The January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol shocked the nation. Now, as so often occurs in the wake of tragedy, some Washington politicians are using the opportunity to push for an expansion of their power—hoping Americans are too shell-shocked to object.
A bipartisan group in Congress has introduced the so-called “Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act Of 2021.” It would expand the surveillance and police powers of the national security state in the name of combatting dangerous extremism.
“America must be vigilant to combat those radicalized to violence, and the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act gives our government the tools to identify, monitor and thwart their illegal activities,” Congressman Brad Schneider, one of the bill’s lead sponsors, said. “Combatting the threat of domestic terrorism and white supremacy is not a Democratic or Republican issue, not left versus right or urban versus rural. Domestic Terrorism is an American issue, a serious threat that we can and must address together.”
The Bill Is Drawing Backlash
We all surely agree that true domestic terrorism is reprehensible. But many progressive lawmakers are speaking out against the hasty push to expand government power and warning of the threat it poses to civil liberties. They warn these powers will undoubtedly be used against many more people and disfavored groups than just violent radicals like those who attacked the Capitol.
Former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a progressive Democrat, called this push “so dangerous” in a Fox News interview.
“We don’t have to guess about where this goes or where it ends,” Gabbard argues, “When you have people like former CIA Director John Brennan openly talking about how he’s spoken with appointees and nominees in the Biden administration who are already starting to look across our country for these types of movements… that in his words make up this ‘unholy alliance’ of ‘religious extremists,’ ‘racists,’ ‘bigots’ … even ‘libertarians.’”
.@joebiden Your leadership is needed now to denounce those like John Brennan & Rep Schiff who are advocating for targeting half the country as potential domestic terrorists. Truly unite the American people around our Constitution & the rights that are endowed to us by our Creator pic.twitter.com/OpemBm4biS
.@JohnBrennan: Biden intel community “are moving in laser-like fashion to try to uncover as much as they can about” the pro-Trump “insurgency” that harbors “religious extremists, authoritarians, fascists, bigots, racists, nativists, even libertarians” pic.twitter.com/SjVXWhPhR8
“So, when you look at their process as they’re building this profile of a potential ‘extremist,’ what are we talking about?” she asked. “Are we talking about evangelical Christians? Somebody who is pro-life? Libertarians? People who attended a Trump rally?”
“[This would] lead to a very dangerous undermining of our civil liberties… and a targeting of almost half the country,” Gabbard concluded.
The concern is that government powers authorized ostensibly for use against “domestic terrorists” would wind up being wielded against much broader swaths of society.
A letter signed by 10 progressive House Democrats, including Representatives Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Ro Khanna, calls on leadership to “reject reactionary demands to further erode the rights and liberties of the American people.”
I’m leading the call for national security powers to not be expanded in light of the attack on our nation’s Capitol that occurred two weeks ago, as such measures often lead to the erosion of Americans’ civil liberties. pic.twitter.com/K6IHTPQzne
“History is littered with examples of initiatives sold as being necessary to fight extremism that quickly devolve into tools used for the mass violation of the human and civil rights of the American people,” the letter warns.
Why Progressive Critics Are Right to Oppose New ‘Domestic Terrorism’ Powers
There is simply no need to expand the government’s police powers. According to New York University’s law school, “existing statutes have long provided substantial authority for the federal government to investigate and prosecute acts of domestic terrorism.”
Indeed, at least 150 people have been charged with crimes related to the attack on the Capitol. The government already has vast powers to surveil, pursue, and prosecute Americans who commit crimes or plot violence. After all, law enforcement already knew from intelligence that the planned demonstration at the Capitol could turn violent. Their failure to adequately prepare for it was not due to a lack of information or authority.
Some might wonder, well, how could it hurt to give them more tools? Better safe than sorry, right?
This is an understandable impulse but deeply naive as a permanent conclusion. There’s good reason to think that “domestic terrorism” government powers would wind up targeting many Americans—because we’ve seen the same dynamic play out before, time and time again.
Passed in the wake of the tragic 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Patriot Act gave the federal government enormous surveillance powers.
For example, it authorized “sneak and peek” searches, allowing government officials to search someone’s home or office, take pictures, and even sometimes confiscate property, yet only inform them after-the-fact. According to the ACLU, 76 percent of sneak-and-peak searches have occurred in drug enforcement cases, with less than 1 percent actually happening in terrorism-related-cases.
