Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Author Interview: John W. Whitehead on 'A Government of Wolves'

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John W. Whitehead
After 40 years of practicing law, Rutherford Institute founder John Whitehead says he is “creeped out” by the decline in respect for civil liberties in the United States.

Whitehead, author of the 2013 book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, spoke to me last June at the Barracks Road Barnes & Noble just before delivering a talk about his fears of increasing authoritarianism in the United States.

A longtime civil-liberties attorney who once represented Paula Jones in her lawsuit against President Bill Clinton, he is also the author of The Freedom Wars, The Second American Revolution, and The Change Manifesto, in addition to a memoir, Slaying Dragons.

Whitehead offered his assessment of the 2012-13 U.S. Supreme Court term that had ended just days before our interview with a pair of rulings about gay marriage.

“One of the worst” terms ever, he said sharply.

This year, he said, the Supreme Court “basically upheld policemen taking you into custody and not giving you your Miranda warnings.” The Court also, he explained, eroded the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination because “now by being silent it's evidence of guilt.”

The Court, he added “approved the strip searching of anybody. If you're arrested now you can be strip searched by police for minor offenses like running a stop sign.”

“What I'm seeing is a very statist Supreme Court,” Whitehead explained.

“Some people say it's a right-wing Supreme Court. Well, I'm not sure it's right-wing. I put it more in the statist camp.”

He said the voting rights decision (in Shelby County v. Holder) was made “as if racism's no longer in America. Well, what I'm seeing in America is, there is a lot of racism.”

He gave the example of how “90 percent of the people who are arrested for marijuana offenses in New York City are either African-American or Hispanic but all evidence shows that whites smoke marijuana at a much higher rate than people with brown skin.”

Justices of the Supreme Court, Whitehead cautioned, are “living in an ivory tower.”

Supreme Court members are “chauffeured about in limousines and they don't know what we have to go through out here, especially if we're people of color.”

On Fourth Amendment rights, Whitehead noted that “Justice [Antonin] Scalia, whom I've been critical of in the past, and the women on the Supreme Court have been great in their dissents.”

Four instance, he said, those four justices objected “to the forced taking of DNA from people now. If you're arrested for anything, they can go into your body and take your DNA.”

The DNA decision is part of what Whitehead calls “the new movement toward bodily probing.”

He explained that, “in large cities across the country, police are stopping men on the street and doing rectum searches, sometimes causing bleeding. This is without a warrant, without arresting them.”

He gave the example of how recently in Texas, “two women were pulled over for throwing a cigarette out of a car. The policeman accused them of smoking marijuana” but when he found no cannabis in the car, “he called for back up, [who] did vaginal and rectum searches on the women without changing their gloves.”

Those Texas police officers, he said, have “been sued for a million and a half – and they should have been sued.”

Offering advice to citizens, Whitehead warned, “I just say, be alert. Let's read the Bill of Rights again. Most people don't even know what's in the Bill of Rights. It's 462 words but most people have never read it. Can you believe that? 462 words, you can read it in less than five minutes.”

Because “we're not teaching [the Constitution] in school anymore, people don't know” what it says.

“If you're stopped on the street and they want to do a really weird search on you,” Whitehead advised, “assert your Fourth Amendment rights.” The police “have to have probable cause.” Before they begin a search, he said, citizens should ask, “Am I doing something illegal, officer?”

With regard to A Government of Wolves, which was released at just about the same time that Edward Snowden's leaks about the National Security Agency (NSA) began making worldwide headlines, Whitehead said the book includes an examination of the NSA's activities.

"I started studying them in the 1980s, when some evidence came up that they were actually already doing domestic snooping, which they're not supposed to do."

The book explores "what I call the electronic concentration camp, because we're all watched now. The FBI has admitted to downloading our phone calls. This is American citizens" they are spying on "without probable cause" and without "following the Fourth Amendment."

Whitehead said he wanted to respond to the frequent question, "If I'm not doing anything wrong, then why should I worry?"

People should worry, he said, "for a couple reasons."

The first is that "in America we believe in the rule of the law. We believe in the Fourth Amendment, our Constitution, the right to free speech."

He pointed out how the Rutherford Institute had "helped servicemen who have been arrested for doing Facebook posts critical of the government."

Those men, he said, "are asserting their rights, by the way, and that's good to see."

A second reason people should worry, Whitehead continued, is "the militarization of the police is a very scary thing. Eighty thousand SWAT team raids occur across the United States annually, up 30,000 from ten years ago. These are black-armed troopers going through doors of people's homes for something like an ounce of marijuana."

As a response to those who say "we have nothing to hide," he mentioned how he cites attorney Harvey Silverglate's book, Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent, in his own book.

"That's a great book," he said, in part because it demonstrates "the over-criminalization of America."

Citing examples from the Rutherford Institute's portfolio, Whitehead explained that he and his colleagues have "defended people who want to sell goat – no, excuse me, not sell, but give -- goat cheese away to their friends. These are farmers" who have been prosecuted for trading in foods unapproved by the government.

In another case, he said, "we defended a lady down in Arizona who, on Saturday mornings, would go to the grocery stores and get all their unused food. She had one little bookcase she'd set on her driveway for her neighbors" where they could select food items for themselves.

Some of those people, he said, "didn't have jobs" and had trouble making ends meet, yet "the police came out and tried to stop that. We threatened to sue and the police backed off but, believe it or not, they actually did surveillance on [that woman] for a couple weeks, watching her and filming her, with her little bookcase at the end of the driveway for poor people."

That's the kind of thing, Whitehead said scornfully, that "we're seeing all over the country."

(A shorter version of this interview previously appeared on Examiner.com. Video of John Whitehead's remarks following the interview are available to see on YouTube.)

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