleptocracy, and representative government has been rejected in favor of rule by career politicians, corporations and thieves—individuals and entities with little regard for the rights of American citizens.

This dissolution of that sacred covenant between the citizenry and the government—establishing “we the people” as the masters and the government as the servant—didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen because of one particular incident or one particular president. It is a process, one that began long ago and continues in the present day, aided and abetted by politicians who have mastered the polarizing art of how to “divide and conquer.”

Unfortunately, there is no magic spell to transport us back to a place and time where “we the people” weren’t merely fodder for a corporate gristmill, operated by government hired hands, whose priorities are money and power.

Our freedoms have become casualties in an all-out war on the American people.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this war is being fought on many fronts, with bullets and tasers, with surveillance cameras and license readers, with intimidation and propaganda, with court rulings and legislation, with the collusion of every bureaucrat on the government’s payroll, and most effectively of all, with the complicity of the American people, who continue to allow themselves to be easily manipulated by their politics, distracted by their pastimes, and acclimated to a world in which government corruption is the norm.

How do we stop the hemorrhaging?

Start by waking up. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Most of all, think for yourself.

As H. L. Mencken observed:

The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are.

WC: 2468

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

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

PUBLICATION GUIDELINES / REPRINT PERMISSION

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

 

 

“Civil forfeiture laws represent one of the most serious assaults on private property rights in the nation today. Under civil forfeiture, police and prosecutors can seize your car or other property, sell it and use the proceeds to fund agency budgets—all without so much as charging you with a crime. Unlike criminal forfeiture, where property is taken after its owner has been found guilty in a court of law, with civil forfeiture, owners need not be charged with or convicted of a crime to lose homes, cars, cash or other property. Americans are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but civil forfeiture turns that principle on its head.  With civil forfeiture, your property is guilty until you prove it innocent.”—“ Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” Institute for Justice

In jolly old England, Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor.

In modern-day America, greedy government goons steal from the innocent to give to the corrupt under court- and legislature-sanctioned schemes called civil asset forfeiture. In fact, according to The Washington Post, “law enforcement took more stuff from people than burglars did.”

This is how the American police state continues to get rich: by stealing from the citizenry.

Here’s how the whole ugly business works in a nutshell.

First, government agents (usually the police) use a broad array of tactics to profile, identify, target and arrange to encounter (in a traffic stop, on a train, in an airport, in public, or on private property) those  individuals who might be traveling with a significant amount of cash or possess property of value. Second, these government agents—empowered by the courts and the legislatures—seize private property (cash, jewelry, cars, homes and other valuables) they “suspect” may be connected to criminal activity.

Then—and here’s the kicker—whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, without any charges being levied against the property owner, or any real due process afforded the unlucky victim, the property is forfeited to the government, which often divvies it up with the local police who helped with the initial seizure.

It’s a new, twisted form of guilt by association.

Only it’s not the citizenry being accused of wrongdoing, just their money.

What this adds up to is a paradigm in which Americans no longer have to be guilty to be stripped of their property, rights and liberties. All you have to be is in possession of something the government wants.

Motorists have been particularly vulnerable to this modern-day form of highway robbery.

For instance, police stole $201,000 in cash from Lisa Leonard because the money—which Leonard planned to use to buy a house for her son—was being transported on a public highway also used by drug traffickers. Despite the fact that Leonard was innocent of wrongdoing, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the theft on a technicality.

Police stole $50,000 in cash from Amanee Busbee—which she planned to use to complete the purchase of a restaurant—and threatened to hand her child over to CPS if she resisted. She’s one of the few to win most of her money back in court.

Police stole $22,000 in cash from Jerome Chennault—which he planned to use as the down payment on a home—simply because a drug dog had alerted police to its presence in his car. After challenging the seizure in court, Chennault eventually succeeded in having most of his money returned, although the state refused to compensate him for his legal and travel expenses.

Police stole $8,500 in cash and jewelry from Roderick Daniels—which he planned to use to purchase a new car—and threatened him with jail and money-laundering charges if he didn’t sign a waiver forfeiting his property.

Police stole $6,000 in cash from Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson and threatened to turn their young children over to Child Protective Services if they resisted.

Tenaha, Texas, is a particular hotbed of highway forfeiture activity, so much so that police officers keep pre-signed, pre-notarized documents on hand so they can fill in what property they are seizing.

As the Huffington Post explains, these police forfeiture operations have become little more than criminal shakedowns:

Police in some jurisdictions have run forfeiture operations that would be difficult to distinguish from criminal shakedowns. Police can pull motorists over, find some amount of cash or other property of value, claim some vague connection to illegal drug activity and then present the motorists with a choice: If they hand over the property, they can be on their way. Otherwise, they face arrest, seizure of property, a drug charge, a probable night in jail, the hassle of multiple return trips to the state or city where they were pulled over, and the cost of hiring a lawyer to fight both the seizure and the criminal charge. It isn’t hard to see why even an innocent motorist would opt to simply hand over the cash and move on.

Unsurprisingly, these asset forfeiture scams have become so profitable for the government that they have expanded their reach beyond the nation’s highways.

According to USA Today, the U.S. Department of Justice received $2.01 billion in forfeited items in 2013, and since 2008 local and state law enforcement nationwide has raked in some $3 billion in forfeitures through the federal “equitable sharing” program.

So now it’s not just drivers who have to worry about getting the shakedown.

Any American unwise enough to travel with significant amounts of cash is fair game for the government pickpockets.

In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been colluding with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and local police departments to seize a small fortune in cash from American travelers using the very tools—scanners, spies and surveillance devices—they claimed were necessary to catch terrorists.

Mind you, TSA agents already have a reputation for stealing from travelers, but clearly the government is not concerned about protecting the citizenry from its own wolfish tendencies.

No, the government isn’t looking to catch criminals. It’s just out for your cold, hard cash.

As USA Today reports, although DEA agents have seized more than $203 million in cash in airports alone since 2006, they almost never make arrests or build criminal cases in connection to the seized cash.

For instance, DEA agents at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport stole $11,000 in cash from college student Charles Clarke—his entire life savings, in fact—simply because they claimed his checked suitcase smelled like marijuana. Apart from the sniff test, no drugs or evidence of criminal activity were found.

Christelle Tillerson was waiting to board a flight from Detroit to Chicago when DEA agents stole $25,000 in cash from her suitcase, money she planned to use to buy a truck. Tillerson was never arrested or charged

Joseph Rivers was traveling on an Amtrak train from Michigan to Los Angeles when police stole $16,000 in cash in a bank envelope—money the 22-year-old had saved up to produce a music when he arrived in Hollywood—based solely on their groundless suspicions that the money could have been associated with drugs.

How does the government know which travelers to target?

Through surveillance of Americans’ domestic travel records, by profiling train and airport passengers, and by relying on a “network of travel-industry informants that extends from ticket counters to back offices.” In one instance, the DEA actually promised to give a TSA security screener a reward for identifying luggage with large sums of cash: the more cash found, the bigger the reward.

Starting to notice a pattern?

First, the government claims it needs more powers and more weapons in order to fight crime and terrorism: the power to spy on Americans’ communications and travel; the ability to carry out virtual and actual strip searches of Americans’ luggage, persons and property; the authority to stop and interrogate travelers for any reason in the name of national security.

Then, when government agents have been given enough powers and weapons to transform them into mini-tyrants, they’re unleashed on an unsuspecting citizenry with few resources to be able to defend themselves or protect their property.

So much for those long-cherished ideals about the assumption of innocence and due process.

For example, the federal government attempted to confiscate Russell Caswell’s family-owned Tewksbury, Massachusetts, motel, insisting that because a small percentage of the motel’s guests had been arrested for drug crimes—15 out of 200,000 visitors in a 14-year span—the motel was a dangerous property. As Reason reports:

This cruel surprise was engineered by Vincent Kelley, a forfeiture specialist at the Drug Enforcement Administration who read about the Motel Caswell in a news report and found that the property, which the Caswells own free and clear, had an assessed value of $1.3 million. So Kelley approached the Tewksbury Police Department with an “equitable sharing” deal: The feds would seize the property and sell it, and the cops would get up to 80 percent of the proceeds.

Thankfully, with the help of a federal judge, Caswell managed to keep his motel out of the government’s clutches, but others are not so fortunate.