The Patriot Act also created a new pathway for FBI agents to access Americans’ personal information, such as phone records, computer records, credit history, and banking information. Per the ACLU, of the 192,500 such records examinations the FBI made from 2003 to 2006, only one led to a terrorism conviction. (And the ACLU says that conviction would have been obtained without Patriot Act.)
All of this doesn’t even touch on the way post-Patriot-Act mass surveillance caught up millions of innocent Americans, as exposed by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
There’s plenty of precedent that suggests these abuses can be explicitly political, too.
“Government agencies—including the FBI and the Department of Defense—have conducted their own spying on innocent and law-abiding Americans,” the ACLU reports. “Through the Freedom of Information Act, the ACLU learned the FBI had been consistently monitoring peaceful groups such Quakers, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Greenpeace, the Arab American Anti-Defamation Committee and, indeed, the ACLU itself.”
We might give the government vast new powers to fight “domestic terrorism.” But it’s inevitable that these same powers will eventually be used against millions of Americans who have nothing to do with such extremism.
The Big Picture: We Must Resist Rushing Through Bad Ideas Amid Emergencies
There’s a lesson here that extends beyond the specific debate over surveillance powers and the War on Terror. In times of crisis and emergency, enterprising politicians will always seek to exploit the situation to expand their own power. Too often, scared citizens go along with these power grabs.
Higgs showed how throughout history, crises have been used to excuse government power grabs. After each crisis, the government lets go of some of the power, but never all of it. As a result, the federal government’s power (the Leviathan) has “ratcheted up,” crisis after crisis, throughout the last hundred years.
Progressives, conservatives, and libertarians alike must stand firm against the latest push to infringe on civil liberties in the name of combating “domestic terror.” Otherwise, sweeping powers granted amid crisis will undoubtedly be used against millions of Americans who did nothing wrong on January 6.
President Trump was elected on an anti-trade agenda in 2016, and promised that tariffs and protectionist measures could restore the US manufacturing sector. After winning the White House, the president imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods meant to discourage imports in pursuit of this goal. He has described himself as a “tariff man” and said that “trade wars are good and easy to win.”
How is this rhetoric holding up?
Well, a new Wall Street Journaldata analysis sheds light on the trade war’s results so far. They aren’t pretty.
“President Trump’s trade war against China didn’t achieve the central objective of reversing a US decline in manufacturing, economic data show,” reads the report.
“Another goal—reshoring of US factory production—hasn’t happened either,” the Journal continues. “Job growth in manufacturing started to slow in July 2018, and manufacturing production peaked in December 2018.”
This graph shows pretty clearly that Trump’s tariffs did not successfully promote employment in the manufacturing sector. Much of the manufacturing job gains that did occur during the president’s tenure happened before the tariffs even took effect.
This news is dismaying, but it’s hardly surprising.
Economists overwhelmingly agree that tariffs, which are basically taxes on American consumers, don’t work. In a 2016 survey of economists, zero agreed that adding tariffs on certain goods would successfully encourage domestic production. A whopping 93 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed, while 7 percent did not answer.
“Tariffs that save jobs in the steel industry mean higher steel prices, which in turn means fewer sales of American steel products around the world and losses of far more jobs than are saved,” famed free-market economist Thomas Sowell explained in one example of how tariffs backfire.Populist-sounding politicians can boast about ‘protecting American jobs’ and seem to the untrained eye to be telling the truth.
“The benefits of a tariff are visible,” Nobel laureate Milton Friedman similarly noted. “Union workers can see they are ‘protected.’ The harm which a tariff does is invisible. It’s spread widely. There are people that don’t have jobs because of tariffs but they don’t know it.”
This is why populist-sounding politicians can boast about “protecting American jobs” and seem to the untrained eye to be telling the truth.
Yet as economists agree, the problem with tariffs generally speaking is that they kill more jobs than they create. For every job that is “protected” by a tariff, other jobs are lost in related industries that use the targeted good as an input and see their costs raised. But even within the manufacturing sector, these tariffs failed.
Why? It’s simple: The tariffs helped some manufacturers by hurting others via raised prices, and (predictably) triggered retaliatory tariffs from China that together outweighed any benefits.The problem with tariffs generally speaking is that they kill more jobs than they create.
“An industry-by-industry analysis by the Federal Reserve showed that tariffs did help boost employment by 0.3%, in industries exposed to trade with China, by giving protection to some domestic industries to cheaper Chinese imports,” the Journalreports.
