Posts Tagged ‘first amendment’

RICHMOND, Va. — A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed by The Rutherford Institute on behalf of a man who was arrested as he was engaged in a First Amendment protest against President Obama while lawfully carrying a rifle. The settlement in Brandon Howard v. John Hunter resolved the lawsuit to the mutual satisfaction of the parties, which included claims that the police violated Howard’s First Amendment right to free speech, Second Amendment right to bear arms, and Fourth Amendment right to be free from a groundless arrest when they confronted him with guns drawn and ordered him to the ground on the unfounded belief that Howard was violating the law by being in public with a rifle slung over his shoulder. Soon after the incident, the City of Hopewell Police Department admitted in writing that the incident involved a violation of department policy. The settlement included an apology by the defendant police officer acknowledging respect for citizens’ First and Second Amendment rights and stating “[it] was not my intention to compromise Mr. Howard’s rights under the Constitution.”

The Rutherford Institute’s complaint in Brandon Howard v. John Hunter is available at www.rutherford.org.

Battlefield_Cover_300“As this case shows, if you feel like you can’t walk away from a police encounter of your own volition—and more often than not you can’t, especially when you’re being confronted by someone armed to the hilt with all manner of militarized weaponry and gear—then for all intents and purposes, you’re under arrest from the moment a cop stops you,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Certainly, if you’ve been placed in handcuffs and transported to a police station against your will, that constitutes an arrest.”

According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, Brandon Howard arrived at an overpass above Interstate 295 in the City of Hopewell, Va., and displayed a 6 foot by 4 foot sign that read “Impeach Obama.” Howard was carrying a DMTS Panther Arms AR-15 rifle slung over his shoulder on a strap, and a .380 caliber Bersa Thunder sidearm pistol in a belted holster on his waist. Howard lawfully owned each firearm and did not point or brandish them at any time while engaged in his First Amendment protest activity on the overpass. Howard displayed his protest sign for 30 minutes, but Howard did not directly engage with anyone.

At about 5:30 p.m., a police officer pulled up to the area, remained in his car and observed Howard. Thereafter, three to five additional police cruisers arrived at the scene with emergency lights engaged. Approximately eight officers exited these vehicles with their guns drawn and ordered Howard to drop his sign and get on the ground with his hands spread above his head. Howard complied with the officers’ orders. Howard explained that he had not threatened anyone but was simply exercising his First and Second amendment rights. Howard was then handcuffed and transported to the police station, where he was left, handcuffed, in an interrogation room for 90 minutes, after which time he had his firearms returned and was released. A month later, the Deputy Chief of Police acknowledged in writing that an internal investigation had concluded that one of the officers violated department policy and would be disciplined and sent to remedial training. Attorney Raul Novo of Richmond, Va., assisted The Rutherford Institute with the lawsuit and settlement.

CASE HISTORY

March 11, 2016: VICTORY: Police Settle Rutherford Institute Lawsuit Over Activist Held at Gun, Handcuffed and Arrested for Lawfully Carrying a Rifle During a Protest

October 22, 2015: Victory: Court Gives Green Light to Lawsuit over Activist Held at Gun Point by Police, Handcuffed and Arrested for Lawfully Carrying a Rifle During a Protest

September 25, 2015: Virginia Police Insist That Activist Was Not Under Arrest Even Though He Was Held at Gun Point by Police, Handcuffed and Taken to the Police Station

November 17, 2014: Citing 1st, 2nd & 4th Amendments, Rutherford Institute Sues Virginia Police for Violating Obama Protester’s Right to Free Speech and Lawful Gun Ownership

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“That’s the way the ruling class operates in any society. They keep the lower and the middle classes fighting with each other… Anything different—that’s what they’re gonna talk about—race, religion, ethnic and national background, jobs, income, education, social status, sexuality, anything they can do to keep us fighting with each other, so that they can keep going to the bank!”—Comedian George Carlin

“We the people” have been utterly and completely betrayed.

The politicians “we the people” most trusted to look out for our best interests, protect our rights, and ensure that the nation does not slip into tyranny have cheated on us, lied to us, swindled us, deceived us, double-crossed us, and sold us to the highest bidder.

Time and again, they have shown in word and deed that their priorities lay elsewhere, that they care nothing about our plight, that they owe us no allegiance, that they are motivated by power and money rather than principle, that they are deaf to our entreaties, that they are part of an elite ruling class that views us as mere cattle, that their partisan bickering is part of an elaborate ruse to keep us divided and distracted, and that their oaths of office to uphold the Constitution mean nothing.

Incredibly, even in the face of their treachery and lies, the great majority of Americans persist in believing that the politicians have the people’s best interests at heart.

Despite the fact that we’ve been burned before, most Americans continue to allow themselves to be bamboozled into casting their votes for one candidate or another, believing that this time they mean what they say, this time they really care about the citizenry, this time will be different.

Of course, they rarely ever mean what they say, they care about their constituents only to the extent that it advances their political careers, and it never turns out differently. We are as easily discarded the day after the elections as we were wantonly wooed in the months leading up to the big day. Those same politicians who were once so eager to pose for our pictures, smile at our jokes, and glad-hand us for our votes will, upon being elected, retreat behind a massive, impenetrable wall that ensures we are not seen or heard from again—at least, until the next election.

The joke is on us.

Battlefield_Cover_300As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, all of the caucuses, primaries, nominating conventions, town hall meetings, rallies, meet and greets, delegates and super-delegates are sophisticated schemes aimed at advancing the illusion of participation culminating in the reassurance ritual of voting.

It’s not about Red Republicans or Blue Democrats. It’s about Green Donors—i.e, those with money who can afford to pay for access.

Votes might elect politicians, but as a 2014 field experiment by political scientists at Yale University and the University of California, Berkeley, makes clear, it’s money that talks.

The experiment went something like this: members of Congress were contacted by constituents requesting meetings about pending public policy issues. As the Washington Post reports, “When the attendees were revealed to be ‘local campaign donors,’ they often gained access to Members of Congress, Legislative Directors, and Chiefs of Staff. But when the attendees were described as only ‘local constituents,’ they almost never gained this level of access.”

Conclusion: money buys access to politicians who are otherwise deaf, dumb and blind to the entreaties of their constituents.

It works the same with every politician and every party.

Indeed, the First Amendment’s assurance of a right to petition the government for a redress of grievances has become predicated on how much money you’re willing to shell out in order to gain access to your elected and appointed officials.

