Lest any observer refuse at this late date to acknowledge that the full weight of the police state is pressed on the American citizenry’s neck, let the recent developments in Portland, Oregon settle the debate conclusively.
Unidentified federal police are now snatching American citizens off the streets of Portland. Their victims receive no due process because the proceedings are entirely extrajudicial – no warrants, no Miranda warnings, no phone calls to lawyers.
Despite constant derision as “tin-foil” hat conspiracy theorists by the corporate press, libertarians’ warnings of an impending police state in what was once the Land of the Free have nonetheless proven prophetic.
The American Empire’s illegal wars of aggression in the Middle East served as fertile testing grounds for long-term occupation and martial law. Keen observers correctly warned in the aftermath of 9/11 that the ruling class would insidiously rework its imperialist-like door-kicking siege tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan into domestic policy.
Those warnings, once dismissed, are now vindicated in spades.
Forcing people into passenger vehicles with no explanation or identification is illegal in every civilized nation on Earth. The right to occupy public space without fear of extrajudicial violence is at the core of Western democracy. By no accident was the right to peaceably assemble enshrined in the First Amendment; it is a prime right on which all others hinge.
When non-credentialed individuals commit the same act as the unidentified federal police have committed and are committing still on the streets of Portland, that is a prosecutable felony called “kidnapping.”
So far, none of the federal stormtroopers nor the bureaucrats directing them have apparently received as much as a verbal reprimand. On the contrary, many office-holders at the highest levels have praised them.
What happened to equal justice under the law? Obviously, that is a rhetorical question to which there is no answer in 21st century America.
In the Land of the Free, prosecutors frequently sidestep prosecuting (i.e., doing their jobs) the police in their respective jurisdictions on the grounds that American law enforcement is inexplicably granted “qualified immunity” that makes holding its agents liable for illegal activity while on the job virtually impossible.
Although the legal waters of qualified immunity are murky, the special legal carve-out essentially gives police carte blanche approval to brutalize citizens with no fear of professional or personal consequences. Hence, the violence seen on the streets of America following the extrajudicial murder of George Floyd in May.
Never mind that the sitting president of the United States is a Republican. The GOP used to pay lip service to the enforcement of constitutional checks on federal power. Those days of pretense are finished.
On July 19, as the draconian crackdown made national news, Trump had an opportunity to, at the very least, thread the PR needle rhetorically to try to ease the tension. In typical fashion, he threw gasoline on the fire instead, implicitly encouraging heavy-handed police action against the “real deal.”
“We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE. These were not merely protesters, these are the real deal!” Trump tweeted. He referred to kidnapped American citizens elsewhere as “anarchists” and “agitators.”
The managers of American Empire have subtly shifted the Overton Window. While once a rhetorical necessity for a prominent Republican, elected officials no longer feel sufficient pressure to feign reverence for states’ rights or civil liberties.
The American Empire once reserved its open-air human rights abuses committed in broad daylight for the victims of its aggressive foreign policy. Now, as the adage goes, it seems America’s chickens have come home to roost.
Juxtapose Trump’s characterization of his domestic federal police deployment as “trying to help” with the video evidence supplied by citizen journalists on the ground in Portland.
As if straight off the battlefield in Kandahar, masked agents in full military gear can be seen in multiple videos snatching individual targets off of the streets, herding the targets into rental minivans with no police markings, and speeding off to some undetermined location.
The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 expressly forbids the U.S. government from employing “any part of the Army of the United States, as a posse comitatus, or otherwise, for the purpose of executing the laws.”
While crafty lawyers will assuredly argue that placing federal stormtroopers on the streets of Portland is not tantamount to a violation of the Act as long as those boots on the ground are not technically employees of the Defense Department, such actions obviously violate the spirit of the Act as well as the Bill of Rights.
Local law enforcement (i.e. patrolling the streets) is solely the jurisdiction of the states and their respective counties and municipalities. One need not be a constitutional scholar to understand the clear intention of the founders in this regard. They wrote in the 10th Amendment of the Constitution:
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
As the power of civilian policing is evidenced nowhere in the Constitution, local law enforcement falls in the purview of the states per the 10th Amendment.
Recent developments indicate that Oregon’s state government may be making headway in its attempt to extract federal agents from its most populous city’s streets. The 10th Amendment constitutional crisis shows no signs of abating anytime soon, however, even if federal troops leave as early news reports have indicated they might – for the time being.
One of the essential practical challenges that snag libertarians is that, as a movement, its proponents often argue on the strategy while implicitly (often unconsciously) conceding the principle at stake. The Portland dilemma serves as a clear example.
Getting bogged down in the strategy is counterproductive. To reach true pay dirt, civil libertarians must strike at the principle in question – the ideological root of the problem – that the federal government has no legitimate claim to act as local-level law enforcement. Full stop.
Nothing short of a complete gutting and reimagining of American law enforcement will suffice.