Below is a truncated version of a speech by congressman Ron Paul expressing his views on governmental encroachment of personal liberties after 9/11.
America a Police State Speech by Ron Paul
My subject today is whether America is a police state. I’m sure the large majority of Americans would answer this in the negative. Most would associate military patrols, martial law and summary executions with a police state, something obviously not present in our everyday activities. However, those with knowledge of Ruby Ridge, Mount Carmel and other such incidents may have a different opinion.
The principal tool for sustaining a police state, even the most militant, is always economic control and punishment by denying disobedient citizens such things as jobs or places to live, and by levying fines and imprisonment. The military is more often used in the transition phase to a totalitarian state. Maintenance for long periods is usually accomplished through economic controls on commercial transactions, the use of all property, and political dissent. Peaceful control through these efforts can be achieved without storm troopers on our street corners.
Terror and fear are used to achieve complacency and obedience, especially when citizens are deluded into believing they are still a free people. The changes, they are assured, will be minimal, short-lived, and necessary, such as those that occur in times of a declared war. Under these conditions, most citizens believe that once the war is won, the restrictions on their liberties will be reversed. For the most part, however, after a declared war is over, the return to normalcy is never complete. In an undeclared war, without a precise enemy and therefore no precise ending, returning to normalcy can prove illusory.
We have just concluded a century of wars, declared and undeclared, while at the same time responding to public outcries for more economic equity. The question, as a result of these policies, is: “Are we already living in a police state?” If we are, what are we going to do about it? If we are not, we need to know if there’s any danger that we’re moving in that direction.
Most police states, surprisingly, come about through democratic process with majority support. During a crisis, the rights of individuals and the minority are more easily trampled, which is more likely to condition a nation to become a police state than a military coup. Promised benefits initially seem to exceed the cost in dollars or lost freedom. When people face terrorism or great fear- from whatever source- the tendency to demand economic and physical security over liberty and self-reliance proves irresistible. The masses are easily led to believe that security and liberty are mutually exclusive, and demand for security far exceeds that for liberty.
Once it’s discovered that the desire for both economic and physical security that prompted the sacrifice of liberty inevitably led to the loss of prosperity and no real safety, it’s too late. Reversing the trend from authoritarian rule toward a freer society becomes very difficult, takes a long time, and entails much suffering. Although dissolution of the Soviet empire was relatively non-violent at the end, millions suffered from police suppression and economic deprivation in the decades prior to 1989.
But what about here in the United States? With respect to a police state, where are we and where are we going?
Let me make a few observations:
Our government already keeps close tabs on just about everything we do and requires official permission for nearly all of our activities.
One might take a look at our Capitol for any evidence of a police state. We See: barricades, metal detectors, police, military soldiers at times, dogs, ID badges required for every move, vehicles checked at airports and throughout the Capitol. The people are totally disarmed, except for the police and the criminals. But worse yet, surveillance cameras in Washington are everywhere to ensure our safety.
The terrorist attacks only provided the cover for the do-gooders who have been planning for a long time before last September to monitor us “for our own good.” Cameras are used to spy on our drug habits, on our kids at school, on subway travelers, and on visitors to every government building or park. There’s not much evidence of an open society in Washington, DC, yet most folks do not complain- anything goes if it’s for government-provided safety and security.
If this huge amount of information and technology is placed in the hands of the government to catch the bad guys, one naturally asks, What’s the big deal? But it should be a big deal, because it eliminates the enjoyment of privacy that a free society holds dear. The personal information of law-abiding citizens can be used for reasons other than safety- including political reasons. Like gun control, people control hurts law-abiding citizens much more than the law-breakers.
Social Security numbers are used to monitor our daily activities. The numbers are given at birth, and then are needed when we die and for everything in between. This allows government record keeping of monstrous proportions, and accommodates the thugs who would steal others’ identities for criminal purposes. This invasion of privacy has been compounded by the technology now available to those in government who enjoy monitoring and directing the activities of others. Loss of personal privacy was a major problem long before 9/11.
Centralized control and regulations are required in a police state. Community and individual state regulations are not as threatening as the monolith rules and regulations written by Congress and the federal bureaucracy. Law and order has been federalized in many ways and we are moving inexorably in that direction.
Almost all of our economic activities depend upon receiving the proper permits from the federal government. Transactions involving guns, food, medicine, smoking, drinking, hiring, firing, wages, politically correct speech, land use, fishing, hunting, buying a house, business mergers and acquisitions, selling stocks and bonds, and farming all require approval and strict regulation from our federal government. If this is not done properly and in a timely fashion, economic penalties and even imprisonment are likely consequences.
Because government pays for much of our health care, it’s conveniently argued that any habits or risk-taking that could harm one’s health are the prerogative of the federal government, and are to be regulated by explicit rules to keep medical-care costs down. This same argument is used to require helmets for riding motorcycles and bikes.
Not only do we need a license to drive, but we also need special belts, bags, buzzers, seats and environmentally dictated speed limits or a policemen will be pulling us over to levy a fine, and he will be toting a gun for sure.
The states do exactly as they’re told by the federal government, because they are threatened with the loss of tax dollars being returned to their state- dollars that should have never been sent to DC in the first place, let alone used to extort obedience to a powerful federal government.
Over 80,000 federal bureaucrats now carry guns to make us toe the line and to enforce the thousands of laws and tens of thousands of regulations that no one can possibly understand. We don’t see the guns, but we all know they’re there, and we all know we can’t fight “City Hall,” especially if it’s “Uncle Sam.”
