Posts Tagged ‘Constitution’

“I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The U.S. government will lead the American people in — and the West in general — into an unbearable hell and a choking life.”—Osama bin Laden (October 2001)

Ironically, during the same week that we mark the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we find ourselves commemorating the 230th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.

While there has been much to mourn about the loss of our freedoms in the years since 9/11, there has been very little to celebrate. Indeed, we have gone from being a nation that took great pride in serving as a model of a representative democracy to being a model of how to persuade a freedom-loving people to march in lockstep with a police state.

What began with the passage of the USA Patriot Act in the wake of the 9/11 attacks has snowballed into the eradication of every vital safeguard against government overreach, corruption and abuse.

Since then, we have been terrorized, traumatized, and tricked into a semi-permanent state of compliance. The bogeyman’s names and faces change over time, but the end result remains the same: our unquestioning acquiescence to anything the government wants to do in exchange for the phantom promise of safety and security.

All the while, the Constitution has been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded to such an extent that what we are left with today is but a shadow of the robust document adopted more than two centuries ago. Most of the damage, however, has been inflicted upon the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution—which historically served as the bulwark from government abuse.

Set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, overcriminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches, roving VIPR raids and the like—all sanctioned by Congress, the White House, the courts and the like—a recitation of the Bill of Rights would understandably sound more like a eulogy to freedoms lost than an affirmation of rights we truly possess.

We can pretend that the Constitution, which was written to hold the government accountable, is still our governing document. However, the reality we must come to terms with is that in the America we live in today, the government does whatever it wants, freedom be damned.

Here is what it means to live under the Constitution today.

The First Amendment is supposed to protect the freedom to speak your mind, assemble and protest nonviolently without being bridled by the government. It also protects the freedom of the media, as well as the right to worship and pray without interference. In other words, Americans should not be silenced by the government. To the founders, all of America was a free speech zone.

Despite the clear protections found in the First Amendment, the freedoms described therein are under constant assault. Increasingly, Americans are being arrested and charged with bogus “contempt of cop” charges such as “disrupting the peace” or “resisting arrest” for daring to film police officers engaged in harassment or abusive practices. Journalists are being prosecuted for reporting on whistleblowers. States are passing legislation to muzzle reporting on cruel and abusive corporate practices. Religious ministries are being fined for attempting to feed and house the homeless. Protesters are being tear-gassed, beaten, arrested and forced into “free speech zones.” And under the guise of “government speech,” the courts have reasoned that the government can discriminate freely against any First Amendment activity that takes place within a government forum.

The Second Amendment was intended to guarantee “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Essentially, this amendment was intended to give the citizenry the means to resist tyrannical government. Yet while gun ownership has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as an individual citizen right, Americans remain powerless to defend themselves against SWAT team raids and government agents armed to the teeth with military weapons better suited for the battlefield. As such, this amendment has been rendered null and void.

The Third Amendment reinforces the principle that civilian-elected officials are superior to the military by prohibiting the military from entering any citizen’s home without “the consent of the owner.” With the police increasingly training like the military, acting like the military, and posing as military forces—complete with military weapons, assault vehicles, etc.—it is clear that we now have what the founders feared most—a standing army on American soil.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits the government from conducting surveillance on you or touching you or invading you, unless they have some evidence that you’re up to something criminal. In other words, the Fourth Amendment ensures privacy and bodily integrity. Unfortunately, the Fourth Amendment has suffered the greatest damage in recent years and has been all but eviscerated by an unwarranted expansion of police powers that include strip searches and even anal and vaginal searches of citizens, surveillance and intrusions justified in the name of fighting terrorism, as well as the outsourcing of otherwise illegal activities to private contractors.

The Fifth Amendment and the Sixth Amendment work in tandem. These amendments supposedly ensure that you are innocent until proven guilty, and government authorities cannot deprive you of your life, your liberty or your property without the right to an attorney and a fair trial before a civilian judge. However, in the new suspect society in which we live, where surveillance is the norm, these fundamental principles have been upended. Certainly, 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.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees citizens the right to a jury trial. Yet when the populace has no idea of what’s in the Constitution—civic education has virtually disappeared from most school curriculums—that inevitably translates to an ignorant jury incapable of distinguishing justice and the law from their own preconceived notions and fears. However, as a growing number of citizens are coming to realize, the power of the jury to nullify the government’s actions—and thereby help balance the scales of justice—is not to be underestimated. Jury nullification reminds the government that “we the people” retain the power to ultimately determine what laws are just.

The Eighth Amendment is similar to the Sixth in that it is supposed to protect the rights of the accused and forbid the use of cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Supreme Court’s determination that what constitutes “cruel and unusual” should be dependent on the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society” leaves us with little protection in the face of a society lacking in morals altogether.

The Ninth Amendment provides that other rights not enumerated in the Constitution are nonetheless retained by the people. Popular sovereignty—the belief that the power to govern flows upward from the people rather than downward from the rulers—is clearly evident in this amendment. However, it has since been turned on its head by a centralized federal government that sees itself as supreme and which continues to pass more and more laws that restrict our freedoms under the pretext that it has an “important government interest” in doing so.

As for the Tenth Amendment’s reminder that the people and the states retain every authority that is not otherwise mentioned in the Constitution, that assurance of a system of government in which power is divided among local, state and national entities has long since been rendered moot by the centralized Washington, DC, power elite—the president, Congress and the courts. Indeed, the federal governmental bureaucracy has grown so large that it has made local and state legislatures relatively irrelevant. Through its many agencies and regulations, the federal government has stripped states of the right to regulate countless issues that were originally governed at the local level.

If there is any sense to be made from this recitation of freedoms lost, it is simply this: our individual freedoms have been eviscerated so that the government’s powers could be expanded.

Yet those who gave us the Constitution and the Bill of Rights believed that the government exists at the behest of its citizens. It is there to protect, defend and even enhance our freedoms, not violate them.

It was no idle happenstance that the Constitution opens with these three powerful words: “We the people.” As the Preamble proclaims:

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this CONSTITUTION for the United States of America.

In other words, we have the power to make and break the government. We are the masters and they are the servants. We the American people—the citizenry—are the arbiters and ultimate guardians of America’s welfare, defense, liberty, laws and prosperity.

Still, it’s hard to be a good citizen if you don’t know anything about your rights or how the government is supposed to operate.

As the National Review rightly asks, “How can Americans possibly make intelligent and informed political choices if they don’t understand the fundamental structure of their government? American citizens have the right to self-government, but it seems that we increasingly lack the capacity for it.”

Americans are constitutionally illiterate.

Most citizens have little, if any, knowledge about their basic rights. And our educational system does a poor job of teaching the basic freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For instance, when Newsweek asked 1,000 adult U.S. citizens to take America’s official citizenship test44% were unable to define the Bill of Rights.

A survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that a little more than one-third of respondents (36 percent) could name all three branches of the U.S. government, while another one-third (35 percent) could not name a single one. Only a quarter of Americans (27 percent) know it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto. One in five Americans (21 percent) incorrectly thinks that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration. And more than half of Americans do not know which party controls the House and Senate.

