Posts Tagged ‘Constitution’

“It is the responsibility of the patriot to protect his country from its government.”—Thomas Paine

While Congress subjects the nation to its impeachment-flavored brand of bread-and-circus politics, our civil liberties continue to die a slow, painful death by a thousand cuts.

Case in point: while Americans have been fixated on the carefully orchestrated impeachment drama that continues to monopolize headlines, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law legislation extending three key provisions of the USA Patriot Act, which had been set to expire on December 15, 2019.

Once again, to no one’s surprise, the bureaucrats on both sides of the aisle—Democrats and Republicans alike—prioritized political grandstanding over principle and their oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution.

As Congressman Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) predicted:

Today, while everyone is distracted by the impeachment drama, Congress will vote to extend warrantless data collection provisions of the #PatriotAct, by hiding this language on page 25 of the Continuing Resolution (CR) that temporarily funds the government. To sneak this through, Congress will first vote to suspend the rule which otherwise gives us (and the people) 72 hours to consider a bill. The scam here is that Democrats are alleging abuse of Presidential power, while simultaneously reauthorizing warrantless power to spy on citizens that no President should have… in a bill that continues to fund EVERYTHING the President does… and waiving their own rules to do it. I predict Democrats will vote on a party line to suspend the 72 hour rule. But after the rule is suspended, I suspect many Republicans will join most Democrats to pass the CR with the Patriot Act extension embedded in it.

Massie was right: Republicans and Democrats have no problem joining forces in order to maintain their joint stranglehold on power.

The legislation passed the Senate with a bipartisan 74-to-20 vote. It squeaked through the House of Representatives with a 231-192 margin. And it was signed by President Trump—who earlier this year floated the idea of making the government’s surveillance powers permanent—with nary a protest from anyone about its impact on the rights of the American people.

Spending bill or not, it didn’t have to shake down this way, even with the threat of yet another government shutdown looming.

Congress could have voted to separate the Patriot Act extension from the funding bill, as suggested by Rep. Justin Amash, but that didn’t fly. Instead as journalist Norman Solomon writes for Salon, “The cave-in was another bow to normalizing the U.S. government’s mass surveillance powers.”

That, right there, is the key to all of this: normalizing the U.S. government’s mass surveillance powers.

In the 18 years since the USA Patriot Act—a massive 342-page wish list of expanded powers for the FBI and CIA—was rammed through Congress in the wake of the so-called 9/11 terror attacks, it has snowballed into the eradication of every vital safeguard against government overreach, corruption and abuse.

The Patriot Act drove a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights, violating at least six of the ten original amendments—the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments—and possibly the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well.

The Patriot Act also redefined terrorism so broadly that many non-terrorist political activities such as protest marches, demonstrations and civil disobedience are now considered potential terrorist acts, thereby rendering anyone desiring to engage in protected First Amendment expressive activities as suspects of the surveillance state.

The Patriot Act justified broader domestic surveillance, the logic being that if government agents knew more about each American, they could distinguish the terrorists from law-abiding citizens—no doubt a reflexive impulse shared by small-town police and federal agents alike.

This, according to Washington Post reporter Robert O’Harrow, Jr., was a fantasy that “had been brewing in the law enforcement world for a long time.” And 9/11 provided the government with the perfect excuse for conducting far-reaching surveillance and collecting mountains of information on even the most law-abiding citizen.

Federal agents and police officers are now authorized to conduct covert black bag “sneak-and-peak” searches of homes and offices while you are away and confiscate your personal property without first notifying you of their intent or their presence.

The law also granted the FBI the right to come to your place of employment, demand your personal records and question your supervisors and fellow employees, all without notifying you; allowed the government access to your medical records, school records and practically every personal record about you; and allowed the government to secretly demand to see records of books or magazines you’ve checked out in any public library and Internet sites you’ve visited (at least 545 libraries received such demands in the first year following passage of the Patriot Act).

In the name of fighting terrorism, government officials are now permitted to monitor religious and political institutions with no suspicion of criminal wrongdoing; prosecute librarians or keepers of any other records if they tell anyone that the government has subpoenaed information related to a terror investigation; monitor conversations between attorneys and clients; search and seize Americans’ papers and effects without showing probable cause; and jail Americans indefinitely without a trial, among other things.

The federal government also made liberal use of its new powers, especially through the use (and abuse) of the nefarious national security letters, which allow the FBI to demand personal customer records from Internet Service Providers, financial institutions and credit companies at the mere say-so of the government agent in charge of a local FBI office and without prior court approval.

In fact, since 9/11, we’ve been spied on by surveillance cameras, eavesdropped on by government agents, had our belongings searched, our phones tapped, our mail opened, our email monitored, our opinions questioned, our purchases scrutinized (under the USA Patriot Act, banks are required to analyze your transactions for any patterns that raise suspicion and to see if you are connected to any objectionable people), and our activities watched.

We’re also being subjected to invasive patdowns and whole-body scans of our persons and seizures of our electronic devices in the nation’s airports. We can’t even purchase certain cold medicines at the pharmacy anymore without it being reported to the government and our names being placed on a watch list.

It’s only getting worse, folks.

Largely due to the continuous noise from television news’ talking heads, most Americans have been lulled into thinking that the pressing issues are voting in the next election, but the real issue is simply this: the freedoms in the Bill of Rights are being eviscerated.

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 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 and the like—all sanctioned by Congress, the White House and the courts—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.

