Nestled in the tranquil Connecticut River watershed of southwest New Hampshire, the city of Keene has largely avoided the violent unrest common to many other urban areas. With a population of only 23,409 people, Keene’s violent crime index is about half the national average.
Despite the calm, however, local authorities didn’t think twice about requesting a BearCat armored counterattack vehicle from the Department of Homeland Security.
“Our application talked about the danger of domestic terrorism, but that’s just something you put in the grant application to get the money,” said a Keene City Council member. “What red-blooded American cop isn’t going to be excited about getting a toy like this?”
While the possession of an armored vehicle by such a peaceful city may seem strange, the militarization of the Keene police force isn’t an isolated case. Over the past decade, thousands of local police departments nationwide have been amassing stockpiles of military-grade equipment in the name of homeland security. Local police now have the sort of equipment soldiers use to fight wars.
The United States Department of Defense has given out 165 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles under its national military surplus program. Police have requested an additional 731 MRAPs. Authorities in Fargo and its surrounding county have spent about $8 million to equip local police departments with military-style hardware, according to Andrew Becker and G. W. Schulz of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Every squad car in the city now carries a military-style machine gun. Officers have Kevlar helmets able to withstand battlefield-grade ammunition. In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff’s department now owns a $300,000 pilotless surveillance drone, like the ones used to hunt down al Qaeda terrorists in the Middle East. In Des Moines, Iowa, police bought two $180,000 bomb-disarming robots. In Arizona, at least one sheriff is now the proud owner of a surplus Army tank.
An Associated Press investigation of the Defense Department’s military surplus program has found that over $4 billion worth of equipment has been distributed to local police forces since 1990—everything from bayonets to Humvees.
This military surplus program is two decades old, but the Obama administration has expanded it drastically. In fiscal year 2011, the Pentagon gave away a record $500 million in military gear, which, according to the program’s director, surpassed “the previous mark by several hundred million dollars.”
Even more shocking than the $4 billion in military hardware given to local police by the Pentagon is the $34 billion in anti-terror grants given to local police by the Department of Homeland Security. This grant money, awarded with little oversight from Congress, has put advanced equipment in the hands of civilian officers and allowed local police departments to transform into small militarized forces.
Why all this firepower? What sorts of events are your local police preparing for? Many people are concerned about the potential for social breakdown in the event of economic collapse, terrorist attacks and other apocalyptic catastrophes. Will the militarization of local police forces make us safer? Is this arms buildup even legal? Even if a paramilitary police force can protect us from out-of-control criminals, is there another danger to the American people: out-of-control government?
The Alleged Need for Militarized Police
Many police chiefs and sheriffs reject the idea that local police forces are becoming overly militaristic. They point to the 1997 Los Angeles bank robbers who pinned down police for hours with assault weapons, or to the pistol-wielding student who perpetrated the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. They argue that their upgrade in firepower is a necessary measure to combat such criminals. “I don’t see us as militarizing police; I see us as keeping abreast with society,” said former Los Angeles Police chief William Bratton. “And we are a gun-crazy society.”
In the five years since Barack Obama was first elected president, an estimated 72 million background checks for firearm purchases have been completed, representing only a fraction of firearms purchased in the United States. Based on consolidated information from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, there are now about 300 million privately owned firearms in America, roughly one for every man, woman and child. Widespread gun ownership is a key factor prompting the Department of Homeland Security and local police forces to upgrade their firepower.
Another key factor is the rise of violent drug cartels across America. In 2009, Homeland Security’s head of operations, Roger Rufe, outlined a plan for protecting the border that included stronger law enforcement in southwestern states. As a last resort, Rufe even raised the possibility of deploying military personnel and equipment to the region if other agencies became overwhelmed. In Mexico, vigilantes have started to arm themselves against the cartels that have taken over the nation. Could the rise of crime syndicates in the U.S. prompt Americans to do the same? If this happened, would the American government be willing to send in militarized police forces to “diffuse” the situation by disarming both cartels and the civilians opposing them? The Department of Homeland Security seems to think this is a real possibility.
Other factors prompting this upgraded police firepower include the threat of Islamic terrorism, the prevalence of violent street gangs, and the looming reality of economic collapse and the civil explosion that would follow.
According to a 2010 CNBC report, the U.S. Army launched an operation called Unified Quest 2011 designed to study the implications of a “large-scale economic breakdown” inside the United States. In particular, this operation examined the role the Army would play in keeping “domestic order amid civil unrest.”
While some may be surprised that the Army is even considering how to best quell civil unrest, such preparations have been underway for a number of years. One of the most honest accounts of these preparations came from a U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute paper published in 2008. This report discussed scenarios such as “epidemics” and “widespread civil violence” and how the Department of Defense would be “forced by circumstances to put its broad resources at the disposal of civil authorities to contain and reverse violent threats to domestic tranquility. Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States.”
