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Police State

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Welcome to the American Police State, my friends, where a law-abiding citizen has his door broken down, is hauled off to jail by a small army of some 60 officers, and is held without bail for four months.

His crime: virtually nothing.

Of course this is science fiction, you say. Well, not exactly. It happened last summer to a man named Lovell A. Wheeler in Baltimore, who happens to be a “white supremacist” or a “white separatist” or something.

Whatever his exact beliefs, they are beside the point. Then again, it turns out they were the point.

Mr. Wheeler, whose case the Washington Post detailed this week, received a visit last June from Baltimore police after complaints he was storing gunpowder in his house. During the visit, Mr. Wheeler told the cops, ““The war is going to start in the city, and I am ready and need more troops to help in the fight.” [Supremacist Case Unites Improbable Contingent, By Tim Craig, Washington Post, October 26, 2003]

Two days after sharing his thoughts with Baltimore’s Finest, the cops came back—this time in the form of what the Post calls “a tactical team,” which means heavily armed troopers ready for combat—the kind that might be used against really dangerous criminals and terrorists like the women and children at Waco or the Randy Weaver family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

The “tactical team,” as Mr. Wheeler’s wife Elizabeth told the Post,“chopped down my front door with an ax, and 60 people came in.” Mrs. Wheeler is reported to be a member of the National Alliance, described by the Post as a “West Virginia-based neo-Nazi group.”Mr. Wheeler says he is not a member but sympathizes with its views.

As for the gunpowder, yes, indeed. The “tactical team” discovered “62 pounds of gunpowder, 16,000 rounds of ammunition, 22 guns, body armor and thousands of weapons parts,” according to court documents cited by the Post.

Mr. Wheeler, say his lawyers, is “a machinist, a gunsmith, and this is what he has done all his life.” He “makes and sells guns” and therefore has entirely legitimate reasons for the arsenal in his home.

His defenders say the real reason he was arrested was his beliefs. One Baltimore defense attorney, Warren A. Brown, quoted by the Post, remarks, “If he was an ordinary dope dealer with guns in his house, he would have bail, but because he is a white supremacist, they stick it to him.”

University of Maryland law professor Douglas Colbert says, “A general statement of ‘I expect there to be a race war, and I am prepared for it’ falls far short of direct and imminent violence that could result in bail being denied under similar circumstances.” He also says “he does not recall a case in which someone has been denied bail under similar circumstances.”

As it happens, Mr. Wheeler’s political views were precisely the reason for his arrest. The Post shows that after the first police visit, the Baltimore cops asked the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force about the National Alliance and were told it “poses a risk for domestic terrorism” (not, note well, that it is a terrorist group or has carried out terrorism, let alone that Mr. Wheeler is a terrorist, but that it “poses a risk” of terrorism—sort of like Iraq’s non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction posed a “gathering threat” rather than an “imminent threat”).

Only after hearing about the National Alliance did the cops decide to take out Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler’s front door. The couple, quite frankly, is lucky to be alive.

As of this week, the charge against Mr. Wheeler—that he “created a substantial risk of death or serious injury to the citizens of Baltimore” because of his arsenal and his “connection” to the National Alliance—has been dropped. What remained were three misdemeanor charges: reckless endangerment, possession of smokeless powder without a license, and improper storage of smokeless powder.

This week he pled guilty to these heinous crimes and got a five-year suspended sentence. He can go home but no more guns.

Mr. Wheeler’s case attracted the support of what the Post calls “an unlikely coalition of civil libertarians, gun enthusiasts and African American lawyers” that saw it as part of an emerging trend toward the erosion of civil liberties under the mask of “counter-terrorism.”

But not everyone agrees.

The Post also cites David Friedman of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith that people like Mr. Wheeler “need to be watched closely.”

“The combination of extremist ideology and weapons is something that law enforcement has an obligation to make sure that the person is just not wandering the streets,” Mr. Friedman told the Post.

Mr. Friedman might want to work on his syntax. His grasp of freedom is well beyond repair.

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Somehow congressional delay in passing the administration’s Homeland Security bill, which creates yet another appendage of the vast federal leviathan, supposedly to protect us from terrorists and their colleagues, has not yet resulted in the destruction of the Republic.

While senators are bickering over the managerial details of the new department, they might also want to stop for a few minutes and ask themselves just how far they’re ready to go in creating the infrastructure of a police state.

