By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. – As the United States of America celebrates her 237th birthday, one critical question comes to mind.
Would the Founding Fathers, some of whom pledged their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” to each other in the Declaration of Independence, recognize the nation they forged in an inspirational foundry of the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Absolutely not, according to constitutional experts who lament the loss of liberty under the guise of security.
WHAT CONSTITUTION? Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles like this one in Arizona are becoming commonplace in increasingly militarized police departments.
In a nation that has seen its local police forces grow increasingly militarized, its skies filling with drones, and its phones and computers tapped into by a massive, secretive government agency, the founders’ vision of liberty has become clouded by government intrusion.
“Most egregiously, they would be disturbed by the (National Security Agency) surveillance network,” said Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Northampton, Mass.-based Bill of Rights Defense Committee. “All of the levers and checks and balances built into the system have failed.
“What we are beginning to recognize is that this is a precursor of thought crimes, or at the very least (NSA domestic spying) will discourage people from adopting unpopular beliefs, and those are precisely the kinds of beliefs that breathe life into our democracy,” said Buttar, whose constitutional rights and liberties organization grew out of backlash to the U.S. Patriot Act.
Cheryl K. Chumley of the Washington Times is a veteran reporter on liberty issues. She’s also the author of Police State USA, which documents how America has abandoned its founding principles and what needs to be done to restore them.
She said the Founding Fathers’ greatest gift to the United States was clearly defining that its citizens rights come from God, not the government. They are natural rights, not man-made.
But the federal government, particularly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, has forced the erosion of basic constitutional rights, in the name of security, Chumley said.
“The saddest part is that most of these actions and regulations proposed for counterterrorism are not leading to any good counterterrorism intelligence. They are actually being used against innocent Americans,” she said in an interview with Wisconsin Reporter.
And the nebulous War on Terror is being fought more and more at home, against American citizens, constitutional experts say.
Now local police forces are being equipped with the kind of weaponry the U.S. military used to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In her reporting, Chumley has tracked at least 400 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected armored fighting vehicles going to local law enforcement agencies across the country. Police departments have picked up another 450 regular armored vehicles, 100,000 machine guns and most frightening of all, Chumley says, sniper technology rife silencers.
And it’s all been conducted under the Pentagon’s 1033 Program, which has sent millions of pieces of battlefield equipment to domestic police forces since 1994.
“Police department around America have changed in the last few years,” Chumley said. “They are not so much to protect and serve; they are more aggressive, with a shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach.”
Case in point, the botched drug raid in Habersham County, Ga., that left a toddler fighting for his life after police tossed a “flash bang” grenade in the boy’s playpen. The “no-knock warrant” raid netted no drugs and no dealer, but it did send Bounkham Phonesavanh, known to his family as “Bou Bou,” to the hospital for several weeks with a badly damaged lung, a detached nose and injuries to his lips and mouth.
Chumley said the militarization of local law enforcement should come as no surprise. President Obama, then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008, promised as much.
“We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that is just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded,” Obama said at a campaign stop in Boulder, Colo., on July 2, 2008.
“When we have innocent Americans who are supposed to be served and protected by law enforcement officials being hurt and killed, that needs to come to immediate halt,” Chumley said.
Maybe liberty is in more peril today, but America’s Founding Fathers struggled to uphold the lofty principles they espoused. Certainly the main author of the Declaration of Independence, as a slaveholder, struggled with the notion that “all men are created equal.”
And what of John Adams and the series of liberty-restricting laws in 1798 known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts? Those laws at least in part prohibited protesting the government, curtailed immigration based on political views and compromised the freedom of the press.
The difference today, Chumley said, is that the encroachments of government on individual liberty are occurring on a daily basis, led by a president leading more and more by executive order and a Congress that is not listening to the American people.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, Buttar said. He said Americans are pushing back, pointing to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the “Paul Revere of our times,” as an example of an American who will risk their freedom to defend liberty.
Citizens in cities across the country, too, are standing up and rejecting the deployment of drones and militarized equipment by their police, Buttar said.
“That’s where we the people will make ourselves heard,” he said.
Chumley agreed, noting conservatives and liberals coming together to resist constitutional abuses by government. But saving liberty, she said, will require a fix from the founders.
“Our Founding Fathers said the republic can’t stand if its citizens are not informed,” shesaid. “I advise everyone to read the Constitution and pay attention to what’s going on so they know where they can fight.”