Considering the military hardware already transferred from federal to local forces, it seems the Department of Defense has already “put its broad resources at the disposal of civil authorities.” Government officials think this is the best way to protect Americans from a multitude of threats. Civil rights advocacy groups, however, are very concerned about where this trend will lead.
The SWAT Mentality
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has criticized this increasing militarization of police forces. It is concerned that military equipment and a battlefield mentality will encourage law enforcement officers to view themselves as soldiers fighting an enemy rather than peacekeepers protecting citizens’ constitutional rights.
The book Rise of the Warrior Cop records how law-enforcement agencies across the nation, at every level of government, have been blurring the line between police officer and soldier since the 1960s. Author Radley Balko outlines what martial rhetoric and the availability of military-style equipment have produced. As described by theWall Street Journal, the “warrior cop” is “armed to the teeth, ready to deal harshly with targeted wrongdoers, and a growing threat to familiar American liberties” (Aug. 7, 2013).
One major phenomenon highlighting this trend is the proliferation of SWAT units. According to the Journal, the number of raids conducted by SWAT-like police units has grown in step with police militarization efforts—from 3,000 raids nationwide in 1980 to an estimated figure of 80,000 raids in 2011.
“I’m very concerned that, on a national basis, police organizations are looking more and more like combat troops and less and less like community police officers,” said Robert Wadman, Weber State University criminal justice professor emeritus. “This behavior is a great loss to every city in America. It sustains an ‘us versus them’ mentality in the minds of police officers.”
Even more disturbingly, this SWAT culture has not been contained to just the FBI or the U.S. Marshal’s Office. A surprising number of federal offices now have their own SWATteams: the National Park Service, the Postal Inspection Service, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Fish and Wildlife Service. These agencies are now starting to use their firepower on some very unlikely criminals.
In January 2012, when financial questions arose regarding the Mountain Pure Water Company, 50 federal agents, led by U.S. Small Business Administration special agent Cynthia Roberts, swooped in with guns drawn. According to Mountain Pure’s comptroller, Jerry Miller, one pistol-packing agent answered his questions by saying: “We’re the federal government. We can do what we want, when we want, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
In April 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a SWAT unit to arrest Dan Allgyer of Rainbow Acres Farm for illegally shipping unpasteurized milk to customers across state lines. “U.S. marshals and other federal officers also have conducted similar actions against purveyors of unauthorized milk, cheese and even elderberry juice” (National Review, Feb. 11, 2013).
Can you imagine what George Washington would have thought of machine-gun-toting SWAT agents arresting an Amish farmer for selling unpasteurized milk?
Why the Founders Didn’t Create a Federal Police Force
America’s founders were deeply wary of standing armies in peacetime. They could have given the federal government a well-armed federal police agency to “contain and reverse violent threats to domestic tranquility”—but they deliberately didn’t. Instead, they limited the power of the government, the federal government in particular. They wanted to reduce threats to individual liberty.
The founders realized the danger posed to the American people by police forces that think and act like they are at war. Above all else, the Constitution’s framers believed that government power should be decentralized so that no one person or branch of government could emerge as a force of tyranny. As James Madison said at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive, will not long be safe companions to liberty.”
This is the reason America’s law-enforcement system is composed of around 18,000 separate state and local entities. When law-enforcement responsibilities are divided among 18,000 agencies headed by elected local officials, it becomes extremely difficult for any one personality to set himself up as a tyrant. If one county sheriff abuses his office, he is directly accountable to his own electorate. The state and the nation as a whole remain unaffected.
There are no directly elected officials in the Pentagon or the Department of Homeland Security. Each officer reports up a chain of command that does not include an elected official until it reaches the president of the United States. So if a federal official abuses his office, he is accountable only to his superiors.
Outside of a few well-defined federal crimes, such as counterfeiting, treason and piracy, constitutional law mandates that law enforcement be a function of state and local government. The Constitution does not grant the government any power to establish a national police force, and the 10th Amendment states that the powers prohibited from or not delegated to the federal government are reserved for the states.
This is why having the federal government hand out money and military hardware to local police sets a dangerous precedent. Using grants and economic incentives, the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security are blurring constitutional law-enforcement separations and paying police departments to potentially become subordinate outposts of a federal agency.