Then again, money has always played a starring role in American politics.

lincoln-bedroom-2007-seThe spoils system reared its greedy head under Andrew Jackson, who traded jobs in his administration in exchange for campaign contributions. For $1 million, donors could take part in Warren Harding’s poker parties and enjoy a sleepover at the White House. Lyndon Johnson had a President’s Club that cost donors $1000 a year. Nixon was prepared to sell ambassadorships for $250,000. And Bill Clinton famously allowed top-dollar donors to spend a night in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House in exchange for roughly $5.4 million in donations to the Democratic National Committee.

Fast forward to the present day, and a $500,000 donation might get you invited to a quarterly meeting with Barack Obama. For a mere $5,000 donation, lobbyists are being given exclusive invitations to join Congressmen and senators for weekend getaways that include wine tastings, fly fishing, skiing, golfing, hunting, spas, seaside cocktail parties and more.

If you’re just a lowly citizen with limited cash, however, you’re out of luck.

Try contacting your so-called representatives without paying for the privilege, and see how far that gets you. I can assure you that you won’t be given the kinds of access that lobbyists, special interest groups and top donors enjoy.

Having been saddled with a pay-to-play system that provides access only to those with enough cash to grease the wheels of the political machine, average Americans have little to no say in the workings of their government and even less access to their so-called representatives.

trump-clinton-weddingDonald Trump, as he has boasted, might be able to buy and sell politicians of all stripes (including Hillary Clinton), but the average American would be hard-pressed to get the kind of access enjoyed by corporate executives, lobbyists and other members of the moneyed elite.

Indeed, members of Congress have to work hard to keep their constituents at a distanceminimizing town-hall meetings, making minimal public appearances while at home in their districts, only appearing at events in controlled settings where they’re the only ones talking, and if they must interact with constituents, doing so via telephone town meetings or impromptu visits to local businesses where the chances of being accosted by angry voters are greatly minimized.

And under the Trespass Bill, passed by Congress in 2012 and signed into law by President Obama, if you dare to exercise your First Amendment right to speak freely to a politician, assemble in public near a politician, or petition a government official for a redress of grievances, you risk a fine or a lengthy stay in prison.

Talk about self-serving.

Under the guise of protecting government officials from physical attacks, the Trespass Bill, a.k.a. “the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act,” criminalizes First Amendment activity by making it a federal offense, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to protest anywhere the Secret Service might be guarding someone.

Mind you, the Secret Service not only protects the president but all past sitting presidents, members of Congress, foreign dignitaries, presidential candidates, and anyone whom the president determines needs protection, but is also in charge of securing National Special Security Events, which include events such as the G8 and NATO summits, the National Conventions of both major parties, and even the Super Bowl.

The law essentially creates a roving bubble zone where the First Amendment is effectively off-limits, thereby putting an end to free speech, political protest and the right to peaceably assemble in all areas where government officials happen to be present. Thus, simply walking by one of these events could make you subject to arrest.

31bc75e000000578-0-image-a-2_1456850087032“What that means in practice,” as The Intercept rightly points out, “is that campaign rallies for Donald Trump, who was granted Secret Service protection in November, and Hillary Clinton, who will be guarded for life as a former first lady, arethe very opposite of free speech zones under federal law. (The restrictions also apply to all appearances by former presidents and first ladies, as well as those of two other candidates, Bernie Sanders and Ben Carson, who are currently protected by the service.)”

Consider yourself warned: If you do dare to show up to a Trump or Clinton rally and even appear to be the kind of person who might engage in any kind of protest, lawful or otherwise, you could find yourself quickly dispatched to a “free speech zone” out of sight and sound of the candidates. (“Free speech zones” are government-sanctioned areas located far away from government officials, into which activists and citizens are herded at political rallies and events.) In fact, that’s exactly what happened to a group of black students at a recent Trump rally in Georgia. They were escorted by police to “‘free speech zones’ in a field shielded from the venue by a set of tennis courts, or outside a church about a quarter of a mile away.”

The message is clear: in an age of robber barons, “we the people” are expected to just shut up and vote.

The powers-that-be want us to be censored, silenced, muzzled, gagged, zoned out, caged in and shut down. They want our speech and activities monitored for any sign of “extremist” activity. They want us to be estranged from each other and kept at a distance from those who are supposed to represent us. They want taxation without representation. They want a government without the consent of the governed.

They want the police state.

free20speechThe system has been so corrupted and compromised that there are few left in the halls of government who hear or speak for us.

Congress does not represent us. The courts do not advocate for us. The president does not listen to us. And the First Amendment’s assurance of the right to speak freely and petition our government for a redress of grievance no longer applies to us.

So if representative government has become an exercise in futility, where does that leave us?

One of the key ingredients in maintaining democratic government is the right of citizens to freely speak their minds to those who represent them. In fact, it is one of the few effective tools we have left to combat government corruption and demand accountability.

If there is to be any hope of righting the wrongs that are being perpetrated against the American people, we must make them—our elected officials—hear us.

But where to begin?

Start by opening up a dialogue within your own community about what’s wrong with this country. Stop focusing on the issues that divide, and find common ground with your fellow citizens about issues on which you can agree. Focus less on politics and more on principles. Stop buying into the false and divisive narratives that are being promulgated by political windbags and start thinking and speaking for yourselves.

los_angeles_people-300x204Once you’ve found that common ground, whatever it might be, make enough noise at the local level—at your city council meetings, in your local paper, at your school board meetings, in front of your courthouses and police stations—and the message will trickle up. Those in power may not like what they hear, but they will hear you.

Remember, there is power in numbers.

There are 319 million of us in this country. Imagine what we could accomplish if we actually worked together, presented a united front, and spoke with one voice?

The police state wouldn’t stand a chance.

“If you can’t say ‘Fuck’ you can’t say, ‘Fuck the government.’” ― Lenny Bruce

Not only has free speech become a four-letter word—profane, obscene, uncouth, not to be uttered in so-called public places—but in more and more cases, the government deems free speech to be downright dangerous and in some instances illegal.

The U.S. government has become particularly intolerant of speech that challenges the government’s power, reveals the government’s corruption, exposes the government’s lies, and encourages the citizenry to push back against the government’s many injustices.

