Our civil liberties are under attack
“Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded.”
These prophetic words were spoken by none other than the Father of the Constitution, James Madison. America’s fourth President had the wisdom to see beyond the litany of challenges facing our founders and innately understood how the power of fear could be weaponized against future generations to erode the very freedoms they had fought so hard to obtain. Madison was fully aware of the primal human need for safety, and that perceived threats to this safety could be used one day to justify attacks on our fundamental liberties.
Unfortunately, just one century later, our country’s leaders would begin to ignore his warning. At the pinnacle of World War I, the United States government would make its first such betrayal, passing the ill-conceived Espionage Act in 1917 to purportedly safeguard against spying and bolster our national security at a time when Americans felt especially vulnerable. However, it was used to silence and target the free speech of those who spoke out against the war.
Our founders declared certain rights to be self-evident and inalienable because they understood the corrupting influence of power. They could envision how legislation like the Espionage Act would be antithetical to freedom. But politicians disregarded their foresight, and it passed under the auspices of security.
Those in power immediately used the newly passed legislation to begin jailing dissidents of the war, like Charles Schenck and Elizabeth Baer, charging them with violating the Espionage Act for handing out pamphlets that opposed the draft. These were not spies for our adversaries leaking sensitive intelligence that endangered our servicemembers. No - they were merely anti-war protesters exercising their First Amendment right to free speech. Yet, even with our system of checks and balances, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of Schenck and Baer, ruling that Congress has more latitude in limiting speech during times of war. A dangerous precedent was set that has continued to undermine liberty to this day.
The Espionage Act remains law today, and in recent years, it has been used as a blunt instrument to attack a free press and critics of those in power. During the Obama presidency, eight people were charged with leaking security details to the media under the Espionage Act — more than all previous administrations combined and most notably included Edward Snowden. This whistleblower bravely exposed the unconstitutional mass surveillance and human rights abuses being carried out by the NSA. Instead of receiving the whistleblower protections we were told are essential for democracy, Snowden faces 30 years in prison if extradited from Russia.
The unconstitutional mass surveillance he exposed was only made possible due to another dreadful example of wartime legislation known as the Patriot Act. Our country was still on edge following the jihadi terrorist attack on 9/11 and the American people were being encouraged by those in the media and in Washington to constantly be suspicious. Remember “if you see something, say something?” We were repeatedly told that the next terrorist attack was imminent and that everyone was a suspect. The Bush administration and Congress leveraged this fear to drastically expand the scope of executive power.
Bush, Cheney and the warmongers of both parties who enabled them normalized this idea that as long as a president claims to be acting in the interest of national security, they can trample all over our God-given freedoms. The Bush administration insisted that a president has the power to designate American citizens suspected of being terrorists as “enemy combatants.” This classification means they can be imprisoned indefinitely and denied all of their constitutional rights without even a conviction — mere suspicion will suffice. The Bush administration established a precedent that the principles of due process could be suspended in the name of national security. And it was in this climate of extreme fear, that the Patriot Act was passed.
The Patriot Act allowed law enforcement agencies to conduct warrantless surveillance of Americans in direct violation of our Fourth Amendment rights to privacy. Any American can now be wiretapped, and the rights of Habeas Corpus are no longer guaranteed. The Patriot Act allows our government to operate deep in the shadows of secrecy as the American people sacrifice their liberty. Naturally, one would expect this highly intrusive, anti-constitutional piece of legislation to have barely found the votes to pass, if at all, and then surely get phased out quickly. Not the case. It passed the Senate with a vote of 98-1, very little debate, has been easily and blindly reauthorized numerous times, and remains in effect to this day.
While serving in Congress, I introduced legislation that would repeal many of the Patriot Act’s most egregious violations to the Constitution and end the secret FISA courts. Speaker Pelosi refused to even allow for a vote. There was no room for debate, and any attempt to siphon away power from the party elites and restore it to the people was seen as a betrayal of the Washington establishment. Members of Congress take an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution, but with limited exceptions like Senator Rand Paul, those on Capitol Hill seem to ignore how legislation like the Espionage Act and Patriot Act run counter to this promise. The time to repeal is now.
Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
As the Biden administration continues to escalate tensions with Russia, what freedoms will they demand we sacrifice in the name of national security? What will we sacrifice under the threat of nuclear war?
We’ve already seen this administration attempt to deploy a ‘Ministry of Truth’ to censor voices it doesn’t like – but the American people stood together, and we did not allow it. I hope and pray that we find this same courage under the threat of WWIII and nuclear annihilation.
Ready for an ever deeper dive on this critical issue?
In Episode 3 of The Tulsi Gabbard Show, Dr. Ron Paul and I discuss the greatest threats to our civil liberties and what we must do to defend them. We don't hold anything back, and I think you'll enjoy our frank discussion on this timely issue.
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