How American ‘Conservatives’ Went from Fighting the Police State — to Worshiping It

William N. Grigg | FreeThoughtProject

While “police brutality and false claims of police abuse can be minimized,” isolated and increasingly rare violent deaths of on-duty police officers should be seen as part of a “war on police” being waged primarily by Marxist-aligned black radicals, contends The New American magazine. The September 21st issue of that fortnightly periodical, entitled “Police Under Fire,” inaugurates a renewed national “Support Your Local Police” campaign by the John Birch Society, which publishes the magazine.

The issue’s tone is set by the cover illustration, which depicts a police officer clad in black stormtrooper attire facing what appears to be a hostile demonstration. To the left of the faceless police officer can be seen the glaring face of a college-age Latino man.

That choice of cover photo stands in dramatic contrast to the one selected by The New American for its 1994 “Toward a Police State” special issue. The photo chosen for the earlier cover displayed an ATF officer clad in military fatigues, carrying an assault rifle, and glaring at the camera with ill intent.

The 1994 “police state” cover portrayed a militarized law enforcement officer as a harbinger of tyranny. The “Police Under Fire” cover invites the reader to see a militarized police officer as a human barricade protecting the innocent public against a gathering mass of urban radicalism.

When the John Birch Society began the Support Your Local Police (SYLP) campaign in the 1960s, the organization decried efforts to federalize law enforcement and amalgamate the military with civilian police agencies. Those concerns were and remain entirely valid, and are dealt with at length in the “Police Under Fire” issue of The New American, which is an undisguised recruiting pitch for the SYLP campaign.

Ironically, the “Start-Up Manual” for the Support Your Local Police Committee endorses the militarization of law enforcement, and condemns efforts to reverse that trend: “Activists participating in the SYLP campaign are told that in when defense of the Bill of Rights conflicts with the institutional needs of the local police, they are to side with the latter:”

“The local police are not your enemy. Your committee is not here to attack them, blame them for violating the Constitution or your civil liberties because they are enforcing a measure of the PATRIOT Act or conducting a joint Federal and State anti-terror drill. These are federal issues, which the local police in some cases may have already have [sic] little to no say if they are to continue receiving their additional Homeland Security funds, new equipment and weaponry.” (Emphasis added.) SYLP activists told that Americans must accept “our responsibilities to our local police … defend them against unjust attacks, make them proud and secure in their vital profession, and to offer them our support in word and deed wherever possible” – even after they have been federalized and militarized, and in spite of any abuses they might commit.

Arthur Thompson, Chairman of the John Birch Society and de facto head of the SYLP Committee, insists that militarization of the local police is not only acceptable, but imperative. Thompson, who claims to have worked as a police informant targeting “hippies” and other supposed subversives in Seattle during the 1960s, objects to are the “strings” that are attached to the equipment provided by the Federal government.

“We see this morning that the Obama administration, in executive order, come out and say that they’re not going to send certain military equipment any longer to local police,” groused Thompson in a May 18 video commentary. “Now, libertarians will see that as a victory, but people in the streets will not. You see, you have got to put yourself in the position of a local policeman. Now, we in the John Birch Society have a program of `Support Your Local Police – and keep them independent. We, as well, have been concerned about the influx of military equipment into our local community from the federal government due to the strings that are attached to it … from the federal government. But nonetheless, if you put yourself in the shoes of a local policeman, what’s coming down the road, what’s happening today, necessitates much of that equipment – whether you like it or not.”

Owing to “the rising militancy of Communist cadres within the inner cities, whipping up people into the streets to do harm to the police, they will need equipment that will protect them in the performance of their duties – whether we like it or not,” Thompson reiterated. “It isn’t the equipment itself – it’s the strings that come with the equipment that we don’t like.”

Turning a “local” police department into a federally equipped army of occupation is just fine, from this perspective, as long as the occupiers answer to politicians in the same ZIP code.

It would be uncharitable, but not wholly inaccurate, to summarize the JBS view of the supposed “war on police” as a variation on the conspiracy theory promoted by the fictional “American Socialist White Peoples Party” in the movie “The Blues Brothers.”

One scene in that film finds a Nazi leader haranguing an unreceptive and hostile crowd, telling them that “the Jew is using the black as muscle against you.” The JBS insists that the supposed “war on police” is largely orchestrated by currency speculator George Soros, who allegedly uses his foundations to bankroll the Black Lives Matter movement and a network of obscure and largely inconsequential direct action groups. This, we are told, explains why violent crime is surging, urban unrest has ulcerated several major cities, and police face not only unremitting hostility from the media but an ever-increasing risk of violent death in the line of duty.

The most important problem with that analysis is that there hasn’t been a measurable “surge” in violent crime, and so far this year there have been fewer violent on-duty deaths of police officers than there were at this time last year. Significantly, both of those problems were more acute twenty-one years ago when The New American published its “Toward a Police State” issue, which included a story (“Spiral of Fear,” by Senior Editor William F. Jasper) debunking media hype over an “epidemic” of violent crime. In 1994, The New American tried to dispel alarmist misunderstandings; in 2015, the organization that publishes that magazine is apparently seeking to ride the alarmist wave.