A 2006 survey by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that only one out of a thousand adults could identify the five rights protected by the First Amendment. On the other hand, more than half (52%) of the respondents could name at least two of the characters in the animated Simpsons television family, and 20% could name all five. And although half could name none of the freedoms in the First Amendment, a majority (54%) could name at least one of the three judges on the TV program American Idol, 41% could name two and one-fourth could name all three.

It gets worse.

Many who responded to the survey had a strange conception of what was in the First Amendment. For example, 21% said the “right to own a pet” was listed someplace between “Congress shall make no law” and “redress of grievances.” Some 17% said that the First Amendment contained the “right to drive a car,” and 38% believed that “taking the Fifth” was part of the First Amendment.

Teachers and school administrators do not fare much better. A study conducted by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis found that one educator in five was unable to name any of the freedoms in the First Amendment.

In fact, while some educators want students to learn about freedom, they do not necessarily want them to exercise their freedoms in school. As the researchers conclude, “Most educators think that students already have enough freedom, and that restrictions on freedom in the school are necessary. Many support filtering the Internet, censoring T-shirts, disallowing student distribution of political or religious material, and conducting prior review of school newspapers.”

Government leaders and politicians are also ill-informed. Although they take an oath to uphold, support and defend the Constitution against “enemies foreign and domestic,” their lack of education about our fundamental rights often causes them to be enemies of the Bill of Rights.

So what’s the solution?

Thomas Jefferson recognized that a citizenry educated on “their rights, interests, and duties”  is the only real assurance that freedom will survive.

As Jefferson wrote in 1820: “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of our society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

From the President on down, anyone taking public office should have a working knowledge of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and should be held accountable for upholding their precepts. One way to ensure this would be to require government leaders to take a course on the Constitution and pass a thorough examination thereof before being allowed to take office.

Some critics are advocating that students pass the United States citizenship exam in order to graduate from high school. Others recommend that it must be a prerequisite for attending college. I’d go so far as to argue that students should have to pass the citizenship exam before graduating from grade school.

Here’s an idea to get educated and take a stand for freedom: anyone who signs up to become a member of The Rutherford Institute gets a wallet-sized Bill of Rights card and a Know Your Rights card.

If this constitutional illiteracy is not remedied and soon, freedom in America will be doomed.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we have managed to keep the wolf at bay so far. Barely.

Our national priorities need to be re-prioritized. For instance, Donald Trump wants to make America great again. I, for one, would prefer to make America free again.

As actor-turned-activist Richard Dreyfuss warned:

Unless we teach the ideas that make America a miracle of government, it will go away in your kids’ lifetimes, and we will be a fable. You have to find the time and creativity to teach it in schools, and if you don’t, you will lose it. You will lose it to the darkness, and what this country represents is a tiny twinkle of light in a history of oppression and darkness and cruelty. If it lasts for more than our lifetime, for more than our kids’ lifetime, it is only because we put some effort into teaching what it is, the ideas of America: the idea of opportunity, mobility, freedom of thought, freedom of assembly.”

WC:  2481

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.

 

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We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone…
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.
—Pink Floyd, “Another Brick in the Wall”

The nation’s young people have been given front-row seats for an unfolding police drama that is rated R for profanity, violence and adult content.

In Arizona, a 7-year-old girl watched panic-stricken as a state trooper pointed his gun at her and her father during a traffic stop and reportedly threatened to shoot her father in the back (twice) based on the mistaken belief that they were driving a stolen rental car.

In Oklahoma, a 5-year-old boy watched as a police officer used a high-powered rifle to shoot his dog Opie multiple timesin his family’s backyard while other children were also present. The police officer was mistakenly attempting to deliver a warrant on a 10-year-old case for someone who hadn’t lived at that address in a decade.

In Maryland, a 5-year-old boy was shot when police exchanged gunfire with the child’s mother—eventually killing her—over a dispute that began when Korryn Gaines refused to accept a traffic ticket for driving without a license plate on her car.

It’s difficult enough raising a child in a world ravaged by war, disease, poverty and hate, but when you add the police state into the mix, it becomes near impossible to guard against the growing unease that some of the monsters of our age come dressed in government uniforms.

The lesson being taught to our youngest—and most impressionable—citizens is this: in the American police state, you’re either a prisoner (shackled, controlled, monitored, ordered about, limited in what you can do and say, your life not your own) or a prison bureaucrat (politician, police officer, judge, jailer, spy, profiteer, etc.).

Unfortunately, now that school is back in session, life is that much worse for the children of the American police state.

The nation’s public schools—extensions of the world beyond the schoolhouse gates, a world that is increasingly hostile to freedom—have become microcosms of the American police state, containing almost every aspect of the militarized, intolerant, senseless, overcriminalized, legalistic, surveillance-riddled, totalitarian landscape that plagues those of us on the “outside.”

If your child is fortunate enough to survive his encounter with the public schools with his individuality and freedoms intact, you should count yourself fortunate.

Most students are not so lucky.

From the moment a child enters one of the nation’s 98,000 public schools to the moment he or she graduates, they will be exposed to a steady diet of

  • draconian zero tolerance policies that criminalize childish behavior,
  • overreaching anti-bullying statutes that criminalize speech,
  • school resource officers (police) tasked with disciplining and/or arresting so-called “disorderly” students,
  • standardized testing that emphasizes rote answers over critical thinking,
  • politically correct mindsets that teach young people to censor themselves and those around them,
  • and extensive biometric and surveillance systems that, coupled with the rest, acclimate young people to a world in which they have no freedom of thought, speech or movement.

Clearly, instead of making the schools safer, we have managed to make them more authoritarian.

Young people in America are now first in line to be searched, surveilled, spied on, threatened, tied up, locked down, treated like criminals for non-criminal behavior, tasered and in some cases shot.

Roped into the government’s profit-driven campaign to keep the nation “safe” from drugs, weapons and terrorism, the schools have transformed themselves into quasi-prisons, complete with surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs, strip searches and active shooter drills.

It used to be that if you talked back to a teacher, or played a prank on a classmate, or just failed to do your homework, you might find yourself in detention or doing an extra writing assignment after school.

That is no longer the case.

Nowadays, students are not only punished for minor transgressions such as playing cops and robbers on the playground, bringing LEGOs to school, or having a food fight, but the punishments have become far more severe, shifting from detention and visits to the principal’s office into misdemeanor tickets, juvenile court, handcuffs, tasers and even prison terms.

Students have been suspended under school zero tolerance policies for bringing to school “look alike substances” such as oreganobreath mints, birth control pills and powdered sugar.

For instance, a Virginia sixth grader, the son of two school teachers and a member of the school’s gifted program, was suspended for a year after school officials found a leaf (likely a maple leaf) in his backpack that they suspected was marijuana. Despite the fact that the leaf in question was not marijuana (a fact that officials knew almost immediately), the 11-year-old was still kicked out of school, charged with marijuana possession in juvenile court, enrolled in an alternative school away from his friends, subjected to twice-daily searches for drugs, and forced to be evaluated for substance abuse problems.