Gerald and Royetta Ostipow had their Michigan farm and property seized, including a classic muscle car, and then sold by the local sheriff’s office. As USA Today reports:

The Ostipows were required to provide a $150,000 cash bond before they could begin the legal proceedings to contest the forfeiture and get their property back. But they couldn’t afford to. An appeals court later overturned the Ostipow’s hefty bond requirement… But the ruling didn’t stop the nightmare for the couple who were never charged with a crime. They still had to win a court case seeking the return of hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of property taken from the Ostipow’s rural Michigan home, including a cherished classic car. Eventually, an appeals court found that the property was wrongly forfeited. But it was too later to recover the car. With the odometer mysteriously bearing an additional 56,000 miles, police had already sold the car and spent the proceeds.

Despite the fact that 80 percent of these asset forfeiture cases result in no charge against the property owner, challenging these “takings” in court can cost the owner more than the value of the confiscated property itself. As a result, most property owners either give up the fight or chalk the confiscation up to government corruption, leaving the police and other government officials to reap the benefits.

Under a federal equitable sharing program, police turn asset forfeiture cases over to federal agents who process seizures and then return 80% of the proceeds to the police. Michigan police actually get to keep up to 100% of forfeited property.

This is what has become known as “policing for profit.”

According to USA Today, “Anecdotal evidence suggests that allowing departments to keep forfeiture proceeds may tempt them to use the funds unwisely. For example, consider a 2015 scandal in Romulus, Michigan, where police officers used funds forfeited from illicit drug and prostitution stings to pay for …  illicit drugs and prostitutes.”

Police agencies have also used their ill-gotten gains “to buy guns, armored cars and electronic surveillance gear,” reportsThe Washington Post. “They have also spent money on luxury vehicles, travel and a clown named Sparkles.”

So what’s to be done?

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we are now ruled by a government so consumed with squeezing every last penny out of the population as to be completely unconcerned if essential freedoms are trampled in the process.

Our freedoms aren’t just being trampled, however.

They’re being eviscerated.

At every turn, “we the people” are getting swindled, cheated, conned, robbed, raided, pickpocketed, mugged, deceived, defrauded, double-crossed and fleeced by governmental and corporate shareholders of the American police state out to make a profit at taxpayer expense.

President Trump has made it clear his loyalties lie with the police, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has previously declared his love for civil asset forfeiture, the Supreme Court keeps marching in lockstep with the police state, and the police unions don’t want their gravy train to go away, so there’s not much hope for federal reform anytime soon.

As always, change will have to begin locally and move upwards.

Some state legislatures (Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Ohio) are beginning to push back against these clearly unconstitutional asset forfeiture schemes. As the National Review reports, “New Mexico now requires a criminal conviction before law enforcement can seize property, while police in Florida must prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that property is linked to a crime before it’s seized.”

More than legislative change, however, what we need is a change of mindset on the part of the citizenry. We need to stop acting like victims and start acting like citizens with rights.

Remember, long before Americans charted their revolutionary course in pursuit of happiness, it was “life, liberty, and property” which constituted the golden triad of essential rights that the government was charged with respecting and protecting.

To the colonists, smarting from mistreatment at the hands of the British crown, protecting their property from governmental abuse was just as critical as preserving their lives and liberties. As the colonists understood, if the government can arbitrarily take away your property, you have no true rights: you’re nothing more than a serf or a slave.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was born of this need to safeguard against any attempt by the government to unlawfully deprive a citizen of the right to life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

Little could our ancestral forebears have imagined that it would take less than three centuries of so-called “independence” to once again render us brow-beaten subjects in bondage to an overlord bent on depriving us of our most inalienable and fundamental rights.

Yet if the government can arbitrarily freeze, seize or lay claim to your property (money, land or possessions) under government asset forfeiture schemes, you have no true rights.

Enough is enough.

WC: 2345

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

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

PUBLICATION GUIDELINES / REPRINT PERMISSION

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

 

 

“The triumph of the S.S. demands that the tortured victim allow himself to be led to the noose without protesting, that he renounce and abandon himself to the point of ceasing to affirm his identity. And it is not for nothing. It is not gratuitously, out of sheer sadism, that the S.S. men desire his defeat. They know that the system which succeeds in destroying its victim before he mounts the scaffold . . . is incomparably the best for keeping a whole people in slavery.”—Hannah Arendt reporting on the trial of Adolf Eichmann

You can’t have it both ways.

You can’t live in a constitutional republic if you allow the government to act like a police state.

You can’t claim to value freedom if you allow the government to operate like a dictatorship.

You can’t expect to have your rights respected if you allow the government to treat whomever it pleases with disrespect and an utter disregard for the rule of law.

If you’re inclined to advance this double standard because you believe you have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide, beware: there’s always a boomerang effect.

Whatever dangerous practices you allow the government to carry out now—whether it’s in the name of national security or protecting America’s borders or making America great again—rest assured, these same practices can and will be used against you when the government decides to set its sights on you.

Nothing is ever as simple as the government claims it is.

The war on drugs turned out to be a war on the American people, waged with SWAT teams and militarized police.

The war on terror turned out to be a war on the American people, waged with warrantless surveillance and indefinite detention.

The war on immigration will be yet another war on the American people, waged with roving government agents demanding “papers, please.”

So you see, when you talk about empowering government agents to demand identification from anyone they suspect might be an illegal immigrant—the current scheme being entertained by the Trump administration to ferret out and cleanse the country of illegal immigrants—what you’re really talking about is creating a society in which you are required to identify yourself to any government worker who demands it.

Just recently, in fact, passengers arriving in New York’s JFK Airport on a domestic flight from San Francisco were ordered to show their “documents” to border patrol agents in order to get off the plane.

This is how you pave the way for a national identification system.

Americans have always resisted adopting a national ID card for good reason: it gives the government and its agents the ultimate power to target, track and terrorize the populace according to the government’s own nefarious purposes.

National ID card systems have been used before, by other oppressive governments, in the name of national security, invariably with horrifying results.

For instance, in Germany, the Nazis required all Jews to carry special stamped ID cards for travel within the country. A prelude to the yellow Star of David badges, these stamped cards were instrumental in identifying Jews for deportation to death camps in Poland.

Author Raul Hilberg summarizes the impact that such a system had on the Jews:

The whole identification system, with its personal documents, specially assigned names, and conspicuous tagging in public, was a powerful weapon in the hands of the police. First, the system was an auxiliary device that facilitated the enforcement of residence and movement restrictions. Second, it was an independent control measure in that it enabled the police to pick up any Jew, anywhere, anytime. Third, and perhaps most important, identification had a paralyzing effect on its victims.

In South Africa during apartheid, pass books were used to regulate the movement of black citizens and segregate the population. The Pass Laws Act of 1952 stipulated where, when and for how long a black African could remain in certain areas. Any government employee could strike out entries, which cancelled the permission to remain in an area. A pass book that did not have a valid entry resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of the bearer.

Identity cards played a crucial role in the genocide of the Tutsis in the central African country of Rwanda. The assault, carried out by extremist Hutu militia groups, lasted around 100 days and resulted in close to a million deaths. While the ID cards were not a precondition to the genocide, they were a facilitating factor. Once the genocide began, the production of an identity card with the designation “Tutsi” spelled a death sentence at any roadblock.

Identity cards have also helped oppressive regimes carry out eliminationist policies such as mass expulsion, forced relocation and group denationalization. Through the use of identity cards, Ethiopian authorities were able to identify people with Eritrean affiliation during the mass expulsion of 1998. The Vietnamese government was able to locate ethnic Chinese more easily during their 1978-79 expulsion. The USSR used identity cards to force the relocation of ethnic Koreans (1937), Volga Germans (1941), Kamyks and Karachai (1943), Crimean Tartars, Meshkhetian Turks, Chechens, Ingush and Balkars (1944) and ethnic Greeks (1949). And ethnic Vietnamese were identified for group denationalization through identity cards in Cambodia in 1993, as were the Kurds in Syria in 1962.

And in the United States, post-9/11, more than 750 Muslim men were rounded up on the basis of their religion and ethnicity and detained for up to eight months. Their experiences echo those of 120,000 Japanese-Americans who were similarly detained 75 years ago following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Despite a belated apology and monetary issuance by the U.S. government, the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to declare such a practice illegal. Moreover, laws such as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) empower the government to arrest and detain indefinitely anyone they “suspect” of being an enemy of the state.

