I recently reported on "a minor victory" when the state of Missouri rescinded its report that supporters of Ron Paul could be accused of being domestic terrorists or militia members. There was substantial outcry over the unjustness of the accusations and the report was rescinded a week ago. Some of us, myself included, thought that maybe we could turn things around if we only keep our public officials attuned to our concerns about liberty. However, an episode that occurred in St. Louis last week should serve as a grim reminder that just because George W. Bush went home to Texas less than 90 days ago, invasive government has stayed right where it is.
Last weekend, just after the Missouri Information Analysis Center (MIAC) took back its report, there was a successful gathering of Ron Paul supporters at the first Campaign for Liberty regional conference who met to learn more about America’s tradition of freedom and how to take action in our local communities to make sure our liberties are not eroded even more.
One of the Campaign for Liberty’s few employees (as many are volunteers), a young man named Steve Bierfeldt, was preparing to board a plane at the St. Louis airport following the events of the weekend. There, he received a highly aggressive cross-examination from the TSA that might as well have come from the Spanish Inquisition.
The TSA demanded answers, threatened young Mr. Bierfeldt while the young man remained calm and simply asked whether he was required by law to answer the threatening questions. The TSA thugs either did not know if he was required by law to answer their questions or did not care if he was required by law but kept demanding that he answer them anyway.
This youtube video catches a couple minutes of a rather harrowing exchange between young Mr. Bierfeldt and the people detaining him. The audio provided in the video concludes as he is about to be taken to the police station.
During this questioning, obviously meant to intimidate him, Mr. Bierfeldt has conceded that he does not entirely understand the law, which is why he asked if he was required to answer questions by the law. He clearly says that he will answer questions if he is compelled by the law and will not answer through intimidation. Then at 4:07 of the video, one of the TSA personnel said, "We’re gonna help you understand if you don’t," come with us, that is.
If this had been a movie, and the interrogators were German instead of American, that line probably would have been rendered, "We have ways of making you talk."
As the video progresses, we learn that Steve Bierfeldt was released and not harmed. He apparently gained the suspicion of the TSA goons because he had over $4000 in cash with him. This money, he says later, came from the revenues he got from selling Ron Paul and Campaign for Liberty merchandise to people who are most likely libertarians and who might prefer the anonymity of cash to a credit card that will follow them. And considering the ire raised by the MIAC report that Ron Paul supporters are suspicious, anonymity seems like a rather alluring state of identity.
So what does this whole episode mean? First, it looks like the TSA did not learn about the rescission of the MIAC report or did not care, which can also explain why Mr. Bierfeldt would be so reluctant to tell anyone working for the government about the origin of his large reserve of cash. He might be a terrorist!
Second and still very much with us, are the expansive measures enacted during the Bush administration that we were told were for our own safety and our own good. That was the rationalization many, including myself at one time, made. Hey, if we have nothing to hide, then we have nothing to fear. Search my records! Tap my phones! I’m not a terrorist, so I have no reason to fear my government!
Well, neither did Steve Bierfeldt, according to the law. It is not against the law to carry too much cash with you. It is the Fifth Amendment which protects us from incriminating ourselves and Mr. Bierfeldt employed it respectfully and fearlessly. He was a threat to no one. So why was he being treated like his cash was a machine gun?
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the interrogation recorded is exactly what should be expected in a totalitarian government that roots out political dissidents and locks them up. With the MIAC report in such recent memory, Mr. Bierfeldt had obvious reasons to keep his private contents private. He had plenty of reason to think he was being politically profiled.
This is our tyranny.
Many of President Bush’s remaining supporters still defend the expansive measures our departed leader took in the name of security. They say that he kept us safe from any more terrorist attacks and his expansive security measures are the reason for it. That, of course, falls under the logical fallacy of Post hoc ergo propter hoc, meaning that since these invasive security measures took place after President Bush enacted them, that means they have prevented another terrorist attack.
But this episode reveals something entirely divorced from the idea of national security. Mr. Bierfeldt was not threatening anybody, had not harmed anybody, and was merely asking what the law was pertaining to his detention. If asking for our rights in a certain situation constitutes a threat, this is in fact a tyranny and nothing less.
What else would someone call the treatment he got for merely asking questions. If we should have nothing to fear if we have nothing to hide, then why should the government or its henchmen threaten us for reminding them of our rights and the constitutional limits of their powers?
If this is the way things are run, we are no longer living in a republic. For a republic is a government of laws rooted in the tradition of justice. In the United States, we are fortunate enough to have a written constitution and a bill of rights which tells us exactly what powers the government has and exactly what our rights are.
A tyranny, by definition, abuses its power and represses its own citizens and Romans 13:3 reads, "For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong." No problem there, but what about a ruler (or their surrogates) who holds terror over those who do no wrong, like Steve Bierfeldt?
To bastardize Shakespeare, a tyranny by any other name is still a tyranny.
And in no way is our new president and secular savior Barack Obama absolved from any of the blame for our current situation. A big deal was made when he closed the prison at Guantanamo Bay and announced the end of the use of waterboarding. Yet, he has done nothing to indicate that he wishes to close the equally repressive prison at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan or stop the practice of rendition whereby the U.S. will not waterboard or torture, but send suspects to other countries that do. He was hailed by many for announcing that the end of our combat mission in Iraq will be in 2011, the same as the security agreement decided upon during Bush’s terms in office.
While all can see that President Obama has done some to alleviate some of the tyrannical burdens on foreigners suspected of terrorism, he has done nothing to alleviate the burdens and repressions on his own countrymen in American airports.
And even if using these invasive, bullying, and tyrannical tactics that disregard the rule of law on our own peaceful citizens actually keep us safe, then would we consider ourselves any more free than the Eastern Bloc was?