A lesson from the Boston lockdown

Chet Nagle Former CIA Agent
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In his recent Ohio State commencement speech, President Obama soothed graduates by telling them not to pay attention to what they may have heard, not to fear government, and to reject the idea that “tyranny is always lurking just around the corner.” Was he worried the grads had seen videos of the SWAT enforcers in Boston after the marathon bombings?

Former Congressman Ron Paul described the Boston lockdown as “a military-style occupation of an American city” that looked like a “military coup in a far-off banana republic.” He added, “This unprecedented move should frighten us as much or more than the [terrorist] attack itself.”

On April 15, a 9,000-man army of tanks and black uniforms seized a large American city at gunpoint. The true nature of martial law in Boston wasn’t shown in the breathless newscasts, but you can see it in this video and in others. Then imagine it on your street — at your front door.

What happened in Boston? Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Mayor Thomas Menino responded to the marathon bombing by putting the city’s 625,000 residents under house arrest, calling it by the Orwellian phrase “shelter in place.” While Bostonians “sheltered in place,” helicopters racketed overhead, armored vehicles blocked roads, snipers infested rooftops, and black uniforms hammered on doors. Where did all that military equipment come from? It came from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a federal agency that has spent $7 billion buying body armor, weapons, ammunition, and armored vehicles for American towns and cities. The only thing missing are drones. So far.

The irony is that even with helicopter scanners, and after thousands of paramilitary cops evicted citizens from their homes with their hands in the air, the SWAT teams didn’t locate the teenage fugitive. He was found by a homeowner.

There’s a dire message in the Boston SWAT party: Most Americans aren’t protesting or doing much to defend their rights these days. In fact, absolute constitutional rights are treated as partial rights, revocable by the government at any time. The sad fact is federal police and agencies like the IRS can, and do, take advantage of Americans who don’t know their rights.

The way the Obama administration operates, it’s becoming difficult for Americans to know their rights under laws enacted by Congress, never mind the Constitution. Fox News reports that 10 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have sued DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and ICE Director John Morton, claiming ICE’s immigration enforcement policies are making agents break the law. The suit claims DHS directives require agents to let certain illegal immigrants stay, and that the policy “unconstitutionally usurps and encroaches upon the legislative powers of Congress.”

Last month, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) told Napolitano, “I have never heard of a situation in which a group of law officers sued their supervisor and you for blocking them from following the law. … You are not entitled to set policies, are you, that violate the mandates of congressional law?”

Napolitano replied that she and other officials have the authority to tell agents to enforce certain laws and ignore others.

If senior administration officials obey White House orders to ignore enacted laws, then it’s just as easy for them to ignore the Constitution. And they do ignore both, from surveillance of telephone and email communications, to politically motivated tax audits, to indefinite detention of U.S. citizens and drone kill lists.

So questions arise. Do you know your rights and how to defend them? Do you know what the Fourth Amendment guarantees? Boston shows that we have strayed a long way from the days when colonial Americans resisted British soldiers searching homes with warrants they had written themselves. The Fourth Amendment was adopted to stop such abuses, and it guarantees a peaceable citizen’s right to be left alone. But now, federal officers again write their own warrants under the Patriot Act, just like those British soldiers. Did you know that the Patriot Act allows federal agents to read your mail and your legal and medical records without a court warrant? The Patriot Act sacrificed our freedoms for safety — and we got neither.

How long will Americans allow their government to chop away at the roots of their liberty?

This month, Florida legislators gave Ric Bradshaw, the sheriff of Palm Beach County, $1 million for “prevention intervention” units. According to the Palm Beach Post, Sheriff Bradshaw will establish a hotline for informers to report the “guy down the street [who] says he hates the government.” The sheriff promised that residents who inform on their neighbors will do it “in a way that respects people’s autonomy and privacy.”

Don’t think “it can’t happen here.” It’s already happening.

Chet Nagle is a graduate of the Naval Academy and the Georgetown Law School, and the author of “Iran Covenant.”