Fast forward to the Trump administration’s war on illegal immigration, and you have the perfect storm necessary for the adoption of a national ID card, the ultimate human tracking device, which would make the police state’s task of monitoring, tracking and singling out individual suspects—citizen and noncitizen alike—far simpler.

Granted, in the absence of a national ID card, “we the people” are already tracked in a myriad of ways: through our state driver’s licenses, Social Security numbers, bank accounts, purchases and electronic transactions; by way of our correspondence and communication devices—email, phone calls and mobile phones; through chips implanted in our vehicles, identification documents, even our clothing.

Add to this the fact that businesses, schools and other facilities are relying more and more on fingerprints and facial recognition to identify us. All the while, data companies such as Acxiom are capturing vast caches of personal information to help airports, retailers, police and other government authorities instantly determine whether someone is the person he or she claims to be.

This informational glut—used to great advantage by both the government and corporate sectors—is converging into a mandate for “an internal passport,” a.k.a., a national ID card that would store information as basic as a person’s name, birth date and place of birth, as well as private information, including a Social Security number, fingerprint, retina scan and personal, criminal and financial records.

The Real ID Act, which imposes federal standards on identity documents such as state drivers’ licenses, is the prelude to this national identification system. Individuals from states that fail to comply with the Real ID Act (there are nine states still not in compliance) will be unable to use their drivers’ licenses as forms of identification in airports starting in January 2018).

A federalized, computerized, cross-referenced, databased system of identification policed by government agents would be the final nail in the coffin for privacy (not to mention a logistical security nightmare that would leave Americans even more vulnerable to every hacker in the cybersphere).

So what is privacy?

In its purest sense, privacy means the right to walk down a street without fear of being accosted by a government agent demanding to know who you are, where you’re going and what you’re doing in that particular place at that particular moment in time.

Privacy means you have the right to tell any government agent who pokes his nose too far into your business to butt out.

Privacy means the right to remain anonymous, if you so choose.

Unfortunately, in an age of constant surveillance, in which we are constantly watched and our movements monitored and tracked—by our technology, by the government, by the corporations, and through our own obsession with social media and smart devices—the case for privacy is no longer quite so clear-cut.

Likewise, the penalty for telling the government to stick it (or mind its own business) is growing more severe with every passing day.

Noncompliance with a direct government order—whether that order is to show your papers, step out of a car, exit your house with your hands up, or bend over and submit to being searched, fondled or frisked—can now result in missed flights, broken bones and dead bodies.

Remember, the police state does not discriminate.

At some point, it will not matter whether your skin is black or yellow or brown or white. It will not matter whether you’re an immigrant or a citizen. It will not matter whether you’re rich or poor. It won’t even matter whether you’re driving, flying or walking.

After all, government-issued bullets will kill you just as easily whether you’re a law-abiding citizen or a hardened criminal. Government jails will hold you just as easily whether you’ve obeyed every law or broken a dozen. And whether or not you’ve done anything wrong, government agents will treat you like a suspect simply because they have been trained to view and treat everyone like potential criminals.

Eventually, when the police state has turned that final screw and slammed that final door, all that will matter is whether some government agent—poorly trained, utterly ignorant of the Constitution, way too hyped up on the power of their badges, and authorized to detain, search, interrogate, threaten and generally harass anyone they see fit—chooses to single you out for special treatment.

You see, it’s a short hop, skip and a jump from allowing government agents to stop and demand identification from someone suspected of being an illegal immigrant to empowering government agents to subject anyone—citizen and noncitizen alike—to increasingly intrusive demands that they prove not only that they are legally in the country, but that they are also lawful, in compliance with every statute and regulation on the books, and not suspected of having committed some crime or other.

It’s no longer a matter of if, but when.

You may be innocent of wrongdoing now, but when the standard for innocence is set by the government, no one is safe. Everyone is a suspect. And anyone can be a criminal when it’s the government determining what is a crime.

We’ve been having this same debate about the perils of government overreach for the past 50-plus years, and still we don’t seem to learn, or if we learn, we learn too late.

All of the excessive, abusive tactics employed by the government today—warrantless surveillance, stop and frisk searches, SWAT team raids, roadside strip searches, asset forfeiture schemes, private prisons, torture, indefinite detention, militarized police, etc.—started out as a seemingly well-meaning plan to address some problem in society that needed a little extra help.

Be careful what you wish for: you will get more than you bargained for, especially when the government’s involved.

In the case of a national identification system, it might start off as a means of curtailing illegal immigration, but it will end up as a means of controlling the American people.

Taking a prophetic cue from George Orwell’s 1984, a 2013 video game Papers, Please “puts players in control of an unnamed border agent in the fictional Eastern Bloc totalitarian state of Arstotzka in 1982.”

As journalist Jason Concepcion explains, “The rules are simple: Decide who can enter the country. This is accomplished by checking each traveler’s documents — passports, visas, work permits — for authenticity and cross-referencing with various guidelines handed down by the state. The state’s instructions are initially simple. Those holding Arstotzkan passports — assuming the information contained therein matches the person at the window — are considered citizens and may cross the border. Take out your green ACCEPTED stamp, mark the appropriate box on the entry visa, hand the owner back his or her documents, and call the next person in line.”

Where things start to get dicey is when the stakes get higher, when there’s money to be made, when there are lives on the line.

Concepcion continues:

As the game progresses, the restrictions on immigration become more complex. A trade war with a neighboring country causes the Ministry of Admission to ban travelers from the nation. Rumors of insurgent groups with forged documents mean every seal and stamp in an entry visa must be double-checked against those in your handbook. If a traveler is heavier than the weight indicated in their passport, then they must be questioned and X-rayed for contraband. Faces are checked against the state’s most-wanted list. Perhaps a prospective immigrant doesn’t resemble the photograph in their documents, in which case fingerprints must be taken and processed. With each passing day, there are more details to check. Some travelers don’t have the correct work visa, or have papers that would have been valid yesterday. These must be scrutinized closely.

Around day two or three on the job, one of the soldiers who guards the checkpoint steps to your window. He tells you he gets a bonus for each person processed for detention. He offers to cut you in. Criminals — sometimes even terrorists — attempt to pass through the Grestin checkpoint. But this is rare. Immigrants who haven’t kept abreast of the constant changes in state policy are much more common. Every now and again, a traveler comes to your booth with a heartrending story — a dying loved one, children they’ve never seen — but the wrong documentation. You could, easily and legally, hand a few of these people over to the guards and make a few bucks on the side.

This is what the banality of evil looks like, as described by historian Hannah Arendt.

Arendt explains: “The essence of totalitarian government, and perhaps the nature of every bureaucracy, is to make functionaries and mere cogs in the administrative machinery out of men, and thus to dehumanize them.”

How do you persuade people to just follow orders and carry out the dictates of a police state?

You turn them into mindless robots. You teach them to obey unquestioningly. You brainwash them into believing that compliance and patriotism go hand in hand.

As Concepcion concludes, “Papers, Please gives players a window into how fascism manifests itself in bureaucracy. The brilliance of the game’s paperwork gameplay is that it makes the player complicit in the projection of state power… ‘What I found making this game,’ [designer Lucas Pope explained], ‘is that this communist setting or this dystopian, fascist setting works nicely for game mechanics because you can tell the player, ‘you have to do this.’ There’s not a whole lot of questioning of, ‘why?’ ‘You have to do it because that’s how we … run things here, we tell you how to do it and you do it.’ That works perfectly well with the setting of some kind of communist government or some kind of bureaucracy where the rules just come down from the top and boom, that’s your job.’”

Boom. That’s your job.

That about sums things up, doesn’t it?

Battlefield_Cover_300Yet as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it’s not just the border patrol agents or the police or the prison guards who are marching in lockstep with the regime. It’s also the populace that obeys every order, that fails to question or resist or push back against government dictates that are unjust or unconstitutional or immoral.

We have been down this road before.

Reporting on the trial of Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann for the New Yorker in 1963, Hannah Arendt describes the “submissive meekness with which Jews went to their death”:

arriving on time at the transportation points, walking under their own power to the places of execution, digging their own graves, undressing and making neat piles of their clothing, and lying down side by side to be shot—seemed a telling point, and the prosecutor, asking witness after witness, “Why did you not protest?,” “Why did you board the train?,” “Fifteen thousand people were standing there and hundreds of guards facing you—why didn’t you revolt and charge and attack these guards?,” harped on it for all it was worth. But the sad truth of the matter is that the point was ill taken, for no non-Jewish group or non-Jewish people had behaved differently.

