Defining patriotism down

Speaking of activists with the power to ruin lives, one of the things that has long concerned me about activists in government is their natural tendency to misuse the power of government to go after people they don't like.

While I don't know whether liberal activist types have now taken over the Department of Homeland Security, I am more than a bit concerned about some of the language in the report that "Homeland Security Warns of Rise in Right-Wing Extremism." I did not find it especially reassuring to click on the link to the source material only to find this definition of "right wing extremism":

...Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.
Would that make libertarians and federalists extremists?

What about the people who uttered these famous statements?

"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice."

-- Barry Goldwater


"Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem."

- Ronald Reagan

While there are plenty of liberal activists who would characterize the latter is an "extremist anti-government" sentiment, they would do well to remember that a full 59% of the American people still agree with it:
...a new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey shows that the basic views of the American people have not change: 59% of voters still agree with Reagan's inaugural address statement. Only 28% disagree, and 14% are not sure.
In light of the recent reports, I think the Department of Homeland Security should be watched carefully for abuses of power. As things stand now, the Patriot Act has already been hideously misused. Many people worried that it would be, and it is a primary reason I opposed it from the start. I didn't like the idea of empowering people with the right to conduct warrantless searches any more then than I do now.

Despite my concerns I was repeatedly reassured that such extraordinary powers would only be used to go after real terrorists in light of the 9/11 attack.

Sorry, but government does not work that way; I witnessed Patriot Act powers being used against black American teenagers riding the Greyhound Bus. And if they'll abuse their power to shake down black teenagers, then why wouldn't they now use it against, say, libertarian federalists who oppose gun control?

If anyone can now be considered an "extremist" (and hence a terrorist) according to the whim of whoever is in charge, I think it might be time to junk the Patriot Act.

posted by Eric on 04.14.09 at 11:38 AM


rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority

Awesome, I'm officially an "extremist." And to think the high school guidance counselors insisted I'd never amount to anything. I assume I get a merit badge of some sort for this achievement?

This is getting ridiculous.

apotheosis   ·  April 14, 2009 1:25 PM

I think you might be being a little loose in your terminology re. the PATRIOT Act.

Nothing I can see in the Greyhound Incident linked to has any obvious connection to PATRIOT.

Similarly for the other links - just because the cops said "Homeland Security! Terrorism!" does not mean that the PATRIOT Act itself had anything to do with their escapades. (PATRIOT did not create the Department of Homeland Security, after all - the Homeland Security Act of 2002 did that.)

PATRIOT has been abused (as any grant of power will be, if it can be), but not that badly. It's too often used as a synonym for "anything using the word terrorism that the Government does", which both tars a mostly-good-to-mostly-harmless law with abuses it had nothing to do with, and as a side effect of that, makes real criticisms look less substantial.

(On the grounds that "X, Y, and Z were blamed on PATRIOT despite not having anything to do with it, so why should I believe it when Q is blamed on PATRIOT?")

Sigivald   ·  April 14, 2009 3:39 PM

Well, OK, then -- I am a USDHS-certified, Grade A "extremist".

Oscar   ·  April 14, 2009 4:08 PM

The Patriot Act and Homeland Security have been so conflated that it's hard to talk about one without implicating the other. The Patriot Act was passed first, and it gives Homeland Security its statutory authority:

While HSA is ostensibly an organizational plan, the claimed authority to board buses, detain people and conduct warrantless searches derives from the Patriot Act. So when the local police (who boarded the Greyhound) claimed to be acting as "Homeland Security," they were using (or acting under claim of) both.

When the Patriot Act was expanded and amended, a number of provisions also amended the Homeland Security Act:

I think the clear pattern is that one feeds the other. Here's Tom Ridge in 2004:


Under President Bush?s leadership, the Department of Homeland Security now has many new tools at its disposal to help us ?get it right?. Today, I want to talk about one of these new tools: the USA Patriot Act. The Patriot Act includes two of the most powerful mechanisms available to America today to prevent future attacks.

One is the potent new information sharing provisions contained in the Patriot Act. By tapping in to these new authorities, the Department has been able to go on offense ? to substantially expand America?s information sharing capabilities. It enables us to get terrorist threat information quickly to our homeland security partners who need it most here on the front lines.

And the second is the investigative tools of the Patriot Act -- many of which have been used for years to catch mafia dons and drug kingpins. Today those tools are being used by Homeland Security and other investigators across the country and overseas to identify, apprehend and stop terrorists before they can complete their plots.


I'd amend what I said about the Patriot Act to include getting rid of Homeland Security. Both were intended as anti-terrorism tools in the wake of 9/11, but I don't trust the government not to misuse them.

Eric Scheie   ·  April 15, 2009 9:25 AM

It could have been worse. As fascist as the Obama administration is turning out to be, at least it is run by clowns and incompetents. Imagine if the fascists currently in control were actually competent?

Alice Finkel   ·  April 15, 2009 12:31 PM

Of course big government oversight of all aspects of life is not extreme: that's just the moderate center, the ground held by the angels.

Brett   ·  April 16, 2009 8:11 AM

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