Indeed, there is a long and growing list of the kinds of speech that the government considers dangerous enough to red flag and subject to censorship, surveillance, investigation and prosecution: hate speech, bullying speech, intolerant speech, conspiratorial speech, treasonous speech, threatening speech, incendiary speech, inflammatory speech, radical speech, anti-government speech, right-wing speech, extremist speech, etc.

Yet by allowing the government to whittle away at cherished First Amendment freedoms—which form the backbone of the Bill of Rights—we have evolved into a society that would not only be abhorrent to the founders of this country but would be hostile to the words they used to birth this nation.

Don’t believe me?

Conduct your own experiment into the government’s tolerance of speech that challenges its authority, and see for yourself.

Stand on a street corner—or in a courtroom, at a city council meeting or on a university campus—and recite some of the rhetoric used by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, John Adams and Thomas Paine without referencing them as the authors.

For that matter, just try reciting the Declaration of Independence, which rejects tyranny, establishes Americans as sovereign beings, recognizes God as a Supreme power, portrays the government as evil, and provides a detailed laundry list of abuses that are as relevant today as they were 240 years ago.

My guess is that you won’t last long before you get thrown out, shut up, threatened with arrest or at the very least accused of being a radical, a troublemaker, a sovereign citizen, a conspiratorialist or an extremist.

Try suggesting, as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin did, that Americans should not only take up arms but be prepared to shed blood in order to protect their liberties, and you might find yourself placed on a terrorist watch list and vulnerable to being rounded up by government agents.

“What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms,” declared Jefferson. He also concluded that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Observed Franklin: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!”

Better yet, try suggesting as Thomas Paine, Marquis De Lafayette, John Adams and Patrick Henry did that Americans should, if necessary, defend themselves against the government if it violates their rights, and you will be labeled a domestic extremist.

“It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government,” insisted Paine. “When the government violates the people’s rights,” Lafayette warned, “insurrection is, for the people and for each portion of the people, the most sacred of the rights and the most indispensable of duties.” Adams cautioned, “A settled plan to deprive the people of all the benefits, blessings and ends of the contract, to subvert the fundamentals of the constitution, to deprive them of all share in making and executing laws, will justify a revolution.” And who could forget Patrick Henry with his ultimatum: “Give me liberty or give me death!”

Then again, perhaps you don’t need to test the limits of free speech for yourself. One such test is playing out before our very eyes in Portland, Oregon, where radio “shock jock” Pete Santilli, a new media journalist who broadcasts his news reports over YouTube and streaming internet radio, is sitting in jail.

Santilli, notorious for his controversial topics, vocal outrage over government abuses, and inflammatory rhetoric, is not what anyone would consider an objective reporter. His radio show, aptly titled “Telling You the Truth…Whether You Like It or Not,” makes it clear that Santilli has a viewpoint (namely, that the government has overstepped its bounds), and he has no qualms about sharing it with his listeners.

It was that viewpoint that landed Santilli in jail.

In early January 2016, a group of armed activists, reportedly protesting the federal government’s management of federal lands and its prosecution of two local ranchers convicted of arson, staged an act of civil disobedience by occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon. Santilli, who has covered such protests in the past, including the April 2014 standoff in Nevada between the Bundy ranching family and the federal government over grazing rights, reported on the occupation in Burns as an embedded journalist, albeit one who was sympathetic to the complaints (although not the tactics) of the occupiers.

When asked to clarify his role in relation to the occupation, Santilli declared, “My role is the same here that it was at the Bundy ranch. To talk about the constitutional implications of what is going on here. The Constitution cannot be negotiated.”

Well, it turns out that the Constitution can be negotiated, at least when the government gets involved.

Long a thorn in the side of the FBI, Santilli was arrested by the FBI following its ambush and arrest of key leaders of the movement. He was charged, along with the armed resistors, with conspiracy to impede federal officers from discharging their duties by use of force, intimidation, or threats—the same charge being levied against those who occupied the refuge—which carries a maximum sentence of six years in prison.

Notably, Santilli is the only journalist among those covering the occupation to be charged with conspiracy, despite the fact that he did not participate in the takeover of the refuge, nor did he ever spend a night on the grounds of the refuge, nor did he ever represent himself as anything but a journalist covering the occupation.

Of course, the government doesn’t actually believe that 50-year-old Santilli is an accomplice to any criminal activity.

Read between the lines and you’ll find that what the government is really accusing Santilli of is employing dangerous speech. As court documents indicate, the government is prosecuting Santilli solely as a reporter of information. In other words, they’re making an example of him, which is consistent with the government’s ongoing efforts to intimidate members of the media who portray the government in a less than favorable light.

This is not a new tactic.

During the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, numerous journalists were arrested while covering the regions’ civil unrest and the conditions that spawned that unrest. These attempts to muzzle the press were clearly concerted, top-down efforts to restrict the fundamental First Amendment rights of the public and the press.

As The Huffington Post reports:

The Obama administration’s treatment of reporters has caused controversy before. In 2009, the Department of Justice targeted a Fox News reporter in an investigation. Three years later, DOJ seized Associated Press reporters’ phone records. After that, former Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a review of the Justice Department’s news media policies. DOJ employees must consult with a unit within the Criminal Division before they arrest someone when there is a “question regarding whether an individual or entity is a ‘member of the news media,’” according to a January 2015 memo from Holder to DOJ employees.”

That the government is choosing to target Santilli for prosecution, despite the fact that they do not recognize new media journalists as members of the mainstream media, signals a broadening of the government’s efforts to suppress what it considers dangerous speech and stamp out negative coverage.

The message is clear: whether a journalist is acting alone or is affiliated with an established news source, the government has no qualms about subjecting them to harassment, arrest, jail time and trumped up charges if doing so will discourage others from openly opposing or exposing the government.

You see, the powers-that-be understand that if the government can control speech, it controls thought and, in turn, it can control the minds of the citizenry.

Where the government has gone wrong is in hinging its case against Santilli based solely on his incendiary rhetoric, which is protected by the First Amendment and which bears a striking resemblance to disgruntled patriots throughout American history.

Here’s what Santilli said: “What we need, most importantly, is one hundred thousand unarmed men and women to stand together. It is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal.”

Now compare that with the call to action from Joseph Warren, a leader of the Sons of Liberty and a principal figure within the American Revolution: “Stain not the glory of your worthy ancestors, but like them resolve never to part with your birthright; be wise in your deliberations, and determined in your exertions for the preservation of your liberties. Follow not the dictates of passion, but enlist yourselves under the sacred banner of reason; use every method in your power to secure your rights.”