The lessons of history are clear: chained, shackled and imprisoned in a detention camp, there is little chance of resistance. The time to act is now, before it’s too late. Indeed, there is power in numbers, but if those numbers will not unite and rise up against their oppressors, there can be no resistance.

As Arendt concludes, “under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that ‘it could happen’ in most places but it did not happen everywhere.”

It does not have to happen here.

We do not have to condemn ourselves to life under an oppressive, authoritarian regime.

We do not have to become our own jailers.

We do not have to dig our own graves.

We do not have to submit.

WC: 2982

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

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

PUBLICATION GUIDELINES / REPRINT PERMISSION

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

 

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security… This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.”—Historian Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45

Brace yourself.

There is something being concocted in the dens of power, far beyond the public eye, and it doesn’t bode well for the future of this country.

Anytime you have an entire nation so mesmerized by the antics of the political ruling class that they are oblivious to all else, you’d better beware. Anytime you have a government that operates in the shadows, speaks in a language of force, and rules by fiat, you’d better beware. And anytime you have a government so far removed from its people as to ensure that they are never seen, heard or heeded by those elected to represent them, you’d better beware.

The world has been down this road before.

As historian Milton Mayer recounts in his seminal book on Hitler’s rise to power, They Thought They Were Free, “Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people‑—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies’, without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.”

We are at our most vulnerable right now.

The gravest threat facing us as a nation is not extremism—delivered by way of sovereign citizens or radicalized Muslims—but despotism, exercised by a ruling class whose only allegiance is to power and money.

Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

America is burning, and all most Americans can do is switch the channel, tune out what they don’t want to hear, and tune into their own personal echo chambers.

We’re in a national state of denial.

Yet no amount of escapism can shield us from the harsh reality that the danger in our midst is posed by an entrenched government bureaucracy that has no regard for the Constitution, Congress, the courts or the citizenry.

If the team colors have changed from blue to red, that’s just cosmetic.

The playbook remains the same. The leopard has not changed its spots.

Scrape off the surface layers and you will find that the American police state is alive and well and continuing to wreak havoc on the rights of the American people.

“We the people” are no longer living the American Dream.

We’re living the American Lie.

Indeed, Americans have been lied to so sincerely, so incessantly, and for so long by politicians of all stripes—who lie compulsively and without any seeming remorse—that they’ve almost come to prefer the lies trotted out by those in government over less-palatable truths.

The American people have become compulsive believers.

As Nick Cohen writes for The Guardian, “Compulsive liars shouldn’t frighten you. They can harm no one, if no one listens to them. Compulsive believers, on the other hand: they should terrify you. Believers are the liars’ enablers. Their votes give the demagogue his power. Their trust turns the charlatan into the president. Their credulity ensures that the propaganda of half-calculating and half-mad fanatics has the power to change the world.”

While telling the truth “in a time of universal deceit is,” as George Orwell concluded, “a revolutionary act,” believing the truth—and being able to distinguish the truth from a lie—is also a revolutionary act.

Here’s a truth few Americans want to acknowledge: nothing has changed (at least, not for the better) since Barack Obama passed the reins of the police state to Donald Trump.

The police state is still winning. We the people are still losing.

In fact, the American police state has continued to advance at the same costly, intrusive, privacy-sapping, Constitution-defying, relentless pace under President Trump as it did under President Obama.

Police haven’t stopped disregarding the rights of citizens. Having been given the green light to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip, shoot and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts, America’s law enforcement officials are no longer mere servants of the people entrusted with keeping the peace. Indeed, they continue to keep the masses corralled, under control, and treated like suspects and enemies rather than citizens.

SWAT teams haven’t stopped crashing through doors and terrorizing families. Nationwide, SWAT teams continue to be employed to address an astonishingly trivial array of criminal activities or mere community nuisances including angry dogs, domestic disputes, improper paperwork filed by an orchid farmer, and misdemeanor marijuana possession. With more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year on unsuspecting Americans for relatively routine police matters and federal agencies laying claim to their own law enforcement divisions, the incidence of botched raids and related casualties continue to rise.

The Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security haven’t stopped militarizing and federalizing local police. Police forces continue to be transformed into heavily armed extensions of the military, complete with jackboots, helmets, shields, batons, pepper-spray, stun guns, assault rifles, body armor, miniature tanks and weaponized drones. In training police to look and act like the military and use the weapons and tactics of war against American citizens, the government continues to turn the United States into a battlefield.

Schools haven’t stopped treating young people like hard-core prisoners. School districts continue to team up with law enforcement to create a “schoolhouse to jailhouse track” by imposing a “double dose” of punishment for childish infractions: suspension or expulsion from school, accompanied by an arrest by the police and a trip to juvenile court. In this way, the paradigm of abject compliance to the state continues to be taught by example in the schools, through school lockdowns where police and drug-sniffing dogs enter the classroom, and zero tolerance policies that punish all offenses equally and result in young people being expelled for childish behavior.

For-profit private prisons haven’t stopped locking up Americans and immigrants alike at taxpayer expense. States continue to outsource prison management to private corporations out to make a profit at taxpayer expense. And how do you make a profit in the prison industry? Have the legislatures pass laws that impose harsh penalties for the slightest noncompliance in order keep the prison cells full and corporate investors happy.

Censorship hasn’t stopped. First Amendment activities continue to be pummeled, punched, kicked, choked, chained and generally gagged all across the country. The reasons for such censorship vary widely from political correctness, safety concerns and bullying to national security and hate crimes but the end result remained the same: the complete eradication of what Benjamin Franklin referred to as the “principal pillar of a free government.”

The courts haven’t stopped marching in lockstep with the police state. The courts continue to be dominated by technicians and statists who are deferential to authority, whether government or business. Indeed, the Supreme Court’s decisions in recent years have most often been characterized by an abject deference to government authority, military and corporate interests. They have run the gamut from suppressing free speech activities and justifying suspicionless strip searches to warrantless home invasions and conferring constitutional rights on corporations, while denying them to citizens.

Government bureaucrats haven’t stopped turning American citizens into criminals. The average American now unknowingly commits three felonies a day, thanks to an overabundance of vague laws that render otherwise innocent activity illegal, while reinforcing the power of the police state and its corporate allies.

The surveillance state hasn’t stopped spying on Americans’ communications, transactions or movements. On any given day, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether it’s your local police, a fusion center, the National Security Agency or one of the government’s many corporate partners, is still monitoring and tracking you.

The TSA hasn’t stopped groping or ogling travelers. Under the pretext of protecting the nation’s infrastructure (roads, mass transit systems, water and power supplies, telecommunications systems and so on) against criminal or terrorist attacks, TSA task forces (comprised of federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers and explosive detection canine teams) continue to do random security sweeps of nexuses of transportation, including ports, railway and bus stations, airports, ferries and subways, as well as political conventions, baseball games and music concerts. Sweep tactics include the use of x-ray technology, pat-downs and drug-sniffing dogs, among other things.

Congress hasn’t stopped enacting draconian laws such as the USA Patriot Act and the NDAA. These laws—which completely circumvent the rule of law and the constitutional rights of American citizens, continue to re-orient our legal landscape in such a way as to ensure that martial law, rather than the rule of law, our U.S. Constitution, becomes the map by which we navigate life in the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security hasn’t stopped being a “wasteful, growing, fear-mongering beast.” Is the DHS capable of plotting and planning to turn the national guard into a federalized, immigration police force? No doubt about it. Remember, this is the agency that is notorious for militarizing the police and SWAT teams; spying on activists, dissidents and veterans; stockpiling ammunition; distributing license plate readers; contracting to build detention camps; tracking cell-phones with Stingray devices; carrying out military drills and lockdowns in American cities; using the TSA as an advance guard; conducting virtual strip searches with full-body scanners; carrying out soft target checkpoints; directing government workers to spy on Americans; conducting widespread spying networks using fusion centers; carrying out Constitution-free border control searches; funding city-wide surveillance cameras; and utilizing drones and other spybots.

The military industrial complex hasn’t stopped profiting from endless wars abroad. America’s expanding military empire continues to bleed the country dry at a rate of more than $15 billion a month (or $20 million an hour). The Pentagon spends more on war than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety. Yet what most Americans fail to recognize is that these ongoing wars have little to do with keeping the country safe and everything to do with enriching the military industrial complex at taxpayer expense.