Look-alike weapons (toy guns—even Lego-sized ones, hand-drawn pictures of guns, pencils twirled in a “threatening” manner, imaginary bows and arrows, even fingers positioned like guns) can also land a student in hot water.

Acts of kindness, concern or basic manners can also result in suspensions. One 13-year-old was given detention for exposing the school to “liability” by sharing his lunch with a hungry friend. A third grader was suspended for shaving her head in sympathy for a friend who had lost her hair to chemotherapy. And then there was the high school senior who wassuspended for saying “bless you” after a fellow classmate sneezed.

Consider that by the time the average young person in America finishes their public school education, nearly one out of every three of them will have been arrested.

More than 3 million students are suspended or expelled from schools every year, often for minor misbehavior, such as “disruptive behavior” or “insubordination.” Black students are three times more likely than white students to face suspension and expulsion.

In South Carolina, where it’s against the law to disturb a school, more than a thousand students a year—some as young as 7 years old—“face criminal charges for not following directions, loitering, cursing, or the vague allegation of acting ‘obnoxiously.’ If charged as adults, they can be held in jail for up to 90 days.”

Moreover, just as militarized police who look, think and act like soldiers on a battlefield have made our communities less safe, the growing presence of police in the nation’s schools is resulting in environments in which it’s no longer safe for children to act like children.

Thanks to a combination of media hype, political pandering and financial incentives, the use of armed police officers to patrol school hallways has risen dramatically in recent years. Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, these school resource officers have become de facto wardens in elementary, middle and high schools, doling out their own brand of justice to the so-called “criminals” in their midst with the help of tasers, pepper spray, batons and brute force.

The horror stories are legion.

One school police officer was accused of punching a 13-year-old student in the face for cutting the cafeteria line. Thatsame cop put another student in a chokehold a week later, allegedly knocking the student unconscious and causing a brain injury. In Pennsylvania, a student was tasered after ignoring an order to put his cell phone away.

Defending the use of handcuffs and pepper spray to subdue students, one Alabama police department reasoned that if they can employ such tactics on young people away from school, they should also be permitted to do so on campus.

Now advocates for such harsh police tactics and weaponry will tell you that school safety should be our first priority.

What they might fail to mention in their zeal to lock down the schools are the lucrative, multi-million dollar deals being cut with military contractors to equip school cops with tasers, tanks, rifles and $100,000 shooting detection systems.

Indeed, the militarization of the police has been mirrored in the public schools, where school police have been gifted with high-powered M16 rifles, MRAP armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and other military gear. One Texas school district even boasts its own 12-member SWAT team.

According to one law review article on the school-to-prison pipeline, “Many school districts have formed their own police departments, some so large they rival the forces of major United States cities in size. For example, the safety division in New York City’s public schools is so large that if it were a local police department, it would be the fifth-largest police force in the country.”

The term “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to a phenomenon in which children who are suspended or expelled from school have a greater likelihood of ending up in jail.

What we’re grappling with, you see, is not merely a public school system that resembles a prison and is treating young people like prisoners but also a profit-driven system of incarceration has given rise to a growth in juvenile prisons and financial incentives for jailing young people.

Indeed, young people have become easy targets for the private prison industry, which profits from criminalizing childish behavior and jailing young people. Nearly 40 percent of young people who are arrested will serve time in a private prison, where the emphasis is on making profits for large megacorporations above all else.

It has been said that America’s schools are the training ground for future generations.

Instead of raising up a generation of freedom fighters, however, we seem to be busy churning out newly minted citizens of the American police state who are being taught the hard way what it means to comply, fear and march in lockstep with the government’s dictates.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it’s getting harder by the day to convince young people that we live in a nation that values freedom and which is governed by the rule of law.

Battlefield_Cover_300With every school police raid and overzealous punishment that is carried out in the name of school safety, the lesson being imparted is that Americans—especially young people—have no rights at all against the state or the police.

The bottom line is this: if you want a nation of criminals, treat the citizenry like criminals.

If you want young people who grow up seeing themselves as prisoners, run the schools like prisons.

But if you want to raise up a generation of freedom fighters, who will actually operate with justice, fairness, accountability and equality towards each other and their government, then run the schools like freedom forums. Remove the metal detectors and surveillance cameras, re-assign the cops elsewhere, and start treating our nation’s young people like citizens of a republic and not inmates in a police state.

_____

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

“There is nothing more dangerous than a government of the many controlled by the few.”—Lawrence Lessig, Harvard law professor

The U.S. government remains the greatest threat to our freedoms.

The systemic violence being perpetrated by agents of the government has done more collective harm to the American people and our liberties than any single act of terror.

More than terrorism, more than domestic extremism, more than gun violence and organized crime, the U.S. government has become a greater menace to the life, liberty and property of its citizens than any of the so-called dangers from which the government claims to protect us.

This is how tyranny rises and freedom falls.

Battlefield_Cover_300As I explain in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, when the government views itself as superior to the citizenry, when it no longer operates for the benefit of the people, when the people are no longer able to peacefully reform their government, when government officials cease to act like public servants, when elected officials no longer represent the will of the people, when the government routinely violates the rights of the people and perpetrates more violence against the citizenry than the criminal class, when government spending is unaccountable and unaccounted for, when the judiciary act as courts of order rather than justice, and when the government is no longer bound by the laws of the Constitution, then you no longer have a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

What we have is a government of wolves.

Worse than that, we are now being ruled by a government of scoundrels, spies, thugs, thieves, gangsters, ruffians, rapists, extortionists, bounty hunters, battle-ready warriors and cold-blooded killers who communicate using a language of force and oppression.

Does the government pose a danger to you and your loved ones?

The facts speak for themselves.

We’re being held at gunpoint by a government of soldiers—a standing army. While Americans are being made to jump through an increasing number of hoops in order to exercise their Second Amendment right to own a gun, the government is arming its own civilian employees to the hilt with guns, ammunition and military-style equipment, authorizing them to make arrests, and training them in military tactics. Among the agencies being supplied with night-vision equipment, body armor, hollow-point bullets, shotguns, drones, assault rifles and LP gas cannons are the Smithsonian, U.S. Mint, Health and Human Services, IRS, FDA, Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Education Department, Energy Department, Bureau of Engraving and Printing and an assortment of public universities. There are now reportedly more bureaucratic (non-military) government civilians armed with high-tech, deadly weapons than U.S. Marines. That doesn’t even begin to touch on the government’s arsenal, the transformation of local police into extensions of the military, and the speed with which the nation could be locked down under martial law depending on the circumstances. Clearly, the government is preparing for war—and a civil war, at that—but who is the enemy?

We’re being robbed blind by a government of thieves. Americans no longer have any real protection against government agents empowered to seize private property at will. For instance, police agencies under the guise of asset forfeiture laws are taking property based on little more than a suspicion of criminal activity. In one case, police seized $53,000 from the manager of a Christian rock band that was touring and raising money for an orphanage in Thailand. Despite finding no evidence of wrongdoing, police kept the money. Homeowners are losing their homes over nonpayment of taxes (for as little as $400 owed) and municipal bills such as water or sewer fees that amount to a fraction of what they have invested in their homes. And then there’s the Drug Enforcement Agency, which has been searching train and airline passengers and pocketing their cash, without ever charging them with a crime.

