DEA Orchestrates Disinformation Campaign To Conceal Surveillance Powers

In Neal Stephenson's brilliant Cryptonomicon, a protagonist works for a shadowy Allied unit called "Detachment 2702." Detachment 2702 creates elaborate fake evidence to offer explanations of how the Allies learned of German movements, thus concealing that the Allies had cracked the Enigma code. Though fictional, the Detachment is based on actual World War II tactics. The Allies did things like send spotter planes to places they knew German ships would be to fortuitously "spot" them, and reportedly sent a fake radio message of congratulations to a non-existent spy to suggest a source for other intelligence.

You expect the government to use secret surveillance and disinformation campaigns against a wartime enemy. You probably don't expect the government to use secret surveillance and disinformation campaigns in court against its own citizens.

You should.

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A Modest Argument About Police Culture Culminating in a Reference to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist

In the comments to Ken's excellent post on the recent repeated digital anal rape of a citizen by government employees, commenter
@Ryan took me to task:


On Nov 7 at 7:51 AM you wrote:

Prenda et all have no more harmed the reputation of "all lawyers" than OJ Simpson harmed the reputation of "all African Americans" or Bernie Madoff harmed the reputation of "all Jews".

People are individuals. Pick any set and you'll find sinners and saints.

Then at 4:54 PM on Nov 7, you said:

Dogs are people, but LEOs – by pinning on a badge and pledging that they'll enforce the law – even when the law says that innocent people should be jailed or dogs can be shot – have opted out of the human race.

Fuck them all, and may they die slow horrible syphilitic deaths.

Which makes me wonder how the eminently reasonable Clark of this morning got replaced and when. The juxtaposition is astounding.

It's remarkable that you can, in the span of less than 12 hours, move from a statement that assigns blame to people as individuals and not the profession they belong to, to the polar opposite, just because the latter happens to spout hate and vitriol toward a group you vehemently dislike, while the former forgives people who are in a profession that you at least partially respect because of a few individuals you know who are a part of it.

This is a good point, and it deserves an answer.

My response has two prongs:

1) the inherent evilness of the full job description of law enforcement

2) the overwhelming default culture of law enforcement

Point One: inherent evilness of the job

I already addressed the first prong in an earlier comment, where I said:

It is wrong to discriminate against Blacks or Jews or Hispanics or Gays because people are born into those groups and do not pledge any sort of allegiance to them, nor does their inclusion in a group show that they have opted into the dominant ethical pattern.

Is it right to discriminate against Jihadis or SS members or KKK members or Bloods or Crips because (a) people consciously opt into said group, and (b) do so knowing their norms and and behaviors.

The War on Americans Who Use Drugs has been going on for decades. It is a very rare LEO who pinned on the badge before the War.

In 1944 I'd hold no ill will (or not much) to a German who was drafted…but if a German signed up to go throw Jews out of their homes, then screw him.

In 2013 I hold no ill will (or not much) to an American who is drafted into the American police…but if a man or woman signs up to go shoot dogs and digitally rape anuses, then screw him. He's bought what Screwtape is selling.

tl;dr: The job description is evil. Only evil people sign up for an evil job.

Point Two: The LEO Culture Turns Good Men Bad

The second prong of my argument is the culture of law enforcement.

Let's assume that that 5% of humans are power-mad thugs, psychopaths, whatever you want to call them.

A priori we can assume that these people are distributed evenly throughout professions…but perhaps that's not true. Maybe the field of lawyering attracts these people. I don't think so, but say it's true, and 10% of lawyers are Prenda-rific and routinely lie, cheat, steal, etc. 10% is still a minority of all lawyers, and there are no network effects that turn 10% into 90%. The opposite is true: lawyers are split into factions and they work against each other all the time, not just in the courtroom but in the marketplace. The adversarial nature of the profession means that any bad acting lawyer is always risking exposure from others.