The Deep State’s shadow government hasn’t stopped calling the shots behind the scenes. Comprised of unelected government bureaucrats, corporations, contractors, paper-pushers, and button-pushers who are actually calling the shots behind the scenes, this government within a government continues to be the real reason “we the people” have no real control over our so-called representatives. It’s every facet of a government that is no longer friendly to freedom and is working overtime to trample the Constitution underfoot and render the citizenry powerless in the face of the government’s power grabs, corruption and abusive tactics.

And the American people haven’t stopped acting like gullible sheep. In fact, many Americans have been so carried away by their blind rank-and-file partisan devotion to their respective political gods that they have lost sight of the one thing that has remained constant in recent years: our freedoms are steadily declining.

Here’s the problem as I see it: “we the people” have become so trusting, so gullible, so easily distracted, so out-of-touch and so sure that our government will always do the right thing by us that we have ignored the warning signs all around us.

In so doing, we have failed to recognize such warning signs as potential red flags to use as opportunities to ask questions, demand answers, and hold our government officials accountable to respecting our rights and abiding by the rule of law.

Unfortunately, once a free people allows the government to make inroads into their freedoms, or uses those same freedoms as bargaining chips for security, it quickly becomes a slippery slope to outright tyranny. And it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican at the helm, because the bureaucratic mindset on both sides of the aisle now seems to embody the same philosophy of authoritarian government.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is what happens when you ignore the warning signs.

This is what happens when you fail to take alarm at the first experiment on your liberties.

Battlefield_Cover_300This is what happens when you fail to challenge injustice and government overreach until the prison doors clang shut behind you.

In the American police state that now surrounds us, there are no longer such things as innocence, due process, or justice—at least, not in the way we once knew them. We are all potentially guilty, all potential criminals, all suspects waiting to be accused of a crime.

So you can try to persuade yourself that you are free, that you still live in a country that values freedom, and that it is not too late to make America great again, but to anyone who has been paying attention to America’s decline over the past 50 years, it will be just another lie.

The German people chose to ignore the truth and believe the lie.

They were not oblivious to the horrors taking place around them. As historian Robert Gellately points out, “[A]nyone in Nazi Germany who wanted to find out about the Gestapo, the concentration camps, and the campaigns of discrimination and persecutions need only read the newspapers.”

The warning signs were definitely there, blinking incessantly like large neon signs.

“Still,” Gellately writes, “the vast majority voted in favor of Nazism, and in spite of what they could read in the press and hear by word of mouth about the secret police, the concentration camps, official anti-Semitism, and so on. . . . [T]here is no getting away from the fact that at that moment, ‘the vast majority of the German people backed him.’”

Half a century later, the wife of a prominent German historian, neither of whom were members of the Nazi party, opined: “[O]n the whole, everyone felt well. . . . And there were certainly eighty percent who lived productively and positively throughout the time. . . . We also had good years. We had wonderful years.”

In other words, as long as their creature comforts remained undiminished, as long as their bank accounts remained flush, as long as they weren’t being discriminated against, persecuted, starved, beaten, shot, stripped, jailed and turned into slave labor, life was good.

This is how tyranny rises and freedom falls.

As Primo Levi, a Holocaust survivor observed, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”

Freedom demands responsibility.

Freedom demands that people stop sleep-walking through life, stop cocooning themselves in political fantasies, and stop distracting themselves with escapist entertainment.

Freedom demands that we stop thinking as Democrats and Republicans and start thinking like human beings, or at the very least, Americans.

Freedom demands that we not remain silent in the face of evil or wrongdoing but actively stand against injustice.

Freedom demands that we treat others as we would have them treat us. That is the law of reciprocity, also referred to as the Golden Rule, and it is found in nearly every world religion, including Judaism and Christianity.

In other words, if you don’t want to be locked up in a prison cell or a detention camp—if you don’t want to be discriminated against because of the color of your race, religion, politics or anything else that sets you apart from the rest—if you don’t want your loved ones shot at, strip searched, tasered, beaten and treated like slaves—if you don’t want to have to be constantly on guard against government eyes watching what you do, where you go and what you say—if you don’t want to be tortured, waterboarded or forced to perform degrading acts—if you don’t want your children to grow up in a world without freedom—then don’t allow these evils to be inflicted on anyone else, no matter how tempting the reason or how fervently you believe in your cause.

As German theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

WC: 2865

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

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

PUBLICATION GUIDELINES / REPRINT PERMISSION

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

 

“Our current and past strategies can no longer hold. We are facing environments that the masters of war never foresaw. We are facing a threat that requires us to redefine doctrine and the force in radically new and different ways. The future army will confront a highly sophisticated urban-centric threat that will require that urban operations become the core requirement for the future land-force. The threat is clear. Our direction remains to be defined. The future is urban.”— “Megacities: Urban Future, the Emerging Complexity,” a Pentagon training video created by the Army for U.S. Special Operations Command

The U.S. military plans to take over America by 2030.

No, this is not another conspiracy theory. Although it easily could be.

Nor is it a Hollywood political thriller in the vein of John Frankenheimer’s 1964 political thriller Seven Days in May about a military coup d’etat.

Although it certainly has all the makings of a good thriller.

No, this is the real deal, coming at us straight from the horse’s mouth.

According to “Megacities: Urban Future, the Emerging Complexity,” a Pentagon training video created by the Army for U.S. Special Operations Command, the U.S. military plans to use armed forces to solve future domestic political and social problems.

What they’re really talking about is martial law, packaged as a well-meaning and overriding concern for the nation’s security.

The chilling five-minute training video, obtained by The Intercept through a FOIA request and made available online, paints an ominous picture of the future—a future the military is preparing for—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.

And then comes the kicker.

Three-and-a-half minutes into the Pentagon’s dystopian vision of “a world of Robert Kaplan-esque urban hellscapes — brutal and anarchic supercities filled with gangs of youth-gone-wild, a restive underclass, criminal syndicates, and bands of malicious hackers,” the ominous voice of the narrator speaks of a need to “drain the swamps.”

Drain the swamps.

Surely, we’ve heard that phrase before?

Ah yes.

Emblazoned on t-shirts and signs, shouted at rallies, and used as a rallying cry among Trump supporters, “drain the swamp” became one of Donald Trump’s most-used campaign slogans, along with “build the wall” and “lock her up.”

Funny how quickly the tides can shift and the tables can turn.

Whereas Trump promised to drain the politically corrupt swamps of Washington DC of lobbyists and special interest groups, the U.S. military is plotting to drain the swamps of futuristic urban American cities of “noncombatants and engage the remaining adversaries in high intensity conflict within.”

And who are these noncombatants, a military term that refers to civilians who are not engaged in fighting?

They are, according to the Pentagon, “adversaries.”

They are “threats.”

They are the “enemy.”

They are people who don’t support the government, people who live in fast-growing urban communities, people who may be less well-off economically than the government and corporate elite, people who engage in protests, people who are unemployed, people who engage in crime (in keeping with the government’s fast-growing, overly broad definition of what constitutes a crime).

In other words, in the eyes of the U.S. military, noncombatants are American citizens a.k.a. domestic extremists a.k.a. enemy combatants who must be identified, targeted, detained, contained and, if necessary, eliminated.

Welcome to Battlefield America.

In the future imagined by the Pentagon, any walls and prisons that are built will be used to protect the societal elite—the haves—from the have-nots.

We are the have-nots.

Suddenly it all begins to make sense.

The events of recent years: the invasive surveillance, the extremism reports, the civil unrest, the protests, the shootings, the bombings, the military exercises and active shooter drills, the color-coded alerts and threat assessments, the fusion centers, the transformation of local police into extensions of the military, the distribution of military equipment and weapons to local police forces, the government databases containing the names of dissidents and potential troublemakers.

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 there is nothing they can do to alter the seemingly hopeless trajectory of the nation.

Before long, no one will even notice the floundering economy, the blowback arising from military occupations abroad, the police shootings, the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure and all of the other mounting concerns.

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.

Few seem to care about the government’s endless wars abroad that leave communities shattered, families devastated and our national security at greater risk of blowback. Indeed, there were no protests in the streets after U.S. military forces raided a compound in Yemen, killing “at least eight women and seven children, ages 3 to 13.”

Their tactics are working.

