L. Neil Smith's
Number 326, July 3, 2005

"Hands Off My Home!"

Not Applicable?
by Lady Liberty

Special to TLE

Of all the horrible things that Nazi Germany showed the world, perhaps the saddest was summed up by the Reverend Martin Niemoller in 1945 when he wrote:

First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.

In just a few sentences, Rev. Niemoller conveyed the tragedy of those whose own fear or apathy permits the destruction of things and lives others hold dear even as the eventual destruction of all they themselves love becomes more inevitable with precedent. In looking back some 60-odd years, I doubt there are any who would suggest that that the Nazi government offered its citizens too many good things. To be sure, as the saying goes, "Hindsight is 20/20." At the same time, we're supposed to be learning from the lessons of the past, and few lessons are clearer than those of Hitler's regime. That's why I cringe whenever I hear people say things like, "Well, if you don't have anything to hide..." or "Well, if it keeps us safer..."

Following the 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany's Weimar Republic instituted strict gun control, including registration, in part to comply with the treaty. While there are some who claim that it was this statute that allowed Hitler to take such draconian steps as he later did, this is not strictly true. In fact, it was the Nazi government that passed legislation relaxing some of the earlier gun control laws. The problem was that, along with making it easier for law-abiding German citizens to obtain and keep firearms, the 1938 law also prohibited certain "enemies" of the German state from having guns. Among those named as "enemies" were Jews. Using earlier registration lists to confiscate the formerly lawfully owned weapons from Jews, the almost immediate follow-up was the German officials' infamous Kristallnacht attack on Jews and Jewish-owned businesses.

Today, there are those who would urge registration—and localized areas which require registration already—in the guise of preventing gun crime. The reality, of course, has resulted in such strictly controlled access to firearms causing some of the highest crime rates in the country in cities like Chicago, New York, and Washington DC. But gun control advocates frequently ignore such facts and suggest instead that law abiding citizens who intend no harm with their legally purchased guns shouldn't have any problems registering them. I would guess that almost all of the Jews in Germany were law-abiding citizens, and that those who had guns had purchased them lawfully. But because they also complied with the laws demanding registration, the list was immediately available to enable Nazi officials to collect them up thus rendering them utterly defenseless for what followed.

In Nazi Germany, if people wanted to travel, they needed to have their identity papers as well as a permit to travel. These documents were checked frequently during the course of their route. Those who didn't have the papers, or who were discovered to have forgeries, faced very real and draconian consequences. Border crossings, of course, required special permissions from the government, and those of certain religious persuasions (read "Jewish") were lucky if they managed to escape the confines of the country at all.

Today, we're essentially numbed to the requirement for identity papers of our own. We get driver's licenses without a second thought, and present them on request (those of us who refuse are, according to the Supreme Court, unreasonable at best and liable for criminal charges to boot). We seem to think that drunk driving checkpoints are okay as long as they have the potential to keep us any safer (and the Supreme Court has said that such checkpoints aren't a violation of our Fourth Amendment rights, so we'd best play along). And heaven forbid you might actually travel to another country for an "unapproved" reason! Several New York City students learned that lesson to their own chagrin when they returned from an Islamic conference in Canada. Despite being able to demonstrate their citizenship and being entirely cooperative with the authorities, they were held, fingerprinted, and questioned for more than six hours.

It's simple enough to say that you don't drive drunk, so the checkpoints are fine with you. But the fact that the majority of us seem sanguine where drunk driving checkpoints are concerned—and that the Supreme Court seems inclined to think they're okay—has resulted in the impaired driving checkpoint (searching for any kind of illicit substance), the "you'd better be wearing a seatbelt, it's for your own good" checkpoint, as well as the random "we're just looking for witnesses" checkpoint. And, of course, once your vehicle is stopped and you effectively consent for a search, pretty much anything is fair game as far as the police are concerned except, of course, your Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. And woe to you if you don't consent to a search. I've personally seen the the police at what is ostensibly a drunk driving checkpoint cull such vehicles out for further investigation.