We’re being taken advantage of by a government of scoundrels, idiots and cowards. American satirist H.L. Mencken calculated that “Congress consists of one-third, more or less, scoundrels; two-thirds, more or less, idiots; and three-thirds, more or less, poltroons.” By and large, Americans seem to agree. When you’ve got government representatives who spend a large chunk of their work hours fundraising, being feted by lobbyists, shuffling through a lucrative revolving door between public service and lobbying, and making themselves available to anyone with enough money to secure access to a congressional office, you’re in the clutches of a corrupt oligarchy. Mind you, these same elected officials rarely read the legislation they’re enacting, nor do they seem capable of enacting much legislation that actually helps rather than hinders the plight of the American citizen.

We’re being locked up by a government of greedy jailers. We have become a carceral state, spending three times more on our prisons than on our schools and imprisoning close to a quarter of the world’s prisoners, despite the fact that crime is at an all-time low and the U.S. makes up only 5% of the world’s population. The rise of overcriminalization and profit-driven private prisons provides even greater incentives for locking up American citizens for such non-violent “crimes” as having an overgrown lawn.  As the Boston Review points out, “America’s contemporary system of policing, courts, imprisonment, and parole … makes money through asset forfeiture, lucrative public contracts from private service providers, and by directly extracting revenue and unpaid labor from populations of color and the poor. In states and municipalities throughout the country, the criminal justice system defrays costs by forcing prisoners and their families to pay for punishment. It also allows private service providers to charge outrageous fees for everyday needs such as telephone calls. As a result people facing even minor criminal charges can easily find themselves trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle of debt, criminalization, and incarceration.”

We’re being spied on by a government of Peeping Toms. The government is watching everything you do, reading everything you write, listening to everything you say, and monitoring everything you spend. Omnipresent surveillance is paving the way for government programs that profile citizens, document their behavior and attempt to predict what they might do in the future, whether it’s what they might buy, what politician they might support, or what kinds of crimes they might commit. The impact of this far-reaching surveillance, according to Psychology Today, is “reduced trust, increased conformity, and even diminished civic participation.” As technology analyst Jillian C. York concludes, “Mass surveillance without due process—whether undertaken by the government of Bahrain, Russia, the US, or anywhere in between—threatens to stifle and smother that dissent, leaving in its wake a populace cowed by fear.”

We’re being ravaged by a government of ruffians, rapists and killers. It’s not just the police shootings of unarmed citizens that are worrisome. It’s the SWAT team raids gone wrong that are leaving innocent citizens wounded, children terrorized and family pets killed. It’s the roadside strip searches—in some cases, cavity searches of men and women alike carried out in full view of the public—in pursuit of drugs that are never found. It’s the potentially lethal—and unwarranted—use of so-called “nonlethal” weapons such as tasers on children for “mouthing off to a police officer. For trying to run from the principal’s office. For, at the age of 12, getting into a fight with another girl.”

We’re being forced to surrender our freedoms—and those of our children—to a government of extortionists, money launderers and professional pirates. The American people have been repeatedly sold a bill of goods about how the government needs more money, more expansive powers, and more secrecy (secret courts, secret budgets, secret military campaigns, secret surveillance) in order to keep us safe. Under the guise of fighting its wars on terror, drugs and now domestic extremism, the government has spent billions in taxpayer dollars on endless wars that have notended terrorism but merely sown the seeds of blowback, surveillance programs that have caught few terrorists while subjecting all Americans to a surveillance society, and militarized police that have done little to decrease crime while turning communities into warzones. Not surprisingly, the primary ones to benefit from these government exercises in legal money laundering have been the corporations, lobbyists and politicians who inflict them on a trusting public.

Whatever else it may be—a danger, a menace, a threat—the U.S. government is certainly no friend to freedom.

To our detriment, the criminal class that Mark Twain mockingly referred to as Congress has since expanded to include every government agency that feeds off the carcass of our once-constitutional republic. In fact, there’s a very good reason you don’t hear much in the way of specifics about the government’s tyranny from politicians: it’s because they can’t afford to upset the apple cart (i.e., jeopardize their posh lifestyles).

So no matter which party wins the White House, controls Congress or appoints future Supreme Court justices, rest assured that the menace of the shadow government—the permanent, unelected bureaucracy that operates beyond the reach of the Constitution, the courts and the citizenry—will continue uninterrupted.

Our backs are against the proverbial wall.

The government and its cohorts have conspired to ensure that the only real recourse the American people have to express their displeasure with the government is through voting, which is no real recourse at all. The penalties for civil disobedience, whistleblowing and rebellion are severe. If you refuse to pay taxes for government programs you believe to be immoral or illegal, you will go to jail. If you attempt to overthrow the government—or any agency thereof—because you believe it has overstepped its reach, you will go to jail. If you attempt to blow the whistle on government misconduct, there’s a pretty good chance you will go to jail.

For too long, the American people have been made to act like puppets dancing to a tyrant’s tune.

We have obeyed the government’s dictates, no matter now extreme. We have paid its taxes, penalties and fines, no matter how outrageous. We have tolerated its indignities, insults and abuses, no matter how egregious. We have turned a blind eye to its indiscretions and incompetence, no matter how imprudent. We have held our silence in the face of its lawlessness, licentiousness and corruption, no matter how illicit.

We have suffered.

How long we will continue to suffer depends on how much we’re willing to give up for the sake of freedom.

America’s founders provided us with a very specific explanation about the purpose of government and a roadmap for what to do when the government abuses its authority, ignores our objections, and establishes itself as a tyrant.

We must choose between peaceful slavery (in other words, maintaining the status quo in servitude to the police state) and dangerous freedom. That will mean carving out a path in which we begin to take ownership of our government, starting at the local level, challenging the status quo, and raising hell whenever a government official steps out of line.

“The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”—Joseph Stalin, dictator of the Soviet Union

No, America, you don’t have to vote.

In fact, vote or don’t vote, the police state will continue to trample us underfoot.

Devil or deliverer, the candidate who wins the White House has already made a Faustian bargain to keep the police state in power. It’s no longer a question of which party will usher in totalitarianism but when the final hammer will fall.

Sure we’re being given choices, but the differences between the candidates are purely cosmetic ones, lacking any real nutritional value for the nation. We’re being served a poisoned feast whose aftereffects will leave us in turmoil for years to come.

We’ve been here before.

Remember Barack Obama, the young candidate who campaigned on a message of hope, change and transparency, and promised an end to war and surveillance?

Look how well that turned out.

Under Obama, government whistleblowers are routinely prosecuted, U.S. arms sales have skyrocketed, police militarization has accelerated, and surveillance has become widespread. The U.S. government is literally arming the world, while bombing the heck out of the planet. And while they’re at it, the government is bringing the wars abroad home, transforming American communities into shell-shocked battlefields where the Constitution provides little in the way of protection.

Yes, we’re worse off now than we were eight years ago.

We’re being subjected to more government surveillance, more police abuse, more SWAT team raids, more roadside strip searches, more censorship, more prison time, more egregious laws, more endless wars, more invasive technology, more militarization, more injustice, more corruption, more cronyism, more graft, more lies, and more of everything that has turned the American dream into the American nightmare.