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 labelled right-wing and left-wing activists and military veterans as extremists (a.k.a. terrorists) and called on the government to subject such targeted individuals to full-fledged pre-crime surveillance. Almost a decade later, after spending billions to fight terrorism, the DHS concluded that the greater threat is not ISIS but domestic right-wing extremism.

Meanwhile, the government has been amassing an arsenal of military weapons 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.

It’s astounding how convenient we’ve made it for the government to lock down the nation.

So what exactly is the government preparing for?

Mind you, by “government,” I’m not referring to the highly partisan, two-party bureaucracy of the Republicans and Democrats.

I’m referring to “government” with a capital “G,” the entrenched Deep State that is unaffected by elections, unaltered by populist movements, and has set itself beyond the reach of the law.

I’m referring to the corporatized, militarized, entrenched bureaucracy that is fully operational and staffed by unelected officials who are, in essence, running the country and calling the shots in Washington DC, no matter who sits in the White House.

This is the hidden face of a government that has no respect for the freedom of its citizenry.

What is the government preparing for? You tell me.

Better yet, take a look at the Pentagon’s training video.

It’s only five minutes long, but it says a lot about the government’s mindset, the way its views the citizenry, and the so-called “problems” that the military must be prepared to address in the near future. Even more troubling, however, is what this military video doesn’t say about the Constitution, about the rights of the citizenry, and about the dangers of using the military to address political and social problems.

The future is here.

We’re already witnessing a breakdown of society on virtually every front.

By waging endless wars abroad, by bringing the instruments of war home, by transforming police into extensions of the military, by turning a free society into a suspect society, by treating American citizens like enemy combatants, by discouraging and criminalizing a free exchange of ideas, by making violence its calling card through SWAT team raids and militarized police, by fomenting division and strife among the citizenry, by acclimating the citizenry to the sights and sounds of war, and by generally making peaceful revolution all but impossible, the government has engineered an environment in which domestic violence has become almost inevitable.

Battlefield_Cover_300Be warned: in the future envisioned by the military, we will not be viewed as Republicans or Democrats. Rather, “we the people” will be enemies of the state.

As I make clear in my book, Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we’re already enemies of the state.

For years, the government has been warning against the dangers of domestic terrorism, erecting surveillance systems to monitor its own citizens, creating classification systems to label any viewpoints that challenge the status quo as extremist, and training law enforcement agencies to equate anyone possessing anti-government views as a domestic terrorist. What the government failed to explain was that the domestic terrorists would be of the government’s own making, whether intentional or not.

“We the people” have become enemy #1.

WC: 1786

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

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

PUBLICATION GUIDELINES / REPRINT PERMISSION

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

 

“After five years of Hitler’s dictatorship, the Nazi police had won the FBI’s seal of approval.”— Historian Robert Gellately

Adolf Hitler is alive and well in the United States, and he is fast rising to power.”—Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, on the danger posed by the FBI to our civil liberties

Lately, there’s been a lot of rhetoric comparing Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. The concern is that a Nazi-type regime may be rising in America.

That process, however, began a long time ago.

In fact, following the second World War, the U.S. government recruited Hitler’s employees, adopted his protocols, embraced his mindset about law and order, implemented his tactics in incremental steps, and began to lay the foundations for the rise of the Fourth Reich.

Sounds far-fetched? Read on. It’s all documented.

As historian Robert Gellately recounts, the Nazi police state was initially so admired for its efficiency and order by the world powers of the day that J. Edgar Hoover, then-head of the FBI, actually sent one of his right-hand men, Edmund Patrick Coffey, to Berlin in January 1938 at the invitation of Germany’s secret police—the Gestapo.

The FBI was so impressed with the Nazi regime that, according to the New York Times, in the decades after World War II, the FBI, along with other government agencies, aggressively recruited at least a thousand Nazis, including some of Hitler’s highest henchmen.

All told, thousands of Nazi collaborators—including the head of a Nazi concentration camp, among others—were given secret visas and brought to America by way of Project Paperclip. Subsequently, they were hired on as spies and informants, and then camouflaged to ensure that their true identities and ties to Hitler’s holocaust machine would remain unknown. All the while, thousands of Jewish refugees were refused entry visas to the U.S. on the grounds that it could threaten national security.

Adding further insult to injury, American taxpayers have been paying to keep these ex-Nazis on the U.S. government’s payroll ever since. And in true Gestapo fashion, anyone who has dared to blow the whistle on the FBI’s illicit Nazi ties has found himself spied upon, intimidated, harassed and labeled a threat to national security.

As if the government’s covert, taxpayer-funded employment of Nazis after World War II wasn’t bad enough, U.S. government agencies—the FBI, CIA and the military—have fully embraced many of the Nazi’s well-honed policing tactics, and have used them repeatedly against American citizens.

Indeed, with every passing day, the United States government borrows yet another leaf from Nazi Germany’s playbook: Secret police. Secret courts. Secret government agencies. Surveillance. Censorship. Intimidation. Harassment. Torture. Brutality. Widespread corruption. Entrapment. Indoctrination. Indefinite detention.

These are not tactics used by constitutional republics, where the rule of law and the rights of the citizenry reign supreme. Rather, they are the hallmarks of authoritarian regimes, where the only law that counts comes in the form of heavy-handed, unilateral dictates from a supreme ruler who uses a secret police to control the populace.

That danger is now posed by the FBI, whose laundry list of crimes against the American people includes surveillance, disinformation, blackmail, entrapment, intimidation tactics, harassment and indoctrination, governmental overreach, abuse, misconduct, trespassing, enabling criminal activity, and damaging private property, and that’s just based on what we know.

Whether the FBI is planting undercover agents in churches, synagogues and mosques; issuing fake emergency letters to gain access to Americans’ phone records; using intimidation tactics to silence Americans who are critical of the government; recruiting high school students to spy on and report fellow students who show signs of being future terrorists; or persuading impressionable individuals to plot acts of terror and then entrapping them, the overall impression of the nation’s secret police force is that of a well-dressed thug, flexing its muscles and doing the boss’ dirty work of ensuring compliance, keeping tabs on potential dissidents, and punishing those who dare to challenge the status quo.

Whatever minimal restrictions initially kept the FBI’s surveillance activities within the bounds of the law have all but disappeared post-9/11. Since then, the FBI has been transformed into a mammoth federal policing and surveillance agency that largely operates as a power unto itself, beyond the reach of established laws, court rulings and legislative mandates.

Consider the FBI’s far-reaching powers to surveil, detain, interrogate, investigate, prosecute, punish, police and generally act as a law unto themselves—much like their Nazi cousins, the Gestapo—and then try to convince yourself that the United States is still a constitutional republic.

Just like the Gestapo, the FBI has vast resources, vast investigatory powers, and vast discretion to determine who is an enemy of the state.

Today, the FBI employs more than 35,000 individuals and operates more than 56 field offices in major cities across the U.S., as well as 400 resident agencies in smaller towns, and more than 50 international offices. In addition to their “data campus,” which houses more than 96 million sets of fingerprints from across the United States and elsewhere, the FBI has also built a vast repository of “profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime. What they have done is appear to be acting suspiciously to a town sheriff, a traffic cop or even a neighbor.” The FBI’s burgeoning databases on Americans are not only being added to and used by local police agencies, but are also being made available to employers for real-time background checks.

All of this is made possible by the agency’s nearly unlimited resources (its minimum budget alone in fiscal year 2015 was $8.3 billion), the government’s vast arsenal of technology, the interconnectedness of government intelligence agencies, and information sharing through fusion centers—data collecting intelligence agencies spread throughout the country that constantly monitor communications (including those of American citizens), everything from internet activity and web searches to text messages, phone calls and emails.

Much like the Gestapo spied on mail and phone calls, FBI agents have carte blanche access to the citizenry’s most personal information.

Working through the U.S. Post Office, the FBI has access to every piece of mail that passes through the postal system: more than 160 billion pieces are scanned and recorded annually. Moreover, the agency’s National Security Letters, one of the many illicit powers authorized by the USA Patriot Act, allows the FBI to secretly demand that banks, phone companies, and other businesses provide them with customer information and not disclose those demands to the customer. An internal audit of the agency found that the FBI practice of issuing tens of thousands of NSLs every year for sensitive information such as phone and financial records, often in non-emergency cases, is riddled with widespread constitutional violations.

Much like the Gestapo’s sophisticated surveillance programs, the FBI’s spying capabilities can delve into Americans’ most intimate details (and allow local police to do so, as well).

