November 11, 2009

Glenn Beck -- who of course has a fetish about "extremist radicals" supposedly infiltrating the White House, while himself promoting far-right extremism on his show on a regular basis -- has been regularly plumping far-right "constitutionalist" theories about the 10th Amendment and states' rights for awhile now, including that hourlong segment complete with 1990s militia figures.

Mostly, though, Beck has been somewhat restrained about just how far down this path he would go, eschewing some of the more radical ideas that are part and parcel of this belief system, or at least declining to mention them to his audiences. But yesterday, filling in for the appendicitis-stricken Beck, Judge Andrew Napolitano opened the constitutionalist Pandora's Box wide and loosed all its ugly demons.

He opened the Beck program with a long rant in which he began (as is typical with "constitutionalists") with utterly false premises -- namely, that not only would the Obama "public option" health-care plan completely take over our health-care system, but the plan could put you in jail for failure to buy insurance. And from there, he sprang into advocating the repeal of the federal income tax and the "nullification" of federal laws by the states:

Napolitano: Last Saturday, at 11 o’clock in the evening, the House of Representatives voted by a five-vote margin to have the federal government manage the health care of every American at a cost of $1 trillion dollars over the next ten years.

For the first time in American history, if this bill becomes law, the Feds will force you to buy insurance you might not want, or may not need, or cannot afford. If you don’t purchase what the government tells you to buy, if you don’t do so when they tell you to do it, and if you don’t buy just what they say is right for you, the government may fine you, prosecute you, and even put you in jail. Freedom of choice and control over your own body will be lost. The privacy of your communications and medical decision making with your physician will be gone. More of your hard earned dollars will be at the disposal of federal bureaucrats.

It was not supposed to be this way. We elect the government. It works for us. How did it get so removed, so unbridled, so arrogant that it can tell us how to live our personal lives? Evil rarely comes upon us all at once, and liberty is rarely lost in one stroke. It happens gradually, over the years and decades and even centuries. A little stretch here, a cave in there, powers are slowly taken from the states and the people and before you know it, we have one big monster government that recognizes no restraint on its ability to tell us how to live. It claims the power to regulate any activity, tax any behavior, and demand conformity to any standard it chooses.

The Founders did not give us a government like the one we have today. The government they gave us was strictly limited in its scope, guaranteed individual liberty, preserved the free market, and on matters that pertain to our private behavior was supposed to leave us alone.

In the Constitution, the Founders built in checks and balances. If the Congress got out of hand, the states would restrain it. If the states stole liberty or property, the Congress would cure it. If the President tried to become a king, the courts would prevent it.

In the next few weeks, I will be giving a public class on Constitutional Law here on the Fox News Channel, on the Fox Business Network, on, and on Fox Nation. In anticipation of that, many of you have asked: What can we do now about the loss of freedom?

For starters, we can vote the bums out of their cushy federal offices! We can persuade our state governments to defy the Feds in areas like health care -- where the Constitution gives the Feds zero authority. We can petition our state legislatures to threaten to amend the Constitution to abolish the income tax, return the selection of U.S. senators to state legislatures and nullify all the laws the Congress has written that are not based in the Constitution.

One thing we can’t do is just sit back and take it.

I can't tell you how bizarre it is to see arguments I used to hear coming from the mouths of Montana Freemen like LeRoy Schweitzer in the 1990s -- arguments that led to him embarking on an 81-day armed standoff with federal authorities, and resulting in him spending the rest of his natural life in a federal prison -- coming from supposedly mainstream talk-show hosts on Fox News only 13 years later.

Chip Berlet at PublicEye has a decent rundown of the roots of these "constitutionalist" beliefs:

Throughout the late 1990s the Patriot and armed militia movements overlapped with a resurgent states’ rights movement and a new "county supremacy" movement. There was rapid growth of illegal so-called constitutionalist common-law courts, set up by persons claiming a nonexistent "sovereign" citizenship. These courts claimed jurisdiction over legal matters on the county or state level and dismissed the U.S. judicial system as corrupt and unconstitutional. Constitutionalist legal theory created a two-tiered concept of citizenship in which White people have a superior "natural law" or "sovereign" citizenship. The most doctrinaire constitutionalists argue that only the original U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments) are valid and legally binding, all later amendments are not. Put into effect, this would relegalize slavery, abolish women’s right to vote, rescind the right of citizenship now guaranteed to all persons born in the United States, and allow state governments to ignore the Bill of Rights itself. Amazingly, many supporters of constitutionalism seem oblivious to the racism and sexism inherent in this construct.

It's also important to remember that a large majority of "constitutionalist" promoters -- including the Freemen -- were actually scam artists who made huge sums ripping off gullible "Patriots". And all based on arguments strikingly similar to Napolitano's:

A significant component of the "patriot" movement's membership believes that the government, state and federal, is illegitimate. Such people believe that a longstanding conspiracy by power-hungry elites gradually replaced the legitimate ("de jure") government with an illegitimate ("de facto") government, one that is tyrannical and oppressive. This wing of the "patriot" movement is often called the "common law" movement or the "common law court" movement. Its members call themselves, variously, "state citizens," "sovereign citizens," "freemen," and "constitutionalists." The movement originated around 1970 with a tax protest group called the Posse Comitatus. By 1980 the Posse had developed an elaborate ideology centered around the notion of two governmental systems, one legitimate and one illegitimate. Posse members and their descendants believe that the legitimate system is one based on the "common law," while the illegitimate system is based on statutory law. Common law has a legitimate meaning in the United States' legal system, but the sovereign citizen belief system twisted it to mean something else entirely--generally speaking, a governing system of virtually no government, where there are no taxes, no regulations, no victimless crimes, and no unpopular laws enforced. Posse adherents believe that the illegitimate statutory system, primarily through the Fourteenth Amendment, tricks people into voluntarily giving up their "sovereign" status and becoming slaves to the statutory system. This surrender of sovereignty is done by entering into "contracts" with the de facto government, which includes using a social security card, a drivers license, or even a zip code. However, Posse leaders suggest that people can tear up all of those contracts and return to the "common law" system, becoming "sovereign citizens" who are immune to the jurisdiction of the de facto government's taxes, laws and courts.

It was nice of Napolitano to move the ball downfield for Beck, I suppose. When he gets back today, no doubt he'll be finding fresh new conspiracy theories to keep it rolling.

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