Law enforcement culture, on the other hand, does have network effects. Cops work together as a team, whether they're in the same squad car, the same department, or just in the same country. The culture is deeply insular with special ID cards and bumper stickers promising special treatment, and a culture that routinely and harshly punishes anyone who breaks from the party line. This is a system almost custom designed to let moral and procedural rot run rampant. (Recall that as much as cops like to wash their hands of a fellow cop who was caught doing a crime by calling him "one bad apple", the full phrase is "one bad apple spoils the bunch".)


Whites have sinners and saints.

Blacks have sinners and saints.

Oregonians, Texans, and New Yorkers have sinners and saints.

Accountants, hairdressers, and coal miners have sinners and saints.

Law Enforcement, though, is unlike all of these – the job description is organized bullying, and that (a) attracts psychopaths and (b) converts non-psychopaths into – at worst – psychopaths, and – at best – into those who merely tolerate, absolve, and cover up for the psychopaths. For fun, run down the Hare Psychopathy Checklist and compare the bullet points to the typical cop's personality. Glib, grandiose, lying, manipulative, remorseless, lacking empathy, needing stimulation, parasitic lifestyle … the list goes on and on.

The police are a monopolistic organized gang that – as an emergent social entity – delights in violence, repression, and control, and is made up of members who are resemble it in miniature. It is no more morally complicated to fear, disdain, and hate people who choose to join the police than it is to fear, disdain, and hate people who choose to join the KKK.

That said, one should hate the sin and not the sinner.

I'm trying, Ringo. I'm trying real hard.

UPDATE: The always awesome Maggie McNeill points me to an old blog post of hers that bears on this topic:

If a cop is tasked with enforcing a law he knows to be immoral, it is his duty as a moral man to refuse that order even if it means his job. If he agrees with an immoral law then he is also immoral, and if he enforces a law he knows to be wrong even more so. The law of the land in Nazi-era Germany was for Jews and other “undesirables” to be sent to concentration camps, and the maltreatment of the prisoners was encouraged and even ordered by those in charge; any German soldier or policeman enforcing those laws was the exact moral equivalent of any soldier or policeman under any other democratically-elected government enforcing the laws enacted by that regime. Either “I was only following orders” is a valid defense, or it isn’t; either we agree that hired enforcers are absolved from responsibility because “they’re just doing their jobs”, or we don’t. You can’t have it both ways, and sometimes Nazi analogies are entirely appropriate.

What Is The Quantum of Proof Necessary for Police to Rape and Torture you in New Mexico?

By now you've probably heard the story of David Eckert. He's the New Mexico man who was stopped by police, detained based on a suspicion he was hiding drugs in his rectum, and subjected to increasingly intrusive anal probing and eventually sedation and a colonoscopy. You might have read about him at Simple Justice or Defending People or BoingBoing or Techdirt or Reason or any of the other places that reported on the ghastly episode.

I waited to write about it until I could get a copy of the search warrant affidavit — helpfully provided by my friend Kevin Underhill of the absolutely essential legal blog Lowering the Bar — so that I could address this question: what quantum of proof is required in New Mexico for the police and compliant doctors to rape and torture a man?

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Columbia, SC Police Chief: DrugWar WrongThink Creates Reasonable Suspicion To "Find You"

Yesterday a police chief in South Carolina thoughtfully reminded us of what police think of us and our "rights" and our "viewpoints."

It began with Columbia, South Carolina Police Department's Interim Chief Ruben Santiago boasting of a marijuana arrest on Facebook:


Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago announces the arrest of a man accused of having approximately $40K of marijuana inside a Columbia apartment.

Demon weed, off the street!1 The War on Drugs triumphant!

Not everybody on Facebook was a fan. Chief Santiago pushed right back against criticism:


In case you can't see that image, a guy named Bradley says "Maybe u should arrest the people shooting people in 5 points instead of worrying about a stoner that's not bothering anyone. It'll be legal here one day anyway." Someone using the Columbia Police Department Facebook account replies:

@Brandon whitmer, we have arrested all the violent offenders in Five points. Thank you for sharing your views and giving us reasonable suspicion to believe you might be a criminal, we will work on finding you.

