Using armaments and tactics straight from the battlefield against Americans protesting, police officers in city after city often look and behave more like soldiers than public servants. But after hearing President Biden’s State of the Union speech calling for “funding the police”, I couldn’t help but sneer at the flood of departments, from Beverly Hills to West Virginia, overflowing with so much extra military gear they can ship it in bulk to Ukrainians under siege by Russian forces.
For 25 years the US military has been pushing its leftover weapons and vehicles into the willing hands of state and local law enforcement agencies with little or no oversight. Thousands of police departments have gorged themselves at the military trough through the Department of Defense’s generous 1033 program, which makes available armored vehicles, 50-caliber guns, grenade launchers and even bayonets to local police, transforming these departments into well-armed militias. Through 1033, a small town in Iowa with a 12-person police department acquired a MRAP or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected troop transport. Who knew Washington, Iowa with a population of 7,000 was such a dangerous place?
Freeze & Seize
Politicians from both parties cheered when Biden administration officials moved to sanction high-tech Russian imports and seize the extravagant homes, planes and yachts of Vladimir Putin and his inner circle of oligarchs. But many lawmakers applauding these sanctions are the same ones who support anti-BDS measures. The BDS or Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement aims to hold Israel accountable to its legal obligations under international law, similar to the success that anti-apartheid activists achieved in South Africa. Lawmakers in at least 35 states have passed controversial bills and executive orders designed to discourage boycotts of Israel, even going so far as to force businesses entering into contracts with the state to certify that they will not engage in any boycott activity. While individuals and companies can choose to support or not support a boycott, these contracts conflict with free expression rights protected by the First Amendment.
An audible outcry was heard on both sides of the border after the Canadian government recently moved to freeze more than 200 bank accounts linked to protests in Ottawa against covid restrictions. This extraordinary action should not go unquestioned, but it was done under a declared state of emergency, and quickly lifted. Americans might be surprised to learn that US federal law allows for something similar to happen in the states, no emergency needed.
For years, US-based charities and other NGOs that work overseas have risked having their money and property locked up by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), which has the power to indefinitely freeze all of the assets of anyone or any group it accuses of supporting terrorism. There are no specific criteria governing why an entity is sanctioned and the government doesn’t have to provide evidence that any wrongdoing actually took place.
Before it crossed paths with Treasury, KindHearts was a highly regarded charity based in Toledo, Ohio that provided humanitarian aid abroad and at home, including assistance to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. KindHearts’ charity work ended when – without any prior notice – Treasury froze all of their belongings pending an investigation as to whether it would designate the charity as a “terrorist” group. Years later, a court would rule that Treasury had violated the charity’s constitutional rights, and no connection to terrorism was established by the government, but by then, after years of being unable to fundraise or pay its bills, KindHearts had already shut its doors.
The No-Fly List is another Global War on Terror relic that we can’t seem to escape. For years law enforcement used it as retaliation against Muslim-Americans and immigrants who refused to spy on other members of their communities as FBI informants. Its reemergence in the public spotlight follows reports the Biden Administration considered adding January 6 defendants to the list (and calls by politicians and airline workers to make the No-Fly List apply to domestic extremism). While some may enjoy the schadenfreude, this draconian list, bloated and ineffective since its inception, should be ended not expanded.
Law enforcement’s adoption of a more aggressive, battlefield mentality is just the most visible sign of America’s war machine coming home to roost. But with a host of tools and powers available to the government to sanction individuals and groups without evidence or redress, it’s possible that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.