From Free Life No. 22, April 1995
ISSN: 0260 5112
A Second American Revolution?
Anthony Furlong (Sean Gabb)
When I look at the United States, I am filled both with alarm and with hope. On the one hand, I see the rapid advance of despotism. On the other, I see a gathering of perhaps all the forces needed to halt that advance and turn it back. I do not know if there will be an insurrection, or a revolution, or a civil war. But whatever may be about to happen in that country will, I am in no doubt, set the course of mankind for centuries to come.
ONE: THE THREAT
The advance of despotism in America is something too plain to require a long description. The voiding of the Constitution and Bill of Rights began in the 1860s, if not before; and the progress of the Federal Government from delegate of the States to its current supremacy has been the history of the United States. But three modern developments are worth noting.
Civil Asset Forfeiture
First, there is the "War on Drugs". The attempted prohibition of acts that do not cause quantifiable harm to third parties is itself a violation of rights, and should always be protested. But the failure of all the usual legal means of enforcing the prohibition has led the Federal Government to other, still more serious, violations. Perhaps the most obvious of these is civil asset forfeiture. The Purpose of the Comprehensive Forfeiture Act 1984 was to strengthen existing laws against "racketeering" – that is, organised crime on a large scale, usually connected with the supply of drugs. The Act allows the authorities to freeze the allegedly tainted assets of an accused person prior to conviction. Such assets can be recovered, but only if the accused person sues for them and can prove that no illegality was involved in their acquisition and in the earning of the money with which they were acquired, and that they were not used for any illegal purpose.
Since this is a civil interlocutory process, there is no Constitutional bar to reversing the burden of proof. Moreover, since all assets may be frozen, it can be difficult for an accused person to obtain the legal assistance needed to recover them. Even when some assets are left unfrozen, an American litigant must pay his own costs regardless of how his case ends. The effect of this is that only a very wealthy accused person who wants to recover very substantial assets can be expected to sue the Federal Government. For everyone else, asset forfeiture is just what it is called – forfeiture. Never mind that a jury may acquit, or even that the case may be dropped before trial, assets frozen are nearly always assets confiscated.
It is, however, the use of asset forfeiture that has transformed it into a weapon of arbitrary power. It has been extended by court decisions and further statutes to cover virtually every crime; and Federal and State agencies empowered to freeze assets now include the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, the United States Marshals Service, the Coast Guard, the Internal Revenue Service, The Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Bureau of Land Management, together with local police forces and the Highway Patrol. The value of assets frozen per year was $27 million in 1986, $644 million in 1991, and is now well past $1 billion.
To see how asset forfeiture works, consider these cases:
- In 1992, in Iowa, "a woman accused of shoplifting a $25 sweater had her $18,000 car – specially equipped for her handicapped daughter – seized as the getaway vehicle".
- In December 1988, Detroit drug police raided a grocery store, but failed to find any drugs. After dogs reacted to three $1.00 bills in the cash register, the police seized $4,384 from cash registers and the store safe. According to The Pittsburgh, Press, over 90 per cent of all cash circulating in the United States shows some drug residue.
- In 1994, a Californian farmer accidentally ran his tractor over a protected rat. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service seized the tractor, worth $50,000 and bought on credit.
- In United States v 403« Skyline Drive (a case in which property was the defendant!), a Los Angeles Court upheld the retrospective seizure of a home for misrepresentations made to a Government-insured loan company.
There are proposals to extend asset forfeiture still wider, so that seizures may be made on mere suspicion, and so that the individual officers making the seizures can receive bonuses based on the value of what they seize. Armed with these powers, the authorities will only need bother themselves with due process when they want to put someone in prison.
Second, there is the gradual abolition of the right to keep arms. Contrary to received opinion, and any reading of the Second Amendment, there is no absolute legal right to own guns in the United States. From a New York Act of 1911 to the Federal Crime Act 1994, there is a long history of restrictions of access to weapons. Even so, hostility has become far more active in recent years; and there is evidence that the Federal authorities are at least planning a very severe further restriction.
Consider a recent questionnaire given to American soldiers:
The U.S. government declares a ban on the possession, sale, transportation, and transfer of all non-sporting firearms. A thirty (30) day amnesty period is permitted for these firearms to be turned over to the local authorities. At the end of this period, a number of citizens' groups refuse to turn over their firearms. Consider the following statement:
I would fire upon U.S. citizens who refuse or resist confiscation of firearms banned by the U.S. government.
