Let Us Be Patriots

In the great War of the Colonies'/States' Secession from the mother country those loyal to King George III were known as Loyalists. Those supporting the cause of independence and liberty were known as Patriots.

A grande dame of my acquaintance was born and raised in a part of Canada where those Loyalists are held in the highest regard. That's down in eastern Ontario which was known in (U.S.) revolutionary times, or immediately thereafter, as Upper Canada, to distinguish it from French Canada, further down east. The Crown granted land on the north shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence River to the tide of migrants seeking relief from the enmity and (potential and actual) persecution of the patriotic populace of the new country. They became known as United Empire Loyalists and were bestowed with a title or, more correctly, a suffix: U.E., a hereditary construct. Thus Loyalist was a complementary term and a label of pride.

The lady, who lived her entire life in her birth town, and aspired to social status, always felt great chagrin that she couldn't join with many of her friends in the United Empire Loyalist Society because she was not descended from any of those first Anglo settlers and was descended, in part, from Irish immigrants who arrived sometime after the immigration of the Loyalists from the "States." I wonder if she ever realized that those Irish immigrants were refugees of English oppression as opposed to the Loyalists who abandoned or fled from the new nation to the south out of loyalty to the Crown…, one might even say, "Patriotism for England."

Of course, to the U.S. secessionists, the rebels, the Patriots, the term "Loyalist" was pejorative.

Today the word "patriot" is getting more exposure and use in these United States than it has since the War of Colonial Secession. There is a problem in that it seems to have a different meaning now than in those thoughty and exciting days.

First, it has currently been made entirely clear that the patriot is one who is loyal to the administration and its doings and to (US) "King George III." This seems a flip-flop of the traditional, even revered, sense of the Patriot as one who is dedicated to the classically liberal concepts of liberty, limited government and human rights…, and the Loyalist as one dedicated to the establishment.

The media and the (other) voices of the establishment have shamelessly drummed into us the idea that any expressed disagreements with the ideas, policies and actions of the administration are unpatriotic, anti-patriotic, even treasonous. Thank God the first Sedition Act expired in 1800 and its successors were short lived. We do have to be on guard against something of that stripe rearing its ugly head any day now as the current administration gains confidence, on the one hand or, on the other, becomes more desperate. The former seems to be less likely as war and Katrina and subsequent developments reflect poorly on the regime, so we should be more on our guard against stopgap moves.

In the mid-seventies I recall some anxious days worrying that Nixon, in desperation, might try a palace coup. Just a thought!

Second, the establishment had the chutzpah to name its legislation infringing on our liberty and rights the USA Patriot Act. This act, currently being resurrected in the Congress, is the most egregious and overt suppression of the stated rights of the first ten Amendments that we have experienced in modern times. The bluecoats would have been sorely offended. Henry and Mason and Jefferson must be spinning in their graves.

Back in 10th and 11th grades a couple of my buddies and I used to have fun creating crazy acronyms. We never came up with one as tortured, albeit elegant, as this one:

(a) SHORT TITLE- This Act may be cited as the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001."

In its original form the Patriot Act was presented to the Congress to be enacted as permanent, standing law without "sunset" provisions. Even in those panicky days just weeks after 9/11, there were those with the presence of mind to impose sunset limitations on key provisions of the law, especially the more intrusive aspects.

Renewal or extension of many provisions of the Patriot Act is what is being considered now, as the sun sets, in Conference Committee to settle differences between the House version, retaining most of the most egregiously intrusive stipulations and specifying ridiculously long ten year sunsets, and the Senate version which does provide a few protections, mainly in the area of requiring judicial approval of the more intrusive requests and periodical judicial review of some of them.

The Senate version requires specific evidence of likely involvement in terrorist activities for judicial approval of seizure of records and with regard to the covert searches it requires the subject to be notified within seven days after the search (with extensions available). The House version requires the FBI to state to the court only that the search is "relevant" to a terrorist investigation. The House version allows 180 days before the searchee need be notified.

The original law included, in the seizure of business records, libraries and bookstores which had to reveal the books borrowed or bought by specific individuals. There is considerable effort underway to delete those provisions.

The Senate would require that the subject of wiretapping be specifically identified and that the FBI be accountable, after the tap, for the activity. The House version requires none of that and only requires that the court be notified if the location of the tap is changed.

How upset is the voting public over all these invasions of privacy? Not very, it would seem. Much of the specifics is never brought out in the popular press which tends to play the Loyalist role to the ever-growing central state. The opposition to the Act is mentioned only in passing and the propaganda machines crank out the steady stream of promises of security afforded by these "minimal" intrusions.

One wonders, if a line is ever drawn in the sand, with an objective of restoring constitutional governance, rights to life, liberty and property, if the terms "Loyalist" and "Patriot" will be used. And, if so, which will apply to whom? I urge that promoters of the USA "Patriot" Act be labeled Loyalists!

November 8, 2005