John Whitehead's Commentary
Operation Vigilant Eagle: Is This Really How We Honor Our Nation’s Veterans?
“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”—James A. Baldwin
Just in time for Memorial Day, we’re being treated to a generous serving of praise and grandstanding by politicians, corporations and others with similarly self-serving motives eager to go on record as being pro-military. Patriotic platitudes aside, however, America has done a deplorable job of caring for her veterans. We erect monuments for those who die while serving in the military, yet for those who return home, there’s little honor to be found.
Despite the fact that the U.S. boasts more than 23 million veterans who have served in World War II through Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan, the plight of veterans today, while often overlooked, is common knowledge: impoverished, unemployed, lacking any decent health benefits, homeless, traumatized mentally and physically, struggling with depression, thoughts of suicide, marital stress.
Making matters worse, thanks to Operation Vigilant Eagle, a program launched by the Department of Homeland Security in 2009, military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are also being characterized as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.” As a result, these servicemen and women—many of whom are decorated—are finding themselves under surveillance, threatened with incarceration or involuntary commitment, or arrested, all for daring to voice their concerns about the alarming state of our union and the erosion of our freedoms.
An important point to consider, however, is that the government is not merely targeting individuals who are voicing their discontent so much as it is locking up individuals trained in military warfare who are voicing feelings of discontent. Under the guise of mental health treatment and with the complicity of government psychiatrists and law enforcement officials, these veterans are increasingly being portrayed as ticking time bombs in need of intervention. In 2012, for instance, the Justice Department launched a pilot program aimed at training SWAT teams to deal with confrontations involving highly trained and often heavily armed combat veterans.
In the four years since the start of Operation Vigilant Eagle, the government has steadily ramped up its campaign to “silence” dissidents, especially those with military backgrounds. Coupled with the DHS’ dual reports on Rightwing and Leftwing “Extremism,” which broadly define extremists as individuals and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,” these tactics have boded ill for anyone seen as opposing the government.
One particularly troubling mental health label being applied to veterans and others who challenge the status quo is “oppositional defiance disorder” (ODD). As journalist Anthony Martin explains, an ODD diagnosis
“denotes that the person exhibits ‘symptoms’ such as the questioning of authority, the refusal to follow directions, stubbornness, the unwillingness to go along with the crowd, and the practice of disobeying or ignoring orders. Persons may also receive such a label if they are considered free thinkers, nonconformists, or individuals who are suspicious of large, centralized government… At one time the accepted protocol among mental health professionals was to reserve the diagnosis of oppositional defiance disorder for children or adolescents who exhibited uncontrollable defiance toward their parents and teachers.”
The case of 26-year-old decorated Marine Brandon Raub—who was targeted because of his Facebook posts, interrogated by government agents about his views on government corruption, arrested with no warning, labeled mentally ill for subscribing to so-called “conspiratorial” views about the government, detained against his will in a psych ward for standing by his views, and isolated from his family, friends and attorneys—is a prime example of the government’s war on veterans.
Raub’s case exposes the seedy underbelly of a governmental system that is targeting Americans—especially military veterans—for expressing their discontent over America’s rapid transition to a police state.
On Thursday, August 16, 2012, a swarm of local police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Raub’s home, asking to speak with him about posts he had made on his Facebook page made up of song lyrics, political opinions and dialogue used in a political thriller virtual card game. Among the posts cited as troublesome were lyrics to a song by the rap group Swollen Members and Raub’s views, shared increasingly by a number of Americans, that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job.
After a brief conversation and without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, law enforcement officials then handcuffed Raub and transported him first to the police headquarters, then to a medical center, where he was held against his will due to alleged concerns that his Facebook posts were “terrorist in nature.” Outraged onlookers filmed the arrest and posted the footage to YouTube, where it quickly went viral. Meanwhile, The Rutherford Institute came to Raub’s assistance, which combined with heightened media attention, may have helped prevent Raub from being successfully “disappeared” by the government.
In a hearing on August 20, government officials pointed to Raub’s Facebook posts as the sole reason for their concern and for his continued incarceration. Ignoring Raub’s explanations about the fact that the Facebook posts were being read out of context, Raub was sentenced to up to 30 days’ further confinement in a psychiatric ward. While in the psych ward, Raub reported being interrogated by medical staff about his views about the government and threatened by a doctor with brainwashing. Raub’s legal team, provided by The Rutherford Institute, immediately began petitioning the courts for his release.
On August 23, Circuit Court Judge Allan Sharrett declared the government’s case to be lacking in factual allegations and ordered Raub immediately released. However, for the tens of thousands of individuals detained—wrongfully or otherwise—under civil commitment laws every year, regaining their freedom is nearly impossible, predicated as it is on a bureaucratic legal and judicial system.
Within days of Raub being seized at his Virginia home on August 16, 2012, and forcibly held in a VA psych ward, news reports started surfacing of other veterans having similar experiences.
That the government is using the charge of mental illness as the means by which to immobilize (and disarm) these veterans is diabolically brilliant. With one stroke of a magistrate’s pen, these service men are being declared mentally ill, locked away against their will, and stripped of their constitutional rights. Make no mistake, these returning veterans are being positioned as enemy number one.
Given the government’s increasing view of veterans as potential domestic terrorists, it makes one think twice about a new Michigan law that adds a veterans designation on Michigan driver's licenses and state IDs. Hailed by politicians as a way to “make it easier for military veterans to access discounts from retailers, restaurants, hotels and vendors across the state,” it will also make it that much easier for the government to identify and target veterans who dare to challenge the status quo.
Particularly telling is a training exercise for the Explorers program, which trains young people for careers in law enforcement, in which teenaged boys and girls dressed like quasi-SWAT teams and armed with pellet guns attempt to take down “a disgruntled Iraq war veteran [who] has already taken out two people, one slumped in his desk, the other covered in blood on the floor.” As a side note: this Explorers program, an extension of the Boy Scouts, is unnervingly similar to the Hitler Youth program used by the Nazis to indoctrinate young people into a police state mindset, chillingly documented by H.W. Koch in The Hitler Youth: Origins and Development 1922-1945.
This brings me back to present-day America, with its penchant for endless wars that empty our national coffers while fattening those of the military industrial complex. Does anyone else find it heartbreaking and ironic that we raise our young people on a steady diet of violence and military action, sell them on the idea that defending freedom abroad by serving in the military is their patriotic duty, then when they return home, bruised and battle-scarred and suddenly serious about defending their freedoms at home, we treat them like criminal suspects?
Brandon Raub understands this all too well. While still serving with the Marines in Afghanistan in November 2011, Raub put pen to paper in order to flesh out some of his concerns about the dismantling of freedom in America. His concerns echo those of countless Americans like myself dismayed at the nation’s descent into authoritarianism:
America has lost itself. We have lost who we truly are… They are controlling your media. They have dumbed you down through your school systems. They have systematically dismantled the constitution. It is in rags. The bill of rights is being systematically dismantled. Men have spilled their blood for those rights. Your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters, and America’s best young men and women are losing their limbs. They are losing their lives. They are losing the hearts. They do not know why they are fighting. They are killing. And they do not know why. They have done some extraordinary acts. Their deeds go before them. But these wars are lies. They are lies. They deceived our entire nation with terrorism. They have gotten us to hand them our rights… We gave them the keys to our country. We were not vigilant with our republic. There is hope. BUT WE MUST TAKE OUR REPUBLIC BACK.