The War On Us

Increasingly, the US government’s many police forces (often state and local ones as well) operate militarily and are trained to treat ordinary citizens as enemies. At the same time, the people from whom the government personnel take their cues routinely describe those who differ from them socially and politically as illegitimate, criminal, even terrorists. Though these developments have separate roots, the post-9/11 state of no-win war against anonymous enemies has given them momentum. The longer it goes on, the more they converge and set in motion a spiral of civil strife all too well known in history, a spiral ever more difficult to stop short of civil war. Even now ordinary Americans are liable to being disadvantaged, hurt or even killed by their government as never before.

Government’s violent treatment of citizens has become generalized and unremarkable. Consider.

This month in Washington DC, Federal police riddled with bullets a woman suffering from post-partum depression who, had she been allowed to live, might have been convicted of reckless driving, at most. She had careened too close to the White House and Capitol, but had harmed no one and her car had stopped. In the same month, California sheriffs’ deputies killed a 13 year-old boy who was carrying a plastic toy rifle. It is not illegal to carry a rifle, never mind a toy one. America did not blink. A half century ago, Alabama sheriff Bull Connor’s use of a mere cattle prod to move marchers from blocking a street had caused a national crisis.

In a casual conversation, a friendly employee of the US Forest Service bemoaned to me that he was on his way to a US Army base, where he and colleagues would practice military tactics against persons who resist regulations. A forester, he had hoped to be Smokey the Bear. Instead, he said, “we are now the Department of Provocation.” In fact every US government agency, and most state and local ones now police their ever burgeoning regulations with military equipment, tactics, and above all with the assumption that they are dealing with people who should not be dealt with any other way.

Modern militarized government stems from the Progressive idea that society must mobilize as for war to achieve “the greater good.” Hence we have “wars” on everything from hunger and drugs and ignorance and global warming. Reality follows rhetoric. Since the health of “the environment” is a matter of life and death, the Environmental Protection Agency must deal with “enemies of the planet” with armored cars, machine guns, and home invasions. Apparently, even the Department of Education has SWAT teams.

The general population is increasingly inured to violence. The latest “Grand Theft” video game, for example, involves torturing a prisoner. Fun. That is only one step beyond the popular TV show “24” in which the audience cheered the hero’s torture of terrorist suspects. Contrast this with Dragnet, the most popular TV cops drama of the 1950s, whose Sergeant Joe Friday knocked on doors and said “yes ma’m, no ma’m.”

But governments, including ours, do not and cannot oppress citizens equally.

Persons who possess the greatest power have the larger opportunity to direct blame and distrust, even mayhem, onto those they like least. Since the mid- 1990s, authoritative voices from Democratic President Bill Clinton to Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, echoed by the media have intoned a familiar litany: America is beset by racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious obscurantism, by domestic abuse, greed, and gun owners. These ills are not so different from those found in backward parts of the world where we fight “extremism” in order to fight terrorism. Indeed these ills argue for fighting extremism, indeed for nation-building in America as well as abroad. Who in America embodies extremism? Who is inherently responsible for social ills, including terrorism? Who will have to be re-constructed? No surprise: the ruling class’ political opponents: the conservative side of American life.

This has deep roots. In 1963, the ruling class imputed President John F. Kennedy’s assassination to the “climate of hatred” in conservative Dallas, Texas even though the assassin was a Communist. No less than Chief Justice Earl Warren indicted right wing “bigots.” Today, computer searches find that the term “extremist” correlates in the major newspapers with “conservative” or “right wing” at twelve times the rate it does with “liberal” or “left wing.”

The focus on “Homeland Security” has only added “terrorism” to our ruling class’ excuses for “going after” conservative Americans. And so, the Department of Homeland Security uses its intelligence “fusion centers” to compile ominously worded dossiers against such groups as “pro-lifers” and such “anti government activists” as “homeschoolers” and “gun owners.” The FBI infiltrates the Tea Parties as it once did the Communist Party. DHS conducts its “practice runs” against mockups of these groups. The IRS audits conservative groups.

