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Confronting Tyranny In Its Early Stage
A thankless task.
The British economist, John Maynard Keynes, once remarked about the hazard of short selling the stock market: “Markets can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent."
The same logic applies to confronting state policies that are formulated under the pretense of protecting the public from dangers. When the citizenry is frightened of an apparent threat to public safety (real, perceived, exaggerated, or fabricated) it is very tempting for public officials to invoke emergency power to suspend basic civil liberties. Gripped by fear, the citizenry yearns for safety, and therefore agrees (and even demands) that civil liberties be suspended.
We saw this in the immediate wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks, when the Bush Administration and compliant U.S. Congress passed the Patriot and Homeland Security Acts, which granted enhanced power to the Executive to protect U.S. citizens from foreign terrorists.
Understandably terrified by the spectacle of 767s flying into the Twin Towers, most Americans were happy to grant federal law enforcement greater power to surveille and search American citizens, even without proving probable cause, as is required by the Fourth Amendment.
In 2005, the Bush Administration and a compliant Congress passed the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act), which authorizes the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (Secretary) to issue a PREP Act declaration. The declaration provides immunity from liability (except for willful misconduct) for claims:
of loss caused, arising out of, relating to, or resulting from administration or use of countermeasures to diseases, threats and conditions.
determined by the Secretary to constitute a present, or credible risk of a future public health emergency.
to entities and individuals involved in the development, manufacture, testing, distribution, administration, and use of such countermeasures.
The above Acts laid the groundwork—and created the temptation—for the U.S. government’s disastrous and tyrannical COVID-19 pandemic response. One of the few Senators who opposed the PREP Act was Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who issued a statement demanding its repeal while condemning the liability provisions as a giveaway to the drug industry. Kennedy said the bill makes it "essentially impossible" for injured parties to sue for damages, and that the measure allows common diseases to be used as a reason to activate the liability shield. Kennedy also noted that one of the drug companies that lobbied for PREPA is Sanofi Pasteur, which was under FDA investigation for being connected to at least five cases of Guillain- Barré caused by its meningococcal vaccine.
Senator Kennedy’s protest of the PREP Act was, at the time—when the public was terrified of attacks using anthrax and other bioterrorism agents—an unpopular position to take. Most Congressmen regarded his protest as expressing too much concern about U.S. government and corporate abuse, and not enough concern for protecting the American people from bioterrorism.
In order to protect the citizenry from threats (foreign and domestic) to public safety, it is necessary for the Executive to have robust law enforcement, intelligence, and military agencies at its disposal. However, as the Founding Fathers recognized, the greatest threat to liberty is often posed NOT by foreign armies and domestic outlaws, but by what Madison called “an overgrown executive.” As he warned at the Constitutional Convention:
“A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.”
The United States government has a duty to protect the American people from clear and present dangers. The foreign nationals who hijacked the planes on September 11, 2001 posed a clear and present danger to the American people. Two of them—al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar — were known to the CIA as al-Qaida operatives. Ringleader Mohamed Atta entered the U.S. three times on a tourist visa in 2001, even though officials knew the visa had expired in 2000 and that Atta had violated its terms by taking flight lessons.
In other words, the U.S. government should have enforced existing laws, and used existing intelligence, to protect the American people from al-Hazmi, Khalid al-Mihdhar, and Atta. After failing to fulfill this duty, the U.S. government passed sweeping legislation to enhance and extend its power over U.S. citizens.
Every state in history has been tempted to augment its power over the citizenry in precisely this way. The undue extension of state power using high-tech electronic surveillance was what RFK, Jr. was referring to when he said at his Defeat the Mandates rally in Washington D.C. on January 23, 2022: “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps to Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did.”
He caught an enormous amount of flak for this comment, and even apologized for his infelicitous wording. As he put it in a tweet:
I apologize for my reference to Anne Frank, especially to families that suffered the Holocaust horrors. My intention was to use examples of past barbarism to show the perils from new technologies of control. To the extent my remarks caused hurt, I am truly and deeply sorry.
The incident is an example of the perils that come with confronting tyranny in its relatively early stage. I attended this rally, and because I refused to receive the experimental COVID-19 vaccine, I was not allowed to stay in hotel or dine in a restaurant located in Washington D.C., which were, at the time, enforcing vaccine mandates against citizens like me.
As I saw it, the segregation measures imposed on the unvaccinated in Washington D.C. in early 2022 bore an uncanny resemblance to segregation laws imposed on people of Jewish ancestry in Germany in the years 1933-34—that is, laws passed to limit the participation of Jews in German public life.
Many who read will doubtless assert that American officials segregated the unvaccinated to protect the vaccinated from them. This assertion contains two basic fallacies:
1). Given that the COVID-19 vaccines were heralded as conferring protection from the illness, there was no true rationale for segregating the vaccinated from the unvaccinated.
2). Unless a danger is “clear and present—that is, apparent to any adult of ordinary prudence—it is necessary to accept the government’s assurance of the danger as a matter of faith. A citizenry that accepts its rulers’ assertions about public safety as a matter of faith, without requiring any supporting evidence, will not remain free for long.
Maybe U.S. state and federal officials would not have extended their power beyond vaccine mandates. Maybe. The trouble is, how does one recognize the difference between benevolent zeal in maintaining public safety and nascent tyranny?
Recognizing the difference is as thankless as it is difficult. It seems to me that the best approach is to avoid the problem altogether by sticking with the Constitution.
A prudent adult citizenry does NOT need to be browbeat and bullied into accepting that a true emergency is upon them. A city blasted by a hurricane, terrorized by roving bandits, or invaded by a foreign army is manifestly experiencing an emergency.
An infectious disease that poses a lethal threat to the entire population (and not only to certain high-risk groups) will quickly be recognized as such. The U.S. Constitution was not written for children and the mentally incompetent, but for prudent adult citizens.
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