What once were considered inalienable, fundamental “rights”  are now mere privileges to be taken away on a government bureaucrat’s say-so.

To those who have been paying attention, this should come as no real surprise.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the Constitution has been on life support for some time now, and is drawing its final breaths.

The American government, never a staunch advocate of civil liberties, has been writing its own orders for some time now. Indeed, as the McCarthy era and the wiretapping of Martin Luther King Jr. and others illustrates, the government’s amassing of power, especially in relation to its ability to spy on Americans, predates the passage of the Patriot Act in 2001.

What the Patriot Act and its subsequent incarnations did was legitimize what had previously been covert and frowned upon as a violation of Americans’ long-cherished privacy rights.

After all, the history of governments is that they inevitably overreach.

Thus, enabled by a paper tiger Congress, the president and other agencies of the federal government have repeatedly laid claim to a host of powers, among them the ability to use the military as a police force, spy on Americans and detain individuals without granting them access to an attorney or the courts. And as the government’s powers have grown, unchecked, the American people have gradually become used to these relentless intrusions into their lives.

In turn, the American people have become the proverbial boiling frogs, so desensitized to the government’s steady encroachments on their rights that civil liberties abuses have become par for the course.

Yet as long as government agencies are allowed to make a mockery of the very laws intended to limit their reach, curtail their activities, and guard against the very abuses to which we are being subjected on a daily basis, our individual freedoms will continue to be eviscerated so that the government’s powers can be expanded, the Constitution be damned.

WC: 1605

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

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

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

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

 

“When a man unprincipled in private life[,] desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper . . . despotic in his ordinary demeanour — known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty — when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity — to join in the cry of danger to liberty — to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion — to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day — It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’”—Alexander Hamilton

By all means, let’s talk about impeachment.

To allow the President or any rogue government agency or individual to disregard the rule of law whenever, wherever and however it chooses and operate “above the law” is exactly how a nation of sheep gives rise to a government of wolves.

To be clear: this is not about Donald Trump. Or at least it shouldn’t be just about Trump.

This is a condemnation of every government toady at every point along the political spectrum—right, left and center—who has conspired to expand the federal government’s powers at the expense of the citizenry.

For too long now, the American people have played politics with their principles and turned a blind eye to all manner of wrongdoing when it was politically expedient, allowing Congress, the White House and the Judiciary to wreak havoc with their freedoms and act in violation of the rule of law.

“We the people” are paying the price for it now.

We are paying the price every day that we allow the government to continue to wage its war on the American People, a war that 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 who dances to the tune of corporate handouts while 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.

Don’t keep falling for the Deep State’s ploys.

This entire impeachment process is a manufactured political circus—a shell game—aimed at distracting the public from the devious treachery of the American police state, which continues to lock down the nation and strip the citizenry of every last vestige of constitutional safeguards that have historically served as a bulwark against tyranny.

Has President Trump overstepped his authority and abused his powers?

Without a doubt.

Then again, so did Presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton, and almost every president before them.

Trump is not the first president to weaken the system of checks and balances, sidestep the rule of law, and expand the power of the president. He is just the most recent.

If we were being honest and consistent in holding government officials accountable, you’d have to impeach almost every president in recent years for operating “above the law,” unbound by the legislative or judicial branches of the government.

When we refer to the “rule of law,” that’s constitutional shorthand for the idea that everyone is treated the same under the law, everyone is held equally accountable to abiding by the law, and no one is given a free pass based on their politics, their connections, their wealth, their status or any other bright line test used to confer special treatment on the elite.

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.

Although the Constitution requires a separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government in order to ensure accountability so that no one government agency becomes all-powerful, each successive president over the past 30 years has, through the negligence of Congress and the courts, expanded the reach and power of the presidency by adding to his office’s list of extraordinary orders, directives and special privileges.

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 operate a shadow government, and to act as a dictator and a tyrant, above the law and beyond any real accountability—were inherited by Donald Trump.

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

Yet in operating above the law, it’s not just the president who has become a law unto himself.

The government itself has become an imperial dictator, an overlord, a king.

This is what you might call a stealthy, creeping, silent, slow-motion coup d’état.

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

There are hundreds—make that thousands—of government bureaucrats who are getting away with murder (in many cases, literally) simply because the legislatures, courts and the citizenry can’t be bothered to make them play by the rules of the Constitution.

Unless something changes in the way we deal with these ongoing, egregious abuses of power, the predators of the police state will continue to wreak havoc on our freedoms, our communities, and our lives.

It’s the nature of the beast: power corrupts.

Worse, as 19th-century historian Lord Acton concluded, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about a politician, an entertainment mogul, a corporate CEO or a police officer: give any one person (or government agency) too much power and allow him or her or it to believe that they are entitled, untouchable and will not be held accountable for their actions, and those powers will eventually be abused.

We’re seeing this dynamic play out every day in communities across America.

A cop shoots an unarmed citizen for no credible reason and gets away with it. A president employs executive orders to sidestep the Constitution and gets away with it. A government agency spies on its citizens’ communications and gets away with it. An entertainment mogul sexually harasses actors and actresses and gets away with it. The U.S. military bombs civilian targets and gets away with it.

Abuse of power—and the ambition-fueled hypocrisy and deliberate disregard for misconduct that make those abuses possible—works the same whether you’re talking about sexual harassment, government corruption, or the rule of law.

