Monday, June 18, 2007

Sedition---Resisting the Police State

Since WWII our commercial interests and foreign policy are no longer separate. Americans are forced to subsidize an international military panopticon, an internal police state, and are additionally placed in greater danger because of our arrogant foreign policy. The cost in terms of lost liberties and unnecessary exposure to terrorism is difficult to assess, but in time, it will become apparent to all of us that foreign interventionism is of no benefit to American citizens, but instead is a threat to our liberties. In the mean time what recourse have our citizens to take against the state? While individualists like myself might prefer the dissolving of government over time, smashing the state is not something I am prepared to do. At least not at this moment. I could, however, resort to protest, and be protected under the First Amendment.

But it seems that this too, is slowly becoming less possible. With the cumbersome laws surround protest permits, dissenters may also be increasingly tried for sedition. And on this, the laws seem quite lax. If state wishes to charge its citizens under the so-called Sedition Act, it can make recourse to 1918 Schneck v
United States which ruled that

When a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight, and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.

Woodrow Wilson was concerned about the widespread dissent during the time of war, and so amended the Espionage Act of 1917 with the Sedition Act of 1918. The Sedition Act originally forbade Americans from the use of "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, and abusive language" toward the government and its war-time policies. But under the First Amendment--which says "Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech"--did not include any exception clauses about war-time policy. Nonetheless, the Sedition Act was used numerous times against US citizens, including IWW workers and the famous socialist Eugene Debs (who was sentenced for ten years imprisonment!!) The fearful press did not speak out against this act, even in editorial form. One author points out that, "Far from opposing the measure, the leading papers seemed actually to lead the movement in behalf of its speedy enactment." The Act was eventually repealed in 1921 on grounds that it was unconstitutional.

Sedition is a term of law to refer to convert conduct such as speech and organization that is deemed by the legal authority as tending toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent (or resistance) to lawful authority. Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws. Seditious words in writing are seditious libel.

Under the U.S. Code of Law, title 18, activities affecting armed forces during the war, such as protesting or encouraging military personnel to refuse deployment or miss a movement, it can be considered sedition. "Whoever... willfully causes or attempts to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal to duty... shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both."

Under this, any sort of stirring up of rebellion, of any kind, can be deemed seditious. Treason, however, is the violation of allegiance to one's sovereign state and has to do with giving aid to enemies or levying war--as noted in Section 2381. Sedition is more about encouraging the people to rebel, when treason is actually betraying the country. There's no sense in arguing that blogger Pat Dollard is ridiculous for claiming today that Democrats "advance the war against
America" simply because they argue that the surge plan does not work. But there it is sense in arguing that title 18 is a ridiculous piece of legislation.

This short, seemingly insignificant title itself provides a small foundation for a deeply planned police state. Section 2387 deals with whoever can influence the moral, loyalty, or discipline of the
United States military. They can be imprisoned for twenty years. Section 2385 deals with the overthrow of government, and classifies as subversive those engaged in "prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States". A more historical document, the Declaration of Independence, says that "when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security." Section 2386 says that civilian military activity is illegal, and classifies such activity as, among other things, bearing firearms as a substitute for government military, engaging in military maneuvers, and engaging in military drills with or without firearms. What happened to the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, which gives citizens the right to keep and bear arms?

This legal code amounts to a serious violation of individual liberties. Although they seem to be rarely enforced, as Orwell pointed out, One day we will wake up and find ourselves living in a vast policed state. And we will know what it looks like. I don't think this is too far from the truth. Laws like this are enacted by the legislature, and yet they are not challenged. The government might decide in a pinch to put an iron fist down and crush rebellion with its heavy quiver of legalisms. One day we will wake up and find out that our government and legal structure had been closing in around us all our lives, until finally we are trapped without recourse or fair trial.

"This is a war.

We are soldiers.

Death can come for us.

At any time. In any place.

There is only one way to save our city."


Though the Sedition Act of 1918 was repealed three years later, many of the laws and legal structures the government has put in place, like Title 18, will provide a structure that cannot be easily repealed. Just as the Sedition Act of 1918 was put in place, it can easily be reinstated. A strategy might be to repeal each legal enactment at a time, yet the sheer accumulation of unconstitutional items is making it impossible to object to. The wall of legalisms is compiling like in a centrally-planned legal structure. Our courts are brimming, our backlogs are long. There is only one way to oppose our government when the police state happens, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, to "throw off such government".

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