Why not? President Barack Obama called these very groups “enemies of democracy,” and Vice President Joseph Biden has called them “terrorists.” Obama Administration spokesmen have referred to them as “jihadists,” “hostage takers,” persons “with bombs strapped to their chests, etc. Indeed a Rasmussen poll shows that 26% of the Obama Administration’s supporters – possibly not the least influential among them – regard the Tea Parties as the top terrorist threat to America.

No official act is needed for like-minded persons at the top of society to act in mutually pleasing ways. No law, no official policy, much less conspiracy is needed – only the prejudices and convenience, the intellectual, social, identity of those in power. Why should not officials all across the US government act according to their superiors’ opinions, to what they hear from the best people and what they read in the best media, indeed according to their shared beliefs?

Angelo M. Codevilla

Angelo M. Codevilla is professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and is a Senior Fellow of The Claremont Institute. He served as a U.S. Senate Staff member dealing with oversight of the intelligence services. His new book Peace Among Ourselves and With All Nations was published by Hoover Institution Press.

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  1. djf says

    This is a great post, but it is silly to describe Michael Bloomberg as a Republican (which the author presumably does to avoid an appearance of partisanship). Bloomberg, a lifelong Democrat until he ran for mayor, was only ever a nominal Republican – the Dems wouldn’t nominate him for mayor, so he changed parties and purchased the Republican nomination they way the rest of us would buy, say, a new toliet seat at Home Depo. He publicly dispensed with his pro forma “Republicanism” years ago.

    Also, to Bloomberg’s credit, the NYPD on his watch (and in the face of protest from Obama’s FBI, the New York Times and the local leftist legal establishment) has actively infiltrated and surveilled Islamist organizations. As far as I know, the NYPD has up till now left Tea Partiers and homeschoolers (to the extent we have them in NYC) alone. This probably will change, of course, when a new mayor (presumably the far-left Democrat Bill DeBlasio) in January.

  2. says

    These statements are all well put and thoroughly supported by the evidence of our own eyes the past several years. The Obamacare law will complete the government’s dossier on all of us, including our health status. Privacy has only one factor in its favor. The government is acting far beyond its level of competence. As the credentialed but ill-educated ruling class has advanced, competence has declined. Does anyone think this bunch could reach the moon ?

  3. gabe says

    No! But they can sure reach into your wallet and into your doctor’s office.

    Coming soon:
    A new opportunity to disarm those pesky, “illegitmate, criminal, terrorists”, at least those living in urban areas, if this genius from Yale has anything to say about it.
    (From this a.m.’s Originalism Blog)
    In the current edition of the Yale Law Journal, Joseph Blocher (Duke Law School) has the article Firearm Localism (123 Yale L.J. 82 (2013)). Here is the abstract:

    “Second Amendment doctrine is largely becoming a line-drawing exercise, as courts try to determine which “Arms” are constitutionally protected, which “people” are permitted to keep and bear them, and in which ways those arms and people can be regulated. But the developing legal regime has yet to account for one potentially significant set of lines: the city limits themselves. In rural areas, gun crime and gun control are relatively rare, and gun culture is strong. In cities, by contrast, rates of violent gun crime are comparatively high, and opportunities for recreational gun use are scarce. And from colonial Boston to nineteenth-century Tombstone to contemporary New York City, guns have consistently been regulated more heavily in cities—a degree of geographic variation that is hard to find with regard to any other constitutional right. This Article argues that Second Amendment doctrine and state preemption laws can and should incorporate these longstanding and sensible differences between urban and rural gun use and regulation. Doing so would present new possibilities for the stalled debate on gun control, protect rural gun culture while permitting cities to address urban gun violence, and preserve the longstanding American tradition of firearm localism. ”

    And so, the “credentialed” strike again. How long before this thesis is propounded by gun control activists? Ah, but it will all be legal because Wyatt Earp did it in Tombstone and, after all, we must respect PRECEDENT! – the first resort of the credentialed legal scoundrel.

    take care

  4. teapartydoc says

    The only way to get rid of being dominated by a credentialed elite is to make it statutorily impossible for the government to recognize and use credentials. The best way to do this is to turn over to the states many of the activities taken over and on by the federal govt, and eliminate others.

    • says

      I respectfully disagree. Instead, I argue for a massive rollback of all forms of credentialism.