Twenty years ago, I was a lawyer for Paula Jones, who sued then-President Clinton for dropping his pants and propositioning her for sex when he was governor of Arkansas. That lawsuit gave rise to revelations about Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, a 21-year-old intern at the White House, and his eventual impeachment for lying about it under oath.

As Dana Milbank writes for The Washington Post:

We didn’t know it at the time, of course. But in Bill Clinton were the seeds of Donald Trump. With 20 years of hindsight, it is clear… Clinton’s handling of the Monica Lewinsky affair was a precursor of the monstrosity we now have in the White House: dismissing unpleasant facts as “fake news,” self-righteously claiming victimhood, attacking the press and cloaking personal misbehavior in claims to be upholding the Constitution…. Clinton set us on the path, or at least accelerated us down the path, that led to today.

It doesn’t matter what starts us down this path, whether it’s a president insisting that he get a free pass for sexually harassing employees, or waging wars based on invented facts, or attempting to derail an investigation into official misconduct.

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

After all, it is a tale that has been told time and again throughout history about how easy it is for freedom to fall and tyranny to rise, and it often begins with one small, seemingly inconsequential willingness on the part of the people to compromise their principles and undermine the rule of law in exchange for a dubious assurance of safety, prosperity and a life without care.

For example, 86 years ago, the citizens of another democratic world power elected a leader who promised to protect them from all dangers. In return for this protection, and under the auspice of fighting terrorism, he was given absolute power.

This leader went to great lengths to make his rise to power appear both legal and necessary, masterfully manipulating much of the citizenry and their government leaders.

Unnerved by threats of domestic terrorism and foreign invaders, the people had little idea that the domestic turmoil of the times—such as street rioting and the fear of Communism taking over the country—was staged by the leader in an effort to create fear and later capitalize on it.

In the ensuing months, this charismatic leader ushered in a series of legislative measures that suspended civil liberties and habeas corpus rights and empowered him as a dictator.

On March 23, 1933, the nation’s legislative body passed the Enabling Act, formally referred to as the “Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Nation,” which appeared benign and allowed the leader to pass laws by decree in times of emergency.

What it succeeded in doing, however, was ensuring that the leader became a law unto himself.

The leader’s name was Adolf Hitler, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Yet history has a way of repeating itself.

Hitler’s rise to power should serve as a stark lesson to always be leery of granting any government leader sweeping powers.

Clearly, we are not heeding that lesson.

“How lucky it is for rulers,” Adolf Hitler once said, “that men cannot think.”

The horrors that followed in Nazi Germany might have been easier to explain if Hitler had been right. But the problem is not so much that people cannot think but that they do not think. Or if they do think, as in the case of the German people, that thinking becomes muddled and easily led.

Hitler’s meteoric rise to power, with the support of the German people, is a case in point.

On January 30, 1933, Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany in full accordance with the country’s legal and constitutional principles. When President Paul von Hindenburg died the following year, Hitler assumed the office of president, as well as that of chancellor, but he preferred to use the title Der Füehrer (the leader) to describe himself. This new move was approved in a general election in which Hitler garnered 88 percent of the votes cast.

It cannot be said that the German people were ignorant of Hitler’s agenda or his Nazi ideology. Nazi literature, including statements of the Nazi plans for the future, had papered the country for a decade before Hitler came to power. In fact, Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, which was his blueprint for totalitarianism, sold more than 200,000 copies between 1925 and 1932.

Clearly, the problem was not that the German people did not think but that their thinking was poisoned by the enveloping climate of ideas that they came to accept as important.

At a certain point, the trivial became important, and obedience to the government in pursuit of security over freedom became predominant.

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.”

The German people 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.

The American kleptocracy (a government ruled by thieves) has sucked 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.

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.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, our freedoms have become casualties in an all-out war on the American people.

So yes, let’s talk about impeachment, but don’t fall for the partisan shell game that sets Trump up as the fall guy for the Deep State’s high crimes and misdemeanors.

Set your sights higher: impeach the government for overstepping its authority, abusing its power, and disregarding the rule of law.

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

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

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

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

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

 

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

It’s been 230 years since James Madison drafted the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution—as a means of protecting the people against government tyranny, and what do we have to show for it?

Nothing good.

In America today, the government does whatever it wants, freedom be damned.

We can pretend that the Constitution, which was written to hold the government accountable, is still our governing document, but the reality of life in the American police state tells a different story.

“We the people” have been terrorized, traumatized, and tricked into a semi-permanent state of compliance by a government that cares nothing for our lives or our liberties.

The bogeyman’s names and faces have changed over time (terrorism, the war on drugs, illegal immigration, etc.), but the end result remains the same: in the so-called named of national security, 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 has been inflicted upon the Bill of Rights.

A recitation of the Bill of Rights—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 (all sanctioned by Congress, the White House, the courts and the like)—would understandably sound more like a eulogy to freedoms lost than an affirmation of rights we truly possess.

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 heavily armed SWAT teams, 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 government agents 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 (corporate and otherwise) 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 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. Use this card to teach your children the freedoms found in the Bill of Rights.

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, some argue that we need 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.”

Source: https://bit.ly/2m9b6aO

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

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

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

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

 

“The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out … without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable.” — H. L. Mencken

The U.S. government is working hard to destabilize the nation.

No, this is not another conspiracy theory.