That post was swiftly deleted, but not before numerous people in the thread screencapped it and posted it in the thread. 2

Now, you're probably thinking this is some web-lackey shooting his mouth off, not the position of the Columbia, South Carolina Police Department, or the position of Interim Chief Ruben Santiago. Well, if that's the case, the web lackey was willing to double down upon being criticized:


In case you can't see that image, the comment says this:

This is Interim Chief Santiago posting. I was just notified that one of my staff members deleted my post. I put everyone on notice that if you advocate for the use of illegal substances in the City of Columbia then it's reasonable to believe that you MIGHT also be involved in that particular activity, threat? [sic] Why would someone feel threaten [sic] if you are not doing anything wrong? Apply the same concept to gang activity or gang members. You can have gang tattoos and advocate that life style, but that only makes me suspicious of them, I can't do anything until they commit a crime. So feel free to express yourself, and I will continue to express myself and what we stand for. I am always open to hearing how our citizens feel like we can be effective in fighting crime.

I have written the Columbia Police Department's Public Information Officer for comment about whether that was, in fact, Interim Chief Santiago, and whether his views represent the views of the department.

So: if that is Chief Santiago, the police chief of a city of about 125,000 people, thinks that his department should "find you" and investigate you if you support the legalization of marijuana or oppose the ruinous, amoral War on Drugs. Notice the collection of cop tropes in the second response: (1) the thug's dance of first threatening to "find you" and then halfway backing off from it, (2) the "why worry if you have nothing to hide" routine, (3) the suggestion that advocating against the War on Drugs creates reasonable suspicion to investigate you — bearing in mind that "reasonable suspicion" is a legal term referring to the quantum of proof that supports cops, for instance, stopping and frisking you, and (4) the statement that the cops are always open to hearing from citizens after threatening to come find a citizen for criticizing them.

Interim Chief Santiago seems mad. And why shouldn't he? Commenter Brandon wants to take bread out of his mouth. The Glorious War on Drugs helps people of modest ability like Ruben Santiago find employment. It provides massive funding. It provides cops with fun toys, like tanks. It allows them to use violence against citizens with a high degree of confidence they will get away with it. And you want to take that away from them? Of course they're going to "work on finding you."

This shouldn't be a surprise. We already know that police think that it's evidence of criminal intent justifying a search warrant if you talk about your constitutional rights. Why wouldn't it also be evidence of a crime that you exercise your right to free speech to oppose government policies?

Ruben Santiago may wish to become the permanent Chief of Police of Columbia, South Carolina rather than just the Interim Chief. Will city leaders consider, in evaluating his application, that he is apparently someone who is easily agitated and unprofessional on social media in a way that may be used as evidence in civil rights lawsuits against the city?

Santiago, by the way, has filed a defamation lawsuit against a police captain who accused him of a scheme to plant evidence.

Rutherford [Santiago's lawyer] says Santiago is determined to clear his name and filing a defamation lawsuit is the only way to do that.

"The only thing left for Chief Santiago to do is this; is to file a lawsuit to make sure everybody knows this is not something he's going to let pass by, this is not something he's going to let it go," said Rutherford. "He's very serious about protecting his reputation and the reputation of the city of Columbia Police Department"

Protip: threatening to "come find" citizens who criticize the War on Drugs and advocate marijuana legalization, and suggesting that their political views give you "reasonable suspicion" against them, is not the optimal way to protect your reputation or the reputation of the department.

Thanks to tipster Jim for the links.

Edited to add: I've also written Interim Chief Santiago's lawyer seeking comment.

UPDATE WITH CONFIRMATION: I received the following statement from the Columbia, SC Police Department's Public Information Officer:

Chief Santiago did write those two posts. I believe the original comment was misconstrued. I appreciate you reaching out to CPD.

Chief was trying to say that he puts would-be-criminals on notice — if you commit a crime or plan to commit one, CPD will work hard to investigate and press charges according to the law.

It’s easy for social media posts to be misunderstood. The man who was so-called threatened openly admitted that he was not offended and appreciated the work of CPD.

