One Step Closer to a Police State

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Posted on Freedom Advocates on August 4th 2004 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia. — In the pursuit of security, America has strayed far from the liberties envisioned by our founders. Will we stop now and reverse the trend?

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With each passing day, America is inching further down a slippery slope toward a police state. Soon, we’ll have picked up so much momentum that there will be no turning back.

Incredibly, not too many people appear concerned. Bombarded by media images and a mind-numbing entertainment culture, people seem to be so distracted that they do not even realize that our civil liberties are slowly and stealthily eroding away.

Yet the signs of a police state are everywhere. They have infiltrated all aspects of our lives, from the mundane to the downright oppressive. We were once a society that valued individual liberty and privacy. But in recent years we have turned into a culture that has quietly accepted surveillance cameras at traffic lights and in common public areas, drug-sniffing dogs in our children’s schools, national databases that track our finances and activities, sneak-and-peek searches of our homes without our knowledge or consent and anti-terrorism laws that turn average Americans into suspected criminals.

In our post-9/11 world, government officials have effectively used terror and fear to subdue any public resistance to legislation like the Patriot Act, which embodies the heavy-handed empowering of government intrusion into our lives. Our police officers have become armed militias, instead of the civilian peacekeepers they were intended to be. Now, even average citizens—those that should have nothing to fear or worry about—are becoming unwitting targets of a government seemingly at war with its own people. Understandably, fear and paranoia rule the day.

Now with the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, we have reached yet another milepost on our journey to a police state. A majority of the high court agreed that refusing to answer when a policeman asks “What’s your name?” can rightfully be considered a crime under Nevada’s “stop and identify” statute. Nineteen other states already have similar laws on their books. No longer will Americans, even those not suspected of or charged with any crime, have the right to remain silent when stopped and questioned by a police officer.

The case arose after Larry D. Hiibel, a Nevada cattle rancher, was arrested and convicted on a misdemeanor after refusing to tell his name or show identification to a sheriff’s deputy. By requiring individuals to identify themselves on pain of arrest, this ruling turns Americans innocent of any wrongdoing into immediate suspects. Indeed, it is hard to ignore the similarity to the police states found in countries like China and North Korea. It can only be a matter of time before we are required to carry identification at all times. With all the talk of digital chips and national IDs, it may not even be so far-fetched to think that someday our slightest movements will be tracked by government satellites.

We are fast becoming the police state that Congressman Ron Paul (R-Tx.) warned against in his June 2002 address to the House of Representatives. His words painted a chilling portrait of a nation willingly allowing itself to be monitored, tracked, fingerprinted and controlled. “Personal privacy, the sine qua non of liberty, no longer exists in the United States. Ruthless and abusive use of all this information accumulated by the government is yet to come.”

“It’s the responsibility of all of us to speak the truth to our best ability,” cautioned Paul, “and if there are reservations about what we’re doing, we should sound an alarm and warn the people of what is to come.”

Although the alarm has been sounded repeatedly from critics on all sides of the political spectrum, is anyone listening? If they were, every piece of legislation that tightens the government’s stronghold on American citizens would be considered an affront to freedom. And every court decision that weakens the right of each American to privacy and to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures would be considered an attack against individual liberty.

Politicians love to boast about how far we’ve come since 1776. Yet sadly, we seem to have lost the love of freedom that laid the groundwork for the American Revolution. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th have further confused the situation. In fact, it is common to hear both our elected officials and citizens state rather bluntly that it’s time to relinquish some of our freedoms in order to feel more secure.

This kind of sentiment was completely foreign to those who founded this country. Obviously, those who fought the arduous battles to preserve our freedom had a different concept of what a society should be and what it meant to be a good citizen.

Vested with the deep-seated belief that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, those who founded America took a courageous stand for their right to freely pursue life, liberty and happiness. And when their outcries were ignored by Great Britain, they declared that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government.” This led to the drafting of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

It has been said that on a sunny day in Philadelphia in 1787, just after the Constitutional Convention had finished its work, a woman approached Benjamin Franklin and asked, “Mr. Franklin, what kind of government have you given us?” “A Republic, madam,” Franklin quickly answered. “If you can keep it.”

I only hope that we have the wisdom and the courage to keep it

One Step Closer to a Police State by John W. Whitehead

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at


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