Popehat Revisted

Image: The New Yorker

The National Review published an excellent piece by Ken White, known as @Popehat on Twitter. Ken is a defense lawyer and former US Attorney, neither of which I’ll hold against him. He’s a sharp dude, one I follow daily.

Let’s get this first bit out of the way. I’ve an issue with his opening paragraph; call it a pet peeve if you’re into clichés.

Ken discusses a case in which “armed government agents” (FBI) execute a raid on the home of one of his clients. He repeats twice more in the opening paragraph that the agents were armed. Ken’s a smart guy. This is purposeful rhetoric and his purpose is melodrama.

The FBI arms its agents. They’re the police, the federal police, but still the police. They are routinely armed and undergo extensive training and annual qualifications to remain armed for the execution of their sworn duty, which occasionally involves confronting terrorists and other homicidal miscreants. They are armed as part of their regular course of operations, at all times. They didn’t just sign out weapons to confront Ken’s client.

The fact that they were armed is irrelevant. This is a particularly irksome point because Ken White knows this, yet decided to harp on it. Agents of the federal government, who by statute have arrest powers—think FBI, Secret Service, DEA, ICE, Parks Service etc, are authorized and required to carry weapons. These agents conduct themselves bravely on a daily basis. Armed federal agents took a bullet for Reagan. Armed Coast Guard personnel confront pirates and drug runners. Armed federal ICE agents have been killed securing our borders. Capitol Police, technically not federal agents but worthy of mention, just saved a lot of asses at a GOP baseball practice. Who needs to be armed to execute an arrest warrant, interview a suspect, Ken’s client, or to watch a baseball practice?

It’s what they do. They carry guns. You get my point, Ken. Stop the histrionics.

An Excellent Point

The best line from Ken’s piece is, “If you support this president, then this experience should lead you to question — perhaps for the first time — such prosecutorial power.”

So, what is he referring to? In discussing the current probe(s) into the actions or inactions of President Trump, Ken highlights the overreach of federal prosecutors in convicting American citizens of, not overt crimes, the elements of which are detailed in their respective statutes, but the statements of persons surrounding those investigations, in particular, the lying to federal agents who conducted the inquiries.

The best line I quoted above, but the most important point Ken makes is this: “But people who hold vast power rarely think they ought not.” It’s one reason so many in local law enforcement don’t have a problem with the arrests for lying, as well as, militarization of police. The latter is a serious issue but my cop friends don’t seem to mind. “Hey, we’re the good guys. We should have all the equipment we want.” The reason they feel this way is simple. All that military equipment is cool, it’s fun to ride in an assault vehicle, shoot semi-automatic rifles, throw stun grenades, ram doors, yada yada, and the feds are willing to throw money at us to buy it (so much for squawking about excessive federal spending).

And by the way, Joe, “fuck the criminals.” That is, of course, until you have an innocent drink with a friend who is under federal investigation and those cool FBI guys come knocking to confront you about what you know and when you acquired said information. And, by the way, when they ask you questions, they already know the answers.

I have enough ex-cop friends and other self-proclaimed conservatives to argue with until I die. Most of these folks I both love and get frustrated with. To many of my friends, the government is bureaucracy. It’s regulations on business, spending on entitlements and grants for silly projects. Rarely, no, almost never, is it the FBI, ICE or the DEA. Why? They’re the cops, the good guys. They are our drinking buddies, our classmates, the ones fighting the bad guys; get it? They’re the ones whose funeral pics we post on social media and the reason we ride bicycles to Washington DC to drink pray at the police memorial.

*Grabs Lapels*

But guys, like it or not, they are the government. They are, in fact, a very serious and scary part of the government. They can put you in federal prison and ruin your life because of a slip during an interview. Those who would defend the actions of the federal agents described in Ken’s piece, many of whom I count as friends, have lost sight of the reason this republic was formed in the first place, an aversion to and a willingness to die fighting, tyranny.

They’ve forgotten that hundreds of thousands of exemplary American men and women have been grievously wounded or died fighting for the precepts of the entire Constitution, not just the Second Amendment. They’ve forgotten that freedom comes at a cost and sometimes that cost is a guilty person remaining free so that our national integrity remains intact.

We need to remember that the more power we give federal agents to fight who we decide are the bad guys, the broader those powers are in actions we may not have considered, actions against us. We remember so that we remain to the world, the better stewards of free society.

The Windup

Most cops are men. Men like toys. We buy many of these toys with proceeds from actions such as civil forfeiture, designed to strip the bad guys of the proceeds of a life of crime, but also from proceeds confiscated as a result of prosecuting criminal action. But the rules surrounding these actions are vague and arbitrary. Lying to the feds gets you locked up and your stuff taken. It’s sold at auctions for pennies on the dollar and the proceeds are used to buy more stuff—cool stuff, yeah, I know.

Fuck the stuff.

It’s time to take a step back and at least consider what it is we’re defending in our social media posts. Are we really conservative paladins of freedom and liberty? If we look deeply, we’ll discover many of us are actually quite supportive of a large, wide-ranging, oppressive government, despite our claims to the contrary. Maybe, we should take a wider view.


One thought on “Popehat Revisted

  1. Bret Stephens (WaPo’s new “conservative”) insists this country was founded to provide a safe haven for foreign born persons to remake in waves of migration. I always thought it was freedom from government tyranny too, but evidently we no longer have a shared view of of the founding of the US, much less a shared view of what it presently represents.

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