In July of 2009, six months into the Obama presidency, I was in Michigan for a family get together. My brother is a sport and target shooter, and while I was visiting him we went to one of central Michigan’s largest gun stores to buy ammunition so that we could go target shooting. When we got to the store, the owner said that he couldn’t sell me more than 50 rounds of ammunition, because the store was running low on ammo.
I asked why the store was running low on ammo, and his response was along the lines of “because that N-word in the White House is taking all our guns away and people are stocking up.” Dumbfounded by his response, I asked him how he knew that. He said that he had “emails” that proved the federal government was not only planning to take everyone’s guns away, but that Obama was even planning on taking out people he didn't like.
This all took place 4 years ago. At that time, that government-hating gun store owner represented a fringe group in America. And, at the time, information about how the government was running out of control, way beyond the constraints the Founders put into the Constitution, was pretty much only available from fringe, far-right extremist sources.
Well friends, times have changed.
Now, the gun nuts who are stocking up on ammo and forming right-wing extremist hate groups have the Attorney General of the United States telling them that he and the President reserve the right to kill them if he thinks they’re a threat.
Yes, you heard that right. Attorney General Eric Holder is not ruling out a scenario in which the President could order a drone strike against American citizens on U.S. soil.
His comments, released Tuesday, were prompted by questions raised over the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA. Specifically, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky had asked whether the Obama administration had considered using its drone policy domestically.
In a letter to Sen. Paul dated on Monday, Holder said that it was conceivable, “I suppose,” to foresee an “extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate” under U.S. law for the President of the United States to authorize the military to use “lethal force” within the United States.
Responding to Holder’s comments, Sen. Paul issued a statement, in part saying, “The U.S. Attorney General’s refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening, it is an affront on the constitutional due process rights of all Americans.”
For once, Sen. Paul is absolutely right.
Way back in June of 1878, during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act. The intent of the Act, which was a distant grandson of the Insurrection Act of 1807, was to limit the powers of the federal government when it came to using federal military personnel to enforce state laws against Americans on American soil. The law was modified in 1981, to refer to the powers of the Armed Forces.
In 2006, the Bush Administration urged Congress to revoke Posse Comitatus, so that U.S. armed forces could restore public order and enforce laws in the aftermath of natural disasters, terrorist attacks or other “conditions”. Congress went along with President Bush’s request, and passed it as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2007
However, President Obama reinstated Posse Comitatus as part of the NDAA of 2012, but with the loophole that military personnel could still be used to detain “A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.”
That's a pretty damn large loophole. It's truly bizarre that we find ourselves, today, in a time in U.S history when the Executive branch of the federal government deems it plausible to consider killing American citizens on American soil, regardless of what the Constitution says. And, the Judicial branch, which the Constitution says is supposed to make all judicial and criminal punishment determinations, is losing its power to the Executive branch, while our rights to due process are fast becoming a distant memory.
And equally important, talk of tinfoil-hat conspiracies and an overreaching government is no longer just on right-wing fringe websites. It was easy to dismiss people like that gunshop guy when all he could quote was an email he got from “somebody.” But today the assertion by the President of the United States that he might kill you with a drone is on the front page of The New York Times, and talked about throughout the mainstream media. A United States Senator – Rand Paul – held a talking filibuster on the topic today on the floor of the US Senate. Good luck telling the gunshop owner that he's crazy.
As a result, more and more Americans are starting to fear their government, which they perceive as being no longer constrained by the Constitution. Since fear is usually what drives hate, we're seeing more and more right-wing extremist hate groups.
In fact, according to a new study by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “the number of conspiracy-minded antigovernment ‘Patriot’ groups reached an all-time high of 1,360 in 2012” and the number of hate groups has remained at “near record levels” of more than 1,000.
There’s only one way to put an end to all of this fear, and to the hatred of the government that is sweeping our nation, and that's for us to return to our core values, the values on which this nation was founded.
From the birth of our nation to today, millions of Americans have fought and died for a specific set of values, that we used to abide by, and gave our lives to protect. These values included having a judicial branch that made all of the judicial decisions, and decided who lives and who dies based on transparent due process. These values included the US military never turning its guns on US citizens on US soil.
We must return to these values.
And to do that, we need to undo parts of the National Defense Authorization Act and the Patriot Act that give extrajudicial killing powers to the Executive branch.
America was once the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” It’s time we became that once again.