What we’re not getting more of: elected officials who actually represent us.

The American people are being guilted, bullied, pressured, cajoled, intimidated, terrorized and browbeaten into voting. We’re constantly told to vote because it’s your so-called civic duty, because you have no right to complain about the government unless you vote, because every vote counts, because we must present a unified front, because the future of the nation depends on it, because God compels us to do so, because by not voting you are in fact voting, because the “other” candidate must be defeated at all costs, or because the future of the Supreme Court rests in the balance.

Nothing in the Constitution requires that you vote.

You are under no moral obligation to vote for the lesser of two evils. Indeed, voting for a lesser evil is still voting for evil.

Whether or not you cast your vote in this year’s presidential election, you have every right to kvetch, complain and criticize the government when it falls short of your expectations. After all, you are overtaxed so the government can continue to operate corruptly.

If you want to boo, boycott, picket, protest and altogether reject a corrupt political system that has failed you abysmally, more power to you. I’ll take an irate, engaged, informed, outraged American any day over an apathetic, constitutionally illiterate citizenry that is content to be diverted, distracted and directed.

Whether you vote or don’t vote doesn’t really matter.

What matters is what else you’re doing to push back against government incompetence, abuse, corruption, graft, fraud and cronyism.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the only road to reform is through the ballot box.

After all, there is more to citizenship than the act of casting a ballot for someone who, once elected, will march in lockstep with the dictates of the powers-that-be. Yet as long as Americans are content to let politicians, war hawks and Corporate America run the country, the police state will prevail, no matter which candidate wins on Election Day.

In other words, it doesn’t matter who sits in the White House, who controls the two houses of Congress, or who gets appointed to the Supreme Court: only those who are prepared to cozy up to the powers-that-be will have any real impact.

As Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges points out:

The predatory financial institutions on Wall Street will trash the economy and loot the U.S. Treasury on the way to another economic collapse whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Poor, unarmed people of color will be gunned down in the streets of our cities whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. The system of neoslavery in our prisons, where we keep poor men and poor women of color in cages because we have taken from them the possibility of employment, education and dignity, will be maintained whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Millions of undocumented people will be deported whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Austerity programs will cut or abolish public services, further decay the infrastructure and curtail social programs whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Money will replace the vote whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. And half the country, which now lives in poverty, will remain in misery whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton becomes president. This is not speculation. We know this because there has been total continuity on every issue, from trade agreements to war to mass deportations, between the Bush administration and the administration of Barack Obama.

In other words, voting is not the answer.

Battlefield_Cover_300As I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the nation is firmly under the control of a monied oligarchy guarded by a standing army (a.k.a., militarized police. It is an invisible dictatorship, of sorts, one that is unaffected by the vagaries of party politics and which cannot be overthrown by way of the ballot box.

Total continuity” is how Hedges refers to the manner in which the government’s agenda remains unchanged no matter who occupies the Executive Branch. “Continuity of government” (COG) is the phrase policy wonks use to refer to the unelected individuals who have been appointed to run the government in the event of a “catastrophe.” You can also refer to it as a shadow government, or the Deep State, which is comprised of unelected government bureaucrats, corporations, contractors, paper-pushers, and button-pushers who actually call the shots behind the scenes.

Whatever term you use, the upshot remains the same: on the national level, we’re up against an immoveable, intractable, entrenched force that is greater than any one politician or party, whose tentacles reach deep into every sector imaginable, from Wall Street, the military and the courts to the technology giants, entertainment, healthcare and the media.

This is no Goliath to be felled by a simple stone.

This is a Leviathan disguised as a political savior.

So how do we prevail against the tyrant who says all the right things and does none of them? How do we overcome the despot whose promises fade with the spotlights? How do we conquer the dictator whose benevolence is all for show?

We get organized. We get educated. We get active.

If you feel led to vote, fine, but if all you do is vote, “we the people” are going to lose.

If you abstain from voting and still do nothing, “we the people” are going to lose.

If you give your proxy to some third-party individual or group to fix what’s wrong with the country and that’s all you do, then “we the people” are going to lose.

If, however, you’re prepared to shake off the doldrums, wipe the sleep out of your eyes, turn off the television, tune out the talking heads, untether yourself from whatever piece of technology you’re affixed to, wean yourself off the teat of the nanny state, and start flexing those unused civic muscles, then there might be hope for us all.

For starters, get back to basics. Get to know your neighbors, your community, and your local officials. This is the first line of defense when it comes to securing your base: fortifying your immediate lines.

Second, understand your rights. Know how your local government is structured. Who serves on your city council and school boards? Who runs your local jail: has it been coopted by private contractors? What recourse does the community have to voice concerns about local problems or disagree with decisions by government officials?

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Support the work of The Rutherford Institute with a tax-deductible donation today.

Third, know the people you’re entrusting with your local government. Are your police chiefs being promoted from within your community? Are your locally elected officials accessible and, equally important, are they open to what you have to say? Who runs your local media? Does your newspaper report on local events? Who are your judges? Are their judgments fair and impartial? How are prisoners being treated in your local jails?

Finally, don’t get so trusting and comfortable that you stop doing the hard work of holding your government accountable. We’ve drifted a long way from the local government structures that provided the basis for freedom described by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, but we are not so far gone that we can’t reclaim some of its vital components.

As an article in The Federalist points out:

Local government is fundamental not so much because it’s a “laboratory” of democracy but because it’s a school of democracy. Through such accountable and democratic government, Americans learn to be democratic citizens. They learn to be involved in the common good. They learn to take charge of their own affairs, as a community. Tocqueville writes that it’s because of local democracy that Americans can make state and Federal democracy work—by learning, in their bones, to expect and demand accountability from public officials and to be involved in public issues.

To put it another way, think nationally but act locally.

There is still a lot Americans can do to topple the police state tyrants, but any revolution that has any hope of succeeding needs to be prepared to reform the system from the bottom up. And that will mean re-learning step by painful step what it actually means to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

“A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.”—James Madison

America is a ticking time bomb.

All that remains to be seen is who—or what—will set fire to the fuse.

We are poised at what seems to be the pinnacle of a manufactured breakdown, with police shooting unarmed citizens, snipers shooting police, global and domestic violence rising, and a political showdown between two presidential candidates equally matched in unpopularity.

The preparations for the Republican and Democratic national conventions taking place in Cleveland and Philadelphia—augmented by a $50 million federal security grant for each city—provide a foretaste of how the government plans to deal with any individual or group that steps out of line: they will be censored, silenced, spied on, caged, intimidated, interrogated, investigated, recorded, tracked, labeled, held at gunpoint, detained, restrained, arrested, tried and found guilty.

For instance, anticipating civil unrest and mass demonstrations in connection with the Republican Party convention, Cleveland officials set up makeshift prisons, extra courtrooms to handle protesters, and shut down a local university in order to house 1,700 riot police and their weapons. The city’s courts are preparing to process up to 1,000 people a day. Additionally, the FBI has also been conducting “interviews” with activists in advance of the conventions to discourage them from engaging in protests.