Although it is certainly not far-fetched to suggest that the government might be engaged in nefarious activities that run counter to the best interests of the American people, doing so will likely brand me a domestic terrorist under the FBI’s new classification system.

Observe for yourself what is happening right before our eyes.

Domestic terrorism fueled by government entrapment schemes. Civil unrest stoked to dangerous levels by polarizing political rhetoric. A growing intolerance for dissent that challenges the government’s power grabs. Police brutality tacitly encouraged by the executive branch, conveniently overlooked by the legislatures, and granted qualified immunity by the courts. A weakening economy exacerbated by government schemes that favor none but a select few. An overt embrace of domestic surveillance tactics if Congress goes along with the Trump Administration’s request to permanently re-authorize the NSA’s de-activated call records program. Heightened foreign tensions and blowback due to the military industrial complex’s profit-driven quest to police and occupy the globe.

The seeds of chaos are being sown, and it’s the U.S. government that will reap the harvest.

Mark my words, there’s trouble brewing.

Better yet, take a look at “Megacities: Urban Future, the Emerging Complexity,” a Pentagon training video created by the Army for U.S. Special Operations Command.

The training video is 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 government must be prepared to address in the near future through the use of martial law.

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 locking down the nation and using the military to address political and social problems.

The training video anticipates that all hell will break loose by 2030—that’s barely ten short years away—but the future is here ahead of schedule.

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 is becoming almost inevitable.

The danger signs are screaming out a message

The government is anticipating trouble (read: civil unrest), which is code for anything that challenges the government’s authority, wealth and power.

According to the Pentagon training video created by the Army for U.S. Special Operations Command, the U.S. government is grooming its 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.

Far from draining the politically corrupt swamps of Washington DC of lobbyists and special interest groups, however, the Trump Administration has further mired us in a sweltering bog of corruption and self-serving tactics.

Funny how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Now the government has adopted its own plans for swamp-draining, only it wants to use the military 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.

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.

If you haven’t figured it out already, we the people 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.

The government is systematically locking down the nation and shifting us into martial law.

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.

The Deep State’s tactics are working.

We’ve allowed ourselves to be acclimated to the occasional lockdown of government buildings, Jade Helmmilitary 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 about the government’s nefarious schemes to lock down the nation.

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.

And then you have the government’s Machiavellian schemes for unleashing all manner of dangers on an unsuspecting populace, then demanding additional powers in order to protect “we the people” from the threats.

Seriously, think about it.

The government claims to be protecting us from cyberterrorism, but who is the biggest black market buyer and stockpiler of cyberweapons (weaponized malware that can be used to hack into computer systems, spy on citizens, and destabilize vast computer networks)? The U.S. government.

The government claims to be protecting us from weapons of mass destruction, but what country has one the deadliest arsenals of weapons of mass destruction and has a history of using them on the rest of the world? The U.S. government. Indeed, which country has a history of secretly testing out dangerous weapons and technologies on its own citizens? The U.S. government.

The government claims to be protecting us from foreign armed threats, but who is the largest weapons manufacturer and exporter in the world, such that they are literally arming the world? The U.S. government. For that matter, where did ISIS get many of their deadliest weapons, including assault rifles and tanks to anti-missile defenses? From the U.S. government.

The government claims to be protecting the world from the menace of foreign strongmen, but how did Saddam Hussein build Iraq’s massive arsenal of tanks, planes, missiles, and chemical weapons during the 1980s? With help from the U.S. government. And who gave Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida “access to a fortune in covert funding and top-level combat weaponry”? The U.S. government.

The government claims to be protecting us from terrorist plots, but what country has a pattern and practice of entrapment that involves targeting vulnerable individuals, feeding them with the propaganda, know-how and weapons intended to turn them into terrorists, and then arresting them as part of an elaborately orchestrated counterterrorism sting? The U.S. government.

For that matter, the government claims to be protecting us from nuclear threats, but which is the only country to ever use a nuclear weapon in wartime? The United States.

Are you getting the picture yet?

The U.S. government isn’t protecting us from terrorism.

The U.S. government is creating the terror. It is, in fact, the source of the terror.

Just think about it for a minute: Cyberwarfare. Terrorism. Bio-chemical attacks. The nuclear arms race. Surveillance. The drug wars.

Almost every national security threat that the government has claimed greater powers in order to fight—all the while undermining the liberties of the American citizenry—has been manufactured in one way or another by the government.

Did I say Machiavellian? This is downright evil.

We’re not dealing with a government that exists to serve its people, protect their liberties and ensure their happiness. Rather, these are the diabolical machinations of a make-works program carried out on an epic scale whose only purpose is to keep the powers-that-be permanently (and profitably) employed.

It’s time to wake up and stop being deceived by government propaganda.

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.

Be warned: in the future envisioned by the government, we will not be viewed as Republicans or Democrats. Rather, “we the people” will be 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, and that “we the people” would become enemy #1.

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

You want to change things? Start by rejecting the political labels and the polarizing rhetoric and the “us vs. them” tactics that reduce the mass power of the populace to puny, powerless factions.

Find common ground with your fellow citizens and push back against the government’s brutality, inhumanity, greed, corruption and power grabs.

Be dangerous in the best way possible: by thinking for yourself, by refusing to be silenced, by choosing sensible solutions over political expediency and bureaucracy.

When all is said and done, the solution to what ails this country is really not that complicated: decency, compassion, common sense, generosity balanced by fiscal responsibility, fairness, a commitment to freedom principles, and a firm rejection of the craven, partisan politics of the Beltway elites who have laid the groundwork for the government’s authoritarian coup d’etat.

