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 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.