Should the Feds Be the Police?
For 41 days, a tense standoff between armed militia members and federal law enforcement officers took place at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
After two ranchers set fires on their own property that spread to a nearby wildlife refuge, federal prosecutors charged them with terrorism and sentenced them to five years in prison. What started as a peaceful rally in support of the ranchers escalated as a group of about 20 armed militia members split off from the rally to occupy the wildlife refuge headquarters building.
Led by Ammon Bundy, this group of militiamen called itself the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. It originally pledged to occupy the building until federal authorities released the two ranchers from prison and turned over control of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to Harney County. “We will be here as long as it takes,” Bundy told cnn via the phone inside the refuge building. “We have no intentions of using force upon anyone, but if force is used against us, we would defend ourselves.”
These protesters represent one extreme on an important issue facing America today: How much should the federal government be involved in local law enforcement? Their view is, not at all.
But there are others who vehemently disagree. And this disagreement is bound to have far-reaching, even dangerous effects on the nation.
With the protesters occupying the wildlife refuge building, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Oregon State Police surrounded it for several days with no one being hurt. But on January 26, Bundy and eight others left the refuge to participate in a local community meeting. When fbi agents tried to pull over the two vehicles being driven out of the wildlife refuge, one of the protesters, LaVoy Finicum, tried to evade arrest. In the commotion that ensued, Finicum was shot dead, and Bundy’s brother Ryan was wounded in the arm.
After the arrests, the protest movement dwindled from about 20 members to just four. While still under arrest in Portland, Ammon Bundy issued a request to these four protesters to stand down and go home. They resisted Ammon’s request, however, and vowed to stand their ground.
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, the father of Ammon and Ryan, sent a letter of defiance to the local sheriff, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the White House. In it he urged the militiamen to remain at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge until all federal and state policing agents left Harney County.
The fbi responded by arresting the 74-year-old on February 10 while he was reportedly on his way to the wildlife refuge to support the remaining protesters. Bundy was accused of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States; assault on a federal officer by use of a deadly weapon; use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence; interference with commerce by extortion; and obstruction of the administration of justice. Most of these charges relate to incidents that took place two years ago.
The next day, on February 11, the last remaining militia members finally surrendered to federal agents.
Though this particular standoff ended, it spotlighted just how divided America has become over the issue of federal law enforcement.
Two Opposing Views
Some journalists are comparing the Oregon standoff to the Black Lives Matter movement and the Ferguson riots. A Washington Post editorial decried a double standard and claimed that the police would have killed the Oregon protesters if they had been black or Muslim. Other journalists take the angle that the Oregon militiamen and the Ferguson rioters have much in common and should be working together against police abuse.
Both opinions fail to note that the Oregon militiamen and the Black Lives Matter protesters are taking extreme opposite positions on whether American law enforcement should be localized or federalized.
The Bundy family and the Oregon militiamen contend that all federal land ownership and policing operations are unconstitutional. They are calling for the return of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to the control of the local populace, and for the expulsion of all federal police from Harney County. In place of these federal officials, Cliven Bundy is asking the Harney County sheriff to place a guard post of local police at the wildlife refuge.
Such calls for the localization of American law enforcement operations are completely at odds with the demands of many in the Black Lives Matter movement. Although Black Lives Matter is a grassroots movement with a plethora of different ideas, a primary demand of its activists seems to be greater federal oversight of allegedly racist local police forces.
Just after the Baltimore riots over the death of Freddie Gray last year, civil rights activist Al Sharpton called on the United States Department of Justice to step in and “take over policing in this country” so racist officers can be held accountable. “We’re going to have to fight states’ rights in terms of closing down police cases,” he said.
While the tactics of this Oregon militia occupation are extreme, some of the issues they are protesting are very real.
Dwight and Steven Hammond, the two ranchers charged with terrorism, were tried twice for the same crime. The first time, Federal District Court Judge Michael Hogan ruled that imposing a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence as sought by federal prosecutors would be a “grossly disproportionate” punishment for the “crime” of accidentally burning 127 acres of federal land. The U.S. Department of Justice wasn’t satisfied with this ruling. After the Hammonds had already served their first, shorter prison sentence, the Department of Justice appealed the case and found a judge who would impose a full five-year “terrorist” sentence on the Hammonds.
While the Bundys’ demand that the federal government cease and desist all federal policing operations is extreme, their dissatisfaction with a Department of Justice that can charge a rancher with terrorism if a “controlled burn” gets out of control is understandable.
Constitutional lawyer Jonathan Turley warned in a Washington Post editorial that the federal government’s growing dominance over the states is obscuring an even more fundamental change in the federal government itself: namely that the Constitution’s carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being eroded away by the rise of a “fourth branch” of government—an administrative state of sprawling federal departments and agencies.
This fourth branch, Turley maintains, now has a larger impact on American citizens than the other three branches combined. One study found that Congress only enacted 138 public laws in 2007, compared with 2,926 regulations enacted by unelected federal bureaucrats. A similar study found that federal judges conduct roughly 95,000 adjudicatory proceedings, including trials, each year, compared with 939,000 cases tried by administrative courts tied to individual federal agencies.
“These agency proceedings are often mockeries of due process, with one-sided presumptions and procedural rules favoring the agency,” Turley wrote.
While it is true that federal agencies in this so-called fourth branch of government do have a great deal of autonomy, the people who run them are still appointed by the U.S. president. So it is really Congress and, to a lesser extent, the courts that are getting sidelined by an out-of-control executive branch, which is ruling via executive orders and a vast army of federal bureaucrats.
The Framers’ View
The framers of America’s Constitution did allow for federal policing of certain crimes, such as counterfeiting, treason and piracy. Outside of such crimes, constitutional law mandates that law enforcement be a function of state and local governments.
There is a reason for the approximately 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies in the United States. When law enforcement responsibilities are divided among 18,000 agencies accountable to directly elected local officials, it becomes extremely difficult for anyone to set himself or herself up as a tyrant. If a county sheriff abuses his or her office, it is much easier for the local community to elect a better sheriff than it is for that community to change the policies of bureaucrats in Washington,
As law and order break down in American society, citizens are finding themselves caught between armed anti-federal militiamen advocating the localization of all police forces and aggressive ethnic minorities demanding the federalization of all police forces.
Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote about this dangerous trend toward federalized policing in the wake of the Baltimore riots last August. “America’s law enforcement is under attack,” he wrote. “On one side people in communities are developing a mistrustful, hostile, antagonistic attitude, yelling at police, assaulting and even killing officers in some cases. Police are pulling back from doing their jobs for fear of attack, or losing their jobs or going to prison for doing anything that could be perceived as racist. On the other, the federal government is undermining local law enforcement and stripping it of power in an effort to centralize policing power on the federal level.”
In the near future, tensions between armed militia members and federal law enforcement officers are likely to grow much worse. As the Trumpet has reported repeatedly, executive overreach is a serious problem in America’s government today. The Obama administration is trying to use accusations of racism against local police and the threat of militia standoffs against federal police as excuses to centralize all policing authority, thus taking more power to itself.
Riots and armed standoffs are no solution to this problem. The clash over illegal federal usurpation of power is an indication of a greater spiritual sickness in the entire nation.
Former American president and Founding Father John Adams once wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
God does not put the primary blame on a political leader the way that so many political commentators do. In the end, these nation-destroying problems are actually correction from God to help the American people see their sins and repent of them. All Americans must come to realize that only Jesus Christ can solve the serious problems in their government!