A few weeks ago, the New Hampshire Union Leader and Mother Jones both reported on the Concord, New Hampshire, police department's application for a $250,000 tank from Homeland Security to deal with "domestic terrorists," specifically naming the libertarian Free State Project, left-wing Occupy New Hampshire, and right-wing Sovereign Citizens.
While the militarization of a small American city is unfortunately becoming the rule and not the exception, the local pushback against Concord's request is a refreshing sign and provide great lessons on how to resist increasingly growing state power.
The tank that the Concord police department feels that it needs is referred to by the innocent sounding "Bearcat" but it is an acronym for Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck. It is an armored vehicle manufactured by Lenco that is designed for use in "hostile urban environments."
There are some that may balk at the use of the word "tank" to describe the Bearcat, but they are distinctions without a difference. It is a piece of machinery, with differences only in name and in color, used to patrol Fallujah or accompany U.S. Special Forces.
One of the most important insights of George Orwell is that the nature of things don't change simply by changing the name; authoritarians strive on the manipulation of language, where "Ignorance is Strength" and war crimes are "collateral damage." In a Concord city council meeting on August 12, a United States Marines Corps colonel and Iraq War veteran affirmed this principle in his testimony in opposition to the city's application.
"What's happening here is that we're building a domestic military, because it's unlawful and unconstitutional to use American troops on American soil," the Marine says in the video. "We're building a domestic army, and we're shrinking the military, because the government is afraid of its own citizens ... We're building an army over here, and I can't believe that people aren't seeing it. Is everybody blind?"
In a state with one of the lowest crime rates in the country, what type of "domestic terrorism" could there possibly that would make the Concord police feel like they need a tank? In the application made public by the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, "groups such as the Sovereign Citizens, Free Staters and Occupy New Hampshire are active and present daily challenges. Outside of officially organized groups, several homegrown clusters that are anti-government and pose problems for law enforcement agencies."
The Free Staters are libertarians using local organization to peacefully roll back state power. In the words of president Carla Gerike, "Free Staters subscribe to the non-aggression principle, believing no one, including the state, should aggress against peaceful people.” Ah yes, that diabolical libertarian plot to take over the world and leave everyone alone!
Occupy New Hampshire, who are now reorganizing in opposition to the Bearcat, have never committed a violent act and profess peaceful civil disobedience. Sovereign Citizens may be a bit misanthropic and paranoid for my tastes, but they simply seek to live and let live.
Domestic terrorists? The police need a tank not to help serve as a protection agency against private crime but to intimidate and potentially use lethal force against the groups that threaten public crimes at their fundamental and philosophical roots.
But even more than that, this activism is working. They are spreading the idea of jury nullification, one of the most underrated and effective ways of checking state power. Robin Hooding Free Staters are infuriating local governments by creatively keeping an eye on their collection agencies. In New Hampshire's decentralized and highly democratic political structure, more and more libertarians are getting elected, cutting budgets, and fighting further encroachments.
To his credit, Concord police chief John Duval apologized for calling these groups domestic terrorists, but the point was and is clear. The biggest concern and fear of any political system are those that seek to undermine state authority and its institutionalized plunder masked in law, badges, and costumes.
If terrorism is defined as the threat or use of violence against the innocent to achieve political ends, then who really are the domestic terrorists? The groups of people with the radical notion that other people are not their property, or the institution that claims the right, duty and moral imperative to initiate aggressive violence?
But even if Concord gets their tank, the severe pushback is proof that principled groups, if well-organized, can resist a growing authoritarianism in American politics. The Free State Project is trying to create a refuge for liberty, a New England Hong Kong or Lichtenstein for others to emulate.
I firmly believe that if we want anything resembling a free society, this is how it will be done. Not by trying to slay the beast from inside, but through circumvention, vigilance, and the creation of safe havens; whether in New Hampshire, North Carolina, or abroad.
The internet age we live in, much to the disappointment of those that seek power over others, makes it much harder to impose control and restrict the spread of information. Ideas, now more than ever, can not be stopped. Even by a military tank masquerading as a Bearcat.