Let the revolution begin.

Source: https://bit.ly/2P3ilz1

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

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

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

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

 

“But these weren’t the kind of monsters that had tentacles and rotting skin, the kind a seven-year-old might be able to wrap his mind around—they were monsters with human faces, in crisp uniforms, marching in lockstep, so banal you don’t recognize them for what they are until it’s too late.” ― Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Enough already.

Enough with the distractions. Enough with the partisan jousting.

Enough with the sniping and name-calling and mud-slinging that do nothing to make this country safer or freer or more just.

We have let the government’s evil-doing, its abuses, power grabs, brutality, meanness, inhumanity, immorality, greed, corruption, debauchery and tyranny go on for too long.

We are approaching a reckoning.

This is the point, as the poet W. B. Yeats warned, when things fall apart and anarchy is loosed upon the world.

We have seen this convergence before in Hitler’s Germany, in Stalin’s Russia, in Mussolini’s Italy, and in Mao’s China: the rise of strongmen and demagogues, the ascendency of profit-driven politics over deep-seated principles, the warring nationalism that seeks to divide and conquer, the callous disregard for basic human rights and dignity, and the silence of people who should know better.

Yet no matter how many times the world has been down this road before, we can’t seem to avoid repeating the deadly mistakes of the past. This is not just playing out on a national and international scale. It is wreaking havoc at the most immediate level, as well, creating rifts and polarities within families and friends, neighborhoods and communities that keep the populace warring among themselves and incapable of presenting a united front in the face of the government’s goose-stepping despotism.

We are definitely in desperate need of a populace that can stand united against the government’s authoritarian tendencies.

Surely we can manage to find some common ground in the midst of the destructive, disrupting, diverting, discordant babble being beamed down at us by the powers-that-be? After all, there are certain self-evident truths—about the source of our freedoms, about the purpose of government, about how we expect to be treated by those we appoint to serve us in government offices, about what to do when the government abuses our rights and our trust, etc.—that we should be able to agree on, no matter how we might differ politically.

Disagree all you want about healthcare, abortion and immigration—hot-button issues that are guaranteed to stir up the masses, secure campaign contributions and turn political discourse into a circus free-for-all—but never forget that our power as a citizenry comes from our ability to agree and stand united on certain principles that should be non-negotiable.

For instance, for the first time in the nation’s history, it is expected that the federal deficit will surpass $1 trillion this year, not to mention the national debt which is approaching $23 trillion. There’s also $21 trillion in government spending that cannot be accounted for or explained. For those in need of a quick reminder: “A budget deficit is the difference between what the federal government spends and what it takes in. The national debt is the result of the federal government borrowing money to cover years and years of budget deficits.” Right now, the U.S. government is operating in the negative on every front: it’s spending far more than what it makes (and takes from the American taxpayers) and it is borrowing heavily (from foreign governments and Social Security) to keep the government operating and keep funding its endless wars abroad. Meanwhile, the nation’s sorely neglected infrastructure—railroads, water pipelines, ports, dams, bridges, airports and roads—is rapidly deteriorating.

Yet no matter how we might differ about how the government allocates its spending, surely we can agree that the government’s irresponsible spending, which has saddled us with insurmountable debt, is pushing the country to the edge of financial and physical ruin.

That’s just one example of many that shows the extent to which the agents of the American police state are shredding the constitutional fabric of the nation, eclipsing the rights of the American people, and perverting basic standards of decency.

Let me give you a few more.

Having been co-opted by greedy defense contractors, corrupt politicians and incompetent government officials, America’s expanding military empire is bleeding the country dry at a rate of more than $15 billion a month (or $20 million an hour)—and that’s just what the government spends on foreign wars. The U.S. military empire’s determination to police the rest of the world has resulted in more than 1.3 million U.S. troops being stationed at roughly 1000 military bases in over 150 countries around the world. That doesn’t include the number of private contractors pulling in hefty salaries at taxpayer expense. In Afghanistan, for example, private contractors outnumber U.S. troops three to one.

No matter how we might differ about the role of the U.S. military in foreign affairs, surely we can agree that America’s war spending and commitment to policing the rest of the world are bankrupting the nation and spreading our troops dangerously thin.

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 they 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 operate a shadow government, and to act as a dictator and a tyrant, above the law and beyond any real accountability—were inherited by Donald Trump. These presidential powers—acquired through the use of executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements and which can be activated by any sitting president—enable past, president and future presidents to operate above the law and beyond the reach of the Constitution.

Yet no matter how we might differ about how success or failure of past or present presidential administrations, surely we can agree that the president should not be empowered to act as an imperial dictator with permanent powers.

Increasingly, at home, we’re facing an unbelievable show of force by government agents. For example, with alarming regularity, unarmed men, women, children and even pets are being gunned down by twitchy, hyper-sensitive, easily-spooked police officers who shoot first and ask questions later, and all the government does is shrug and promise to do better. Just recently, in fact, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals cleared a cop who aimed for a family’s dog (who showed no signs of aggression), missed, and instead shot a 10-year-old lying on the ground. Indeed, there are countless incidents that happen every day in which Americans are shot, stripped, searched, choked, beaten and tasered by police for little more than daring to frown, smile, question, or challenge an order. Growing numbers of unarmed people are being shot and killed for just standing a certain way, or moving a certain way, or holding something—anything—that police could misinterpret to be a gun, or igniting some trigger-centric fear in a police officer’s mind that has nothing to do with an actual threat to their safety.

