John Whitehead's Commentary
Engineering a Race War: Will This Be the American Police State’s Reichstag Fire?
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”— George Santayana
Watch and see: this debate over police brutality and accountability is about to get politicized into an election-year referendum on who should occupy the White House.
Don’t fall for it.
The Deep State, the powers-that-be, want us to turn this into a race war, but this is about so much more than systemic racism. This is the oldest con game in the books, the magician’s sleight of hand that keeps you focused on the shell game in front of you while your wallet is being picked clean by ruffians in your midst.
It’s the Reichstag Fire all over again.
It was February 1933, a month before national elections in Germany, and the Nazis weren’t expected to win. So they engineered a way to win: they began by infiltrating the police and granting police powers to their allies; then Hitler brought in stormtroopers to act as auxiliary police; by the time an arsonist (who claimed to be working for the Communists in the hopes of starting an armed revolt) set fire to the Reichstag, the German parliamentary building, the people were eager for a return to law and order.
That was all it took: Hitler used the attempted “coup” as an excuse to declare martial law and seize absolute power in Germany, establishing himself as a dictator with the support of the German people.
Fast forward to the present day, and what do we have? The nation in turmoil after months of pandemic fear-mongering and regional lockdowns, a national election looming, a president with falling poll numbers, and a police state that wants to stay in power at all costs.
Note the similarities?
It’s entirely possible that Americans have finally reached a tipping point over police brutality after decades of abuse. After all, until recently, the legislatures and the courts have marched in lockstep with the police state, repeatedly rebuffing efforts to hold police accountable for official misconduct.
Then again, it’s also equally possible that the architects of the police state have every intention of manipulating this outrage for their own purposes.
It works the same in every age.
As author Jim Keith explains, “Create violence through economic pressures, the media, mind control, agent provocateurs: thesis. Counter it with totalitarian measures, more mind control, police crackdowns, surveillance, drugging of the population: antithesis. What ensues is Orwell’s vision of 1984, a society of total control: synthesis.”
Here’s what is going to happen: the police state is going to stand down and allow these protests, riots and looting to devolve into a situation where enough of the voting populace is so desperate for a return to law and order that they will gladly relinquish some of their freedoms to achieve it. And that’s how the police state will win, no matter which candidate gets elected to the White House.
You know who will lose? Every last one of us.
Listen, people should be outraged over what happened to George Floyd, but let’s get one thing straight: Floyd didn’t die merely because he was black and the cop who killed him is white. Floyd died because America is being overrun with warrior cops—vigilantes with a badge—who are part of a government-run standing army that is waging war on the American people in the so-called name of law and order.
Not all cops are warrior cops, trained to act as judge, jury and executioner in their interactions with the populace. Unfortunately, the good cops—the ones who take seriously their oath of office to serve and protect their fellow citizens, uphold the Constitution, and maintain the peace—are increasingly being outnumbered by those who believe the lives—and rights—of police should be valued more than citizens.
These warrior cops may get paid by the citizenry, but they don’t work for us and they certainly aren’t operating within the limits of the U.S. Constitution.
This isn’t about racism in America.
This is about profit-driven militarism packaged in the guise of law and order, waged by greedy profiteers who have transformed the American homeland into a battlefield with militarized police, military weapons and tactics better suited to a war zone. This is systemic corruption predicated on the police state’s insatiable appetite for money, power and control.
This is a military coup waiting to happen.
Why do we have more than a million cops on the taxpayer-funded payroll in this country whose jobs do not entail protecting our safety, maintaining the peace in our communities, and upholding our liberties?
I’ll tell you why.
These warrior cops—fitted out in the trappings of war, drilled in the deadly art of combat, and trained to look upon “every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making—are the police state’s standing army.
This is the new face of war, and America has become the new battlefield.
Militarized police officers, the end product of the government—federal, local and state—and law enforcement agencies having merged, have become a “standing” or permanent army, composed of full-time professional soldiers who do not disband.
Yet these permanent armies are exactly what those who drafted the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights feared as tools used by despotic governments to wage war against its citizens.
American police forces were never supposed to be a branch of the military, nor were they meant to be private security forces for the reigning political faction. Instead, they were intended to be an aggregation of countless local police units, composed of citizens like you and me that exist for a sole purpose: to serve and protect the citizens of each and every American community.
As a result of the increasing militarization of the police in recent years, however, the police now not only look like the military—with their foreboding uniforms and phalanx of lethal weapons—but they function like them, as well.
Thus, no more do we have a civilian force of peace officers entrusted with serving and protecting the American people. Instead, today’s militarized law enforcement officials have shifted their allegiance from the citizenry to the state, acting preemptively to ward off any possible challenges to the government’s power, unrestrained by the boundaries of the Fourth Amendment.
They don’t work for us. As retired Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis warned, “Corporate America is using police forces as their mercenaries.”
We were sold a bill of goods.
For years now, we’ve been told that cops need military weapons to wage the government’s wars on drugs, crime and terror. We’ve been told that cops need to be able to crash through doors, search vehicles, carry out roadside strip searches, shoot anyone they perceive to be a threat, and generally disregard the law whenever it suits them because they’re doing it to protect their fellow Americans from danger. We’ve been told that cops need extra legal protections because of the risks they take.
None of that is true.
