A Utah congressman wants to strip federal agencies of their paramilitary power, which is increasingly being used to intimidate American citizens, he says, destroying whatever small level of trust the people still have in their government.
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Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, introduced HR 4934, also called the Regulatory Agency De-militarization Act or RAD, in late June, and it has since gained more than 30 co-sponsors in the House.
"When we get back to Washington (from August break) we'll get right back to working on this RAD bill, because people know it's just so unnecessary for the federal government to have this kind of power," Stewart told WND. "You've really got to twist yourself into a pretzel to defend this type of power."
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In recent years, nearly every federal regulatory agency – from the U.S. Department of Education, to the Food and Drug Administration and the Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – has deployed some kind of SWAT-type unit with high-powered assault rifles, helmets, menacing black uniforms with faces covered, body armor and militarized armored vehicles.
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Stewart said it's disturbing for Americans to read stories of federal regulators armed to the teeth and breaking into homes and businesses with no reason to think there would be resistance.
Stewart said the root of the problem goes back to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
In a state of panic, Congress reacted by passing legislation creating the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Buried in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 was language that granted arrest and firearms authority to the criminal investigative wings of federal agencies operating under the U.S. Office of the Inspector General.
"Like a lot of times, we write bad legislation in the heat of a crisis," Stewart said. "We did it with Dodd-Frank in reaction to the banking crisis. So that’s exactly what happened here; they gave this authority to federal agencies that never had it before. We have to pull it back now, because it creates so much distrust with the America people.
"Survey after survey shows the American people just don't trust big government anymore and they shouldn't because this is nothing but an intimidating show of force."
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Americans have seen what the escalation of an event can look like when federal regulators call out tactical paramilitary units. It happened in Nevada earlier this year at the ranch of Cliven Bundy, when the Bureau of Land Management brought a sniper team to the ranch, killed some of Bundy's cattle and threatened him with guns over a legal dispute about unpaid grazing fees. The tense standoff finally ended as the BLM backed down in the face of increasing numbers of ranchers and militia groups converging on the scene, many with their own weapons.
But it's not just the BLM that's armed like a National Guard infantry unit. The DOE, the FDA, the IRS, the EPA, the Agriculture Department, the Commerce Department, the Social Security Administration and dozens of other agencies have all been arming themselves. And when they have guns, they buy ammunition – lots of ammunition. Even the Postal Service has joined the ranks of federal agencies that have sent out requests to purchase large amounts of ammunition in recent years, prompting people to ask the obvious question: Why?
Why, for instance, would the Social Security Administration need to put in a request for 174,000 rounds of ".357 Sig 125 grain bonded jacketed hollow-point" bullets as it did last year?
Hollow-point bullets are meant to have maximum kill power and would not be needed for target practice.
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Gun owners groups support bill
Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said his organization is giving its full support to Stewart's bill, which he believes is long overdue. The reason, he said, is because many times the federal agencies will call out their SWAT units simply because their target holds a gun permit.
"The overwhelming number of gun permit holders are law-abiding, peaceful people. It's been a long-time concern of our organization, because all this militarization of police is really not good for anyone in the country, from gun owners to anyone else, and it seems like every government organization now has its own SWAT team," Van Cleave told WND. "But the big question is why do they need that? We have the Posse Comitatus Act that tried to keep the military and police separate, and this seems to be an end-run around that."
Van Cleave said the military's mission is very different from the police or regulatory mission.
"Police mission is to come in and resolve a situation as peaceably as possible whereas the military you come in and you kill them, and that's why we don't want that in this country," he said. "Police are to bring peace to a situation, not kill as many people as necessary to get from point A to point B. Police are to try to avoid using deadly force at all cost, not so for the military."
The other problem Van Cleave sees with the federal SWAT teams is they could easily touch off a violent confrontation, such as almost happened at the Bundy ranch.
"They often dress in all black, they have no name or number on their badge, their faces are often covered, and you really don't know what is going on as they're breaking in on you," he said. "It's easy to mistake them for a bunch of gang bangers breaking into your house. These no-knock warrants combined with these tactical teams are dangerous to normal citizens. The excuse they give is it's to stop evidence from being flushed down the toilet. Our civil liberties are far more important than trying to get every little drug dealer in the drug war, which is a failure anyway, and coming in with machine guns."