“But these gains were more than offset by higher costs of importing Chinese parts, which cut manufacturing employment by 1.1%,” the analysis continues. “Retaliatory tariffs imposed by China against US exports, the analysis found, reduced US factory jobs by 0.7%.”
Many Americans of good faith might be earnestly surprised by how tariffs have failed to restore the manufacturing sector. But students of economics shouldn’t be.
With Americans growing ever more divided amid national upheaval over racial inequality and a global pandemic, it has perhaps never been more apparent that the United States has no business trying to fix the world with so many problems on our own doorstep. Whatever his faults, President Trump at least seems to understand this.
Even though he hasn’t fully followed through on it, President Trump campaigned on an “America First” foreign policy and promised to end the United States’ decades-long military intervention in Afghanistan. While controversial in foreign policy establishment circles, the sentiment behind America First is straightforward enough: American foreign policy should focus on America’s national interest and security. It should not be preoccupied with spreading democracy across the globe, acting as the world’s policemen, launching military interventions based on humanitarian grounds, or any other fool’s errand that only distracts from and endangers national interest and security.
Applied to the Middle East, the America First framework is intuitive—our military misadventures in countries like Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan have cost the U.S. tremendously yet failed to further our interests. Once the party of hawks and idealists, Republican voters are now firmly in the America First camp. According to The Intercept, 81% of 2016 Trump voters support removing troops from Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, this shift in views has not been represented in Congress. Most Senate Republicans just explicitly voted against ending the war in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday evening, Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian-leaning Kentucky Republican, introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have brought our troops home from Afghanistan, given those soldiers who served a bonus, and repealed the authorization of force Congress passed in 2001. But in a 60 to 33 vote, the Senate shot it down, with only three Republicans in addition to Paul—Sens. Mike Lee, Mike Braun, and Steve Daines—backing the amendment.
“Our amendment [would] finally and completely end the War in Afghanistan,” Paul said on the Senate floor. “Over 4,000 Americans have died in Afghanistan and over 20,000 have been wounded. It’s time to bring our soldiers home.”
“It is not sustainable to keep fighting in Afghanistan generation after generation,” he continued. “In fact, we now have soldiers who were born after 9/11 serving in Afghanistan.”
“We’ve been there for 20 years,” the senator said. “How can we characterize withdrawal after 20 years, after we defeated the enemy, as ‘precipitous’? It’s crazy. The American people say, ‘Come home,’ and this is your chance.”
Today I introduced a bipartisan amendment to the NDAA to end America’s longest war and provide bonuses to those who've deployed. Unfortunately a bipartisan majority eventually voted 60-33 to kill it. Thank you to those who support ending this war. https://t.co/03rsByZqOrpic.twitter.com/J9gmq2evy8
When weighing the Afghanistan conflict under the America First framework, we must consider the war’s staggering costs.
The U.S. has spent roughly $1 trillion on the conflict. That comes out to approximately $3,000 per taxpayer flushed down the drain on a fruitless intervention. Unsurprisingly, one report found that winding down our involvement in Afghanistan would save taxpayers $210 billion to $386 billion in future expenditure.
And, as Senator Paul noted, the conflict has had immense human costs as well. Sadly, the loss of life has been to little avail. I interviewed multiple veterans of the Afghanistan War for the Washington Examiner, and one, now an activist for foreign policy restraint, told me that “to say that [our troops in Afghanistan] died for something that is in U.S. interests is increasingly hard to say.”
In exchange for this investment and sacrifice, authorities misled the American people.
An explosive Washington Postinvestigation found that “senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.” As Daniel DePetris put it, “The pages reveal a concerted attempt at the Pentagon and the White House to downplay problems, stifle bad news, and spin a cockamamie narrative about success based on flawed metrics and reasoning.”
Even after our nearly two decades of involvement and so much sacrifice, the Afghan government we’ve installed still has not attained popular legitimacy. Afghanistan will never stabilize until we withdraw and let the Afghani people settle their own affairs. We need to cut our losses in Afghanistan and focus our resources on the myriad problems we have at home.
Unfortunately, if this latest Senate vote is anything to go by, only a few of our Republican representatives are actually willing to put America First.
Brad Polumbo is a libertarian-conservative journalist and the Eugene S. Thorpe Writing Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education. This article was originally featured at the Foundation for Economic Education and is republished with permission.
mid the nationwide focus on the death of George Floyd, another tragedy has unfortunately fallen by the wayside. We should not forget the death of Breonna Taylor—or the dire need to abolish the “no-knock” warrants that caused her death, trample property rights, and routinely endanger Americans.