No matter how we might differ about where to draw that blue line of allegiance to the police state, surely we can agree that police shouldn’t go around terrorizing and shooting innocent, unarmed children and adults or be absolved of wrongdoing for doing so.

Nor can we turn a blind eye to the transformation of America’s penal system from one aimed at protecting society from dangerous criminals to a profit-driven system that dehumanizes and strips prisoners of every vestige of their humanity. For example, in Illinois, as part of a “training exercise” for incoming cadets, prison guards armed with batons and shields rounded up 200 handcuffed female inmates, marched them to the gymnasium, then forced them to strip naked (including removing their tampons and pads), “bend over and spread open their vaginal and anal cavities,” while male prison guards promenaded past or stood staring. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the entire dehumanizing, demoralizing mass body cavity strip search—orchestrated not for security purposes but as an exercise in humiliation—was legal. Be warned, however: this treatment will not be limited to those behind bars. In our present carceral state, there is no difference between the treatment meted out to a law-abiding citizen and a convicted felon: both are equally suspect and treated as criminals, without any of the special rights and privileges reserved for the governing elite. In a carceral state, there are only two kinds of people: the prisoners and the prison guards.

No matter how we might differ about where to draw the line when it comes to prisoners’ rights, surely we can agree that no one—woman, man or child—should be subjected to such degrading treatment in the name of law and order.

In Washington, DC, in contravention of longstanding laws that restrict the government’s ability to deploy the military on American soil, the Pentagon has embarked on a secret mission of “undetermined duration” that involves flying Black Hawk helicopters over the nation’s capital, backed by active-duty and reserve soldiers. In addition to the increasing militarization of the police—a de facto standing army—this military exercise further acclimates the nation to the sight and sounds of military personnel on American soil and the imposition of martial law.

No matter how we might differ about the deference due to those in uniform, whether military or law enforcement, surely we can agree that America’s Founders had good reason to warn against the menace of a national police force—a.k.a. a standing army—vested with the power to completely disregard the Constitution.

We labor today under the weight of countless tyrannies, large and small, disguised as “the better good,” marketed as benevolence, enforced with armed police, and carried out by an elite class of government officials who are largely insulated from the ill effects of their actions. For example, in Pennsylvania, a school district is threatening to place children in foster care if parents don’t pay their overdue school lunch bills. In Florida, a resident was fined $100,000 for a dirty swimming pool and overgrown grass at a house she no longer owned. In Kentucky, government bureaucrats sent a cease-and-desist letter to a church ministry, warning that the group is breaking the law by handing out free used eyeglasses to the homeless. These petty tyrannies inflicted on an overtaxed, overregulated, and underrepresented populace are what happens when bureaucrats run the show, and the rule of law becomes little more than a cattle prod for forcing the citizenry to march in lockstep with the government.

No matter how we might differ about the extent to which the government has the final say in how it flexes it power and exerts its authority, surely we can agree that the tyranny of the Nanny State—disguised as “the better good,” marketed as benevolence, enforced with armed police, and inflicted on all those who do not belong to the elite ruling class that gets to call the shots— should not be allowed to pave over the Constitution.

At its core, this is not a debate about politics, or constitutionalism, or even tyranny disguised as law-and-order. This is a condemnation of the monsters with human faces that have infiltrated our government.

For too long now, the American people have rationalized turning a blind eye to all manner of government wrongdoing—asset forfeiture schemes, corruption, surveillance, endless wars, SWAT team raids, militarized police, profit-driven private prisons, and so on—because they were the so-called lesser of two evils.

Yet the unavoidable truth is that the government has become almost indistinguishable from the evil it claims to be fighting, whether that evil takes the form of terrorism, torture, drug traffickingsex trafficking, murder, violence, theft, pornography, scientific experimentations or some other diabolical means of inflicting pain, suffering and servitude on humanity.

No matter how you rationalize it, the lesser of two evils is still evil.

So how do you fight back?

How do you fight injustice? How do you push back against tyranny? How do you vanquish evil?

You don’t fight it by hiding your head in the sand.

We have ignored the warning signs all around us for too long.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the government has ripped the Constitution to shreds and left us powerless in the face of its power grabs, greed and brutality.

What we are grappling with today is a government that is cutting great roads through the very foundations of freedom in order to get after its modern devils. Yet the government can only go as far as “we the people” allow.

Therein lies the problem.

The consequences of this failure to do our due diligence in asking the right questions, demanding satisfactory answers, and holding our government officials accountable to respecting our rights and abiding by the rule of law has pushed us to the brink of a nearly intolerable state of affairs.

Intolerable, at least, to those who remember what it was like to live in a place where freedom, due process and representative government actually meant something. Having allowed the government to expand and exceed our reach, we now find ourselves on the losing end of a tug-of-war over control of our country and our lives.

The hour grows late in terms of restoring the balance of power and reclaiming our freedoms, but it may not be too late. The time to act is now, using all methods of nonviolent resistance available to us.

“Don’t sit around waiting for the two corrupted established parties to restore the Constitution or the Republic,” Naomi Wolf once warned. Waiting and watching will get us nowhere fast.

If you’re watching, you’re not doing.