Indeed, Santilli comes across as relatively docile compared to some of our nation’s more outspoken firebrands.

Santilli: “I’m not armed. I am armed with my mouth. I’m armed with my live stream. I’m armed with a coalition of like-minded individuals who sit at home and on YouTube watch this.”

Now compare that to what George Washington had to say: “Unhappy it is, though, to reflect that a brother’s sword has been sheathed in a brother’s breast and that the once-happy plains of America are either to be drenched with blood or inhabited by slaves. Sad alternative! But can a virtuous man hesitate in his choice?”

And then there was Andrew Jackson, a hothead if ever there was one. He came of age in the early days of the republic, served as the seventh president of the United States, and was not opposed to shedding blood when necessary: “Peace, above all things, is to be desired, but blood must sometimes be spilled to obtain it on equable and lasting terms.”

This is how freedom rises or falls.

There have always been those willing to speak their minds despite the consequences. Where freedom hangs in the balance is when “we the people” are called on to stand with or against individuals who actually exercise their rights and, in the process, push the envelope far enough to get called out on the carpet for it.

Do we negotiate the Constitution, or do we embrace it, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel, no matter how hateful or ugly it gets, and no matter how much we may dislike its flag-bearers?

Comedian Lenny Bruce laid the groundwork for the George Carlins that would follow in his wake: foul-mouthed, insightful, irreverent, incredibly funny, and one of the First Amendment’s greatest champions who dared to “speak the unspeakable” about race, religion, sexuality and politics. As Village Voice writer Nat Hentoff attests, Bruce was “not only a paladin of free speech but also a still-penetrating, woundingly hilarious speaker of truth to the powerful and the complacent.”

Bruce died in 1966, but not before being convicted of alleged obscenity for challenging his audience’s covert prejudices by brandishing unmentionable words that, if uttered today, would not only get you ostracized but could get you arrested and charged with a hate crime. Hentoff, who testified in Bruce’s defense at his trial, recounts that Lenny used to say, “What I wanted people to dig is the lie. Certain words were suppressed to keep the lie going. But if you do them, you should be able to say the words.”

Not much has changed in the 50 years since Bruce died. In fact, it’s gotten worse.

What we’re dealing with today is a government that wants to suppress dangerous words—words about its warring empire, words about its land grabs, words about its militarized police, words about its killing, its poisoning and its corruption—in order to keep its lies going.

As I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, what we are witnessing is a nation undergoing a nervous breakdown over this growing tension between our increasingly untenable reality and the lies being perpetrated by a government that has grown too power-hungry, egotistical, militaristic and disconnected from its revolutionary birthright.

The only therapy is the truth and nothing but the truth.

Otherwise, there will be no more First Amendment. There will be no more Bill of Rights. And there will be no more freedom in America as we have known it.

As the insightful and brash comedian George Carlin observed:

“Rights aren’t rights if someone can take them away. They’re privileges. That’s all we’ve ever had in this country, is a bill of temporary privileges. And if you read the news even badly, you know that every year the list gets shorter and shorter. Sooner or later, the people in this country are gonna realize the government does not give a fuck about them! The government doesn’t care about you, or your children, or your rights, or your welfare or your safety. It simply does not give a fuck about you! It’s interested in its own power. That’s the only thing. Keeping it and expanding it wherever possible.”

March on Albany

March on Albany, NYPL Digital Collection, Image ID 1602566

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”― George Orwell

Free speech is not for the faint of heart.

Nor is it for those who are easily offended, readily intimidated or who need everything wrapped in a neat and tidy bow. Free speech is often messy, foul-mouthed, obscene, intolerant, undignified, insensitive, cantankerous, bawdy and volatile.

While free speech can also be tender, tolerant, soft-spoken, sensitive and sweet, it is free speech’s hot-blooded alter ego—the wretched, brutal, beastly Mr. Hyde to its restrained, dignified and civil Dr. Jekyll—that tests the limits of our so-called egalitarian commitment to its broad-minded principles.

Unfortunately, our appreciation for a robust freedom of speech has worn thin over the years.

Many Americans have become fearfully polite, careful to avoid offense, and largely unwilling to be labeled intolerant, hateful, closed-minded or any of the other toxic labels that carry a badge of shame today. We’ve come to prize civility over freedom. Most of all, too many Americans, held hostage by their screen devices and the talking heads on television, have lost the ability to think critically.

Societies that cherish free speech relish open debates and controversy and, in turn, produce a robust citizenry who will stand against authoritarian government. Indeed, oppressive regimes of the past have understood the value of closed-mouthed, closed-minded citizens and the power inherent in controlling speech and, thus, controlling how a people view their society and government.

We in the United States have a government with a ravenous appetite for power and a seeming desire to turn the two-way dialogue that is our constitutional republic into a one-way dictatorship. Emboldened by phrases such as “hate crimes,” “bullying,” “extremism” and “microaggressions,” the government is whittling away at free speech, confining it to carefully constructed “free speech zones,” criminalizing it when it skates too close to challenging the status quo, shaming it when it butts up against politically correct ideals, and muzzling it when it appears dangerous.

Free speech is no longer free.

Nor is free speech still considered an inalienable right or an essential liberty, even by those government entities entrusted with protecting it.

We’ve entered into an egotistical, insulated, narcissistic era in which free speech has become regulated speech: to be celebrated when it reflects the values of the majority and tolerated otherwise, unless it moves so far beyond our political, religious and socio-economic comfort zones as to be rendered dangerous and unacceptable.

Consider some of the kinds of speech being targeted for censorship or outright elimination.

Offensive, politically incorrect and “unsafe” speech: Disguised as tolerance, civility and love, political correctness has resulted in the chilling of free speech and the demonizing of viewpoints that run counter to the cultural elite. Consequently, college campuses have become hotbeds of student-led censorship, trigger warnings, microaggressions, and “red light” speech policies targeting anything that might cause someone to feel uncomfortable, unsafe or offended.

Bullying, intimidating speech: Warning that “school bullies become tomorrow’s hate crimes defendants,” the Justice Department has led the way in urging schools to curtail bullying, going so far as to classify “teasing” as a form of “bullying,” and “rude” or “hurtful” “text messages” as “cyberbullying.”

Hateful speech: Hate speech—speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation—is the primary candidate for online censorship. Corporate internet giants Google, Twitter and Facebook are in the process of determining what kinds of speech will be permitted online and what will be deleted.

