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L. Neil Smith's
Number 518, May 10, 2009

"Don't Tread On Me"

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Don't Tread!
Don't Tread On Freedom!
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

It says here a central Louisiana man was recently stopped on the road by a local police officer and detained for half an hour while his background was checked to ensure he wasn't a member of an "extremist" group.

Why? He had just been to someplace called "Patriot Depot" where he had purchased a bumper sticker and put it on his car. The sticker was a reproduction of the famous and historical Gadsden Flag: a drawing of a coiled diamondback rattlesnake, and the warning, "Don't Tread On Me".

I grew up in the Deep South, almost on the banks of the Suwannee River. You'd think a Louisiana cop would know better, that he might even have a Gadsden flag on his own car. Guess they don't make 'em like they used to. This illegal, unconstitutional, just plain stupid roadside harassment is being attributed to Janet Napolitano's now infamous Department of Homeland Security "report" to local police (first leaked by an anonymous keeper of the peace in Missouri), fingering almost everyone in this country—except card-carrying Democratic worshippers of Barack Obama—as potential domestic terrorists.

That attribution is almost certainly correct, but readers should be aware that for a long time—long before the DHS/Missouri fiasco—police culture has increasingly tended to view the public as its enemy. The first time I ever saw the word "asshole" as an epithet was in a Joseph Wambaugh novel in the early 70s—it was squadroom jargon meaning "civilian". Cops also used to say (when I was a reservist, myself) that a civilian is simply a criminal who hasn't been caught yet.

It's one of the reasons I quit.

Now, by targeting individuals because they want the Federal Reserve dissolved (or merely audited), because they detest the income tax and the IRS and want them abolished, because they voted for Ron Paul or another third party candidate—and dare to say so on their T-shirts and bumper stickers—an already corrupted, runaway police establishment has been provided with probable cause by the federal government to do anything they wish to such "dangerous" individuals. But DHS has only provided an excuse for what they were inclined to do anyway.

If you wear jeans or a bomber jacket, you're especially suspect.

I've heard it said cops are changed by their experiences on the street, they encounter so many unsavory types there. I disagree. There is no excuse for the "doctors only see sick people" syndrome in as thoroughly psychologized and sociologized a subculture as the police comprise. I write for a living. I do not see everyone else as an illiterate.

There is only one cure for the present situation. Local police must be ordered by somebody with enough clout to make it stick that all of this authoritarian garbage from DHS be destroyed. As a step in the correct direction, individuals like our Gadsen Flag victim should be invited to sprinkle the barbecue lighter and toss in the first match.

Next, all local officers guilty of the abuse of their authority, as exemplified by the detention of the Gadsden Flag gentleman, must be suspended and their suitability for police work reexamined. They and their colleagues must be required to attend intensive classes on the Constitution—especially the Bill of Rights—every year, conducted not by lawyers (especially lawyers like the local District Attorney) but by intelligent, well-educated champions of liberty like Michael Badnarik.

Cops must learn that, these days, most laws are unconstitutional.

As I have often urged, to cure their authoritarian bullying of the people they have sworn to protect, the police must give up military- style weapons and be limited, again, to six-shot revolvers and four-shot manually-cycled shotguns. They may not use rifles or automatic weapons of any kind, nor carry or use Tasers or other "non-lethal" weapons which have an almost unbroken record, so far, of abuse. It has even been suggested that they be forbidden any weapon that civilians in their jurisdiction are prohibited from owning or carrying.

Because they must be as vulnerable as those they protect and serve, because they must learn to rely on the voluntary aid of armed civilians, and because they were much more pleasant before, they must be forbidden the use of Kevlar or any other sort of body armor. When they whine (and they will), tell them to blame it on Jackboot Janet Napolitano.

In the end, municipal police forces must be banned and police work left to deputies of the county sheriff who—because he is directly elected by those he serves (or abuses)—is more accountable to the public.

Today, the police are the standing army the Founding Fathers were worried about. Only by containing and controlling them can we be free again.

[Editor's Note: As soon as we find the exact name of the town, the Chief of Police, and the policeman involved in this we will provide contact information. If you know any of the above send it along!]

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of more than 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on What Libertarians Believe with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels.


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