In addition to technology (which is shared with police agencies) that allows them to listen in on phone calls, read emails and text messages, and monitor web activities, the FBI’s surveillance boasts an invasive collection of spy tools ranging from Stingray devices that can track the location of cell phones to Triggerfish devices which allow agents to eavesdrop on phone calls.  In one case, the FBI actually managed to remotely reprogram a “suspect’s” wireless internet card so that it would send “real-time cell-site location data to Verizon, which forwarded the data to the FBI.” Law enforcement agencies are also using social media tracking software to monitor Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts. Moreover, secret FBI rules also allow agents to spy on journalists without significant judicial oversight.

Much like the Gestapo’s ability to profile based on race and religion, and its assumption of guilt by association, the FBI’s approach to pre-crime allows it to profile Americans based on a broad range of characteristics including race and religion.

The agency’s biometric database has grown to massive proportions, the largest in the world, encompassing everything from fingerprints, palm, face and iris scans to DNA, and is being increasingly shared between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in an effort to target potential criminals long before they ever commit a crime. This is what’s known as pre-crime. Yet it’s not just your actions that will get you in trouble. In many cases, it’s also who you know—even minimally—and where your sympathies lie that could land you on a government watch list. Moreover, as the Interceptreports, despite anti-profiling prohibitions, the bureau “claims considerable latitude to use race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion in deciding which people and communities to investigate.”

Much like the Gestapo’s power to render anyone an enemy of the state, the FBI has the power to label anyone a domestic terrorist.

As part of the government’s so-called ongoing war on terror, the nation’s de facto secret police force has begun using the terms “anti-government,” “extremist” and “terrorist” interchangeably. Moreover, the government continues to add to its growing list of characteristics that can be used to identify an individual (especially anyone who disagrees with the government) as a potential domestic terrorist. For instance, you might be a domestic terrorist in the eyes of the FBI (and its network of snitches) if you:

  • express libertarian philosophies (statements, bumper stickers)
  • exhibit Second Amendment-oriented views (NRA or gun club membership)
  • read survivalist literature, including apocalyptic fictional books
  • show signs of self-sufficiency (stockpiling food, ammo, hand tools, medical supplies)
  • fear an economic collapse
  • buy gold and barter items
  • subscribe to religious views concerning the book of Revelation
  • voice fears about Big Brother or big government
  • expound about constitutional rights and civil liberties
  • believe in a New World Order conspiracy

Much like the Gestapo infiltrated communities in order to spy on the German citizenry, the FBI routinely infiltrates political and religious groups, as well as businesses.

As Cora Currier writes for the Intercept: “Using loopholes it has kept secret for years, the FBI can in certain circumstances bypass its own rules in order to send undercover agents or informants into political and religious organizations, as well as schools, clubs, and businesses…” The FBI has even been paying Geek Squad technicians at Best Buy to spy on customers’ computers without a warrant.

Just as the Gestapo united and militarized Germany’s police forces into a national police force, America’s police forces have largely been federalized and turned into a national police force.

In addition to government programs that provide the nation’s police forces with military equipment and training, the FBI also operates a National Academy that trains thousands of police chiefs every year and indoctrinates them into an agency mindset that advocates the use of surveillance technology and information sharing between local, state, federal, and international agencies.

Just as the Gestapo’s secret files on political leaders were used to intimidate and coerce, the FBI’s files on anyone suspected of “anti-government” sentiment have been similarly abused.

As countless documents make clear, the FBI has no qualms about using its extensive powers in order to blackmail politicians, spy on celebrities and high-ranking government officials, and intimidate and attempt to discredit dissidents of all stripes. For example, not only did the FBI follow Martin Luther King Jr. and bug his phones and hotel rooms, but agents also sent him anonymous letters urging him to commit suicide and pressured a Massachusetts college into dropping King as its commencement speaker.

Just as the Gestapo carried out entrapment operations, the FBI has become a master in the art of entrapment.

In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks the FBI has not only targeted vulnerable individuals but has also lured or blackmailed them into fake terror plots while actually equipping them with the organization, money, weapons and motivation to carry out the plots—entrapment—and then jailing or deporting them for their so-called terrorist plotting. This is what the FBI characterizes as “forward leaning—preventative—prosecutions.” In addition to creating certain crimes in order to then “solve” them, the FBI also gives certain informants permission to break the law, “including everything from buying and selling illegal drugs to bribing government officials and plotting robberies,” in exchange for their cooperation on other fronts. USA Today estimates that agents have authorized criminals to engage in as many as 15 crimes a day. Some of these informants are getting paid astronomical sums: one particularly unsavory fellow, later arrested for attempting to run over a police officer, was actually paid $85,000 for his help laying the trap for an entrapment scheme.

When and if a true history of the FBI is ever written, it will not only track the rise of the American police state but it will also chart the decline of freedom in America, in much the same way that the empowerment of Germany’s secret police tracked with the rise of the Nazi regime.

How did the Gestapo become the terror of the Third Reich?

It did so by creating a sophisticated surveillance and law enforcement system that relied for its success on the cooperation of the military, the police, the intelligence community, neighborhood watchdogs, government workers for the post office and railroads, ordinary civil servants, and a nation of snitches inclined to report “rumors, deviant behavior, or even just loose talk.”

In other words, ordinary citizens working with government agents helped create the monster that became Nazi Germany. Writing for the New York Times, Barry Ewen paints a particularly chilling portrait of how an entire nation becomes complicit in its own downfall by looking the other way:

In what may be his most provocative statement, [author Eric A.] Johnson says that ‘‘most Germans may not even have realized until very late in the war, if ever, that they were living in a vile dictatorship.’’ This is not to say that they were unaware of the Holocaust; Johnson demonstrates that millions of Germans must have known at least some of the truth. But, he concludes, ‘‘a tacit Faustian bargain was struck between the regime and the citizenry.’’ The government looked the other way when petty crimes were being committed. Ordinary Germans looked the other way when Jews were being rounded up and murdered; they abetted one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century not through active collaboration but through passivity, denial and indifference.

Much like the German people, “we the people” have become passive, polarized, gullible, easily manipulated, and lacking in critical thinking skills.  Distracted by entertainment spectacles, politics and screen devices, we too are complicit, silent partners in creating a police state similar to the terror practiced by former regimes.

Can the Fourth Reich happen here?

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it’s already happening right under our noses.

WC: 2456

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

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

PUBLICATION GUIDELINES / REPRINT PERMISSION

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

 

“We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force.”—Ayn Rand

The torch has been passed to a new president.

All of the imperial powers amassed by Barack Obama and George W. Bush—to kill American citizens without due process, to detain suspects indefinitely, to strip Americans of their citizenship rights, to carry out mass surveillance on Americans without probable cause, 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 act as a dictator and a tyrant, above the law and beyond any real accountability—have been inherited by Donald Trump.

Whatever kind of president Trump chooses to be, he now has the power to completely alter the landscape of this country for good or for ill.

He has this power because every successive occupant of the Oval Office has been allowed to expand the reach and power of the presidency through the use of executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements that can be activated by any sitting president.

Those of us who saw this eventuality coming have been warning for years about the growing danger of the Executive Branch with its presidential toolbox of terror that could be used—and abused—by future presidents.

The groundwork, we warned, was being laid for a new kind of government where it won’t matter if you’re innocent or guilty, whether you’re a threat to the nation or even if you’re a citizen. What will matter is what the president—or whoever happens to be occupying the Oval Office at the time—thinks. And if he or she thinks you’re a threat to the nation and should be locked up, then you’ll be locked up with no access to the protections our Constitution provides. In effect, you will disappear.

Our warnings went largely unheeded.

First, we sounded the alarm over George W. Bush’s attempts to gut the Constitution, suspend habeas corpus, carry out warrantless surveillance on Americans, and generally undermine the Fourth Amendment, but the Republicans didn’t want to listen because Bush was a Republican.

Then we sounded the alarm over Barack Obama’s prosecution of whistleblowers, targeted drone killings, assassinations of American citizens, mass surveillance, and militarization of the police, but the Democrats didn’t want to listen because Obama was a Democrat and he talked a really good game.

It well may be that by the time Americans­—Republicans and Democrats alike—stop playing partisan games and start putting some safeguards in place, it will be too late.

Already, Donald Trump has indicated that he will pick up where his predecessors left off: he will continue to wage war, he will continue to federalize the police, and he will operate as if the Constitution does not apply to him.