To make vivid the supposed threat of Soros-funded insurrection, the “Police Under Fire” issue treats readers to numerous lurid photographs of urban unrest involving young black men. Nowhere in the issue is found any mention of the insurrection that took place in Bunkerville, Nevada in April 2014, when Cliven Bundy and scores of supporters – many of them armed – faced down armed BLM agents and officers from the Las Vegas Metro Police, and were execrated as “domestic terrorists” as a result.

Bundy has been involved in a decades-long dispute over federal ownership of grazing lands, which he insists belong to Clark County. Although he refuses to pay federal grazing fees, Bundy has been willing to pay them to the county government. The BLM, characterizing Bundy as a “scofflaw” and tax delinquent, confiscated some of his cattle. With the help of supporters from across the country – including some who drew bead on police officers, and were prepared to kill them – Bundy forced the BLM to back down.

Whether or not Bundy’s claims are legally sound, his resistance was widely applauded by the same chorus of Right-wing organizations and pundits who now insist that the Black Lives Matter movement – which offers unqualified opposition to violence – is a “terrorist group” guilty of inciting the murder of police officers. The New American and the John Birch Society conspicuously supported the Bunkerville revolt, where political dissidents didn’t merely chant anti-police slogans but pointed guns at police.

In Bunkerville, a “local” police department eagerly assisted a federal agency that sought to confiscate private property. The reverse – Feds abetting confiscation by local police departments and sheriff’s offices – happens every day in the name of “civil asset forfeiture,” a procedure in which money and other property are seized from people who often aren’t even charged with crimes. Asset forfeiture has become ubiquitous through the exercise in official derangement called the “war on drugs.” No policy or initiative has done more to abet the federalization and militarization of law enforcement than prohibition.

Yet in the “Police Under Fire” issue of The New American, a total of 27 lines are devoted to the subjects of asset forfeiture and the war on drugs – each of which deserved feature-story treatment if the objective were to diagnose the cause of our society’s descent into a police state and to prescribe a sound remedy.

One worthy if tentative stab at a solution is offered in the essay “Sheriffs: Key to Local Control” by attorney Joe Wolverton. Toward the end of an article largely devoted to the Constitutional Peace Officers and Sheriffs Association, Wolverton smuggles in a transgressive and welcome discussion of an agorist or anarcho-capitalist approach to the rule of law.

“Although police officers are the most visible components of today’s law enforcement apparatus, it wasn’t always that way,” Wolverton points out. “In fact, for most of the early history of the United States, the investigation of crime and the arresting of suspects was not carried out by a professional cadre of full-time police officers at all. Before the creation of the modern police force, the members of society believed that they themselves were endowed by natural law with very broad law enforcement powers. In fact, it was only the so-called executive functions of the law (issuing warrants, carrying out judicial orders, delivering summons) that were carried out by lawmen. In the early days of the Republic, these duties were assigned by the people to sheriffs or constables, who would be chosen from among the people themselves.”

Those “amateur” peace officers, in the fashion of Cincinnatus, the legendary hero of Rome’s republican youth, would offer a brief period of service and then divest themselves of their position and return to worthier private pursuits. This arrangement in early 19th century America prompted Tocqueville to observe that although “the means available to the authorities for the discovery of crimes and arrest of criminals [are] very few,” crime in that era before the advent of “professional” policing “seldom escapes punishment.”

“Much of the growth of the police state … is a result of a dereliction of duty on the part of the American people,” concludes Wolverton. “We have allowed a law enforcement bureaucracy to grown up as an alternative to our own participation in the policing of our towns, and now we are reaping the whirlwind of increased violence by and against the professional police.”

Implicated in that indictment is The New American itself, which has never considered the possibility of breaking up the state’s “security” monopoly.

As a former Senior Editor of that publication (full disclosure: I was fired by TNA in October 2006 over disagreements touching upon police state-related subjects) I wrote and edited numerous articles discussing alternatives to the government school monopoly, and opposing efforts to create a government-operated health care system.

The publication displays not a hint of that commendable skepticism toward government power in dealing with the behavior of the State’s officially licensed agents of coercion. In a fashion quite typical of the authoritarian Right, TNA and the JBS stoutly condemn teachers’ unions while refraining from all criticism of the police unions that not only agitate for ever-increasing pay and benefits but have effectively immunized police from public accountability.

If education and health care can be provided through the free market, why can’t defense of property be organized in the same fashion? This is not a hypothetical question: There are, by some estimates, at least three times as many private peace officers – bodyguards, armored car drivers, private investigators, and security operatives – as there are sworn law enforcement officers in the United States.

Unlike government police, who have no enforceable duty to protect individual citizens or private property, private security officers have no other function, and face both immediate unemployment and potential civil liability if they do not carry out their contractual obligations. Unlike cops, private peace officers are not protected by “qualified immunity” and are liable for both criminal and civil prosecution if they injure innocent people.

Contrary to the unremitting “war on cops” hype, law enforcement is a very safe occupation. Private security operatives, however, face much higher risks of on-duty death or injury because they, unlike their nominal government-employed competition, cannot think in terms of “officer safety” first.

Police cannot be expected to protect private property because they are employed by the same political class that preys upon it. For reasons that elude understanding, the proudly anti-Communist John Birch Society emphatically agrees with the view of Friedich Engels regarding the indispensable role played by “special bodies of armed men” acting as the state’s anointed emissaries of violence.


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