Maybe now that the man said that they won't try to go "find" him.

The Eric Holder Memorandum on Mandatory Minimum Sentences, Explained

Yesterday Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the United States Department of Justice would no longer seek lengthy mandatory minimum sentences in some federal drug prosecutions. He simultaneously released a memorandum directing federal prosecutors on the new policy.

But what does the policy really mean, and how will it impact federal drug prosecutions? In practice, the policy significantly increases the power and discretion of federal prosecutors, while giving an opportunity for some defendants to escape draconian mandatory minimum sentences.

Here's how it works, in more detail than you may want to know.

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"Shut Up And Sing" Might Be Funny. "Shut Up And Submit to the Police" Isn't.

Everyone likes to laugh at celebrities. Part of it is the pleasure we take at the mighty brought low. Part of it is that celebrities are often ridiculous people — arguably you'd have to be a ridiculous person to tolerate being a celebrity in the first place.

But not every bad thing that happens to a celebrity is funny. Not every anti-celebrity rant is amusing. Just as we have to discipline our tendencies towards schadenfreude when free speech is on the line, we should temper our enjoyment when a pretentious celebrity encounters the criminal justice system.

This week's example: singer Fiona Apple. Apple was arrested on drug charges in Texas and later rambled about it at a concert:

The "Criminal" songstress said that "most people were very nice to me," but she had some stern words for a few who she said were less kind.

"There are four of you out there, and I want you to know that I heard everything you did, I wrote it all down with your names and everything you did and said stupidly thinking that I couldn't hear or see you," she continued.

Apple did not name either the jailer or the four individuals, but threatened to make the latter group "famous anytime you ask."

She described the antics of the four people she alluded to as "inappropriate and probably illegal," but did not offer further details.

Apple then announced that she had ripped up the piece of paper, but not before she "encoded" the information she had written down. She said she would "hold that secret forever … unless you're interested in being a celebrity."

This is annoying on numerous levels. First, as a criminal defense attorney, let me say: Ms. Apple, for your own good, please shut up about your arrest, because it makes it harder to defend you, and might be used against you. If, by any chance, there was any legal defect in the way you were stopped, arrested, searched, or questioned, you've just made it harder for your lawyer to do something about it.

Second, the statement is incoherent. It's not just regular-person incoherent, it's even singer-songwriter incoherent. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am all for speaking out against police misconduct. But that's not what Fiona Apple is doing. She's not saying "this is how they mistreated me, and it's wrong." She's doing a cutesy stream-of-consciousness bit about how maybe she'll name cops and maybe she won't and how maybe she'll make them famous and maybe she won't, conveying not a message about police misconduct but a message about . . . hell, I can't say what. It's incoherent.

But Apple's irritating articulation is merely an occasion for eye-rolling; the response of law enforcement is a concern. Hudspeth County Sheriff's Department Public Information Officer Rusty Fleming responded to Ms. Apple with a snide letter and follow-up snide media appearances:

First, Honey, I’m already more famous than you, I don't need your help. However, it would appear that you need mine….

Two weeks ago nobody in the country cared about what you had to say, — now that you’ve been arrested it appears your entire career has been jump-started. Don’t worry Sweetie, I won't bill you…

Next, have you ever heard of Snoop, Willie or Armand Hammer? Maybe if you would read something besides your own press releases, you would have known BEFORE you got here, that if you come to Texas with dope, the cops will take your DOPE away and put YOU in jail…

Even though you and I only met briefly in the hallway, I don't know you but I'm sure you're an awesome and talented young woman and even though I'm not a fan of yours, I am sure there are thousands of them out there, and I’m sure that they would just as soon you get this all behind you and let you go back to what you do best—so my last piece of advice is simple "just shut-up and sing."


Rusty Fleming

Now, if Fiona Apple had complained about a restaurant or hotel or something — if she had used her fame to abuse someone less powerful than she is — and a spokesperson had written back like this, it would be awesome, if somewhat sexist. But she complained, however fecklessly, about mistreatment during a drug arrest by police, who have vastly more power than she does, no matter how much money or fame she has. That changes the complexion of the response entirely.

