Our Civil Liberties, RIP

Amidst all the justified outrage over the apparent targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups by the IRS, not to mention the Associated Press phone tapping brouhaha, an important point is being lost: this is nothing new. The Tea Partiers may be shocked – shocked! – that the Big Government they have spent the last few years complaining about really is a threat to our liberties, but the government targeting certain political groups wholly on account of their views is hardly breaking news. Just ask the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), which had set up an “Antiwar Committee” whose members have been spied on, indicted, and arrested for engaging in legal, constitutionally protected activities.

The FBI had sent a pair of infiltrators into the Antiwar Committee, and, on September 24, 2010, a veritable army of FBI agents launched simultaneous raids on antiwar activists in Minneapolis, Chicago, and Grand Rapids (Michigan). They seized computers, cell phones, passports, documents, family photos and even children’s artwork. Agents issued 14 subpoenas ordering the recipients to testify before a Chicago federal grand jury, and showed warrants indicating that the feds were searching for evidence related to “material support for terrorism.” A total of 23 people have since been handed subpoenas commanding them to appear before the grand jury in Chicago: all have refused. The FBI “investigation” – i.e. fishing expedition – is continuing.

At the time of these raids, we heard not a single protest from the “Tea Party” groups that are now loudly protesting their own victimization at the hands of the government: the leftists targeted by the FBI were just another group of “terrorists,” left to fight against their targeting and prosecution largely alone. Now that conservatives have been put in the crosshairs in a similar manner, however – singled out by a government agency for “special treatment” on account of their politics – their sympathizers in Congress are making a big stink about it and the headlines are alight with their outrage.

The Tea Partiers’ problem is that their protests come far too late – because the legal and political precedents targeting dissident groups were established long ago, with the full complicity and even enthusiastic support of most of those who call themselves “conservatives” these days. The “Patriot” Act – passed with conservative support – gives the government the “right” to not only spy on such groups, it also gives them the means to spy on anyone, for any reason, as well as the prosecutorial “tools” to put them away forever. Law enforcement agencies have set up “fusion centers” in order to collect information on American citizens who might be considered a “threat.” A recent report on “right-wing extremism” issued by the Department of Homeland Security” listed groups local law enforcement should keep tabs on, including members of the Libertarian and Constitution parties, as well as Ron Paul supporters. Efforts by the FBI and local police to infiltrate and set up members of the “Occupy” movement have been widespread.

Perhaps the Tea Partiers are unfamiliar with the long history of government repression of marginalized ideological groupings: during the 1960s, the FBI’s “Cointelpro” program targeted left-wing and black nationalist groups, sending in infiltrators, organizing disruption, and setting up prominent activists for “legal” repression.

As long as the subjects of official repression were almost exclusively confined to the left side of the political spectrum – the Black Panthers, the Communists, etc. – the Tea Party types could not have cared less. After all, these are “anti-American” extremists and the Tea Partiers were happy to join in with the general cry of “Off with their heads!” Now that the shoe is on the other foot, however, they are screaming bloody murder.

The same sort of hypocrisy occurs on what passes for the “left” these days. The response of liberal pundits to the revelation that the IRS has been targeting conservative groups for “special” treatment has brought out their authoritarian streak: these groups should be subject to special scrutiny, says Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzick, because they’re engaged in “chicanery.” Go and read the comments to this article in the Huffington Post about the IRS scandal: they’re all cheering on the IRS! Imagine if this had happened during the Bush II era, and the IRS was caught targeting liberal groups – we’d never hear the end of it from the Huffpo types and the liberal media.

This is the way our civil liberties are continually eroded, with virtually no pushback when the government singles out, demonizes, and tries to destroy a targeted group. When the government went after David Koresh and his followers at Waco, liberals were either silent or else actively cheerleading the slaughter. When the headquarters of MOVE, a Philadelphia black nationalist group, was bombed, and the entire neighborhood decimated, not a peep of protest was heard on the right. When the Tea Partiers complain about being targeted, and Rand Paul launches a filibuster conjuring up images of Americans being targeted by drones on American soil, liberals and their media megaphones descry the “black helicopters crowd” and talk about the “paranoia” of the “far right.” When it’s the liberals and the left warning about the dangers of an encroaching police state in the age of terrorism, conservatives start ranting about how “terrorist-loving” liberals and the ACLU are out to destroy America.

While right and left go at each other, the machinery of repression is being readied. The most recent – and chilling – example: a recent Pentagon-initiated change to the US Code would give military commanders powers equal to the President in wartime. As the revised language of the Code puts it:

“Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.”

When is it “impossible” for the President to duly authorize military action? This is never defined. What is “temporary”? This, too, goes undefined. And what about the Insurrection and Posse Comitatus Acts which limit and regulate the manner in which the military may intervene in domestic affairs? The revised regulations eviscerate both acts, and throw the door wide open to rule by the military in an ill-defined “emergency.” And hardly anybody notices!

That’s the state of civil liberties in the US these days: the government is spying on reporters, IRS agents are harassing political activists, FBI agents are raiding antiwar organizations, and the Pentagon is busy getting the legal machinery up and running in the event they feel the need to impose martial law. The reason they can get away with this, politically, is because the right doesn’t care if the government comes down hard on the left, while the left openly agitates for the instruments of repression to be used against the right. There is no sense that we’re all in this together: that if the government can move against the Tea Partiers, then the antiwar activists are next. It’s all about whose ox is being gored – not whether our liberties are endangered by a regime emboldened by unaccountable power.


You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].