Dangerous, anti-government speech: As part of its newly unveiled war on “extremism,” the Obama administration is partnering with the tech industry to establish a task force to counter online “propaganda” by terrorists hoping to recruit support or plan attacks. In this way, anyone who criticizes the government online is considered an extremist and will have their content reported to government agencies for further investigation or deleted.

The upshot of all of this editing, parsing, banning and silencing is the emergence of a new language, what George Orwell referred to as Newspeak, which places the power to control language in the hands of the totalitarian state. Under such a system, language becomes a weapon to change the way people think by changing the words they use. The end result is control.

In totalitarian regimes—a.k.a. police states—where conformity and compliance are enforced at the end of a loaded gun, the government dictates what words can and cannot be used. In countries where the police state hides behind a benevolent mask and disguises itself as tolerance, the citizens censor themselves, policing their words and thoughts to conform to the dictates of the mass mind lest they find themselves ostracized or placed under surveillance.

Even when the motives behind this rigidly calibrated reorientation of societal language appear well-intentioned—discouraging racism, condemning violence, denouncing discrimination and hatred—inevitably, the end result is the same: intolerance, indoctrination and infantilism.

Thus, while on paper, we are technically still free to speak, in reality, we are only as free to speak as a government official or corporate censor may allow.

Battlefield_Cover_300The U.S. Supreme Court has long been the referee in the tug-of-war over the nation’s tolerance for free speech and other expressive activities protected by the First Amendment. Yet as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the Supreme Court’s role as arbiter of justice in these disputes is undergoing a sea change. Except in cases where it has no vested interest, the Court has begun to advocate for the government’s outsized interests, ruling in favor of the government in matters of war, national security, commerce and speech. When asked to choose between the rule of law and government supremacy, this Court tends to side with the government.

In the 225 years since the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted, the rights detailed in that amendment—which assures the American people of the right to speak freely, worship freely, peaceably assemble, petition the government for a redress of grievances, and have a free press—have certainly taken a beating, but none more so than the right to free speech.

Nowhere in the First Amendment does it permit the government to limit speech in order to avoid causing offense, hurting someone’s feelings, safeguarding government secrets, protecting government officials, insulating judges from undue influence, discouraging bullying, penalizing hateful ideas and actions, eliminating terrorism, combatting prejudice and intolerance, and the like.

Unfortunately, in the war being waged between free speech purists who believe that free speech is an inalienable right and those who believe that free speech should be regulated, the censors are winning. Free speech zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws and a host of other legalistic maladies dreamed up by politicians and prosecutors have conspired to corrode our core freedoms.

If we no longer have the right to tell a Census Worker to get off our property, if we no longer have the right to tell a police officer to get a search warrant before they dare to walk through our door, if we no longer have the right to stand in front of the Supreme Court wearing a protest sign or approach an elected representative to share our views, if we no longer have the right to voice our opinions in public—no matter how misogynistic, hateful, prejudiced, intolerant, misguided or politically incorrect they might be—then we do not have free speech.

What we have instead is regulated, controlled speech, and that’s a whole other ballgame.

Just as surveillance has been shown to “stifle and smother dissent, keeping a populace cowed by fear,” government censorship gives rise to self-censorship, breeds compliance, makes independent thought all but impossible, and ultimately foments a seething discontent that has no outlet but violence.

The First Amendment is a steam valve. It allows people to speak their minds, air their grievances and contribute to a larger dialogue that hopefully results in a more just world. When there is no steam valve—when there is no one to hear what the people have to say—frustration builds, anger grows and people become more volatile and desperate to force a conversation.

The problem as I see it is that we’ve lost faith in the average citizen to do the right thing. We’ve allowed ourselves to be persuaded that we need someone else to think and speak for us. The result is a society in which we’ve stopped debating among ourselves, stopped thinking for ourselves, and stopped believing that we can fix our own problems and resolve our own differences.

In short, we have reduced ourselves to a largely silent, passive populace, content to watch and not do. In this way, we have become our worst enemy. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once warned, a silent, inert citizenry is the greatest menace to freedom.

Brandeis provided a well-reasoned argument against government censorship in his concurring opinion in Whitney v. California (1927). It’s not a lengthy read, but here it is boiled down to ten basic truths:

1. The purpose of government is to make men free to develop their faculties, i.e., THINK. 2. The freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are essential to the discovery and spread of political truth. 3. Without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile. 4. The greatest menace to freedom is a silent people. 5. Public discussion is a political duty, and should be a fundamental principle of the American government. 6. Order cannot be secured through censorship. 7. Fear breeds repression; repression breeds hate; and hate menaces stable government. 8. The power of reason as applied through public discussion is always superior to silence coerced by law. 9. Free speech and assembly were guaranteed in order to guard against the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities. 10. To justify suppression of free speech, there must be reasonable ground (a clear and present danger) to believe that the danger apprehended is imminent, and that the evil to be prevented is a serious one.

Perhaps the most important point that Brandeis made is that freedom requires courage. “Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards,” he wrote. “They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty.” Rather, they were “courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government.”

In other words, the founders did not fear the power of speech. Rather, they embraced it, knowing all too well that a nation without a hearty tolerance for free speech, no matter how provocative, insensitive or dangerous, will be easy prey for a police state where only government speech is allowed.

What the police state wants is a nation of sheep that will docilely march in lockstep with its dictates. What early Americans envisioned was a nation of individualists who knew exactly when to tell the government to go to hell.

BrandonRaub_2WASHINGTON, D.C. —  The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the case of decorated Marine Brandon Raub, who was seized by a swarm of Secret Service, FBI and local police officials and involuntarily committed to a mental institution for a week after posting controversial song lyrics and political views critical of the government on his Facebook page. In asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, Rutherford Institute attorneys were seeking to overturn lower court rulings dismissing the case, which characterized concerns over government suppression of dissident speech as “far-fetched.” In rejecting the appeal, the Supreme Court also refused to establish standards to guide and constrain mental health professionals when they seek to commit individuals and to prevent commitment on the basis of a person’s exercise of his right to free speech.

“This case was about more than one Marine’s right to not be targeted for speaking out against the government. It was about whether Americans have the freedom to criticize the government without being labeled ‘domestic extremists’ and stripped of their rights,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Unfortunately, in refusing to hear this case, the Supreme Court has left us all vulnerable to the possibility that we can be declared mentally unfit, handcuffed, arrested and locked up against our will simply for exercising our right to speak truth to power.”

