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June 4, 2020

Trading Liberty for Security?

On the wisdom — or lack thereof — of labeling antifa a terrorist organization.

Last Sunday night, in response to the apparently organized violence tearing up American cities, President Donald Trump announced that he will designate antifa as a domestic terrorist organization. Despite the enormous level of emotional satisfaction that announcement undoubtedly engenders in millions of Americans, it’s a bad idea.

We begin with the Constitution. “Thanks to the First Amendment, the US government has historically avoided designating domestic groups on both the left and right as terrorist,” explains columnist Peter Bergen. “Belonging to such groups is consistent with the legitimate exercise of your First Amendment right to freedom of speech and belief.”

That is not to say one is exempt from being prosecuted if one breaks the law. In the current environment, every decent American should support prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law thugs who have burned down police stations, looted and destroyed businesses, and attacked innocent people. In fact, there have undoubtedly been incidents that should have precipitated the use of lethal force, were it not for the widespread fecklessness of the overwhelmingly Democrat public officials who have allowed their own cities to burn.

Cities they have controlled for decades.

That the same officials who cracked down on “nonessential” law-abiding citizens for defying coronavirus lockdowns — even as they freed prisoners for the same reason — meekly abide rioters? That those who boasted loudly and often about their abilities to shut down a business owner trying to feed his or her family are the ones allowing thugs to burn those same businesses down, absent any consequences whatsoever?

That’s where the public’s rage should be focused: On ideologically bankrupt politicians who have abandoned the most basic tenet of governance: keeping the public safe by maintaining law and order.

Yet at the same time, Americans should remember that it was literally less than two weeks ago when we weren’t enraged by the consummate levels of cowardice evinced by mayors, governors, and other elected officials in response to widespread violence, but by the unseemly and unconstitutional level of rank authoritarianism demonstrated by those very same officials. We should remember that some of the same law-enforcement officers who are currently standing down in the face of mayhem were the ones harassing Americans for defying lockdowns.

“If Trump succeeds in designating Antifa,” Bergen warns, “it potentially opens the door for American citizens to be charged for merely holding their beliefs — even if they are extreme and at times, militant.”

Americans should ponder where that designation could lead. If Democrats prevail in November, it isn’t hard to imagine how quickly the list of domestic terrorist groups would expand. And from whom would they likely draw their “inspiration”? Here’s a hate map published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that once successfully took on the KKK but has morphed into a far-left hate-hustling organization whose definition of hate consists of any person or entity who fails to toe the progressive line.

One need look no further than Colorado baker Jack Phillips to get an idea how far the Left is willing to go. Despite a 7-2 Supreme Court ruling that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission acted with hostility toward religion for attempting to force Phillips to bake cakes for same-sex weddings, he was sued again for refusing to bake a “gender transition” cake.

Now imagine such zealots being able to array the government — including our 17 intelligence agencies — against American citizens. Imagine the same prison sentence of up to 20 years for joining ISIS being imposed for joining a group that eschews the “LGBTQ” agenda in favor of a Christian viewpoint on gender and marriage.

“Federal counterterrorism law provides for the designation only of foreign terrorist organizations,” explains Andrew McCarthy. “It criminalizes material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations. The distinction between foreign and domestic terrorism has an important history. There is no need to designate a domestic insurrectionist group as a terrorist organization, because there is an extensive panoply of laws, at the state and federal level, by which such groups can be investigated, prosecuted, and otherwise thwarted.”

McCarthy reminds us why the distinction is important. “There were major spying scandals in the United States, beginning in the late 1960s, that involved the use against American citizens of national-security surveillance powers that are supposed to target agents of foreign powers,” he adds. And currently, if the federal government wants to target Americans, “it must show not only that they are being directed by a foreign power but also that their activity appears to involve violations of federal criminal statutes.”

If those parameters are changed? The establishment of a domestic terror group designation would “permit the surveillance of Americans in the absence of probable cause that they have committed crimes,” McCarthy warns.

Is that what Americans really want? Again, the capricious tendencies already demonstrated by a number of power-besotted political hacks during the coronavirus lockdowns can be reasserted just as quickly as they were abandoned. Moreover, Trump should realize it was government power wielded by thoroughly corrupt officials in the DOJ and FBI, and sanctioned by an equally suspect FISA Court (itself the antithesis of Fourth Amendment protections), that precipitated one of the greatest abuses of power in the nation’s history — against the president himself.

If Trump can be targeted, what recourse can ordinary Americans expect?

In a series of tweets, columnist Kurt Schlichter rightly notes that the federal government can already review arrest records and the FBI can determine who among the rioters can be subjected to federal prosecution. “When the first of these little trust fund sissies figures out he’s not walking out of his cell after 20 minutes with a $50 fine but looking at five years in Leavenworth on a Fed rap, he’ll squeal on his comrades,” he concludes. “This is an opportunity to destroy Antifa root and branch, and to eliminate the armed wing of the Democrat party. Forever.”

Whether antifa is wholly owned by Democrats is debatable. But a number of elected Democrats are sympathetic to the organization, and others have looked the other way or stood down while antifa ran roughshod in the streets.

And there is no doubt whatsoever that Democrat politicians have allowed them and other equally criminal actors to perpetrate anarchic activity with complete impunity.

Yet the bigger picture is far more important. “We can investigate Antifa as terrorists, prosecute them as terrorists, sentence them as terrorists, and give them harsh prison sentences befitting terrorists,” McCarthy declares. “But there is neither a need nor a legal basis to ‘designate’ them as terrorists.”

Decent Americans are facing a dilemma, but the desire to see security restored cannot justify the elimination of probable cause. The Rule of Law is often the antithesis of emotional satisfaction, and to embrace its “by any means necessary” alternative is to become exactly like those determined to destroy the nation.

We must be better than that. The future of the nation depends on it.

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