Again, in May 1994, between 15 and 20 agents of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Internal Revenue Service entered the Pennsylvania home of Harry and Theresa Lamplugh to carry out a search. Though the Lamplughs fully cooperated with the authorities, opening safes and cabinets as asked, they were repeatedly threatened with a machine gun, and three of their pet cats were killed – one deliberately crushed. Their furniture was smashed, and papers and food were mixed and scattered everywhere. Mr Lamplugh, who is dying from cancer, was refused access to his prescribed medication throughout the six and a half hour search.
The reason for this search? Mr Lamplugh is a gun show promoter. These are entirely legal gatherings, but are famous as meeting places for people who do not like Federal agencies. Among items seized was a complete list of all gun sales assisted by Mr Lamplugh since 1988: this gave the names and addresses of 70 thousand people. Some of these people have since had their homes searched. Mr and Mrs Lamplugh have several times received anonymous telephone calls late at night, threatening them with death if they do not stop complaining.
Third, and following from the above, the Federal Government has started to murder those who make too public a show of collecting guns. At Waco, it gassed or burned to death 67 adults and 17 children. This is one of the most notorious atrocities of recent years committed in a civilised county. It is, however, worth recalling the most damning facts:
- That the authorities claimed that they only wanted to question David Koresh about (anonymous) allegations of child abuse and weapons stockpiling – he went jogging alone in town almost every morning;
- That they chose to execute a search warrant on the compound by sending in more than 200 agents armed with machine guns, grenades, helicopters and military tanks;
- The reporters were threatened with "tragic consequences" if they came unaccompanied within two miles of the compound;
- That one of the Davidians was shot by the FBI for trying to get into the compound, and that his body was left hanging on the fence for three days while it was eaten by wild dogs;
- That all that remained of the compound after the fire was levelled by the FBI before the arson investigators were allowed in.
Aside from the above, there are repeated rumours that hardly seem credible – of Russian tanks and artillery seen driving along country roads, of foreign troops drilling on American soil, of plans to abolish cash transactions, of martial law, of concentration camps ready and waiting to hold up to a million "dissidents". The Internet is full of speculation about what the Federal Government intends to do next. Doubtless, Americans are famous for paranoid speculation about everything from the Kennedy assassination to the Moon landings. But there is plenty if indubitable evidence of anti-Constitutional action.
TWO: THE RESPONSE
During the past few years, there has been an enormous growth of citizen militias in the United States. Largely rural, middle class groups, these have the best weapons that can be bought or stolen. They are trained by veterans who learned everything worth knowing from the Vietcong about guerilla warfare. They correspond with each other using the securest new encryption. They have sympathisers in the regular armed forces; and, in spite of the possibly desired use of the armed forces against citizens, there is good reason to doubt the loyalty of many units.
Spokesmen for the militias claim that they are purely defensive organisations. According to John Turner, a member of the Texas Constitutional Militia,
We're 90 per cent real Christians. We don't want to start blowing up bridges or sniping at judges.
But thei purpose is to deter. They will protect people like the Lamplughs, and journalists who may be threatened for exposing Federal abuses. The general mood is that the authorities must not be allowed to get away with another Waco. The long shredding of the American Constitution must be stopped.
Naturally, the establishment media has portrayed the militia movement as a front for racists and bigots. The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organisation, has even produced a long smear, claiming that the militias have been infiltrated, where not set up, by anti-semites. This report is remarkable for its collection of so many wilful lies and half-truths into so small a space. But it is apparent that the Anti-Defamation League is not quite the fearless enemy of anti-semitism that it used to be: it seems now largely to fabricate what it cannot provoke. After all, a budget of $30 million would be rather a lot to spend against a few elderly cranks who believe inter alia that the blood of gentile children is exported to Israel.
Denouncing the report, Mark Bowers, a former artillery officer who commands the Montgomery County Militia near Houston, says:
I'm Jewish and I take offence to that. There's nobody of that ilk in our unit. We're trying to recruit blacks, Latinos, Jews, women, anybody who wants to join.
Probably, the militias do contain the usual fools, who always miss the point with their talk of white supremacy and homosexual plots. But increasingly, the members are talking a different language.
Via the Internet, I have just received parts of a magazine called The Resister. Though produced on a stencil duplicator, photocopies and electronic uploads give it an immense circulation among the militias. Fearing for their lives, its authors hide behind pseudonyms. There are proposals to make distributing it a criminal offence. I will not quote any of the classified material that it prints. But I will quote from the Editorial:
The Resister is a response to the altruistic cannibalism which is consuming the principle of inalienable individual rights upon which this nation was founded and which have been served up in sacrifice to the mob god of democracy, the minority god of tribalism, the nature god of environmentalism, the slave god of collectivism, and the statist god of socialism.