      Having seen all levels of government in operation, the idea that local is better than federal is highly questionable. States are no better at making these decisions, and likely even more corrupt.

      We simply need less credentialism.

  5. Shootin' Buddy says

    Who told you that it is not illegal to carry a rifle in California? Who is doing your research? 8th graders?

    This is akin to Reason’s “Orville Fabus”.

    The problem with libertarianism is that is advocated by 8th graders who did not do their homework but are “entitled” to an A as they are obviously the smartest kids in the room.

    • Bell says

      Can you point to a law prohibiting the carrying of a RIFLE, not handgun?

      The problem with liberals is that they know so much that just isn’t so.

  6. Harold says

    While I’m not going to be as snarky as Shootin’ Buddy, and find great value in the essays you’ve been writing lately on this topic starting with the one in the American Spectator, you do harm our cause when you say things that are flatly false.

    Specifically, the pants wetters in California have outlawed all open carry (OC) outside of hunting, in reaction to OC activists. So, yes, if that boy had been carrying a real rifle it would have been illegal.

    From the details I’ve heard they didn’t really give him a chance to drop it before shooting him 7? times, 2 mortally.

    • RFG says

      Codevilla’s statement that Oswald was a communist is enough to discredit him IMO. Oswald was a loyal American and CIA operative; he didn’t shoot JFK. Most likely LBJ was behind the assassination and the hand-picked Warren Commission’s whitewash.

  7. Woody says

    @Buddy, The new California law against open carry of a rifle or shotgun went into effect this year. The new law only applies to open carry in a city and other prohibited sites, not the entire state. Homework grade: F

  8. James says

    The militarization of the Forest Service is a direct result of growing marijuana. It is common for marijuana farms to be placed on federal lands. This tends to be forest lands to hide the growth from the air. As the growers tend to shoot the park rangers, the rangers are getting weapons and training.

    FBI infiltration of group X has been commons since the 60’s at least. While open enrollment groups should welcome FBI agents, the practice is questionable.

  9. RWB says

    It is rare that anyone gives Bill Clinton enough credit for the war on American Freedom, but you seem to class this a liberal thing. Where were the future tea party members when Bush solidified our secret police with the ominously name “Department of Homeland Security?” If the next president is a white Republican, the tea party will all but disappear and protests against militarizing police and against government will all but disappear. When they come for your guns, it will be under a conservative/republican president. I was surprised that did not happen under Bush with national security as an excuse.

    • gabe says


      Not certain what your first sentence means.

      However, I doubt that Tea Party has anything to do with race. Rather, it is a reaction to an ever more encroaching Federal Government whose tentacles reach into every little pocket of America right now – and in case you had not noticed they can not tolerate John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Kelly Ayotte, etc etc etc. Gee, did I miss something or are these folks white?

      take care

      • RWB says

        RE: first sentence – Bill Clinton did a number of things that were the basis for Bush’s unconstitutional security state, just as Obama is building on the Bush legacy. Clinton is rarely called to the carpet for his actions. It is important to recognize that our current security state transcends party. Things really became obvious and took off under Bush but he did not act in a vacuum. I am very disappointed that my fellow Americans tolerated Bush’s action re domestic spying, torture, and the militarization of our police/emergency services, and for that matter on his fiscal irresponsibility in which the Republican party was complicit.

        I would think more of the Tea Party had it formed when the problem first arose, under Bush. I think there is a true libertarian core to the party, but most of the rank and file is just anti-liberal rather than anti big government. A visible and influential minority of the TP is clearly driven by anti-black president sentiment. When neither of these forces are in play anymore, that is, when we have a white Republican president, the tea party will revert back to the lonely libertarians talking in the wilderness with no one listening.

        • gabe says


          yes, it would have been nice in a perfect world for the TP to have arisen and taken Bush to task for the enhancement of the Security state. However, if you think back, there really was no need for it as the Progies / Libs were doing a fine job of it, weren’t they?
          And upon what do you base the assertion that a visible and influential minority of the TP is anti-black? It may or not have substance; however, there is no clear indication that this is so.
          It would be just as fair to say that a vociferous and influential minority of Dems support the Enlightened One because he is black.
          In both instances you are arguing facts not apparent to an an impartial outside observer. Putting aside race for a monment, is it not conceivable that the TP’s have arisen because THIS President has gone beyond what any previous President has done. He is worse on civil liberties than was “W”, worse on propelling government to unprecedented levels of interference in our lives, absolutely abysmal on foreign policy and DEAD SET on imposing his college faculty lounge notions of what America should be on us. Do you think that may have something to do with it.

