One aspect of America that most impressed Alexis de Tocqueville was how individuals could often accomplish what the most “energetic centralized administration” could not. This ability was well demonstrated, according to Tocqueville, in how efficiently America dealt with crime and criminals:

A state police does not exist, and passports are unknown. The criminal police of the United States cannot be compared with that of France; the magistrates and public agents are not numerous; they do not always initiate the measures for arresting the guilty; and the examinations of prisoners are rapid and oral. Yet I believe that in no country does crime more rarely elude punishment. The reason is that everyone conceives himself to be interested in furnishing evidence of the crime and in seizing the delinquent. During my stay in the United States I witnessed the spontaneous formation of committees in a county for a great crime. In Europe a criminal is an unhappy man who is struggling for his life against the agents of power, while the people are merely a spectator of the conflict; in America he is looked upon as an enemy of the human race, and the whole of mankind is against him.

We should pause to consider Tocqueville’s observations in light of the “Europeanization” of America’s policing function. Could we give the same report today after the centralization, professionalization, and bureaucratization of our law enforcement? Have we really benefited from straying away from our original model?

When government ceased being the people’s servant and became the people’s master, the role of law enforcement personnel changed as well. Rather than keeping the peace by apprehending malefactors who have allegedly broken the peace, federal law enforcement personnel now tell people what they must do—or else. The use of military force against the Weaver family in Idaho and David Koresh in Waco are violent examples of the extremes to which government presumes to assert its power. Worse still, the government is increasingly unconcerned about laws prohibiting its choice of methods.

The recent debate over House Resolution 666 is a prime example. H.R. 666 is a bipartisan move to eliminate the exclusionary rule. This rule, in existence for most of the 20th century, is widely regarded as the guideline for applying the Fourth Amendment, that probable cause must exist and a warrant be obtained for the government to invade our persons, homes, possessions, and effects. The exclusionary rule says that evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment cannot be used in trial.

Opponents of the rule, primarily but not exclusively law-and-order, pro-gun Republicans, claim that the exclusionary rule enables guilty persons to escape conviction by throwing out incriminating evidence because it was obtained illegally. In truth, this problem arises less than one percent of the time. But to hear opponents of the exclusionary rule, one would think that the rule is the cause of the crime plaguing America’s cities today. In fact, these advocates of law and order tend to view the Bill of Rights as a mere set of loopholes foisted upon an unsuspecting republic by a clique of proto-ACLU conspirators.

The Founders had another view. Their idea of the Bill of Rights derived from a search for effective obstacles to government tyranny. They remembered how the king’s troops, using the unconstitutional power of Writs of Assistance, had violated the English common law tradition of “a man’s home is his castle.” They realized that warrantless searches were the order of the day in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. Specifically, H.R. 666 is designed to give legislative approval to the current judicial chipping away of the exclusionary rule. As long as a police officer “thought” his warrant was valid—even if it was not—the evidence so obtained could be used in a trial. But what are we to do under this doctrine if one police officer knowingly gets a warrant on false grounds? As long as the evidence is gained by other officers unaware of this deception (wink, wink) the evidence must be admissible against an accused. It also establishes the “objective” standard A an officer’s good faith in gathering evidence without a warrant as long as he “thought” he had probable cause. How is a defendant ever to prove a state of mind? Among the attacks on our liberties that we could expect from the passage of H.R. 666 is an expansion of warrantless searches of homes and random stops of cars in an effort to find guns. Confiscate now, ask questions later.

Such actions have surfaced, most prominently, in the war on drugs. The doctrine of forfeiture is simply a euphemism for confiscation, or government theft. Over 50,000 confiscations occur annually, but in 80 percent of the cases, no charges are ever filed against the citizens whose property was confiscated. Of course, all of this is unconstitutional, but a detail like this carries little weight today.

We should not imagine that this license to steal gets used only against drug kingpins. It gets used against ordinary Americans who, following an illegal search, have “too much money” on them. Or guns. Or whatever target is attractive to a rogue officer or department. The 1994 Crime Bill extended this concept to include multijurisdictional task forces of local, state, and federal police agencies. Moreover, that Crime Bill also ensures prosecutors a cut of the loot, which means hardly anyone in the criminal justice system will be looking out for the interests of the citizens and the Constitution. Why should they? They have all been bought off with fenced merchandise.

At the Waco hearings in July, one of the few worthwhile panels provided two Texas Rangers an opportunity to testify. They made it clear that rather than launch a military assault on the Davidians, they would have taken Koresh up on his invitation to the BATF to come and inspect his premises—something the BATF did not want to do, since they had other plans. The Rangers also said that they would have walked up to the door and knocked to serve a warrant.