First, the department's defenders may say "well, Ole Rusty isn't a cop, he's just a civilian spokesperson." True. But the fact that a sheriff's department sees fit to hire someone like Rusty Fleming as a spokesperson, and to tolerate communications like this, speaks volumes about how they view their relationship with the public and with the media.

Second, buried in the "shut up and sing" is not just a clean hit on a bizarre and self-indulgent on-stage statement from a celebrity. "Shut up and sing" also contains within it the too-common attitude of law enforcement towards civilian criticism and complaints. Here at Popehat we write about how cops react to attempts to file complaints about police officers, how cops abuse the legal system to frustrate the use of new technologies to document misconduct, how cops make bogus claims of being "threatened" to prevent citizens from recording them in the course of their duties, how cops think that expressions of fidelity to constitutional principles are evidence of criminality, how cops react to critical satire with criminal investigations, and how cops — when they think nobody is listening — react with fury and contempt to being questioned. Our cultural attitude toward celebrities is only part of the context of "shut up and sing"; law enforcement entitlement and casual brutality is the other part of the context.

Third, Rusty's letter is a smirking and triumphalist cheer for the immoral, ruinous, ruinously expensive prolonged failure that is the Great American War on Drugs. The War on Drugs does not merely cost us billions of dollars. It does not merely cage people for consensual individual conduct like possession of a piece of vegetation. The War on Drugs is violent. More specifically, it's brutally violent against values that are supposed to be at the heart of America, like due process of law. Adhering to the War on Drugs means never having to say you are sorry for criminal justice system abuses that, in a nation not cowed by drug war propaganda, would shock Americans into action.

So: if you must, enjoy Rusty's letter to the extent it takes a swipe at celebrity entitlement. But if you do, bear in mind that ugly and contemptible things lurk beneath its surface. They letter, though seemingly lighthearted, contains a dark message: civilian, OBEY.

Citizen Incredulity And Law Enforcement Reality

When we hear a terrible story about abuses by law enforcement — like, say, a college student arrested for smoking marijuana, abandoned in a DEA holding cell for five days without food or water, and reduced to drinking his own urine and attempting suicide with a shard of glass — often our first instinct is to say "that can't be right" or "there must be more to that story" or "that guy is making it up" or, at least, "what a bizarre, freakish event." Our society encourages these reactions. Our society does not encourage the reaction "yep, that's the way our criminal justice system works."

It ought to.

The truth is, that is how our criminal justice system works. In part, it's a matter of sheer numbers. We arrest and incarcerate so many people, and yet begrudge the cost so bitterly, that abuses and horrific mistakes are bound to happen. In part, it's a matter of attitude — we continue, as a society, to tolerate a good guys/bad guys cops vs. robbers mentality more suitable to a preadolescent pointing his fingers like a gun than to a thinking people. In part, it's a matter of indifference — we allow ourselves to believe that abuse by police happens to them, not to us, and so we look the other way. In part, it's a matter of national politics. How many prominent political figures do you see talking about reigning in abusive law enforcement conduct?

So: college kids get get busted for pot and left to starve to death in a holding cell. Detainees are denied even minimal medical care until their penis has to be amputated and they die of cancer. Defendants arrested for marijuana possession are sentenced to certain death in jail facilities completely unable to address their medical needs. Cops shoot family dogs like small-time sociopathic villains in a Tarentino movie. Cops tase and pepper spray handicapped kids and grandmothers in their beds.

And we allow it all. We put up with it. We don't demand that politicians take it seriously. We continue, as a society, to welcome law-and-order pablum from our leaders, and from our insipid if-it-bleeds-it-leads fear-profiteering media.

What the fuck is is wrong with us?

They Say Marijuana Is Dangerous

. . . and damn, are they ever right.

I mean, if you get involved with marijuana, and the cops catch you with a small amount, they may bully you into cooperating with one of their drug investigations — which can get you killed.