On March 13, police officers broke into the Louisville, Kentucky home of Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, unannounced. The police were executing a “no-knock” warrant, which allows them to conduct a search without identifying themselves as law enforcement, as part of a drug crime investigation into a different suspect—not Taylor or Walker—who was already in police custody.
When Walker heard unknown intruders breaking into his home, he did not know they were police officers. So, quite understandably, Walker grabbed his lawfully-owned firearm and fired a shot at the unknown invaders. The ensuing hail of more than 20 police-fired bullets left Taylor dead, and Walker was arrested for attempted murder of a police officer. (The charge has since been dropped).
Police claim that they knocked at the apartment door and announced themselves, yet that is hard to believe. They were specifically executing a “no-knock” warrant, after all, and not just Walker, but multiple neighbors have confirmed they heard no such announcement.
Neither Taylor nor Walker had a criminal history, and no drugs were found in the raid on their apartment.
Taylor’s killing was a grotesque act of police recklessness. It once again exposes the injustice of “no-knock” warrants, which put both police officers and law-abiding Americans in grave and unnecessary danger by creating a situation where a routine law enforcement search can easily turn into a deadly misunderstanding.
And, sadly, Taylor’s death is not as unique as one might think.
Law enforcement officers conduct 20,000 “no-knock” raids a year. We don’t know exactly how many people are killed or injured as a result, but an analysis from the American Civil Liberties Union does provide some insight. As reported by Vox, the ACLU looked into 818 such “no-knock” raids, and found seven deaths (2 were suicides to evade arrest) and 46 civilian injuries. If these figures are at all representative, that means many, many more Americans are injured or killed across all 20,000 raids.
True, these raids usually don’t end in violence. But every single “no-knock” warrant violates the sanctity of the home, the privacy of the individual, and fundamental property rights, all of which are longstanding tenets in the western tradition of liberty and in the founding ideas of America.
Without private property, there is no escape from state power. Property rights are the border guards around an individual’s life that deter political invasions.
Few government policies better symbolize the contempt for property rights than the rising number of no-knock raids. “A man’s home is his castle” has been an accepted rule of English common law since the early 1600s and required law-enforcement officials to knock on the door and announce themselves before entering a private home. But this standard has increasingly been rejected in favor of another ancient rule—“the king’s keys unlock all doors.”
The notion that “A man’s home is his castle,” as Bovard notes, is a fundamental American principle. It is enshrined in our Constitution, particularly through the Fourth Amendment, which recognizes Americans’ right to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures” of their homes. It is hard to imagine any search less “reasonable” than one where armed-to-the-teeth police officers burst into your home in the dead of night—and don’t even announce themselves as law enforcement.
And conservatives especially should appreciate the insidious way in which “no-knock” raids undermine the Second Amendment and the right to self-defense. After all, Walker did exactly what many Americans who lawfully own guns would do: protect his home and family from armed intruders. For the exercise of this fundamental right, Taylor paid the ultimate price.
Policies like these compromise the sanctity of every American home. How can anyone exercise their right to self-defense to protect their home and family if they don’t know whether or not it’s the police breaking down the door?
This is why Breonna Taylor’s story must not be allowed to fall through the cracks, and “no-knock” warrants cannot be allowed to stand.
The police officers involved in her case still have not faced any charges, and her mother is calling for justice, saying “I need people to know that her life mattered.”
The only way to truly honor Taylor’s memory is to make sure this kind of tragedy never happens again—and that means banning “no-knock” warrants across the board. Thankfully, there is some political support across the ideological spectrum for this reform.
Congressional Democrats have introduced a police reform bill that would abolish “no-knock” warrants for federal drug cases, which doesn’t go far enough, but is at least a good start.
Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian-leaning Kentucky Republican, has led the charge against “no-knocks” from the Right. He was one of the first voices to speak out about Breonna Taylor’s tragic death, and has called for reform in no uncertain terms.
“I think it’s crazy that we’re breaking down people’s doors in the middle of the night,” the senator said in a conversation with Taylor’s aunt. “People are frightened. They don’t know what to do. They don’t know if it’s burglars.”
“I want to make sure that we don’t forget Breonna,” Paul continued. “That we try to make it better, so this doesn’t happen again.” The only way to do that is to consign “no-knock” warrants to the dustbin of history.
Brad Polumbo is a libertarian-conservative journalist and the Eugene S. Thorpe Writing Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education. This article was originally featured at the Foundation for Economic Education and is republished with permission.
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