The Department of Homeland Security exists mainly to protect Americans from external threats. But the department published its intention to move away from that purpose early last year. In a white paper the DHS presented to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, it urged law enforcement to evolve into a federalized hybrid agency that can monitor Americans in any town and prevent threats from fellow citizens. To accomplish this aim, the report lays out a detailed plan in which the DHS (and some other federal agencies) takes control of many personnel decisions currently made by local police chiefs and county sheriffs. A key component of this proposal is the establishment of “fusion centers” to promote collaboration between federal and local law enforcement. These fusion centers would also become data-sharing hubs for federal, state and local law-enforcement centers.
In other words, if implemented, this plan would mean that unelected federal officials will strongly influence America’s local police departments, or control them outright.
Blurring the Line
Paving the way for these changes, the Obama administration recently overturned a 206-year-old law that limits military involvement in civilian law enforcement. The Insurrection Act of 1807 explicitly states the military cannot be used in civilian law enforcement except by presidential authorization in the advent of an insurrection or foreign invasion. The administration now says that military commanders can use force to put down unexpected civil disturbances in cases where prior authorization by the president is deemed impossible.
In another white paper, sponsored by the RAND Corporation, the military is urged to blend military support with civilian law-enforcement structures. Under this model, the military would cooperate with Homeland Security, share assets with the National Guard and prepare rapid reaction units for national emergencies.
As the economy worsens and political tensions flare, many will consider increased cooperation between local police, federal agents and military commanders to be a good thing. It is likely that a centralized national police/military/federal agent conglomerate agency would operate more efficiently than 18,000 local agencies do. But the primary question should be, what will it be more efficient at doing?
America’s founders, well acquainted with human nature’s tendency toward tyranny, established a system to keep power out of the hands of any one individual—or even one branch of government. They created degrees of separation between the federal government and the officers on the street who actually interact with you. But now the constantly expanding federal government has blurred the line between federal and local law enforcement. In the near future, your town’s security may no longer lie in the hands of your elected sheriff or a police chief who reports to a city official elected by the townspeople. Instead, it may ultimately be controlled by a clique of federal technocrats.
Stamping Out Political Dissent
At the head of this cadre of technocrats is Jeh Johnson, newly confirmed secretary of Homeland Security. Johnson has been an obscure figure thus far to both the general public and the law enforcement community, but the ACLU is already concerned about his human rights record.
As a heavyweight fundraiser, Johnson raised more than $200,000 for the Obama campaign and personally contributed over $100,000 to other Democratic candidates, including senators Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin and James Clyburn. Though Republicans have voiced concerns over political cronyism and have called Johnson more a fundraiser than a security officer, the real reason for his appointment may be his unapologetic support of the Obama administration’s drone warfare policies.
During his stint as a legal adviser for the Pentagon, Johnson provided legal rationale for military involvement in the drone program. To the shock of civil rights advocates, Johnson advocated targeting U.S. citizens in such drone strikes. “Belligerents who also happen to be U.S. citizens do not enjoy immunity where non-citizen belligerents are valid military objectives,” he said in a speech at Yale Law School. Now Johnson heads Homeland Security. Has he changed his legal rationale, or will he beef up the department’s domestic drone fleet?
A local sheriff in North Dakota has already used a $154 million MQ-9 Predator B drone from nearby Grand Forks Air Force Base in the arrest of a farm family of “anti-government separatists” for “stealing six cows” (Daily Mail, Dec. 13, 2011). The drone was summoned after three armed men refused to allow police onto the farm. This was the first military drone-assisted arrest in the United States. Now that this precedent has been established, it seems certain that federally enabled drone-assisted arrests will become more common.
Johnson has also defended the National Security Administration’s massive and extremely unpopular program of spying on Americans. During a discussion at the 2013 Aspen Security Forum, Johnson said that when Americans make a phone call, they have “no legitimate expectation of privacy.” Their metadata (including phone numbers, call duration and sometimes even GPS location) belongs to the government.
All this represents a massive, unprecedented expansion of government power. With support from the Pentagon, the federal Department of Homeland Security is working with local police departments to spy on American citizens without warrants and to conduct arrests with military hardware. What comes next?
To rationalize this enormous expansion of federal authority, the current administration has to make the case that abolishing constitutional separations between federal and local law enforcement will make America safer and more secure. The consequence, however, whether intended or not, is that abolishing these separations will also put Americans in danger of becoming subject to the whims of a singular, centralized authority—for good or evil.
The Future of Law Enforcement
How will the Department of Homeland Security use its new authority? Whom do its leaders consider to be threats to the nation? Could this federal department be used to target those who disagree with the current administration’s policies?
These questions may perhaps be answered by a 2009 Homeland Security report titled, “Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.” This report, which was withdrawn shortly after its release due to public outcry, stated that “right-wing extremists” could use the state of the economy and the election of the nation’s first black president to recruit new members. It admitted that federal officials had no information about any planned attack from right-wing extremists, but it still spotlighted the following citizens as potential threats: anti-government conspiracy theorists, disgruntled war veterans, those opposed to abortion, those opposed to immigration, and those who believe “end times” prophecies.