Make no mistake, the government is ready for a civil uprising.

Indeed, the government has been preparing for this moment for years.

A 2008 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 goes 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.”

Subsequent reports by the Department of Homeland Security to identify, monitor and label right-wing and left-wing activists and military veterans as extremists (a.k.a. terrorists) have manifested into full-fledged pre-crime surveillance programs. Almost a decade later, after locking down the nation and spending billions to fight terrorism, the DHS has 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 is 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.

We’ve even 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.

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—have all conjoined to create an environment in which “we the people” are more distrustful and fearful of each other and more reliant on the government to keep us safe.

Of course, that’s the point.

The powers-that-be want us to feel vulnerable.

They want us to fear each other and trust the government’s hired gunmen to keep us safe from terrorists, extremists, jihadists, psychopaths, etc.

Most of all, the powers-that-be want us to feel powerless to protect ourselves and reliant on and grateful for the dubious protection provided by the American police state.

Their strategy is working.

The tree of liberty is dying.

There will be no second American Revolution.

There is no place in our nation for the kind of armed revolution our forefathers mounted against a tyrannical Great Britain. Such an act would be futile and tragic. We are no longer dealing with a distant, imperial king but with a tyrant of our own making: a militarized, technologized, heavily-financed bureaucratic machine that operates beyond the reach of the law.

The message being sent to the citizenry is clear: there will be no revolution, armed or otherwise.

Anyone who believes that they can wage—and win—an armed revolt against the American police state has not been paying attention. Those who wage violence against the government and their fellow citizens are playing right into the government’s hands. Violence cannot and will not be the answer to what ails America.

Whether instigated by the government or the citizenry, violence will only lead to more violence. It does not matter how much firepower you have. The government has more firepower.

It does not matter how long you think you can hold out by relying on survivalist skills, guerilla tactics and sheer grit. The government has the resources to outwait, out-starve, outman, outgun and generally overpower you.

This government of wolves will not be overtaken by force.

Unfortunately, we waited too long to wake up to the government’s schemes.

We did not anticipate that “we the people” would become the enemy. 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.

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 inevitable.

What we are now experiencing is a civil war, devised and instigated in part by the U.S. government.

The outcome for this particular conflict is already foregone: the police state wins.

The objective: compliance and control.

The strategy: destabilize the economy through endless wars, escalate racial tensions, polarize the populace, heighten tensions through a show of force, intensify the use of violence, and then, when all hell breaks loose, clamp down on the nation for the good of the people and the security of the nation.

So where does that leave us?

Despite the fact that communities across the country are, for all intents and purposes, being held hostage by a government that is armed to the teeth and more than willing to use force in order to “maintain order,” most Americans seem relatively unconcerned. Worse, we have become so fragmented as a nation, so hostile to those with whom we might disagree, so distrustful of those who are different from us, that we are easily divided and conquered.

We have been desensitized to violence, acclimated to a military presence in our communities and persuaded that there is nothing we can do to alter the seemingly hopeless trajectory of the nation. In this way, the floundering economy, the blowback arising from military occupations abroad, police shootings, the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure and all of the other mounting concerns have become non-issues to a populace that is easily entertained, distracted, manipulated and controlled.

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

We are fast becoming an anemic, weak, pathetically diluted offspring of our revolutionary forebears incapable of mounting a national uprising against a tyrannical regime.

Battlefield_Cover_300If there is to be any hope of reclaiming our government and restoring our freedoms, it will require a different kind of coup: nonviolent, strategic and grassroots, starting locally and trickling upwards. Such revolutions are slow and painstaking. They are political, in part, but not through any established parties or politicians.

Most of all, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, for any chance of success, such a revolution will require more than a change of politics: it will require a change of heart among the American people, a reawakening of the American spirit, and a citizenry that cares more about their freedoms than their fantasy games.

“I was astonished, bewildered. This was America, a country where, whatever its faults, people could speak, write, assemble, demonstrate without fear. It was in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. We were a democracy… But I knew it wasn’t a dream; there was a painful lump on the side of my head… The state and its police were not neutral referees in a society of contending interests. They were on the side of the rich and powerful. Free speech? Try it and the police will be there with their horses, their clubs, their guns, to stop you. From that moment on, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. I was a radical, believing that something fundamental was wrong in this country—not just the existence of poverty amidst great wealth, not just the horrible treatment of black people, but something rotten at the root. The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society—cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.” ― Historian Howard Zinn

America is at a crossroads.

History may show that from this point forward, we will have left behind any semblance of constitutional government and entered into a militaristic state where all citizens are suspects and security trumps freedom.

Certainly, this is a time when government officials operate off their own inscrutable, self-serving playbook with little in the way of checks and balances, while American citizens are subjected to all manner of indignities and violations with little hope of defending themselves.

Battlefield_Cover_300As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age—the age of authoritarianism. Even with its constantly shifting terrain, this topsy-turvy travesty of law and government has become America’s new normal.

Don’t believe me?

Let me take you on a brief guided tour, but prepare yourself. The landscape is particularly disheartening to anyone who remembers what America used to be.

The Executive Branch: Whether it’s the Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers, the systematic surveillance of journalists and regular citizens, the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay, or the occupation of Afghanistan, Barack Obama has surpassed his predecessors in terms of his abuse of the Constitution and the rule of law. President Obama, like many of his predecessors, has routinely disregarded the Constitution when it has suited his purposes, operating largely above the law and behind a veil of secrecy, executive orders and specious legal justifications. Rest assured that no matter who wins this next presidential election, very little will change. The policies of the American police state will continue.

The Legislative Branch:  It is not overstating matters to say that Congress may well be the most self-serving, semi-corrupt institution in America. Abuses of office run the gamut from elected representatives neglecting their constituencies to engaging in self-serving practices, including the misuse of eminent domain, earmarking hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracting in return for personal gain and campaign contributions, having inappropriate ties to lobbyist groups and incorrectly or incompletely disclosing financial information. Pork barrel spending, hastily passed legislation, partisan bickering, a skewed work ethic, graft and moral turpitude have all contributed to the public’s increasing dissatisfaction with congressional leadership. No wonder 86 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

The Judicial Branch: The Supreme Court was intended to be an institution established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds. Yet through their deference to police power, preference for security over freedom, and evisceration of our most basic rights for the sake of order and expediency, the justices of the United States Supreme Court have become the guardians of the American police state in which we now live. As a result, sound judgment and justice have largely taken a back seat to legalism, statism and elitism, while preserving the rights of the people has been deprioritized and made to play second fiddle to both governmental and corporate interests.

Shadow Government: America’s next president will inherit more than a bitterly divided nation teetering on the brink of financial catastrophe when he or she assumes office. He or she will also inherit a shadow government, one that is fully operational and staffed by unelected officials who are, in essence, running the country. Referred to as the Deep State, this shadow government is comprised of unelected government bureaucrats, corporations, contractors, paper-pushers, and button-pushers who are actually calling the shots behind the scenes right now.