SWATT or SETT?
Stewart said his bill will be an easy sell in the House. Even some Democrats will support it, he predicts.
"When you ask them what is it you don't like about this bill it's almost fun to watch them squirm? Who in the world thinks these agencies need SWAT teams?" he said. "The agencies themselves, they say, 'Oh, it's not a SWAT team it's a Special Event Tactical Team or SETT.' There is no difference. The American people are smart enough to know that."
The agencies also have not been very forthcoming with information about their SWAT teams, Stewart said.
"We would ask these agencies, well, what are the rules of engagement for using these tactical units and they would say 'oh we can't tell you that,'" he said. "So we would ask how often are they used and under what circumstances and it's, 'Oh, we can't tell you that either.' They can't say how many times or where they're deployed."
Stewart said the House leaders will likely wait until after the November election to send their bill to the Senate.
"We're going to get a number of Democrat co-sponsors on this," he said. "That is very important to us, because we can't send what appears to be an overly partisan bill to the Senate on this. But the House has sent hundreds of pieces of legislation to the Senate, and they die sitting on Harry Reid's desk. We're going to keep working on it, keep building co-sponsors, particularly Democratic co-sponsors, so it will take that amount of time (until after the November elections) anyway. We could send it right now, but I want it to pass.
"Sometimes you do things for the sake of messaging, but this is something I hope actually becomes law. I think we've got something here we can actually get through the Senate and put on president's desk."
Stewart said that while the problem began under President George W. Bush, the rate of militarization has increased under President Obama.
What the bill would do
The RAD Act has three pieces:
1. It repeals the arrest and firearm authority granted to Offices of Inspectors General in the 2002 Homeland Security Act.
2. It prohibits federal agencies, other than those traditionally tasked with enforcing federal law – such as the FBI and U.S. Marshals – from purchasing machine guns, grenades and other weaponry regulated under the National Firearms Act.
3. It directs the Government Accountability Office to write a complete report detailing all federal agencies, including Offices of Inspectors General, with specialized units that receive special tactical or military-style training and that respond to high-risk situations that fall outside the capabilities of regular law enforcement officers.
“The militarization of agencies is only a symptom of a much deeper and more troubling problem within Washington – that the federal government no longer trusts the American people,” Stewart said. “When all of us feel that we are no longer seen as citizens but as potential dangerous suspects – a relationship of trust is impossible. I’m working to restore and rebuild trust – beginning with this effort to defund paramilitary capabilities within federal regulatory agencies.”
Specific examples of the militarization of federal regulatory agencies include:
In July 2010, a multi-agency task force, including armed officers from the Food and Drug Agency, raided a Venice, California, organic grocery store suspected of using raw milk, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In June 2011, armed federal agents with the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General broke down the door of a Stockton, California, home at 6 a.m. and handcuffed a man suspected of student aid fraud, the Washington Post reported.
In July 2013, an armed multi-agency task force, including officers from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Land Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, raided a small Alaska mining operation suspected of violating the Clean Water Act, the Washington Times reported.
On May 7, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General released a solicitation for submachine guns.
Stewart said the average Americans is not even aware of the militarization problem.
"Not so much, but I'll tell you this, it only takes 30 seconds for them to become a fan of this legislation, because all you have to do is get a list of the agencies that have these SWAT teams and show how they can be abused and they say, absolutely, something has to be done to stop this," Stewart said. "I think we live in a time where most people are highly attuned to that and highly sensitive to the abuses of government power; and we should be, and let's diffuse some of that power instead of sitting by and letting it increase."
He said he understands that federal agents must be capable of protecting themselves.
"But what we have observed goes far beyond providing necessary protection. When there are genuinely dangerous situations involving federal law, that’s the job of the Department of Justice, not regulatory agencies like the FDA or the Department of Education. Not only is it overkill, but having these highly-armed units within dozens of agencies is duplicative, costly, heavy handed, dangerous and destroys any sense of trust between citizens and the federal government.”
WND's extensive reporting on such developments in police actions range from plans to put iris scanners on school buses to an elderly vet being arrested for asking public officials to speak louder at a meeting.
There also was a cop going ballistic on a wheelchair-bound man, the feds' biosurveillance efforts to grab Americans' medical records and a decision by the Supreme Court that greenlighted the detention of Americans.