          I, for one, do not abhor him because of his race, but only because he seems to be racing us to our ultimate decline.

          take care

          • RWB says

            “It would be just as fair to say that a vociferous and influential minority of Dems support the Enlightened One because he is black.”
            Yes that is very fair to say, but he is even losing support with that demographic.

        • Jim,MtnView,CA says

          “I would think more of the Tea Party had it formed when the problem first arose, under Bush.”
          Tea Party is mostly about taxes and big Gov. Google “pork busters” which did, indeed start under Bush. It was the precursor of the Tea Party.

  10. R Richard Schweitzer says


    Liberty Fund Books has now listed a reprint of Robert Nisbet’s “Twilight of Authority,” which contains “The Lure of Military Society”

    My copy is the old Oxford Ed. of 1975. So here we are, after 38 years, with this reminder that “trends” do matter.

    As is said, read the whole thing!

  11. says

    “The FBI infiltrates the Tea Parties as it once did the Communist Party. ”

    Please do!

    FBI agents in the Phoenix area who have been instructed to infiltrate a Tea Party need look no further than here:

    There is nothing to infiltrate, but there is something to join. The aims and goals of our group are not a secret.

  12. Bob says

    RE Open Carry of Weapons

    “Wyatt Earp did it in Tombstone ,”

    He banned the “open carrying” of Firearms in the city limits” there was no restriction on carrying concealed even considered… Interestingly enough outside of some specific areas like Courthouses and some private business exercising their rights over property under their control there are few restrictions on ordinary citizens carrying concealed anywhere in Arizona..
    Permits being optional but not required.


  13. Bob says

    Great commentary

    RE Open Carry of Weapons

    “Wyatt Earp did it in Tombstone ,”

    He banned the “open carrying” of Firearms in the city limits” there was no restriction on carrying concealed even considered… Interestingly enough outside of some specific areas like Courthouses and some private business exercising their rights over property under their control there are few restrictions on ordinary citizens carrying concealed anywhere in Arizona..
    Permits being optional but not required.


  14. LorenzoStDuBois says

    As a far lefter, your critiques ring largely true to me. I will however nitpick to say that your right-wing blinders are a bit embarrassing. To say that those who bear the brunt of the Domestic National Security State are right-wingers, libertarians, etc. is just myopic. How many libertarians and right-wingers comprise our political and corporate elites? Though these groups need protection and their rights – just like everyone’s – are sacrosanct, the brunt is borne by the impoverished and disenfranchised in our society: immigrants, minorities, and Muslims. The white male conservative victimhood is popular around here I’m sure, but it’s a bit hard to take you seriously when you don’t acknowledge who this stuff is aimed at.

    I think we cannot turn this tide without a strong left-wing + libertarian Anti-Authoritarian coalition, so you’re going to need to do better than this.

  15. Jim,MtnView,CA says

    Re-reading this article after a month triggers a sense of the passage of time.
    When I was a young anti-Vietnam war demonstrator, we were watched by suspicious policemen. Reporters denigrated us and underestimated participants at rallies. We were targeted by agents provocateur.
    A few years ago, decades later, I attended one of the first Tea Party anti-tax rallies in San Jose CA. To my eyes, it seemed that policemen were aloof. If anything, they seemed more sympathetic to the small band of counter-protesters. There was a group of college-aged kids with tattoos, piercings and bandannas. Also, a group of short brown men who advocated for illegals. Reporters denigrate the Tea Partiers and underestimate their numbers. No a/p’s so far, but overall, I’ve experienced pretty much a full circle.

    I take heart by the counter-protesters’ slogan: “The People, united, cannot be defeated!”. That day we were hundreds, they were a couple dozen. We were a mixture of ages, races and from varying economic levels. They had 2 distinct groups, neither of which had the slightest diversity.
    We _are_ the People. If we can become united, we will not be defeated by the elites.


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