Law Enforcement: By and large the term “law enforcement” encompasses all agents within a militarized police state, including the military, local police, and the various agencies such as the Secret Service, FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. Having been given the green light to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts, America’s law enforcement officials, no longer mere servants of the people entrusted with keeping the peace but now extensions of the military, are part of an elite ruling class dependent on keeping the masses corralled, under control, and treated like suspects and enemies rather than citizens. In the latest move to insulate police from charges of misconduct, Virginia lawmakers are considering legislation to keep police officers’ names secret, ostensibly creating secret police forces.

A Suspect Surveillance Society: Every dystopian sci-fi film we’ve ever seen is suddenly converging into this present moment in a dangerous trifecta between science, technology and a government that wants to be all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful. By tapping into your phone lines and cell phone communications, the government knows what you say. By uploading all of your emails, opening your mail, and reading your Facebook posts and text messages, the government knows what you write. By monitoring your movements with the use of license plate readers, surveillance cameras and other tracking devices, the government knows where you go. By churning through all of the detritus of your life—what you read, where you go, what you say—the government can predict what you will do. By mapping the synapses in your brain, scientists—and in turn, the government—will soon know what you remember. And by accessing your DNA, the government will soon know everything else about you that they don’t already know: your family chart, your ancestry, what you look like, your health history, your inclination to follow orders or chart your own course, etc. Consequently, in the face of DNA evidence that places us at the scene of a crime, behavior sensing technology that interprets our body temperature and facial tics as suspicious, and government surveillance devices that cross-check our biometricslicense plates and DNA against a growing database of unsolved crimes and potential criminals, we are no longer “innocent until proven guilty.”

Military Empire: America’s endless global wars and burgeoning military empire—funded by taxpayer dollars—have depleted our resources, over-extended our military and increased our similarities to the Roman Empire and its eventual demise. The U.S. now operates approximately 800 military bases in foreign countries around the globe at an annual cost of at least $156 billion. The consequences of financing a global military presence are dire. In fact, David Walker, former comptroller general of the U.S., believes there are “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that contributed to the fall of Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government.”

I haven’t even touched on the corporate state, the military industrial complex, SWAT team raids, invasive surveillance technology, zero tolerance policies in the schools, overcriminalization, or privatized prisons, to name just a few, but what I have touched on should be enough to show that the landscape of our freedoms has already changed dramatically from what it once was and will no doubt continue to deteriorate unless Americans can find a way to wrest back control of their government and reclaim their freedoms.

That brings me to the final and most important factor in bringing about America’s shift into authoritarianism: “we the people.” We are the government. Thus, if the government has become a tyrannical agency, it is because we have allowed it to happen, either through our inaction or our blind trust.

Essentially, there are four camps of thought among the citizenry when it comes to holding the government accountable. Which camp you fall into says a lot about your view of government—or, at least, your view of whichever administration happens to be in power at the time.

In the first camp are those who trust the government to do the right thing, despite the government’s repeated failures in this department. In the second camp are those who not only don’t trust the government but think the government is out to get them. In the third camp are those who see government neither as an angel nor a devil, but merely as an entity that needs to be controlled, or as Thomas Jefferson phrased it, bound “down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution.”

Then there’s the fourth camp, comprised of individuals who pay little to no attention to the workings of government, so much so that they barely vote, let alone know who’s in office. Easily entertained, easily distracted, easily led, these are the ones who make the government’s job far easier than it should be.

It is easy to be diverted, distracted and amused by the antics of the presidential candidates, the pomp and circumstance of awards shows, athletic events, and entertainment news, and the feel-good evangelism that passes for religion today. What is far more difficult to face up to is the reality of life in America, where unemployment, poverty, inequality, injustice and violence by government agents are increasingly norms.

The powers-that-be want us to remain divided, alienated from each other based on our politics, our bank accounts, our religion, our race and our value systems. Yet as George Orwell observed, “The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.”

The only distinction that matters anymore is where you stand in the American police state. In other words, you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.

“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.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The untimely death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has predictably created a political firestorm.

Republicans and Democrats, eager to take advantage of an opening on the Supreme Court, have been quick to advance their ideas about Scalia’s replacement. This is just the beginning of the furor over who gets to appoint the next U.S. Supreme Court justice (President Obama or his successor), when (as soon as Obama chooses or as long as Congress can delay), how (whether by way of a recess appointment or while Congress is in session), and where any judicial nominee will stand on the hot-button political issues of our day (same-sex marriage, Obamacare, immigration, the environment, and abortion).

This is yet another spectacle, not unlike the carnival-like antics of the presidential candidates, to create division, dissension and discord and distract the populace from the nation’s steady march towards totalitarianism.

Not to worry. This is a done deal. There are no surprises awaiting us.

We may not know the gender, the orientation, the politics, or the ethnicity of Justice Scalia’s replacement, but those things are relatively unimportant in the larger scheme of things.

The powers-that-be have already rigged the system. They—the corporations, the military industrial complex, the surveillance state, the monied elite, etc.—will not allow anyone to be appointed to the Supreme Court who will dial back the police state. They will not tolerate anyone who will undermine their policies, threaten their profit margins, or overturn their apple cart.

Scalia’s replacement will be safe (i.e., palatable enough to withstand Congress’ partisan wrangling), reliable and most important of all, an extension of the American police state.

With the old order dying off or advancing into old age rapidly, we’ve arrived at a pivotal point in the makeup of the Supreme Court. With every vacant seat on the Court and in key judgeships around the country, we are witnessing a transformation of the courts into pallid, legalistic bureaucracies governed by a new breed of judges who have beencareful to refrain from saying, doing or writing anything that might compromise their future ambitions.

Today, the judges most likely to get appointed today are well-heeled, well-educated (all of them attended either Yale or Harvard law schools) blank slates who have traveled a well-worn path from an elite law school to a prestigious judicial clerkship and then a pivotal federal judgeship. Long gone are the days when lawyers without judicial experience such as Earl Warren, William Rehnquist, Felix Frankfurter, and Louis Brandeis could be appointed to the Supreme Court.

As Supreme Court correspondent Dahlia Lithwick points out, “a selection process that discourages political or advocacy experience and reduces the path to the Supreme Court to a funnel” results in “perfect judicial thoroughbreds who have spent their entire adulthoods on the same lofty, narrow trajectory.”

In other words, it really doesn’t matter whether a Republican or Democratic president appoints the next Supreme Court justice, because they will all look alike (in terms of their educational and professional background) and sound alike (they are primarily advocates for the government).

Given the turbulence of our age, with its police overreach, military training drills on American soil, domestic surveillance, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, wrongful convictions, and corporate corruption, the need for a guardian of the people’s rights has never been greater.

Unfortunately, as I document in Battlefield America: The War on the American People, what we have been saddled with instead are government courts dominated by technicians and statists who march in lockstep with the American police state.

This is true at all levels of the judiciary.

Thus, while what the nation needs is a constitutionalist, what we will get is a technician.

It’s an important distinction.

A legal constitutionalist believes that the authority of government derives from and is limited by a body of fundamental law (the Constitution) and strives to hold the government accountable to abiding by the Constitution. A judge of this order will uphold the rights of the citizenry in the face of government abuses.