Pretty far, if what senior Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware said a few weeks ago. Spouting off on one of the Sunday talk shows, Mr. Biden, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced that the military should be empowered to arrest civilians. Not since the days of Reconstruction has the federal government actually done anything like that, but then, “reconstruction” is more or less exactly what the Republic is facing these days.

Mr. Biden said the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which forbids the military from performing law enforcement functions and arresting civilians, “has to be amended.” The rationale he offered was that “it’s not very realistic” for soldiers who might be checking out a supposed weapon of mass destruction, to “not be able to exercise the same power a police officer would in dealing with that situation.”

“Right now,” he explained, “when you call in the military, the military would not be able to shoot to kill, if they were approaching the weapon,” and they couldn’t arrest anyone either.

Therefore the law must be changed.

Mr. Biden apparently thinks the soldiers would arrest the weapon. The point of course is for soldiers trained in such matters to detect and disarm the weapon. The police can arrest the suspects. As for shooting to kill, if the troops needed to do that to protect their lives or those of others, nobody is going to object.

In short, Mr. Biden offered only the thinnest reasons for yet another vast expansion of federal power.

Tom Ridge, the current security czar, said on the same day that he thought the need for such powers was “very unlikely,” and that’s refreshing—perhaps—though not as much as what he might have said. Mr. Ridge, as well as the attorney general and maybe even the president himself, might have said that what the Delaware Democrat was suggesting was totally unwarranted and unjustified and that under no circumstances would they favor giving the military the power of rounding up civilians.

It’s interesting no one said that.

What administration spokesmen did say, aside from Mr. Ridge’s opaque remark, came from the president’s appointed general in charge of domestic security, Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, the commander of the Pentagon’s Northern Command. “We should always be reviewing things like the Posse Comitatus Act and other laws,” said the general, “if we think it ties our hands in protecting the American people.” Sure, but does it tie anyone’s hands, and should it be amended?

The general didn’t say, but the New York Times to which he didn’t say it, reported that what he did say about amending the law reflects a “shift in thinking by many top Pentagon officials, who have traditionally been wary of involving the military in domestic law enforcement.” [NYT, "Wider Military Role in U.S. Is Urged" -- Eric Schmitt July 21, 2002 Capitalist pay archive--free copy here!!]

They haven’t been the only ones wary of it, nor is their thinking the only one to start shifting.

The Posse Comitatus Act was passed to outlaw military intervention in Southern elections after the end of Reconstruction but also to avoid what many Americans of that day understood to be a danger to Republican government—having the military, an arm of the federal government, perform a function that citizens, through their local communities, were supposed to do for themselves.

Today, of course, neither top brass like Gen. Eberhart nor leading senators like Mr. Biden have the foggiest notion of what a republic is, how it functions, and how confusing functions can destroy it.

Nor is there anyone in the Bush administration who knows much more.

What no one seems to have noticed, in the 11 months that have passed since Sept. 11, is that there has been no need whatsoever for most of the drastic “emergency” counter-terrorist measures that the administration has insisted were needed to fight terrorism and prevent future attacks.

The one measure that is necessary—deporting illegal aliens and halting all legal immigration, at least for a while—has not even been suggested.

Nor has anyone shown any “need” to turn the military into policemen.

Before lawmakers and Pentagon desk jockeys come up with any more bright ideas for turning what once was a constitutional republic into a full blown police state, maybe they should all sit down and read a few good books on what a free republic really is and how it does—and doesn’t—survive..

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Police State 
Sam Francis
About Sam Francis

Dr. Samuel T. Francis (1947-2005) was a leading paleoconservative columnist and intellectual theorist, serving as an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Patrick Buchanan and as an editorial writer, columnist, and editor at The Washington Times. He received the Distinguished Writing Award for Editorial Writing of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in both 1989 and 1990, while being a finalist for the National Journalism Award (Walker Stone Prize) for Editorial Writing of the Scripps Howard Foundation those same years. His undergraduate education was at Johns Hopkins and he later earned his Ph.D. in modern history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

His books include The Soviet Strategy of Terror(1981, rev.1985), Power and History: The Political Thought of James Burnham (1984); Beautiful Losers: Essays on the Failure of American Conservatism (1993); Revolution from the Middle: Essays and Articles from Chronicles, 1989–1996 (1997); and Thinkers of Our Time: James Burnham (1999). His published articles or reviews appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, National Review, The Spectator (London), The New American, The Occidental Quarterly, and Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, of which he was political editor and for which he wrote a monthly column, “Principalities and Powers.”