Brandon Raub, a decorated Marine who has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, uses his Facebook page to post song lyrics and air his political opinions. On Aug.16, 2012, Chesterfield police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Raub’s home, asked to speak with him about his Facebook posts, and without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, handcuffed Raub and transported him to police headquarters, then to a medical facility, where he was held against his will for psychological evaluation and treatment.

In coming to Raub’s aid, Rutherford Institute attorneys challenged the government’s actions as a violation of Raub’s First and Fourth Amendment rights. On Aug. 23, Circuit Court Judge Allan Sharrett ordered Raub’s immediate release, stating that the government’s case was “so devoid of any factual allegations that it could not be reasonably expected to give rise to a case or controversy.” Rutherford Institute attorneys filed a lawsuit in May 2013, challenging the government’s actions as procedurally improper and legally unjustified. In February 2014, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the lawsuit, rejecting concerns over government suppression of dissident speech as “far-fetched.” On appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Institute attorneys claimed that the Chesterfield County mental health screener who recommended Raub’s seizure and commitment failed to exercise reasonable professional judgment in wrongly determining that Raub was mentally ill and dangerous, and that Raub’s seizure and detention were the result of a mental health screener’s dislike of Raub’s “unpatriotic” views on federal government misconduct, thereby violating the ex-Marine’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The appeals court subsequently affirmed the lower court judgment.

Attorneys William H. Hurd and Stephen C. Piepgrass of Troutman Sanders and Anthony Troy and Charles A. Zdebski of Eckert Seamens Cherin & Mellott assisted The Rutherford Institute in its defense of Brandon Raub.

RICHMOND, Va. —The Rutherford Institute has asked a federal appeals court to reject a lower court ruling that confers sweeping power on the government to police private ideas and equates a trademark registration with a form of government-sanctioned speech. Weighing in before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Pro-Football, Inc. v. Amanda Blackhorse, et al., attorneys for The Rutherford Institute and The Cato Institute argue that a district court order allowing the government to cancel the federal trademark registration of the NFL Redskins and refuse registration to other applications it deems “offensive” constitutes blatant content and viewpoint discrimination and imposes a “hecklers veto” on speech that violates the First Amendment’s protection of even unpopular speech.

In a related matter, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have filed an amicus brief in In re: Simon Shiao Tam, coming to the defense of “The Slants,” an Asian-American dance rock band whose trademark application was denied by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on the grounds that the trademark might disparage or offend persons of Asian heritage.

Click here to read The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Pro-Football, Inc. v. Amanda Blackhorse .

“Whether the debate is over a trademark for the Slants, the Redskins, or a specialty license plate for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the sticking point remains the same: how much do we really value the First Amendment, and how far are we willing to go to protect someone else’s freedom of speech, even if that speech might be offensive to some?” asked constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “The end result remains the same: outright censorship and the creation of a class system that renders speech perceived as politically incorrect, hateful or offensive as inferior and less entitled to the full protection of the law.”

The Redskins have been waging a 20-year battle to protect the football team’s name in the face of charges that it is offensive to Native Americans. In 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board voted to cancel the Redskins’ trademark, declaring it to be offensive to Native Americans and therefore in violation of the Lanham Act, which prohibits names that “may disparage” or bring people into contempt or disrepute. In asserting the team’s First Amendment right to retain its name, the Redskins argued that the team name is a valuable commodity, in which the NFL team has invested millions of dollars for promotions and protections of trademarks. Moreover, the team claims that the Redskins name honors Native Americans rather than disrespecting them. The Redskins brought an action challenging the TTAB’s cancellation of the trademarks in Virginia federal district court, but that court upheld the ruling asserting that cancellation did not violate any First Amendment rights of the Redskins.

In challenging the district court’s ruling, The Rutherford Institute argued that the trademark statute allowing cancellation or denial of registration if a mark “may disparage” a particular group is unconstitutional on its face because it discriminates against speech that a government official or body considers inappropriate or offensive.

Affiliate attorneys Megan L. Brown, Joshua Turner, Christopher Kelly, Jennifer Elgin, and Dwayne D. Sam of Wiley Rein LLP in Washington, D.C., assisted The Rutherford Institute and The Cato Institute in advancing the arguments in thePro-Football, Inc., brief.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 9.56.09 AMWASHINGTON, DC — A federal appeals court has summarily rejected a request that it reconsider its ruling that a 60-year old federal statute criminalizing expressive First Amendment activity on the Supreme Court plaza is “reasonable” and does not violate the First Amendment, setting up an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied without explanation a petition for rehearing filed by The Rutherford Institute in Hodge v. Talkin, in which Institute attorneys pointed out that the ruling by a three-judge panel of the Court upholding the ban on speech on the plaza conflicts with earlier decisions construing a nearly-identical statute. The panel decision reversed a lower court decision finding the ban to be “repugnant” to the Constitution and “unreasonable, substantially overbroad, and irreconcilable with the First Amendment.” Rutherford Institute attorneys filed the lawsuit on behalf of activist Harold Hodge, who was arrested while standing silently in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on a snowy day wearing a sign voicing his concerns about the government’s disparate treatment of African-Americans and Hispanics.

“Through a series of carefully crafted legislative steps and politically expedient court rulings, government officials have managed to disembowel this fundamental freedom, rendering the First Amendment with little more meaning than the right to file a lawsuit against government officials,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Ironically, when we appeal this case, it will be the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court who will eventually be asked to decide the constitutionality of their own statute, yet they have already made their views on the subject quite clear.”

On January 28, 2011, Harold Hodge quietly and peacefully stood in the plaza area near the steps leading to the United States Supreme Court Building, wearing a 3’ X 2’ sign around his neck that proclaimed: “The U.S. Gov. Allows Police To Illegally Murder And Brutalize African Americans And Hispanic People.” The plaza is a place where the public is allowed to gather and converse, and is in all relevant respects like a public square or park where citizens have traditionally met to express their views on matters of public interest. However, Hodge was handcuffed, placed under arrest, and then transported to U.S. Capitol Police Headquarters for violating 40 U.S.C. § 6135, which broadly makes it unlawful to display any flag, banner, or device designed to bring into public notice a party, organization, or movement while on the grounds of the U.S. Supreme Court, thereby banning expressive activity on the Supreme Court plaza. Rutherford Institute attorneys subsequently filed a lawsuit challenging § 6135, and in June 2013 a district court judge struck down the law finding it “plainly unconstitutional on its face.” In response, the government not only appealed that ruling, but the marshal for the Supreme Court—with the approval of Chief Justice John Roberts—issued even more strident regulations outlawing expressive activity on the grounds of the high court, including the plaza. Rutherford Institute attorneys have since filed a related lawsuit challenging the Supreme Court’s more strident regulations.