Easily mesmerized by the government’s political theater—the endless congressional hearings and investigations that go nowhere, the president’s reality show antics, the warring factions, the electoral drama—we have become a society of watchers rather than activists who are distracted by even the clumsiest government attempts at sleight-of-hand.

It’s time for good men and women to do something. And soon.

Wake up and take a good, hard look around you. Start by recognizing evil and injustice and tyranny for what they are. Stop being apathetic. Stop being neutral. Stop being accomplices. Stop being distracted by the political theater staged by the Deep State: they want you watching the show while they manipulate things behind the scenes. Refuse to play politics with your principles. Don’t settle for the lesser of two evils.

As British statesman Edmund Burke warned, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing.”

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

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

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

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

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

 

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”—Thomas Jefferson

We are approaching critical mass, the point at which all hell breaks loose.

The government is pushing us ever closer to a constitutional crisis.

What makes the outlook so much bleaker is the utter ignorance of the American people—and those who represent them—about their freedoms, history, and how the government is supposed to operate.

As Morris Berman points out in his book Dark Ages America, “70 percent of American adults cannot name their senators or congressmen; more than half don’t know the actual number of senators, and nearly a quarter cannot name a single right guaranteed by the First Amendment. Sixty-three percent cannot name the three branches of government. Other studies reveal that uninformed or undecided voters often vote for the candidate whose name and packaging (e.g., logo) are the most powerful; color is apparently a major factor in their decision.”

More than government corruption and ineptitude, police brutality, terrorism, gun violence, drugs, illegal immigration or any other so-called “danger” that threatens our nation, civic illiteracy may be what finally pushes us over the edge.

As Thomas Jefferson warned, no nation can be both ignorant and free.

Unfortunately, the American people have existed in a technology-laden, entertainment-fueled, perpetual state of cluelessness for so long that civic illiteracy has become the new normal for the citizenry.

It’s telling that Americans were more able to identify Michael Jackson as the composer of a number of songs than to know that the Bill of Rights was the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

In fact, most immigrants who aspire to become citizens know more about national civics than native-born Americans. Surveys indicate that half of native-born Americans couldn’t correctly answer 70% of the civics questions on the U.S. Citizenship test.

Not even the government bureaucrats who are supposed to represent us know much about civics, American history and geography, or the Constitution although they take an oath to uphold, support and defend the Constitution against “enemies foreign and domestic.”

For instance, a couple attempting to get a marriage license was recently forced to prove to a government official that New Mexico is, in fact, one of the 50 states and not a foreign country.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Here’s a classic example of how surreal the landscape has become.

Just in time for Bill of Rights Day on December 15, President Trump issued a proclamation affirming the importance of the Bill of Rights in guarding against government abuses of power.

“The Founding Fathers understood the real threat government can pose to the rights of the people… That is why those first 10 Amendments to the Constitution, among others, protected the right to speak freely, the right to freely worship, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and the right to due process of law. As a part of the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, the Bill of Rights has protected our rights effectively against the abuse of government power for 227 years… Since there will always be a temptation for government to abuse its power, we reaffirm our commitment to defend the Bill of Rights and uphold the Constitution.”

Don’t believe it for a second.

The government doesn’t want its abuses checked and it certainly doesn’t want its powers restricted.

For that matter, this is not a president who holds the Constitution in high esteem.

After all, Trump routinely rails against the rights enshrined in the first ten amendments to the Constitutiondecrying the free speech rights of protesters, denouncing the media (which enjoys freedom of the press) as the enemy of the people, supporting government efforts to seize private property through asset forfeiture and eminent domain, refusing to denounce the use of internment camps to detain American citizens, sneering at due process, and encouraging police officers to use excessive force against suspects.

As law professor Garrett Epps notes:

Donald Trump ran on a platform of relentless, thoroughgoing rejection of the Constitution itself, and its underlying principle of democratic self-government and individual rights. True, he never endorsed quartering of troops in private homes in time of peace, but aside from that there is hardly a provision of the Bill of Rights or later amendments he did not explicitly promise to override, from First Amendment freedom of the press and of religion to Fourth Amendment freedom from ‘unreasonable searches and seizures’ to Sixth Amendment right to counsel to Fourteenth Amendment birthright citizenship and Equal Protection and Fifteenth Amendment voting rights.”

To be fair, it’s not all Trump’s fault.

Indeed, we wouldn’t be in this sorry state if it weren’t for Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush and the damage their administrations inflicted on the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights, which historically served as the bulwark from government abuse.

In the so-called named of national security, since 9/11, 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 is but a shadow of the robust document adopted more than two centuries ago.

The Bill of Rights—462 words that represent the most potent and powerful rights ever guaranteed to a group of people officially—became part of the U.S. Constitution on December 15, 1791, because early Americans such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson understood the need to guard against the government’s inclination to abuse its power.

Yet the reality we must come to terms with is that in the America we live in today, the government does whatever it wants.

Make no mistake: if our individual freedoms have been restricted, it is only so that the government’s powers could be expanded at our expense.

The USA Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, drove a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights, violating at least six of the ten original amendments—the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments—and possibly the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well. The Patriot Act also redefined terrorism so broadly that many non-terrorist political activities such as protest marches, demonstrations and civil disobedience were considered potential terrorist acts, thereby rendering anyone desiring to engage in protected First Amendment expressive activities as suspects of the surveillance state.