You might not be a Muslim, either, and so you believe that the extra attention at the borders or at airports doesn't really matter to you since you're not affected by it. The problem is that you are. To ease the burden of determining who warrants that extra attention, the US Census (constitutionally authorized only to enumerate citizens for the purposes of drawing Congressional districts) now includes a variety of questions not the least of which involve your race, and some forms ask about your religion as well. Although supposedly confidential, Census information was used in the Civil War to determine targets as well as in the World War II era to locate and inter Japanese-Americans. And don't even think about not answering Census questions! Unauthorized in their scope or not, it's a crime to refuse to tell all. And if you think the questions in 2000 were invasive, just wait 'til 2010! Fred Gielow wrote a tongue-in-cheek version of the questions anticipated to be on the next Census forms, and published it on the Internet. It would be pretty funny if it weren't so horrifyingly possible.

The recently passed REAL ID Act—a supposed hedge against illegal immigration—is, in reality, a national ID card which will do much more than merely identify citizens. It will also include private data about them on a machine-readable strip. We don't know yet what that data will include since the law indicates that will be up to the Department of Homeland Security to decide. But you can almost certainly lay money on it being comprehensive and including identifiers like fingerprints. To add insult to injury, it will actually decrease security. (Read more about REAL ID, what makes it such a bad idea, and current actions you can take at UnRealID.com.) Of course, you're okay with this because you have nothing to hide...

Well, neither did Ian W. and Alexis C., two young students at a Wisconsin school. And yet the two were summarily strip-searched by a state child welfare agency worker. Not only were the children's parents not notified or asked for consent, but the school was told specifically not to contact the parents. Obviously, the news got out anyway, and now the parents are suing (and who could blame them?). And students at a high school in Goose Creek, South Carolina didn't have anything to hide, but they were forced to cower in a hallway as armed cops and drug dogs terrorized them in a fruitless search for contraband. The audacity of these actions alone is indicative of an attitude that seems to be duplicated everywhere: We know best, and it's for your own good.

The dozens of drug war victims listed on a tribute site on the Internet also had nothing to hide (there are many more who are not listed here, but who suffered no less at the hands of government agents who were mistaken, overreacting, or overreaching). Simply having nothing to hide is meaningless when it comes down to whether or not you'll be victimized by one government agency or another these days.

There was a time when only the most dangerous of criminals was humiliated by a strip search prior to being entered into a prison population where others might be at risk from a hidden weapon. It wasn't long ago that cause was required before police could stop you, hold you for questioning, or pat you down. Now all you need to do is want to fly somewhere. First, of course, you must buy your ticket in an approved manner (using cash could mark you as a possible terrorist or drug dealer). Secondly, you must consent to the possibility of random searches rather than those determined by suspicion. And finally, starting this summer at some major airports, every passenger will be stripped naked just to be certain he or she isn't carrying anything prohibited.

So rest peacefully in your assumption that none of the invasive new laws or procedures applies to you because you don't have anything to hide. You'll be just fine as long as the police never make a mistake. You won't be a target of an investigation as long as you don't want to do anything to generate suspicion, like drive, work, open a bank account, or rent an apartment. Your name won't be on myriad databases encouraged by government regulation and your identity won't be stolen as long as you never buy anything, never misplace anything, never tell anyone anything, and never, ever send e-mails or fill out online forms. You won't be humiliated in front of strangers by being forced to stand naked as photos are taken of your unclothed body provided you never fly again.

You will, in fact, remain utterly free as long as you do absolutely nothing. And as long as you choose to do nothing, the scope of freedom for everyone else—even those who, like you, have nothing to hide—will continue to narrow.


Registration: The Nazi Paradigm

Assessing the Supreme Court's ruling on giving ID to police

Religious Profiling Sparks Federal Lawsuit

The Census and Privacy

Tell All—Or Else

The 2010 Census

What is REAL ID?

Parents sue over body search of kids

Drug War Victims

Drug Raid at SC High School

Backscatter X-Ray Screening Technology

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