Do you want to know who we are? We are the individuals who conceive the ideas the cretinous mob calls 'the team effort.' We are the individuals whose excellence is subverted by the racist policy of 'equal opportunity.' We are the independent, innovative, and creative who have been enslaved to serve the 'greater good.' Without us you would still be prying roots out of the ground with a pointed stick….
Every whim based, undefined, un-judicable law it passes; every unconstitutional gang of armed badge wielding thugs it deploys; every unconstitutional agency it creates; every incomprehensible special interest regulation it mandates; every dime extorted through taxation and redistributed to the incompetent and undeserving; every American life lost in some altruistic war, humanitarian assistance, or peacekeeping operation, demonstrates the illegitimacy of the federal government.
The federal government is not 'of the people,' it is the instrument of pull-peddlers. It is not 'by the people,' it is the toady of special interests. It is not 'for the people,' it is the exercise of force for the sake of force.
Pass laws against us; we will not obey. Regulate our activities; we will not comply. Legislate our behavior; we will not consent.
We are free men. We will not be subjugated. We have the guns to prove it.
As a call to arms, these words are worthy of Jefferson. They are the manifesto of a second American Revolution. I can imagine how they are read and reread in the citizen militias; and how before long, they may be hurled in the faces of a corrupt ruling class that has turned America into a land of civil asset forfeiture, gun control, and Waco-style massacres.
THREE: OUR OWN RESPONSE
Here, I feel it prudent to address a few words to my own ruling class – words which, having been prompted and approved by the Editor of this journal and by my friend and Proprietor Mr Tame, can be regarded as an official statement of the British libertarian movement.
Neither Free Life nor the Libertarian Alliance advocates armed insurrection in the United Kingdom. To be justified, it is not by itself enough for violence to be in a good cause: it must be plain that violence is the only means by which that cause can be advanced, and that the alternative to violence is an intolerable despotism. It is also necessary that the violence chosen should be a reasonably effective means of advancing the cause. None of these conditions applies in the United Kingdom.
In the first place, an insurrection here has at the moment no likely chance of success. Unlike the Americans, we have already been disarmed; and, except among the Ulstermen, what tradition we have of armed resistance to the authorities has long since atrophied. Even if a few of us were to import weapons and train secretly in their use, we should have no support from any large section of the general public. It would be easy for the authorities to mobilise opinion against us, and to keep us as isolated and ineffective as the IRA has usually been in the mainland United Kingdom.
In the second place, I must admit that, on the whole, the British Government is rather gentle compared with the American. It does not murder its opponents on anything like the same scale. It has not to the same extent sidestepped the restraints of due process by taking criminal matters into the civil courts.
Nor is it so able to ignore calls for reform. The bureaucracy is smaller. Ministers are not so isolated from everyday life. The special interest groups are less completely in charge of policy. Everyone is less corrupt. Despite the formal veil of secrecy, our system is often more transparent, and more open to the influence of informed public opinion.
Yet, though we currently reject the use of political violence in this country, we entirely support the citizen militias in their opposition to the Federal Government. At the same time, we undertake to give that opposition all help that may be lawfully within our means. The struggle of any libertarian, anywhere in the world, is the struggle of all libertarians; and we are aware that the collapse of liberty in the United States will immeasurably weaken it in other countries.
This being said, what if there is second American revolution, and a libertarian government takes office in a new American Federation – how are we as British libertarians to respond? The answer, I suggest, is simple. When the Bolsheviks took power in 1917, the more extreme socialists everywhere in the world became accustomed to looking at least for guidance to Moscow. A British communist in 1935 saw himself firstly not as a British citizen, but as the agent of a foreign power, and his first duty as working for the supremacy in this country of that foreign power's ideology.
And that is how we shall be. My Editor calls himself an English patriot, who puts his own country and its free traditions first. I wait to see what he will call himself if ever those traditions have been obliterated here, but are supreme elsewhere.
For myself, I shall feel no internal conflict; and I invite my readers to join me in wishing every success to our comrades across the Atlantic.
Editor's Note: I wish to confirm that Free Life does not advocate or support the breach of any United Kingdom law.
© 1995 – 2017, seangabb.
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