Does the Department of Homeland Security leadership already consider you a threat?
Another report even goes so far as to label those who believe that modern-day Americans are descended from ancient Israel as potential racist extremists (Homeland Security Affairs Journal, July 2006 edition). This report labeled Herbert Armstrong as a fundamentalist Protestant who injected “blatant racism” into right-wing movements. This claim was made despite the fact that Herbert Armstrong served for decades as an unofficial ambassador for world peace, meeting with world leaders of every race as a messenger of goodwill.
It is hard to fathom how federal security officials could make such baseless claims. And the current administration already has been using the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department to target those who criticize its policies. Could the DHS soon be used against libertarians, or Tea Party members, or those opposed to abortion, or those who believe “end times” prophecies?
In the summer of 2013, a police chief in Concord, New Hampshire, asked Homeland Security for more than $250,000 to purchase an armored vehicle that he could use to protect the city from the Occupy New Hampshire movement and the Free State Project, a civil libertarian group. “The State of New Hampshire’s experience with terrorism slants primarily toward the domestic type,” he said in his filing. “We are fortunate that our state has not been victimized from a mass casualty event from an international terrorism strike; however, on the domestic front, the threat is real and here. Groups such as the Sovereign Citizens, Free Staters and Occupy New Hampshire are active and present daily challenges.”
This police chief made his request even though the New Hampshire Free Staters have never been indicted for a violent crime and in fact subscribe to a non-aggression principle, believing no one, including the state, should aggress against peaceful people.
After a public outcry against his remarks, this police chief apologized, but his request for an armored vehicle was not retracted. How many other police chiefs and Homeland Security officials might be willing to use military equipment to put down those who oppose their agenda?
Racing Toward a National Catastrophe
Discarding the laws of the land has become a theme of the current administration. If constitutional separations between federal and local law no longer apply, then the only law that does apply is the law of the jungle. If a federalized police force has more firepower than local police or private citizens, then might makes right.
If federal agents want to swoop in and confiscate a company’s financial statements, then the executive branch of government “can do what they want, when they want, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” If a city mayor wants an MRAP to stop protests by civil libertarians, then you better hope he wakes up in a benevolent mood, because that’s the only remaining guarantee of public safety.
Here is what Judge Andrew Napolitano wrote in the Washington Times: “Mr. Obama has argued that he can kill Americans whose deaths he believes will keep us all safer, without any due process whatsoever. No law authorizes that. His attorney general has argued that the president’s careful consideration of each target and the narrow use of deadly force are an adequate and constitutional substitute for due process. No court has ever approved that” (Feb. 7, 2013).
As Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry highlighted in his recent booklet America Under Attack, such lawlessness has a cause. Satan has been cast down to Earth and is fervently working to stir division and lawlessness in America as a means of creating national catastrophe on a never-before-seen scale. “This trend toward lawlessness isDEADLY,” he writes. “And I guarantee, based on biblical prophecy, that it is going to get far worse.”
The current administration is increasingly showing its tendency to force its will on the public. Could the current administration’s efforts to militarize and centralize American police power be a part of something sinister? In the words of Mr. Flurry, “GOVERNMENT TYRANNY IS routine IN HUMAN HISTORY .… Let’s not be naive and think something like that could never happen here. Our forefathers weren’t stupid. They wanted to guarantee Americans’ freedom.”
You can argue that rising crime and the threat of a new Greater Depression justify an empowered executive branch of government. Without the lawful restraints of the U.S. Constitution, however, there is no guarantee that the government won’t escalate the situation into dangerous territory. Could a second civil war besiege America?
We cannot know exactly how things are going to unfold, but the sure word of Bible prophecy reveals that the cities of end-time Israel (modern-day America and Britain) will burn with fire, pestilence and widespread violence as a consequence of the people’s rebellion against God’s law. The Prophet Ezekiel’s account of end-time events adds even more detail, explaining that one third of the population will be killed in violent looting, rioting and civil unrest BEFORE the country is invaded by a foreign enemy. Could government lawlessness and a paramilitarized police force play a role in this time of violence? The economic downfall of America certainly would make an ideal excuse for a declaration of martial law, or for a draconian crackdown on political dissent.
We are not living in the nation of our Founding Fathers, or even of our own fathers. To understand the earthshaking changes that are currently taking place, you need to request your own copy of America Under Attack. The sad truth is that humanity is going to have to go through a time of intense suffering due to its own hard-headedness. But the wonderful truth is that this time of suffering immediately precedes Christ’s return to Earth to usher in an era of unfathomable peace, prosperity and happiness! ▪