Ranger Captain David Byrnes made an eloquent plea at the hearing to warn against a federal police force. Byrnes pointed out that “We federalize everything. Right now, everything from carjacking to evading child support is a federal crime in this country, and that really worries me.” “For law enforcement to be effective,” Byrnes continued, “it has to be accountable, and to be accountable it has to be controlled at the lowest possible level. . . . [W]e seem to be vesting a tremendous amount of authority in the FBI to take over every aspect of civil law enforcement. . . . I think it’s detrimental to our continued freedom in this country.”

We should not lull ourselves into thinking that the Waco slaughter and the Ruby Ridge murders were aberrations. Several years ago. Gun Owners of America produced a video. Breaking the Law in the Name of the Law, in an effort to get Congress to take a look at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Even then the BATF had a reputation for lying to get search warrants and tampering with evidence to get convictions. But the BATF is not alone in running roughshod over the Bill of Rights. In 1992, 31 agents from eight federal and local law enforcement agencies raided the Malibu home of Donald Scott, the Scott paper heir. The agents of the multijurisdictional task force claimed to be looking for marijuana. They shot Scott dead. No marijuana was found. A 1993 report on the incident by Ventura County District Attorney Michael Bradbury said a “primary purpose of the raid was a land grab” by the Forest Service, which coveted Scott’s land.

Just last year, another multijurisdictional task force comprised of agents from the FBI, Environmental Protection Agency, Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, and California Fish and Game Agency raided an herb farm in Southern California. Paul Friedman, owner of Greenhouse Fine Herbs, is a member of the Self-Realization Fellowship. During the raid, supposedly over charges of river pollution and threats to an endangered species, agents asked the employees if they were a member of Friedman’s church and where they hid the guns. Workers at the farm later charged that the agents were more interested in their religious beliefs than in the environmental complaint.

United States Attorney Alan Bersin viewed the pollution indictments against the herb farm as “a significant step in the government’s commitment to improving the quality of life.” Mr. Friedman denies polluting the river, which he called a “sacred place,” and claims the garbage washed there during heavy rains was dumped by local residents. But even if Friedman were guilty, one can see the problem that Captain Byrnes had highlighted at the Waco hearings. Does littering a local river really justify 70 agents standing ready to shoot the suspects?

Sheriff Tim Nettleton of Owyhee County, Idaho, is asking similar questions. As the Washington Times reported this summer, Nettleton has declared his county off-limits to federal law enforcement officials, serving notice in particular to Bureau of Land Management personnel that they would no longer be permitted to act as armed peace officers. “What authority do [BLM agents] have to act as peace officers in the State of Idaho?” he asks. He especially objects to what he calls the BLM’s “SWAT-team mentality.” “I’ve got a group of BLM officers carrying guns, enforcing laws, doing whatever,” he said. “I don’t mind them helping if they’d help, but if my deputies treated people the way they treat people, I’d have stomped them in a mudhole and then wrung their necks.”

The Posse Comitatus Act, which was enacted over 100 years ago to prohibit military personnel and equipment from being used against Americans, has already been whittled down in the name of the war on drugs. An exception has been made to the Posse Comitatus prohibition in cases where federal police want to use the military in a drug bust. Barbara Kennelly (D-CT) has proposed legislation that would establish a 2,500-man rapid deployment attack force. Whatever the name, this is still a military group. But since the rapid deployment force would not be under the control of the military, the Posse Comitatus Act does not apply (wink, wink).

The President, along with Representative Charles Schumer (D-NY), immediately saw the hysteria about the Oklahoma City bombing as a prime opportunity to buttress federal control over local affairs. It was an opportunity to demonize all gunowners and militia members and to accuse law-abiding gunowners of being no different from the murderous bombers. It is doubtful, though, that the President would welcome a comparison of the Weathermen who bombed a building at the University of Wisconsin with antiwar protesters like then-student Clinton. Lawful, constitutionally protected action should not be equated with criminal activity just because it is unpopular.

If the President receives the additional powers he seeks in the name of “counterterrorism,” he will be able on his own, with no appeal permitted, to classify any group as a terrorist organization. Its phone calls could then be monitored and assets confiscated by the government. Of course, such legislation would have been denounced if directed against the civil rights or the antiwar movements of the past, or the environmental movements of the present. Surely the right to organize and march does not end because militants and murderers chose to utter some of the same words used by peaceful groups operating lawfully—even if they are gunowners.

Clearly, if America is to be a land where the people govern themselves, then the civil government will be small and a servant of the people. But if America is to be like the other countries of the world, then an elite will be our masters, and the police their enforcers.