Or, if you use marijuana, and have a small amount of marijuana in your home, you may get shot to death by police during a raid. In fact, marijuana is so dangerous that police may shoot you when they raid your home if they just think you may have it. And it goes without saying that marijuana is dangerous to your dog, who may get shot during a raid.

And I need not remind you that if you have preexisting health condition, marijuana can kill you. For instance, if you are a paraplegic who requires adequate medical care to live, if you get caught with marijuana a sociopathically indifferent judge may condemn you to death by sending you to a jail that cannot care for you.

But that's not all. Marijuana encourages lawlessness — by encouraging law enforcement to disregard laws. It turns parents against children — through state-run programs encouraging children to inform on their parents. In fact, marijuana is so dangerous that merely speaking of it in less than condemning tones can lead to you losing your job . . . with the government.

If you were a hand-wringing soft-on-crime looney liberal, a damned dirty hippie, you might say that the thread running through all of this is that the War on Drugs is dangerous, not marijuana. If you were a wild-eyed Paulbot glibertarian, you might conclude the common thread is that government is dangerous.

But of course good Americans have listened to Nancy Reagan, listened to the nice DARE officers, listened to the decades of public officials exhorting us to win the War on Drugs, and they know the truth: it's marijuana that's dangerous.

Hat tip: Jacob Sullum.

Critical Thinking Is Unpatriotic

Do you question whether America ought to be engaged in an open-ended and expensive War on Drugs? Do you question it even a little bit, by (for instance) doubting that the federal government ought to be spending billions to interdict marijuana and meddle with medical issues?

If so, then I hate to break it to you, but you aren't much of a patriot. Patriots support, uncritically, the Great War on Drugs.

I know this because our government tells me so.

Our government made this point in the course of justifying its termination of Border Patrol agent Bryan Gonzalez. Gonzalez was stationed in New Mexico. He made a comment critical of the War on Drugs, suggesting that legalizing marijuana might reduce cross-border violence, and mentioned LEAP, an organization of current and former law enforcement agents who question our nation's drug policy. This got him shit-canned.

Now, as an employer myself, I'm somewhat sympathetic to the notion that you can't let an employee run out and trumpet ideas completely in conflict with your organization's policies. I wouldn't tolerate an employee going on TV to say that criminal defense lawyers are all lying cheats trying to trick juries, for instance, because that would degrade my ability to represent clients.

So, did Bryan Gonzalez go on TV? Did he write a letter to the editor? Did he join a public movement contradicting the Border Patrol's policy?

No. He had a conversation with another agent.

Stationed in Deming, N.M., Mr. Gonzalez was in his green-and-white Border Patrol vehicle just a few feet from the international boundary when he pulled up next to a fellow agent to chat about the frustrations of the job. If marijuana were legalized, Mr. Gonzalez acknowledges saying, the drug-related violence across the border in Mexico would cease. He then brought up an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition that favors ending the war on drugs.

That was impermissible. It was, in the view of our government, unpatriotic.

Those remarks, along with others expressing sympathy for illegal immigrants from Mexico, were passed along to the Border Patrol headquarters in Washington. After an investigation, a termination letter arrived that said Mr. Gonzalez held “personal views that were contrary to core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication and esprit de corps.”

See, Bryan Gonzalez did what Good Americans aren't supposed to do: he subjected a core government policy to critical thinking. He questioned whether the War on Drugs makes social, economic, and moral sense. But patriotism, as defined by modern law enforcement — as defined by the sort of people who seek power in government — isn't about exercising faculties like critical thinking or independent moral judgment. It's about saluting, in the way we salute flags and fallen soldiers and parades, core ideas that have been transformed from policy arguments into quasi-religious dogma. The War on Drugs is merely one of many — along with "War on Terror" and "Government Regulators Know What They Are Doing" and "The Political Process In America Works." Few of us salute them all, but most of us salute at least a few.