Since 9/11, we’ve been spied on by surveillance cameras, eavesdropped on by government agents, had our belongings searched, our phones tapped, our mail opened, our email monitored, our opinions questioned, our purchases scrutinized (under the USA Patriot Act, banks are required to analyze your transactions for any patterns that raise suspicion and to see if you are connected to any objectionable people), and our activities watched.

We’ve also been subjected to invasive patdowns and whole-body scans of our persons and seizures of our electronic devices in the nation’s airports and at border crossings. We can’t even purchase certain cold medicine at the pharmacy anymore without it being reported to the government and our names being placed on a watch list.

Government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, overcriminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches (all sanctioned by Congress, the White House, the courts and the like), etc.: these are merely the weapons of the police state.

The power of the police state is dependent on a populace that meekly obeys without question.

Remember: when it comes to the staggering loss of civil liberties, the Constitution hasn’t changed. Rather, it is the American people who have changed.

Those who gave us the Constitution and the Bill of Rights believed that the government exists at the behest of its citizens. The government’s purpose is 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.” Those who founded this country knew quite well that every citizen must remain vigilant or freedom would be lost. As Thomas Paine recognized, “It is the responsibility of the patriot to protect his country from its government.”

You have no rights unless you exercise them.

Still, you can’t exercise your rights unless you know what those rights are.

“If Americans do not understand the Constitution and the institutions and processes through which we are governed, we cannot rationally evaluate important legislation and the efforts of our elected officials, nor can we preserve the national unity necessary to meaningfully confront the multiple problems we face today,” warns the Brennan Center in its Civic Literacy Report Card. “Rather, every act of government will be measured only by its individual value or cost, without concern for its larger impact. More and more we will ‘want what we want, and [will be] convinced that the system that is stopping us is wrong, flawed, broken or outmoded.’”

Education precedes action.

As the Brennan Center concludes “America, unlike most of the world’s nations, is not a country defined by blood or belief. America is an idea, or a set of ideas, about freedom and opportunity. It is these ideas that bind us together as Americans and have kept us free, strong, and prosperous. But these ideas do not perpetuate themselves. They must be taught and learned anew with each generation.”

There is a movement underway to require that all public-school students pass the civics portion of the U.S. naturalization test100 basic facts about U.S. history and civics—before receiving their high-school diploma, and that’s a start.

Mind you, it’s only the first of many steps.

If there is to be any hope for restoring our freedoms and reclaiming our runaway government, we will have to start by breathing life into those three powerful words that set the tone for everything that follows in the Constitution: “we the people.”

People get the government they deserve.

As David Fouse writes for National Review, “A government by the people, for the people, and of the people is only as wise, as just, and as free as the people themselves.

It’s up to us.

We have the power to make and break the government.

We the American people—the citizenry—are the arbiters and ultimate guardians of America’s welfare, defense, liberty, laws and prosperity.

It’s time to stop waiting patiently for change to happen. Do more than grouse and complain.

We must act—and act responsibly.

Get outraged, get off your duff and get out of your house, get in the streets, get in people’s faces, get down to your local city council, get over to your local school board, get your thoughts down on paper, get your objections plastered on protest signs, get your neighbors, friends and family to join their voices to yours, get your representatives to pay attention to your grievances, get your kids to know their rights, get your local police to march in lockstep with the Constitution, get your media to act as watchdogs for the people and not lapdogs for the corporate state, get your act together, and get your house in order.

In other words, get moving.

A healthy, representative government is hard work. It takes a citizenry that is informed about the issues, educated about how the government operates, and willing to make the sacrifices necessary to stay involved, whether that means forgoing Monday night football in order to attend a city council meeting or risking arrest by picketing in front of a politician’s office.

Don’t wait for things to get as bad as they are in France, where civil unrest over a government  proposal to raise taxes on gas has turned into violent clashes between protesters and the police.

Whatever you do, please don’t hinge your freedoms on politics.

No election will ever truly alleviate the suffering of the American people.

No matter which party controls Congress or the White House, the government as we have come to know it—corrupt, bloated and controlled by big-money corporations, lobbyists and special interest groups—remains largely unchanged. And “we the people”—overtaxed, overpoliced, overburdened by big government, underrepresented by those who should speak for us and blissfully ignorant of the prison walls closing in on us—continue to trudge along a path of misery.

Remember what Noam Chomsky had to say about politics? “It is important to bear in mind that political campaigns are designed by the same people who sell toothpaste and cars.

In other words, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we’re being sold a carefully crafted product by a monied elite who are masters in the art of making the public believe that they need exactly what is being sold to them, whether it’s the latest high-tech gadget, the hottest toy, or the most charismatic politician.

It’s just another Blue Pill, a manufactured reality conjured up by the matrix in order to keep the populace compliant and convinced that their vote counts and that they still have some influence over the political process.

Don’t buy any of it.

The Constitution is neutral when it comes to politics. What the Constitution is not neutral about, however, is the government’s duty to safeguard the rights of the citizenry.

“We the people” also have a duty that goes far beyond the act of voting: it’s our job to keep freedom alive using every nonviolent means available to us.

As Martin Luther King Jr. recognized in a speech delivered on December 5, 1955, just four days after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to relinquish her seat on a Montgomery city bus: “Democracy transformed from thin paper to thick action is the greatest form of government on earth.”

Know your rights. Exercise your rights. Defend your rights. If not, you will lose them.

WC: 2311

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.

 

“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.