Affiliate attorney Jeffrey Light is assisting The Rutherford Institute with Hodge.

 

LAWRENCEVILLE, Va. — Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have filed a petition with a Virginia Circuit Court challenging an order of the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) cancelling, revoking and/or demanding the return of specialty commemorative license plates issued to the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) bearing the Confederate battle flag on the grounds that such a recall is unauthorized by Virginia law and beyond the power of the DMV. The DMV’s order comes in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that states issuing specialty license plates may engage in viewpoint discrimination when granting applications for specialty license plate designs. However, in the petition challenging the DMV’s September 2015 order, Rutherford Institute attorneys assert the order is unlawful and does not comply with Virginia statutes relating to the cancellation and recall of license plates.

“No matter what the U.S. Supreme Court might say about the matter, the First Amendment is unmistakably clear about the fact that the government has no right to dictate how we should act, what we should believe or what we should say, nor should it be in the business of determining what is or is not offensive, whether such expression appears on a license plate, a T-shirt, or a protest sign,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People.

Under Virginia law, specialty Virginia license plates bearing an organization’s logo and motto in addition to letters and numbers as found on other Virginia license plates may be issued to members and supporters of various organizations or groups. In 1999, The Rutherford Institute and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history and legacy of citizen-soldiers who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, brought a lawsuit against Virginia and the DMV challenging its refusal to include the logo of the SCV which includes the Confederate battle flag. A federal district court ruled in 2001 that the State’s refusal to include the Confederate battle flag on SCV specialty plates constituted viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment. This ruling was upheld by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2002.

Shortly thereafter, the DMV began issuing SCV specialty license plates which included a display of the Confederate battle flag. However, in June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Walker v. Tex. Div. of SCV that specialty license plates do not represent the speech of the individual motorists who purchase them, and that Texas could refuse to issue plates with the SCV’s Confederate battle flag logo. Following the ruling, Virginia’s DMV was granted permission by a federal court to be relieved from the orders entered in 2001 and 2002 respecting the SCV specialty plates. Soon after, the DMV notified SCV members that the previously-issued plates had been cancelled and were being recalled. In legal papers filed with the Circuit Court for Brunswick County, on behalf of Leonard Tracy Clary, Rutherford Institute attorneys challenge the DMV’s decision to cancel, revoke and/or demand the return of the SCV license plates, while ordering that recipients display new plates that do not bear the true logo of the SCV, which includes the Confederate battle flag.

Attorney Fred D. Taylor of Bush & Taylor, P.C., in Suffolk, Va., is assisting The Rutherford Institute in representing Clary and challenging the DMV order.

 

RICHMOND, Va. — A federal court has rejected an attempt by a Virginia police officer to dismiss a lawsuit filed by The Rutherford Institute on behalf of a man who was arrested as he was engaged in a First Amendment protest against President Obama while lawfully carrying a rifle.

The order entered in Brandon Howard v. John Hunter, allows the lawsuit to move forward.

Rutherford Institute attorneys assert that the police violated Howard’s First Amendment right to free speech, Second Amendment right to bear arms, and Fourth Amendment right to be free from a groundless arrest when they confronted him with guns drawn and ordered him to the ground on the unfounded belief that Howard was violating the law by being in public with a rifle slung over his shoulder, when in fact his possession and display of the rifle was wholly legal and did not make him subject to an arrest.  Soon after the incident, the City of Hopewell Police Department  admitted in writing that the incident involved a violation of department policy.

Click here to read The Rutherford Institute’s reply brief in Brandon Howard v. John Hunter .

“As this case shows, if you feel like you can’t walk away from a police encounter of your own volition—and more often than not you can’t, especially when you’re being confronted by someone armed to the hilt with all manner of militarized weaponry and gear—then for all intents and purposes, you’re under arrest from the moment a cop stops you,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Certainly, if you’ve been placed in handcuffs and transported to a police station against your will, that constitutes an arrest.”

On Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, Brandon Howard arrived at an overpass above Interstate 295 in the City of Hopewell, Va., and displayed a 6 foot by 4 foot sign that read “Impeach Obama.” Howard was carrying a DMTS Panther Arms AR-15 rifle slung over his shoulder on a strap, and a .380 caliber Bersa Thunder sidearm pistol in a belted holster on his waist. Howard lawfully owned each firearm and did not point or brandish them at any time while engaged in his First Amendment protest activity on the overpass. Howard displayed his protest sign for 30 minutes, but Howard did not directly engage with anyone.

At about 5:30 p.m., a police officer pulled up to the area, remained in his car and observed Howard. Thereafter, three to five additional police cruisers arrived at the scene with emergency lights engaged.  Approximately eight officers exited these vehicles with their guns drawn and ordered Howard to drop his sign and get on the ground with his hands spread above his head. Howard complied with the officers’ orders.

Despite the fact that Howard at no time made any threatening action toward the officers or anyone else, one police officer allegedly asked Howard, “What do you think you are doing threatening people on my interstate?” Howard explained that he had not threatened anyone but was simply exercising his First and Second amendment rights. Howard was then handcuffed and transported to the police station, where he was left, handcuffed, in an interrogation room for 90 minutes, after which time he had his firearms returned and was released. A month later, the Deputy Chief of Police acknowledged in writing that an internal investigation had concluded that one of the officers violated department policy and would be disciplined and sent to remedial training. Attorney Raul Novo of Richmond, Va., is assisting The Rutherford Institute with the lawsuit.

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If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may be an anti-government extremist (a.k.a. domestic terrorist) in the eyes of the police.

As such, you are now viewed as a greater threat to America than ISIS or al Qaeda.

Let that sink in a moment.

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

I assure you I’m not making this stuff up.

Police agencies now believe the “main terrorist threat in the United States is not from violent Muslim extremists, but from right-wing extremists.”

A New York Times editorial backs up these findings:

Law enforcement agencies around the country are training their officers to recognize signs of anti-government extremism and to exercise caution during routine traffic stops, criminal investigations and other interactions with potential extremists. “The threat is real,” says the handout from one training program sponsored by the Department of Justice. Since 2000, the handout notes, 25 law enforcement officers have been killed by right-wing extremists, who share a “fear that government will confiscate firearms” and a “belief in the approaching collapse of government and the economy.”

