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By John Loeffler
August 28, 2002

Dictators have always loved complex, vague and broad laws, which can be arbitrarily enforced when they need to be, since everyone is guilty of something, oftentimes simply by how one defines a law or crime.

Once again conservatives are leading the charge to blow massive holes in constitutional protections. To their shame Liberals have played fast and loose with the constitution, torturing it until they found rights in it that really weren’t there, but it’s the conservatives who have done the worst damage the last couple of decades by finding legal precedents allowing for end-runs around protections against legal abuse.

While being anti-drug seems like a great moral cause, conservatives still haven’t stopped to notice the horrible damage being caused by the ongoing, open-ended, and unwinnable war on drugs, which has entangled thousands of non-criminal American citizens in property confiscations and jail sentences. We’ve literally declared war on ourselves.

Since 911 we have another open-ended war -- on terror. The powers that be claim they need special powers to be able to prosecute this war. Just ignore habeas corpus, seize the assets of suspected terrorists with minimal due process, take sneak peeks at their computers in their homes when they’re not home, use military courts to prosecute citizens when the civil courts are still functioning, snoop on all American citizens in the name of protecting them; you know the drill. We’ve heard this one before. Heil who?

The Real Terror War

“Not to worry,” they say, “we’re only going after ‘criminals’ and ‘terrorists.’ If you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about.” That promise has not rescued the thousands of innocents who have already been accused, fined, confiscated, prosecuted and jailed for violating some abstruse regulation or law during the war on drugs, or the war to save the environment and all the other supposed wars Washington has been waging. When Christie Todd Whitman says the EPA is going after “polluters,” the image she conjures in the public mind are giant factories belching tons of toxic substances into the air or mega-ranchers allowing tons of cow poop to run off into somebody’s drinking water. But it’s the definition of “criminal,” “terrorist” and “polluter” that counts. In the real world of enforcement, the polluter is YOU.

Converging Trends

At one time crimes were events readily understood by the citizenry involving the violation of one person’s rights by another: robbery, rape, arson, embezzlement, murder. However, with the rise of the war on drugs, increasingly bewildering financial and tax laws as well as environmental regulations et al., the emphasis has shifted to what could be called white collar or victimless crimes or crimes against the government. Recent statistics show that a substantial component of the prison population – one of the largest per capita in the world – is comprised of people placed there due to violations of these technical crimes; not real criminals.

Because of laws of increased and often-contradictory complexity or laws with fuzzy or arbitrary definitions, it’s very hard to even know when we’re committing a crime, simply because there are too many laws, they are too complex and commission of a a crime is often a matter of definition requiring an arbitrary judgement call on the part of some official. Every day, many of us commit a crime going about the affairs of our daily lives. We could be felons without even knowing it.

The Bottomless Prosecution Pit

Government has unlimited funds and resources to prosecute an individual. Even an allegation of criminal activity, however slight, can be a death sentence for someone’s career or livelihood. It takes thousands of dollars to prove one’s innocence or get one’s property back and even if the accused prevails, he has wasted huge amounts of time and money with nothing to show for it. Oftentimes people are left bankrupt.

In RICO and forfeiture cases, state and federal governments can seize all of a person’s assets, depriving him of the opportunity to mount an adequate defense to the charges against him, leaving him to the pallid assistance of a public pretender. Unfortunately the Supreme Court doesn’t view as double jeopardy the seizure of a person’s assets in one legal process followed the prosecution of his person in another but then upholding the Constitution has not one of the Supreme Court’s fortes lately.

Forfeiture laws enable the seizure of a person’s assets on the mere accusation of a crime have created a mechanism for legal extortion. The name of the game for many law enforcement agencies is not to see how many real criminals can be apprehended but rather how much money and property can be seized, all of which goes to the agency making the seizure. RICO racketeering laws have been distorted to allowed the criminalization of otherwise non-crimes – even to attacking abortion clinic protestors.

Buckshotting the Prosecution

There is also a trend to use legal action when the powers that be wish to “get” someone or coerce someone into an action they do not wish to do. Ruby Ridge was a perfect example of this. The technique is to entrap the individual into committing a crime or to go find one of the crimes they have invariably committed and then buckshot the prosecution: charge him with as many crimes as possible and hope that some of them stick. If he acquiesces, they cut a deal. If not…on to the courts, which are becoming rigged prosecution mills. If a person’s assets can be seized under some artifice of law such as RICO laws, then he has no means for a legal defense and must be content with a public pretender to defend him. Even if he wins, the state walks off with the booty of confiscated property.

As constitutional protections are being defined away by the courts, a new form of enforcement involving public-private partnerships is creating a new nightmare for the individual as the two groups work hand-in-hand. Private organizations recommend laws, government (federal-state-local) makes those laws, the organizations receive money from government and even participate in law-enforcement monitoring and compliance. Soon we’ll see them share in the booty, I have no doubt. When the private side of this law enforcement takes action against individuals or accuses them, there is little if any recourse because oftentimes it is unclear whether such an action is public or private.

Enter Big Uncle

Now that all of our lives are an open book thanks to the Social Security Number – which we were promised from the beginning would NEVER be used as a national ID – we are witnessing the rise of electronic law enforcement. Giant computer systems assemble complex profiles on every individual and then snuffle like warthogs through the data, trolling for technical violations of laws and regulations, many of which may be inadvertent.

Then combine this with an army of prosecutors, who need conviction notches on their career belts. The new game on the block is to see how many scores can be racked up. Our jails are filling up with people convicted of victimless crimes for which convictions can be easily obtained.

The number of crimes will be staggering once computer snooping becomes fully functional, which means one of two things: either an army of agents and prosecutors will be required to begin accusing, prosecuting and seizing or the laws will have to be arbitrarily enforced. Most likely we will see a combination of both.

The key danger here is arbitrariness of law enforcement. Prosecutions will be aimed largely at two groups: those from whom the most money can be extorted and politically incorrect politicians, public figures, news people or others who need to be gotten and made an example of. In the middle will be a class of people who inadvertently commit some crime buried somewhere in bewildering legalese and wind up in the legal battle of their lives for essentially nothing. It’s already happening at an alarming rate.

The Confusing Mix

The waters are truly muddied by the fact that there are still real crimes with real people, who need to be prosecuted and real police officers and federal agents who want to do their jobs and get the bad guys. But for every one of those, there is a corrupt career bureaucrat who is just looking for another notch on his belt and criminalizing innocent citizens is a great way to do it. It’s much easier than going after the bad guys.

It will not do for police officials to say “the system isn’t perfect.” That’s simply an excuse for avoiding reform. A multitude of blurry, complex laws combined with zealous enforcement is a recipe for a war on the American people, a war which has already begun. We would have no trouble producing dozens of cases already underway to document the trends we have described. The only reason most Americans don’t realize we’re in real trouble is because it hasn’t happened to them…..yet.

Dr. Charlotte Twight’s book, “Dependence on D.C., The Rise of Federal Control over the Lives of Ordinary Americans” ( is excellent in this area. Dr. Paul Craig Roberts’s book, "The Tyranny of Good Intentions" is also recommended.

© 2002 John Loeffler - All Rights Reserved

 John Loeffler is host of the nationally syndicated news program Steel on Steel, which is produced by his wife Carol Loeffler.  Both are career broadcasters, who met working for a major television network.  Steel on Steel can be heard anytime at on the internet.  Tape subscriptions are available from (800) 829-5646 or (208)765-8337.