Still, as tempting as it may be, don’t blame Donald Trump for what is to come.

If this nation eventually locks down… If Americans are rounded up and detained based on the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or their political views… If law-and-order takes precedence over constitutional principles…

If martial law is eventually declared… If we find that there really is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide from the surveillance state’s prying eyes and ears… And if our constitutional republic finally plunges headlong over the cliff and leaves us in the iron grip of totalitarianism…

Please, resist the urge to lay all the blame at Trump’s feet.

After all, President Trump didn’t create the police state.

He merely inherited it.

Frankly, there’s more than enough blame to go around.

So blame Obama. Blame Bush. Blame Bill Clinton.

Blame the Republicans and Democrats who justified every power grab, every expansion of presidential powers, and every attack on the Constitution as long as it was a member of their own party leading the charge.

Blame Congress for being a weak, inept body that spends more time running for office and pandering to the interests of the monied elite than representing the citizenry.

Blame the courts for caring more about order than justice, and for failing to hold government officials accountable to the rule of law.

Blame Corporate America for taking control of the government and calling the shots behind the scenes.

Most of all, blame the American people for not having objected louder, sooner and more vehemently when Barack Obama, George W. Bush and their predecessors laid the groundwork for this state of tyranny.

But wait, you say.

Americans are mobilizing. They are engaged. They are actively expressing their discontent with the government. They are demanding change. They are marching in the streets, picketing, protesting and engaging in acts of civil disobedience.

This is a good development, right? Isn’t this what we’ve been calling on Americans to do for so long: stand up and push back and say “enough is enough”?

Perhaps you’re right.

Perhaps Americans have finally had enough. At least, some Americans have finally had enough.

That is to say, some Americans have finally had enough of certain government practices that are illegal, immoral and inhumane.

Although, to be quite fair, it might be more accurate to state that some Americans have finally had enough of certain government practices that are illegal, immoral and inhumane provided that the ruling political party responsible for those actions is not their own.

Yes, that sounds about right. Except that it’s all wrong.

We still haven’t learned a thing.

Imagine: after more than eight years in which Americans remained largely silent while the United States military (directed by the Obama Administration) bombed parts of the Middle East to smithereens—dropping nearly three bombs an hour, and left a trail of innocent civilian deaths in its wake—suddenly, Americans are outraged by programs introduced by the Trump Administration that could discriminate against Muslim refugees. Never mind that we’ve been killing those same refugees for close to a decade.

Certainly, there was little outcry when the U.S. military under Obama carried out an air strike against a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan. Doctors, patients—including children—and staff members were killed or wounded. There were also no protests when the Obama Administration targeted Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen in Yemen, for assassination by drone strike. The man was killed without ever having been charged with a crime. Two weeks later, Obama—the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize—authorized another drone strike that killed al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, also an American citizen.

Most recently, picking up where President Obama left off, President Trump personally authorized a commando raid on a compound in Yemen suspected of harboring Al Qaeda officials. Among those killed were “at least eight women and seven children, ages 3 to 13,” including Nora, the 8-year-old sister of the teenager killed by Obama years before.

Likewise, while most Americans failed to show much opposition to the government’s disregard for Americans’ bodily integrity, shrugging their collective shoulders dismissively over reports of their fellow citizens being subjected Americans to roadside strip searches, virtual strip searches, cavity searches and other equally denigrating acts, hundreds of thousands mobilized to protest policies that could be advanced by the Trump administration that might demean or deny equal rights to individuals based on their gender or orientation or take away their reproductive planning choices. Similarly, while tens of thousands have gathered annually for a March for Life to oppose abortion, many of those same marchers seem to have no qualms about the government’s practice of shooting unarmed citizens and executing innocent ones.

This begs the question: what are Americans really protesting? Is it politics or principle?

Or is it just Trump?

For instance, in the midst of the uproar over Trump’s appointment of Steven Bannon to the National Security Council, his detractors have accused Bannon of being a propagandist  nationalist, and a white supremacist. Yet not one objection has been raised about the fact that the National Security Council authorizes secret, legal, targeted killings of American citizens (and others) without due process, a practice frequently employed by Obama.

The message coming across loud and clear: it’s fine for the government to carry out secret, targeted assassinations of American citizens without due process as long as the individuals advising the president aren’t Neo-Nazis.

Of course, this national hypocrisy goes both ways.

Conveniently, many of the same individuals who raised concerns over Obama’s “lawless” use of executive orders to sidestep Congress have defended Trump’s executive orders as “taking us back to the Constitution.” And those who sounded the alarm over the dangers of the American police state have gone curiously silent in the face of Trump’s pledge to put an end to “the dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America.”

We can’t have it both ways.

As long as we continue to put our politics ahead of our principles—moral, legal and constitutional—“we the people” will lose.

And you know who will keep winning by playing on our prejudices, capitalizing on our fears, deepening our distrust of our fellow citizens, and dividing us into polarized, warring camps incapable of finding consensus on the one true menace that is an immediate threat to all of our freedoms? The U.S. government.

In her essay on “The Nature of Government,” Ayn Rand explains that the only “proper” purpose of a government is the protection of individual rights. She continues: “The source of the government’s authority is ‘the consent of the governed.’ This means that the government is not the ruler, but the servant or agent of the citizens; it means that the government as such has no rights except the rights delegated to it by the citizens for a specific purpose.”

When we lose sight of this true purpose of government—to protect our rights—and fail to keep the government in its place as our servant, we allow the government to overstep its bounds and become a tyrant that rules by brute force.

As Rand explains:

Instead of being a protector of man’s rights, the government is becoming their most dangerous violator; instead of guarding freedom, the government is establishing slavery; instead of protecting men from the initiators of physical force, the government is initiating physical force and coercion in any manner and issue it pleases; instead of serving as the instrument of objectivity in human relationships, the government is creating a deadly, subterranean reign of uncertainty and fear, by means of nonobjective laws whose interpretation is left to the arbitrary decisions of random bureaucrats; instead of protecting men from injury by whim, the government is arrogating to itself the power of unlimited whim—so that we are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force.

Rule by brute force.

That’s about as good a description as you’ll find for the sorry state of our republic.

SWAT teams crashing through doors. Militarized police shooting unarmed citizens. Traffic cops tasering old men and pregnant women for not complying fast enough with an order. Resource officers shackling children for acting like children. Citizens being jailed for growing vegetable gardens in their front yards and holding prayer services in their backyards. Drivers having their cash seized under the pretext that they might have done something wrong.

The list of abuses being perpetrated against the American people by their government is growing rapidly.

We are approaching critical mass.

Battlefield_Cover_300As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it may already be too late to save our republic. We have passed the point of easy fixes. When the government and its agents no longer respect the rule of law—the Constitution—or believe that it applies to them, then the very contract on which this relationship is based becomes invalid.

So what is the answer?

Look to the past if you want to understand the future.

Too often, we look to the past to understand how tyrants come to power: the rise and fall of the Roman Empire; Hitler’s transformation of Germany into a Nazi state; the witch hunt tactics of the McCarthy Era.

Yet the past—especially our own American history—also teaches us valuable lessons about the quest for freedom. Here’s Rand again:

A free society—like any other human product—cannot be achieved by random means, by mere wishing or by the leaders’ “good intentions.” A complex legal system, based on objectively valid principles, is required to make a society free and to keep it free-a system that does not depend on the motives, the moral character or the intentions of any given official, a system that leaves no opportunity, no legal loophole for the development of tyranny. The American system of checks and balances was just such an achievement. And although certain contradictions in the Constitution did leave a loophole for the growth of statism, the incomparable achievement was the concept of a constitution as a means of limiting and restricting the power of the government. Today, when a concerted effort is made to obliterate this point, it cannot be repeated too often that the Constitution is a limitation on the government, not on private individuals—that it does not prescribe the conduct of private individuals, only the conduct of the government—that it is not a charter for government power, but a charter of the citizens’ protection against the government.

You want to save America? Then stop thinking like Republicans and Democrats and start acting like Americans.

The only thing that will save us now is a concerted, collective commitment to the Constitution’s principles of limited government, a system of checks and balances, and a recognition that they—the president, Congress, the courts, the military, the police, the technocrats and plutocrats and bureaucrats—work for us.

WC: 2381

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

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

PUBLICATION GUIDELINES / REPRINT PERMISSION

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