The Police State

Way back in the olden thymes, it was common for liberals to say something along the lines that all power is eventually abused. They tend to get religion on this stuff whenever the bogeyman is in office. In the Reagan years they were always grousing about the “imperial presidency.” Every liberal in DC was suddenly Oliver Cromwell whenever Reagan threw on a tuxedo.

In the Bush years the Left was chanting about Bush-Hitler and the rise of “American fascism.” If you want to stroll down memory lane, put “Bush Fascist” in your nearest Google machine.

Fundamentally, the Left is right about the abuse of power. Men are not angels. That’s why a certain amount of corruption is a given whenever you talk about government. The Left’s inability to accept that is what leads them into trouble. Burkean conservatives, however, have a trust in institutions that can get them in trouble as well. When their guys are in office they wax romantic about respecting the office and traditions of American governance.

A steady distrust of the state is the wise position. Specifically, it should always be assumed that all state power will be abused to the maximum possible. That’s the check on new laws and new powers. Here’s a perfect example.

“Henry. A SWAT team from Homeland Security just raided our factory!”

“What? This must be a joke.”

“No this is really serious. We got guys with guns, they put all our people out in the parking lot and won’t let us go into the plant.”

“Whoa.”

What is happening?” asks Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz when he arrives at his Nashville factory to question the officers. “We can’t tell you.” “What are you talking about, you can’t tell me, you can’t just come in and …” “We have a warrant!” Well, lemme see the warrant.” “We can’t show that to you because it’s sealed.”

While 30 men in SWAT attire dispatched from Homeland Security and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cart away about half a million dollars of wood and guitars, seven armed agents interrogate an employee without benefit of a lawyer. The next day Juszkiewicz receives a letter warning that he cannot touch any guitar left in the plant, under threat of being charged with a separate federal offense for each “violation,” punishable by a jail term.

The men in the SWAT gear surely think they are good men. They think they are liberty loving Americans. They probably vote for conservative candidates who extol the virtues of freedom. Yet, they are perfectly willing to gun down their fellow citizens for a paycheck. They are no different than the guards at Auschwitz.

Up until that point Gibson had not received so much as a postcard telling the company it might be doing something wrong. Thus began a five-year saga, extensively covered by the press, with reputation-destroying leaks and shady allegations that Gibson was illegally importing wood from endangered tree species. In the end, formal charges were never filed, but the disruption to Gibson’s business and the mounting legal fees and threat of imprisonment induced Juszkiewicz to settle for $250,000—with an additional $50,000 “donation” piled on to pay off an environmental activist group.

This is how the mafia works. They give you two choices. Pay up or get your legs broken. Of course free men freely choose to pay!

Two months before the raid, lobbyists slipped some arcane supply-chain reporting provisions into an extension of the Lacey Act of 1900 that changed the technical definition of “fingerboard blanks,” which are legal to import.

With no clear legal standards, a sealed warrant the company has not been allowed to see too this day, no formal charges filed, and the threat of a prison term hanging over any executive who does not take “due care” to abide by this absurdly vague law, Gibson settled. “You’re fighting a very well organized political machine in the unions,” Juszkiewicz concluded. “And the conservation guys have sort of gone along.” Hey, what’s not to like about $50,000?

The rest of the story is well worth a read. What’s jarring about this story is not the gross abuse of power. That’s becoming a daily occurrence. What’s jarring is no politician has taken up the cause. Imagine a presidential candidate making an issue of this. It gets people’s attention and is easy to understand. Instead, we get silence.