Justice William O. Douglas, who served on the Supreme Court for 36 years, was such a constitutionalist. He believed that the “Constitution is not neutral. It was designed to take the government off the backs of the people.” Considered the most “committed civil libertarian ever to sit on the court,” Douglas was frequently controversial and far from perfect (he was part of a 6-3 majority in Korematsu vs. United States that supported the government’s internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II). Even so, his warnings against a domineering, suspicious, totalitarian, police-driven surveillance state resonate still today.

A legal technician, on the other hand, is an arbitrator of the government’s plethora of laws whose priority is maintaining order and preserving government power. As such, these judicial technicians are deferential to authority, whether government or business, and focused on reconciling the massive number of laws handed down by the government.

John Roberts who joined the Supreme Court in 2005 as Chief Justice is a prime example of a legal technician. His view that the “role of the judge is limited…to decide the cases before them” speaks to a mindset that places the judge in the position of a referee. As USA Today observes, “Roberts’ tenure has been marked by an incremental approach to decision-making — issuing narrow rather than bold rulings that have the inevitable effect of bringing the same issues back to the high court again and again.”

Roberts’ approach to matters of law and justice can best be understood by a case dating back to his years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The case involved a 12-year-old black girl who was handcuffed, searched and arrested by police—all for eating a single French fry in violation of a ban on food in the D.C. metro station. Despite Roberts’ ability to recognize the harshness of the treatment meted out to Ansche Hedgepeth for such a minor violation—the little girl was transported in the windowless rear compartment of a police vehicle to a juvenile processing center, where she was booked, fingerprinted, and detained for three hours, and was “frightened, embarrassed, and crying throughout the ordeal”—Roberts ruled that the girl’s constitutional rights had not been violated in any way.

This is not justice meted out by a constitutionalist.

This is how a technician rules, according to the inflexible letter of the law.

Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan of the DC Court of Appeals, who is rumored to be a favorite pick for Scalia’s spot on the court, is another such technician. When asked to strike down a 60-year-old ban on expressive activities in front of the Supreme Court Plaza, Srinivasan turned a blind eye to the First Amendment. (Ironically, the Supreme Court must now decide whether to declare its own free speech ban unconstitutional.)

By ruling in favor of the ban, Srinivasan also affirmed that police were correct to arrest an African-American protester who was standing silently in front of the Supreme Court wearing a sign protesting the police state on a snowy day when no one was on the plaza except him.

Srinivasan’s rationale? “Allowing demonstrations directed at the Court, on the Court’s own front terrace, would tend to yield the opposite impression: that of a Court engaged with — and potentially vulnerable to — outside entreaties by the public.”

This view of the Supreme Court as an entity that must be sheltered from select outside influences—for example, the views of the citizenry—is shared by the members of the Court itself to a certain extent. As Lithwick points out:

The Court has become worryingly cloistered, even for a famously cloistered institution… today’s justices filter out anything that might challenge their perspectives. Antonin Scalia won’t read newspapers that conflict with his views and claims to often get very little from amicus briefs. John Roberts has said that he doesn’t believe that most law-review articles—where legal scholars advance new thinking on contemporary problems—are relevant to the justices’ work. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Scalia’s opera-going buddy, increasingly seems to revel in, rather than downplay, her status as a liberal icon. Kennedy spends recesses guest-teaching law school courses in Salzburg.”

Are you getting the picture yet?

The members of the Supreme Court are part of a ruling aristocracy composed of men and women who primarily come from privileged backgrounds and who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

These justices, all of whom are millionaires in their own rights, circulate among an elite, privileged class of individuals, attending exclusive events at private resorts orchestrated by billionaire oil barons, traveling on the private jets of billionaires, and delivering paid speeches in far-flung locales such as Berlin, London and Zurich.

When you’re cocooned within the rarefied, elitist circles in which most of the judiciary operate, it can be difficult to see the humanity behind the facts of a case, let alone identify with the terror and uncertainty that most people feel when heavily armed government agents invade their homes, or subject them to a virtual strip search, or taser them into submission.

If you’ve never had to worry about police erroneously crashing through your door in the dead of night, then it might not be a hardship to rule as the Court did in Kentucky v. King that police should have greater leeway to break into homes or apartments without a warrant.

If you have no fear of ever being strip searched yourself, it would be easy to suggest as the Court did in Florence v. Burlington that it’s more important to make life easier for overworked jail officials than protect Americans from debasing strip searches.

And if you have never had to submit to anyone else’s authority—especially a militarized police officer with no knowledge of the Constitution’s prohibitions against excessive force, warrantless searches and illegal seizures, then you would understandably give police the benefit of the doubt as the Court did in Brooks v. City of Seattle, when they let stand a ruling that police officers who had clearly used excessive force when they repeatedly tasered a pregnant woman during a routine traffic stop were granted immunity from prosecution.

Likewise, if you’re not able to understand what it’s like to be one of the “little guys,” afraid to lose your home because some local government wants to commandeer it and sell it to a larger developer for profit, it would be relatively easy to rule, as the Supreme Court did in Kelo v. New London, that the government is within its right to do so.

Now do you understand why the Supreme Court’s decisions in recent years, which 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, have been characterized most often by an abject deference to government authority, military and corporate interests?

They no longer work for us. They no longer represent us. They can no longer relate to our suffering.

In the same way that the Legislative Branch, having been co-opted by lobbyists, special interests, and the corporate elite, has ceased to function as a vital check on abuses by the other two branches of government, the Judicial Branch has also become part of the same self-serving bureaucracy.

Sound judgment, compassion and justice have taken a back seat to legalism, statism and elitism.

Preserving the rights of the people has been deprioritized and made to play second fiddle to both governmental and corporate interests.

In the case of the People vs. the Police State, the ruling is 9-0 against us.

So where does that leave us?

The Supreme Court of old is gone, if not for good then at least for now.

It will be a long time before we have another court such as the Warren Court (1953-1969), when Earl Warren served alongside such luminaries as William J. Brennan, Jr., William O. Douglas, Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter and Thurgood Marshall.

The Warren Court handed down rulings that were instrumental in shoring up critical legal safeguards against government abuse and discrimination. Without the Warren Court, there would be no Miranda warnings, no desegregation of the schools and no civil rights protections for indigents.

Yet more than any single ruling, what Warren and his colleagues did best was embody what the Supreme Court should always be—an institution established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds.

That is no longer the case.

We can no longer depend on the federal courts to protect us against the government. They are the government.

Yet as is the case with most things, the solution is far simpler and at the same time more complicated than space allows, but it starts with local action—local change—and local justice. If you want a revolution, start small, in your own backyard, and the impact will trickle up.

If you don’t like the way justice is being meted out in America, then start demanding justice in your own hometown, before your local judges. Serve on juries, nullify laws that are egregious, picket in front of the courthouse, vote out judges (and prosecutors) who aren’t practicing what the Constitution preaches, encourage your local newspapers to report on cases happening in your town, educate yourself about your rights, and make sure your local judges understand that they work for you and are not to be extensions of the police, prosecutors and politicians.

This is the only way we will ever have any hope of pushing back against the police state.