The mostly conservative columnist George Will observed in a recent interview, “I’m quite certain that we’re going to rebel against this abusive government.” Was that statement merely an explosive comment from a reasonable and thoughtful observer of the modern American scene who sees something unusual in our nation? In the past few weeks, many Americans have been watching with great interest the events unfolding in Nevada involving approximately 200 heavily-armed Bureau of Land Management agents and rancher Cliven Bundy and his 400 head of cattle grazing on land that his Mormon pioneer ancestors first ranched in the 1870s. Fortunately, in the end, the federal land managers backed down, and Mr. Bundy got most of his cattle back. But it would have taken little for the entire scene to explode into violence and death. And it was certainly unhelpful when the Majority Leader of the United States Senate labeled supporters of Mr. Bundy as “domestic terrorists,” rather than the militarized government bureaucracies that increasingly wreak havoc on non-violent citizens. (Incidentally, John Fund recently observed that today dozens of federal agencies have Special Weapons and Tactics (“SWAT”) teams, including the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, the Railroad Retirement Board (really?), the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Office of Personnel Management, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (I guess that the FBI and Secret Service weren’t quite enough.) Last week Dr. Benjamin Carson opined:
For our nation to once again be a thriving metropolis of freedom and innovation, the people and the government must peacefully coexist in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. This can only occur when laws are equally enforced and political favors are a thing of the past. When obvious governmental corruption is discovered, it must be swiftly and openly dealt with, and the perpetrators must face easily verifiable punishment. . . . We the people of the United States are the only ones capable of preventing uncontrolled government expansion and abuse. Like the ranchers in Nevada, Americans must find the courage and determination to maintain a free and vibrant nation. Government should be our friend and ally. When it is, we should support it wholeheartedly.
Yet increasing numbers of Americans have grown leery of the accumulation of power by the federal government under this president, and his willingness to limit individual liberty. In a recent Rasmussen poll, 37% of likely voters now fear the federal government, while another 17% are not sure. (Count me among the fearful.) Late last month, a Homeland Security document was leaked that revealed details of a joint Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and Federal Emergency Management Agency national exercise. In the exercise, martial law is imposed on the United States following a major earthquake in Alaska. One of the components involved in the exercise, beginning at page 125, is an effort to counter online dissent by a disgruntled group called “Free Americans Against Socialist Tyranny.” A copy of that leaked document is available here.
Further, DHS is buying 704,390,250 rounds of ammunition over the next four years. Based upon its 70,000 DHS agents and officers, this would be roughly 2,500 rounds per agent per year. Quite a bit of target shooting, no? This led me to think of some events from 100 years ago, which are mostly unknown today. The majority of Americans are unaware that martial law has been imposed in many parts of the United States on a number of occasions. In the fall of 1913, Colorado Governor Elias Ammons ordered the National Guard into the coalfields to preserve peace by striking miners. Exactly 100 years ago, on this past Easter Sunday, April 20, 1914, troops fired on a striking miners’ colony in Ludlow, Colorado, killing 20, including seven miners, two women, and eleven children. President Woodrow Wilson then ordered federal troops into the Colorado coalfields to restore order.
Several months later, on June 23, 1914, the Miners Union Hall in Butte, Montana, was dynamited. This led to seven years of martial law in that area. In 1920, mine guards fired upon striking miners, killing two and wounding another dozen, and again, federal troops were called in to restore order. Both governors acted in accordance with a 1909 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Moyer v. Peabody, 212 U.S. 78 (1909), which gave the government broad authority to imprison without probable cause citizens of the United States, and to deny citizens the right of habeas corpus. That broad authority was later cut back in another Supreme Court decision called Sterling v. Constantin. 287 U.S. 378 (1932). Then, in 1934, a national strike by more than 400,000 textile workers took place. The National Guard was called out in Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and South Carolina. In Georgia, 100 picketers were held in a former World War I prisoner-of-war camp for trial by a military court. Ultimately, President Franklin Roosevelt intervened, and the workers returned to work following the recommendations of the newly-formed National Labor Relations Board.
More recently, in 1955, the Indiana National Guard was called to a dispute between the Perfect Circle foundry in New Castle, Indiana, and the United Auto Workers. The Indiana governor declared Henry County a military district under military rule. National Guardsmen set up roadblocks around the city, searched automobiles, and seized firearms and liquor. Individual rights were curtailed. Rights to bear arms, to peacefully assemble, to be secure against unreasonable search and seizures were restricted by the military. Merchants authorized and licensed to sell liquor or firearms were forbidden to do business. Even the right of licensed persons to carry concealed weapons was denied. In effect, civil process was supplanted by an authoritarian military government.
There is, at best, a tenuous relationship between the American, and his federal and state government, and it is the tendency of all governments to encroach upon the liberties of the people. Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words in The Declaration of Independence noted that “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Even Barbie from Toy Story 3 knew that “authority should derive from the consent of the governed, not from the threat of force!” So be forewarned: such has happened before. Even George Will and Barbie are seeing something unusual in our country today, but it has all happened before. So, please remember, as our Lord Jesus taught us, to watch and pray.