What began with the post-9/11 passage of the USA Patriot Act has snowballed into the eradication of every vital safeguard against government overreach, corruption and abuse.
The rights embodied in the Constitution, which have been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded, are now on life support.
Free speech, the right to protest, the right to challenge government wrongdoing, due process, a presumption of innocence, the right to self-defense, accountability and transparency in government, privacy, press, sovereignty, assembly, bodily integrity, representative government: all of these and more have become casualties in the government’s war on the American people, a war that has grown more pronounced since 9/11.
Since the towers fell, the U.S. government has posed a greater threat to our freedoms than any terrorist, extremist or foreign entity ever could. Indeed, the U.S. government — the government that was supposed to be a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” — has become the enemy of the people.
This is a government that has grown corrupt, greedy, power-hungry and tyrannical over the course of the past 240-plus years.
This is a government that is laying the groundwork to weaponize the public’s biomedical data as a convenient means by which to penalize certain “unacceptable” social behaviors.
Incredibly, as part of a proposal being considered by the Trump Administration, a new government agency HARPA (a healthcare counterpart to the Pentagon’s research and development arm DARPA) will take the lead in identifying and targeting “signs” of mental illness or violent inclinations among the populace by using artificial intelligence to collect data from Apple Watches, Fitbits, Amazon Echo and Google Home.
This is a government that railroads taxpayers into financing government programs whose only purpose is to increase the power and wealth of the corporate elite.
This is a government — a warring empire — that forces its taxpayers to pay for wars abroad that serve no other purpose except to expand the reach of the military industrial complex.
This is a government whose wall-to-wall surveillance has given rise to a suspect society in which the burden of proof has been reversed such that Americans are now assumed guilty until or unless they can prove their innocence.
This is a government that treats its people like second-class citizens who have no rights, and is working overtime to stigmatize and dehumanize any and all who do not fit with the government’s plans for this country.
This is a government that uses free speech zones, roving bubble zones and trespass laws to silence, censor and marginalize Americans and restrict their First Amendment right to speak truth to power.
This is a government that adopts laws that criminalize Americans for otherwise lawful activities such as holding religious studies at home, growing vegetables in their yard, and collecting rainwater.
This is a government that persists in renewing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows the president and the military to arrest and detain American citizens indefinitely.
This is a government that saddled us with the Patriot Act, which opened the door to all manner of government abuses and intrusions on our privacy.
This is a government that, in direct opposition to the dire warnings of those who founded our country, has allowed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish a standing army by way of programs that transfer surplus military hardware to local and state police.
This is a government that has provided cover to police when they shoot and kill unarmed individuals just for standing a certain way, or moving a certain way, or holding something — anything — that police could misinterpret to be a gun, or igniting some trigger-centric fear in a police officer’s mind that has nothing to do with an actual threat to their safety.
This is a government that has allowed private corporations to get rich at taxpayer expense by locking people up for life for non-violent crimes.
This is a government that has created a Constitution-free zone within 100 miles inland of the border around the United States, paving the way for Border Patrol agents to search people’s homes, intimately probe their bodies, and rifle through their belongings, all without a warrant.
Nearly 66% of Americans (2/3 of the U.S. population, 197.4 million people) now live within that 100-mile-deep, Constitution-free zone.
This is a government that is operating in the negative on every front: it’s spending far more than what it makes (and takes from the American taxpayers) and it is borrowing heavily (from foreign governments and Social Security) to keep the government operating and keep funding its endless wars abroad.
Meanwhile, the nation’s sorely neglected infrastructure — railroads, water pipelines, ports, dams, bridges, airports and roads — is rapidly deteriorating.
This is a government that has empowered police departments to make a profit at the expense of those they have sworn to protect through the use of asset forfeiture laws, speed traps, and red light cameras.
This is a government whose gun violence — inflicted on unarmed individuals by battlefield – trained SWAT teams, militarized police, and bureaucratic government agents trained to shoot first and ask questions later — poses a greater threat to the safety and security of the nation than any mass shooter.
This is a government that has allowed the presidency to become a dictatorship operating above and beyond the law, regardless of which party is in power.
This is a government that treats dissidents, whistleblowers and freedom fighters as enemies of the state.
This is a government that justifies all manner of government tyranny and power grabs in the so-called name of national security, national crises and national emergencies.
This is a government that exports violence worldwide, with one of this country’s most profitable exports being weapons.
This is a government that routinely undermines the Constitution and rides roughshod over the rights of the citizenry, eviscerating individual freedoms so that its own powers can be expanded.
This is a government that believes it has the authority to search, seize, strip, scan, spy on, probe, pat down, taser, and arrest any individual at any time and for the slightest provocation, the Constitution be damned.
In other words, this is not a government that believes in, let alone upholds, freedom.
So where does that leave us?
As always, the first step begins with “we the people.”
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, our power as a citizenry comes from our ability to agree and stand united on certain freedom principles that should be non-negotiable.
By constitutional attorney and author, John W. Whitehead. He is the founder and president of The Rutherford Institute