In fact, a study by a political scientist at Princeton University concludes that militarizing police and SWAT teams “provide no detectable benefits in terms of officer safety or violent crime reduction.” According to researcher Jonathan Mummolo, if police in America are feeling less safe, it’s because the process of transforming them into extensions of the military makes them less safe, less popular and less trust-worthy.
The study, the first systematic analysis on the use and consequences of militarized force, reveals that “police militarization neither reduces rates of violent crime nor changes the number of officers assaulted or killed.”
In other words, warrior cops aren’t making us or themselves any safer.
Militarized police armed with weapons of war who are allowed to operate above the law and break the laws with impunity are definitely not making America any safer or freer.
The problem, as one reporter rightly concluded, is “not that life has gotten that much more dangerous, it’s that authorities have chosen to respond to even innocent situations as if they were in a warzone.” Consequently, Americans are now eight times more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist.
Militarism within the nation’s police forces is proving to be deadlier than any pandemic.
This battlefield mindset has gone hand in hand with the rise of militarized SWAT (“special weapons and tactics”) teams.
Frequently justified as vital tools necessary to combat terrorism and deal with rare but extremely dangerous criminal situations, such as those involving hostages, SWAT teams have become intrinsic parts of local law enforcement operations, thanks in large part to substantial federal assistance and the Pentagon’s military surplus recycling program, which allows the transfer of military equipment, weapons and training to local police for free or at sharp discounts while increasing the profits of its corporate allies.
Where this becomes a problem of life and death for Americans is when these SWAT teams— outfitted, armed and trained in military tactics—are assigned to carry out relatively routine police tasks, such as serving a search warrant. Nationwide, SWAT teams have been employed to address an astonishingly trivial array of criminal activity or mere community nuisances: angry dogs, domestic disputes, improper paperwork filed by an orchid farmer, and misdemeanor marijuana possession, to give a brief sampling.
Remember, SWAT teams originated as specialized units dedicated to defusing extremely sensitive, dangerous situations. They were never meant to be used for routine police work such as serving a warrant. Unfortunately, the mere presence of SWAT units has actually injected a level of danger and violence into police-citizen interactions that was not present as long as these interactions were handled by traditional civilian officers.
Yet the tension inherent in most civilian-police encounter these days can’t be blamed exclusively on law enforcement’s growing reliance on SWAT teams and donated military equipment.
It goes far deeper, to a transformation in the way police view themselves and their line of duty.
Specifically, what we’re dealing with today is a skewed shoot-to-kill mindset in which police, trained to view themselves as warriors or soldiers in a war, whether against drugs, or terror, or crime, must “get” the bad guys—i.e., anyone who is a potential target—before the bad guys get them. The result is a spike in the number of incidents in which police shoot first, and ask questions later.
Making matters worse, when these officers, who have long since ceased to be peace officers, violate their oaths by bullying, beating, tasering, shooting and killing their employers—the taxpayers to whom they owe their allegiance—they are rarely given more than a slap on the hands before resuming their patrols.
This lawlessness on the part of law enforcement, an unmistakable characteristic of a police state, is made possible in large part by police unions which routinely oppose civilian review boards and resist the placement of names and badge numbers on officer uniforms; police agencies that abide by the Blue Code of Silence, the quiet understanding among police that they should not implicate their colleagues for their crimes and misconduct; prosecutors who treat police offenses with greater leniency than civilian offenses; courts that sanction police wrongdoing in the name of security; and legislatures that enhance the power, reach and arsenal of the police, and a citizenry that fails to hold its government accountable to the rule of law.
Indeed, not only are cops protected from most charges of wrongdoing—whether it’s shooting unarmed citizens (including children and old people), raping and abusing young women, falsifying police reports, trafficking drugs, or soliciting sex with minors—but even on the rare occasions when they are fired for misconduct, it’s only a matter of time before they get re-hired again.
Much of the “credit” for shielding these rogue cops goes to influential police unions and laws providing for qualified immunity, police contracts that “provide a shield of protection to officers accused of misdeeds and erect barriers to residents complaining of abuse,” state and federal laws that allow police to walk away without paying a dime for their wrongdoing, and rampant cronyism among government bureaucrats.
It’s happening all across the country.
This is how perverse justice in America has become.
Incredibly, while our own Bill of Rights are torn to shreds, leaving us with few protections against government abuses, a growing number of states are adopting Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBoR), which provide cops accused of a crime with special due process rights and privileges not afforded to the average citizen.
This, right here, epitomizes everything that is wrong with America today.
Even when the system appears to work on the side of justice, it’s the American taxpayer who ends up paying the price.
Because police officers are more likely to be struck by lightning than be held financially accountable for their actions. As Human Rights Watch explains, taxpayers actually pay three times for officers who repeatedly commit abuses: “once to cover their salaries while they commit abuses; next to pay settlements or civil jury awards against officers; and a third time through payments into police ‘defense’ funds provided by the cities.”
Deep-seated corruption of this kind doesn’t just go away because politicians and corporations suddenly become conscience-stricken in the face of mass protests and start making promises they don’t intend to keep.
As I explain in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we need civic engagement and citizen activism, especially at the local level. However, if it ends at the ballot box without achieving any real reform that holds government officials at all levels accountable to playing by the rules of the Constitution, then shame on us.