The Instruments of Tyranny

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Two years ago,
in an article entitled “It
Can’t Happen Here
,” Congressman Ron Paul cautioned,
“We are not yet living in a total police state, but it is fast
approaching.”

A lot can happen
in two years.

In fact, a
lot has happened over the past two years, most of it aimed
at amassing greater power for the government while undermining the
rights of American citizens. And I would venture to say that Rep.
Paul’s fears may have come to pass.

For example,
sometime in the past two years, President Bush quietly claimed the
authority to allow government agents to open the private mail of
American citizens, proclaimed his right to assume control of the
federal government following a “catastrophic emergency,”
and assumed the power to declare martial law and use the military
as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, disease
outbreak, terrorist attack or any “other condition.” However,
these incidents are just the tip of the iceberg.

Unless you’ve
been asleep for the past decade, the increasing militarization of
the police has become an inescapable and ominous reality. The role
of law enforcement, especially local police officers, has drastically
changed from when I was a child in the 1950s. The friendly local
sheriff in The Andy Griffith Show has been shelved for the
federal gun-toting terrorist-killer in the popular television series
24.

Some might
insist that the new face of law enforcement is warranted, a sign
of the times in which we live. After all, whereas we once feared
nuclear attacks by the Russians, we now fear each other and the
predators that lurk in our midst – serial killers, drug pushers,
home-grown and imported terrorists, perverts who prey on small children,
the list goes on.

Thus, in order
to better deal with these and other threats, congressional legislation
now allows the U.S. military, by way of the Pentagon, to train civilian
police and provide them with equipment and funding. As a result,
our law enforcement agents are armed to the teeth. For example,
in Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America
(2006), author Radley Balko points out that in “Wisconsin alone
during the 1990s, local police departments were given nearly 100,000
pieces of military equipment valued at more than $18 million.”
Columbia County, Wisc., which only has a population of 52,468, was
given more than 5,000 military items valued at $1.75 million by
the Pentagon. These included “11 M-16s, 21 bayonets, four boats,
a periscope, and 41 vehicles, one of which was converted into a
mobile command center for the SWAT team” – along with
surveillance equipment, chemical suits and flak jackets, among other
items.

Debating which
came first – increased threats requiring greater fire power or
heavily armed law enforcement agents in search of greater threats – might
seem too much like the chicken or the egg debate, but the numbers
speak for themselves. By the early 1980s, there were 3,000 annual
SWAT deployments, by 1996 there were 30,000 and by 2001 there were
40,000. Incredibly, these forces conduct approximately 40,000 “no-knock”
raids annually across the U.S., some of which are tracked by the
Cato Institute on an interactive map on its website.

One thing is
undeniable: armed police officers have become a force to be reckoned
with. However, it’s not just local law enforcement that’s
loaded for bear. As the federalization of law enforcement continues
to grow, more types of federal agents are packing heat. As of September
2004, federal agencies employed about 106,000 full-time personnel
authorized to make arrests and carry firearms.

Yet FBI agents
are only a small portion of the armed federal personnel. Everyone
from postal agents, the Internal Revenue Service, the National Park
Service and the Environmental Protection Agency to agents of the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Army Corps of Engineers are now
carrying deadly weapons. In Virginia, for example, game wardens
were recently renamed “conservation police officers” in
an effort to clarify their role as sworn law enforcement officers
who are armed and able to make arrests.

Writing for
World Net Daily, Joseph Farah declared, “What we’ve witnessed
is the biggest arms buildup in the history of the federal government – and
it’s not taking place in the Defense Department. The kind of
arms that are proliferating in Washington these days are the kind
pointed at our own civilian population and carried by a growing
number of federal police forces with ever-larger budgets and ever-deadlier
arsenals.”

“Good
grief,” remarked Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America, “that’s
a standing army.” At all levels, federal, local and state,
the government and the police have merged. And in the process, they
have become a standing army – which is exactly what the Founders
feared.

Those
who drafted the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights had an enormous
distrust of standing armies. They knew that despotic governments
have always used standing armies to control the people and impose
tyranny. As James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, wrote,
“A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will
not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence against
foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.”
These “instruments of tyranny” are now in place.

Thus, it may
very well be that we are already living in a police state –
and that it’s all over but the shouting. But still we have
to shout.

August
4, 2007

Constitutional
attorney and author John W. Whitehead [send
him mail
] is founder and president of The
Rutherford Institute
.

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