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Is It So Hard To Believe?
February 18, 2003
by Nicki Fellenzer

Would you be shocked and appalled if the government of the United States passed laws that:

  • Imposed imprisonment on anyone making "false reports" to help the enemy - without specifying the what the standard for "falseness" might be;
  • Empowered the Postmaster General to deny use of the mail to any publication that, in his judgment, advocated insurrection, criticized the government or the laws of the United States, allowed him to deny mail to any person, who, in his opinion, circulated "seditious" material, and gave him censorship authority over the foreign language press;
  • Censored all international communications;
  • Forbade disloyal or abusive remarks about the form of government, flag or military uniform of the United States; and
  • Forbade any language designed to obstruct the War on Terrorism in any way;
  • Specified criminal penalties for anyone who attempted to obstruct the draft?

Would you rely on the judicial branch to strike down said laws as unconstitutional?

Would you believe your elected officials were capable of such obvious and unspeakable violations of our First Amendment rights?

Would you even believe that such brazen gutting of the First Amendment was feasible?

It was.

In 1917, the Wilson administration and the people's elected representatives passed the Espionage and Sedition Acts and the Trading with the Enemy Act, meant to quash any dissent or negativity about the United States entering World War I. These laws represented a frontal assault on the First Amendment - an unabashed attempt to force the tides of public opinion to support the war effort.

More than 2,000 people were prosecuted under the aforementioned statutes, and 1,055 were convicted under the Espionage and Sedition Acts. Their offense? For the most part it was as simple as criticizing the government's actions during a time of war.

What's more - the Supreme Court upheld the government's actions and the constitutionality of said legislation. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, speaking for a unanimous Court, asserted that in times of war, the government had the right to prohibit speech and actions it deems deleterious to national security.

Fast forward to October 26, 2001. President George W. Bush signed the USA PATRIOT Act - an unbecomingly baptized monster that contains provisions for gross violations of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the US Constitution. A Congress, feeling powerless and inept after the worst attacks on civilians on US soil, overwhelmingly and with nearly superstitious fervor, touts the new legislation as a panacea for fighting terrorism. The Act:

  • Allows the law enforcement authorities to circumvent the "probable cause" provision that protects the people against unreasonable searches and seizures;
  • Gives the government access to private financial records;
  • Allows expanded surveillance capabilities on Internet searches;
  • Gives government access to private education records;
  • Allows the government to seize financial records;
  • Allows confiscation of property located in this country for a wider range of crimes committed in violation of foreign law;
  • Allows prosecution of "terrorist activity" while redefining such activity to include persons or groups who publicly endorse terrorist activity in the United States;
  • And allows for prosecution of any persons "the Secretary of State or Attorney General determines has been associated with a terrorist organization and who intends to engage in activities that could endanger the welfare, safety, or security of the United States."

Fast forward to November 2002. The legislature and the President are touting new legislation creating a Department of Homeland Security. The Homeland Security Act:

  • Expands the ability of police to conduct Internet or telephone eavesdropping without first obtaining a court order;
  • Grants internet providers immunity from possible lawsuits from their customers if they reveal private information about their subscribers to law enforcement;
  • Allows for the creation of a computer database that will give the government nearly unfettered access to the most private aspects of our lives, including credit card purchases, travel and telephone records, driver's license information, car rental records, chemical purchases, medical records, banking records.

Are you surprised? Shocked? Appalled?


From our country's very beginnings, with the passage in 1798 of the Alien and Sedition Acts, suppressing criticism of government's action during naval hostilities with France; through the Civil War, when the government censored newspapers and journalists and the post office denied mail service to any publication critical of the war effort; through World War I, when speaking against the government and any criticism thereof would likely result in arrests and prosecution; through the Cold War, when critics of the government were slurred and accused of a lack of patriotism and even treasonous acts; to the present -- when the American people stood idly by while their elected officials passed legislation that would limit their Constitutional freedoms -- we have consistently allowed our elected officials to manipulate, censor and regulate our Constitutionally guaranteed rights.

The majority stood silent when the government arbitrarily banned cosmetic features on rifles through the "assault weapons" ban.

The majority did nothing when the government mandated background checks, registration and the effective branding of law-abiding gun owners as criminals in a futile attempt to establish some control over the populace.

The sheeple applauded when the USA PATRIOT Act was passed without public hearing or debate, and few spoke up when it was revealed that the law provided gigantic loopholes for the executive branch to circumvent the Constitution.

And now, as the Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress, the relatively painless passage of the Homeland Security Act represents the latest in "Big Brother" legislation that could lead to Constitutional infringements and the trampling of the very freedoms we hold dear.

Few spoke up and even fewer acted. The traditional apathy and non-participation won out at the polls. The less than half of the population who bothered to drag their weary bodies to the voting booths, for the most part, contented themselves with voting for the lesser of two evils.

Historically, the actions of our government have been rife with totalitarian measures to secure cooperation and stifle public dissent for the actions of power-hungry would-be dictators. Why, then are we so shocked that our elected officials sailed through the PATRIOT Act and the Homeland Security Act with relative ease?

Those who spoke up throughout history have been prosecuted and silenced by force, and the misguided and misinformed who dragged themselves to the polls year after year after year, barely bothered to cast a look at the mangled Bill of Rights these politicians have left in their wake.

Why is it that current abhorrent legislative acts are so difficult for us to stomach? After all, this is the logical conclusion to a historical reality that began long ago.

Nicki Fellenzer is a writer for the Libertarian Party of Virginia and ArmedFemalesOfAmerica.com, and serves as the Newslinks Director for Keepandbeararms.com. She lives with her family in Virginia.
Copyright © February 2003, Nicki Fellenzer.

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