All 18-year-old males must register to be ready for the next undeclared war. If they don’t, men with guns will appear and enforce this congressional mandate. “Involuntary servitude” was banned by the 13th Amendment, but courts don’t apply this prohibition to the servitude of draftees or those citizens required to follow the dictates of the IRS- especially the employers of the country, who serve as the federal government’s chief tax collectors and information gatherers. Fear is the tool used to intimidate most Americans to comply to the tax code by making examples of celebrities. Leona Helmsley and Willie Nelson know how this process works.
Economic threats against business establishments are notorious. Rules and regulations from the EPA, the ADA, the SEC, the LRB, OSHA, etc. terrorize business owners into submission, and those charged accept their own guilt until they can prove themselves innocent. Of course, it turns out it’s much more practical to admit guilt and pay the fine. This serves the interest of the authoritarians because it firmly establishes just who is in charge.
Information leaked from a government agency like the FDA can make or break a company within minutes. If information is leaked, even inadvertently, a company can be destroyed, and individuals involved in revealing government-monopolized information can be sent to prison. Even though economic crimes are serious offenses in the United States, violent crimes sometimes evoke more sympathy and fewer penalties. Just look at the O.J. Simpson case as an example.
Efforts to convict Bill Gates and others like him of an economic crime are astounding, considering his contribution to economic progress, while sources used to screen out terrorist elements from our midst are tragically useless. If business people are found guilty of even the suggestion of collusion in the marketplace, huge fines and even imprisonment are likely consequences.
Price fixing is impossible to achieve in a free market. Under today’s laws, talking to, or consulting with, competitors can be easily construed as “price fixing” and involve a serious crime, even with proof that the so-called collusion never generated monopoly-controlled prices or was detrimental to consumers.
Lawfully circumventing taxes, even sales taxes, can lead to serious problems if a highprofile person can be made an example. One of the most onerous controls placed on American citizens is the control of speech through politically correct legislation.
Derogatory remarks or off-color jokes are justification for firings, demotions, and the destruction of political careers. The movement toward designating penalties based on the category to which victims belong, rather the nature of the crime itself, has the thought police patrolling the airways and byways. Establishing relative rights and special penalties for subjective motivation is a dangerous trend.
All our financial activities are subject to “legal” searches without warrants and without probable cause. Tax collection, drug usage, and possible terrorist activities “justify” the endless accumulation of information on all Americans.
Government control of medicine has prompted the establishment of the National Medical Data Bank. For efficiency reasons, it is said, the government keeps our medical records for our benefit. This, of course, is done with vague and useless promises that this information will always remain confidential just like all the FBI information in the past!
Personal privacy, the sine qua non of liberty, no longer exists in the United States. Ruthless and abusive use of all this information accumulated by the government is yet to come. The Patriot Act has given unbelievable power to listen, read, and monitor all our transactions without a search warrant being issued after affirmation of probably cause. “Sneak and peak” and blanket searches are now becoming more frequent every day. What have we allowed to happen to the 4th Amendment?
It may be true that the average American does not feel intimidated by the encroachment of the police state. I’m sure our citizens are more tolerant of what they see as mere nuisances because they have been deluded into believing all this government supervision is necessary and helpful- and besides they are living quite comfortably, material wise. However the reaction will be different once all this new legislation we’re passing comes into full force, and the material comforts that soften our concerns for government regulations are decreased. This attitude then will change dramatically, but the trend toward the authoritarian state will be difficult to reverse.
What government gives with one hand- as it attempts to provide safety and security- it must, at the same time, take away with two others. When the majority recognizes that the monetary cost and the results of our war against terrorism and personal freedoms are a lot less than promised, it may be too late.
I’m sure all my concerns are unconvincing to the vast majority of Americans, who not only are seeking but also are demanding they be made safe from any possible attack from anybody, ever. I grant you this is a reasonable request.
The point is, however, there may be a much better way of doing it. We must remember, we don’t sit around and worry that some Canadian citizen is about to walk into New York City and set off a nuclear weapon. We must come to understand the real reason is that there’s a difference between the Canadians and all our many friends and the Islamic radicals. And believe me, we’re not the target because we’re “free and prosperous”.
The argument made for more government controls here at home and expansionism overseas to combat terrorism is simple and goes like this: “If we’re not made safe from potential terrorists, property and freedom have no meaning.” It is argued that first we must have life and physical and economic security, with continued abundance, then we’ll talk about freedom.
It reminds me of the time I was soliciting political support from a voter and was boldly put down: “Ron,” she said, “I wish you would lay off this freedom stuff; it’s all nonsense. We’re looking for a Representative who will know how to bring home the bacon and help our area, and you’re not that person.” Believe me, I understand that argument; it’s just that I don’t agree that is what should be motivating us here in the Congress.
That’s not the way it works. Freedom does not preclude security. Making security the highest priority can deny prosperity and still fail to provide the safety we all want.
The Congress would never agree that we are a police state. Most members, I’m sure, would argue otherwise. But we are all obligated to decide in which direction we are going. If we’re moving toward a system that enhances individual liberty and justice for all, my concerns about a police state should be reduced or totally ignored. Yet, if, by chance, we’re moving toward more authoritarian control than is good for us, and moving toward a major war of which we should have no part, we should not ignore the dangers. If current policies are permitting a serious challenge to our institutions that allow for our great abundance, we ignore them at great risk for future generations.
By Ron Paul