So what is the government doing about these so-called terrorists?

The government is going to war.

Again.

Only this time, it has declared war against so-called American “extremists.”

After decades spent waging costly, deadly and ineffective military campaigns overseas in pursuit of elusive ISIS and al Qaeda operatives and terror cells (including the recent “accidental” bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan that left 22 patients and medical staff dead), the Obama administration has announced a campaign to focus its terror-fighting forces inwards.

Under the guise of fighting violent extremism “in all of its forms and manifestations” in cities and communities across the world, the Obama administration has agreed to partner with the United Nations to take part in its Strong Cities Network program. Funded by the State Department through 2016, after which “charities are expected to take over funding,” the cities included in the global network include New York City, Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis, Paris, London, Montreal, Beirut and Oslo.

Working with the UN, the federal government will train local police agencies across America in how to identify, fight and prevent extremism, as well as address intolerance within their communities, using all of the resources at their disposal.

What this program is really all about, however, is community policing on a global scale.

Community policing, which relies on a “broken windows” theory of policing, calls for police to engage with the community in order to prevent local crime by interrupting or preventing minor offenses before they could snowball into bigger, more serious and perhaps violent crime. The problem with the broken windows approach is that it has led to zero tolerance policing and stop-and-frisk practices among other harsh police tactics.

When applied to the Strong Cities Network program, the objective is ostensibly to prevent violent extremism by targeting its source: racism, bigotry, hatred, intolerance, etc.

In other words, police—acting ostensibly as extensions of the United Nations—will identify, monitor and deter individuals who exhibit, express or engage in anything that could be construed as extremist.

Consider how Attorney General Loretta Lynch describes the initiative:

As residents and experts in their communities, local leaders are often best positioned to pinpoint sources of unrest and discord; best equipped to identify signs of potential danger; and best able to recognize and accommodate community cultures, traditions, sensitivities, and customs. By creating a series of partnerships that draws on the knowledge and expertise of our local officials, we can create a more effective response to this virulent threat.

Translation: U.S. police agencies are embarking on an effort to identify and manage potential extremist “threats,” violent or otherwise, before they can become actual threats. (If you want a foretaste of how “extreme” things could get in the U.S.: new anti-terrorism measures in the U.K. require that extremists be treated like pedophiles and banned from working with youngsters and vulnerable people.)

The government’s war on extremists, of which the Strong Cities program is a part, is being sold to Americans in much the same way that the USA Patriot Act was sold to Americans: as a means of combatting terrorists who seek to destroy America.

For instance, making the case for the government’s war on domestic extremism, the Obama administration has suggested that it may require greater legal powers to combat violent attacks by lone wolves (such as “people motivated by racial and religious hatred and anti-government views” who “communicate their hatred over the Internet and through social media”).

Enter the government’s newest employee: a domestic terrorism czar.

However, as we now know, the USA Patriot Act was used as a front to advance the surveillance state, allowing the government to establish a far-reaching domestic spying program that has turned every American citizen into a criminal suspect.

Similarly, the concern with the government’s anti-extremism program is that it will, in many cases, be utilized to render otherwise lawful, nonviolent activities as potentially extremist.

Keep in mind that the government agencies involved in ferreting out American “extremists” will carry out their objectives—to identify and deter potential extremists—in concert with fusion centers (of which there are 78 nationwide, with partners in the private sector and globally), data collection agencies, behavioral scientists, corporations, social media, and community organizers and by relying on cutting-edge technology for surveillance, facial recognition, predictive policing, biometrics, and behavioral epigenetics (in which life experiences alter one’s genetic makeup).

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

For example, in 2009, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released two reports, one on “Rightwing Extremism,” which broadly defines rightwing extremists as individuals and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,” and one on “Leftwing Extremism,” which labeled environmental and animal rights activist groups as extremists.

Incredibly, both reports use the words terrorist and extremist interchangeably.

That same year, the DHS launched Operation Vigilant Eagle, which calls for surveillance of military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, characterizing them as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.”

These reports indicate that for the government, anyone seen as opposing the government—whether they’re Left, Right or somewhere in between—can be labeled an extremist.

Fast forward a few years, and you have the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which President Obama has continually re-upped, that allows the military to take you out of your home, lock you up with no access to friends, family or the courts if you’re seen as an extremist.

Now connect the dots, from the 2009 Extremism reports to the NDAA and the UN’s Strong Cities Network with its globalized police forces, the National Security Agency’s far-reaching surveillance networks, and fusion centers that collect and share surveillance data between local, state and federal police agencies.

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

Hopefully you’re getting the picture, which is how easy it is for the government to identify, label and target individuals as “extremist.”

We’re living in a scary world.

Unless we can put the brakes on this dramatic expansion and globalization of the government’s powers, we’re not going to recognize this country 20 years from now.

Battlefield_Cover_300Frankly, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the landscape has already shifted dramatically from what it was like 10 or 20 years ago. It’s taken less than a generation for our freedoms to be eroded and the police state structure to be erected, expanded and entrenched.

Rest assured that the government will not save us from the chains of the police state. The UN’s Strong Cities Network program will not save us. The next occupant of the White House will not save us. For that matter, anarchy and violent revolution will not save us.

If there is to be any hope of freeing ourselves, it rests—as it always has—at the local level, with you and your fellow citizens taking part in grassroots activism, which takes a trickle-up approach to governmental reform by implementing change at the local level.

Attend local city council meetings, speak up at town hall meetings, organize protests and letter-writing campaigns, employ “militant nonviolent resistance” and civil disobedience, which Martin Luther King Jr. used to great effect through the use of sit-ins, boycotts and marches.

And then, while you’re at it, urge your local governments to nullify everything the federal government does that is illegitimate, egregious or blatantly unconstitutional.

If this sounds anti-government or extremist, perhaps it is, in much the same way that King himself was considered anti-government and extremist. Recognizing that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed,” King’s tactics—while nonviolent—were extreme by the standards of his day.

As King noted in his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham City Jail”:

[A]s I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love—“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist—“This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist—“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love?

So how do you not only push back against the police state’s bureaucracy, corruption and cruelty but also launch a counterrevolution aimed at reclaiming control over the government using nonviolent means?

Take a cue from King.