The government — people who have guns and badges, and people who derive power from controlling those with guns and badges — depends on our uncritical acceptance of these propositions. That's why they had to fire Bryan Gonzalez and impugn not just his obedience but his devotion to America — because devotion to America, in the minds of politicians, means devotion to them. The government could have offered a point-by-point refutation of Bryan Gonzalez' spur-of-the-moment comments, but that would be missing the point. The War on Drugs is not a Socratic dialogue; the War on Drugs is a harried dialogue with your five-year-old: because I said so, that's why. The War on Drugs is an enterprise based largely on emotion, which is exactly why the government responded to Bryan Gonzalez with an emotional attack — you're no patriot if you talk that way. Sound familiar? It ought to — elements of the Right use it to quell discussions of the War on Terror, and elements of the Left use it to quell discussions of taxes and regulation.

The government must resort to emotion because of the probable consequences of a fact-based dialogue about many of the issues facing America. We live in a country where, for a decade, government agents have been unable to distinguish ideas about things from the things themselves: where security agents get ridiculed for confusing a picture of an imaginary killer robot on a t-shirt with a real weapon, shrug, and five years later still blithely detain people for pictures of guns as if pictures of things were the things themselves. At least the TSA is consistent, and hews to a constant theme: a picture of a thing might not be the thing itself — just as a tattoo saying "atom bomb" may not be a bomb — but words and pictures of things can generate emotions, and the government would like us to be motivated by our emotions. Just as we could question the War on Drugs, we could ask questions like "has the TSA really stopped any terrorism? At what cost? Would other measures be more effective? Why can't agents be taught to tell the difference between a thing and a picture of a thing?"

But that would be unpatriotic to ask.

What Law Enforcement Thinks of Us

What, you might ask, do head shops and Pedobear stickers have in common?

They both help illustrate what law enforcement thinks about "civilians" and about our role in society.

Dateline: Washington D.C. Via Radley Balko, we learn of a police raid on smoke shops, including one called Capitol Hemp. So far, so banal — another pointlessly mastubatory gesture in the financially and socially ruinous War on Drugs. What's notable about this particular raid is that the police, in drafting their affidavit of probable cause in support of a search warrant, argued that display of materials about constitutional rights was probative of criminal activity and criminal intent:

4. While your Affiant was looking at the smoking devices U/C [redacted] observed a DVD that was for sale entitled "10 Rules for Dealing with Police". The DVD gave the following listed topics that were covered as:

A. Deal with traffic stops, street stops and police at your door.

B. Know your rights and maintain your cool, and;

C. Avoid common police tricks and prevent humiliating searches.

Your Affiant notes that while this DVD is informative for any citizen, when introduced into a store that promotes the use of a controlled substance this DVD becomes a tool for deceiving law enforcement to keep from being arrested. The typical citizen would not need to know detailed information as to US Supreme Court case law regarding search and seizure because they are not transporting illegal substances in fear of being caught.

Yes, that's the same 10 Rules publication that we wrote about here last year — an utterly straightforward, inoffensive exposition about protecting your rights (and your safety) when interacting with law enforcement. The video tells people that they have a right — a right set forth in the United States Constitution — to remain silent and to refuse to give consent to searches. Taking a page from modern pro-statist "what do you have to hide?" rhetoric, the police say that a typical citizen "would not need to know" such information and that it is intended to "deceive law enforcement."

Of course, this is utter horseshit. Normal citizens who haven't done a damn thing wrong get arrested and abused and sometimes tased or shot by police all the time. Law enforcement would prefer that you lie back and take it, that you adopt the unprincipled and insipid "law and order" mindset and regard constitutional rights with the suspicion and contempt reserved in popular culture for hippies and ACLU lawyers. Law enforcement loves a servile populace.

The wished-for servility is not restricted to the sphere of constitutional rights. The sort of people who run your government would prefer that you not expose their justifications to the cold hard light of reason or scientific inquiry, either. This is hardly restricted to law enforcement — who hasn't seen a politician who refuses to go beyond his or her talking points in responding to probing questions about policy? But in law enforcement — in the ritualistic invocation of the magic words Think of the Children! — the demand for unquestioning acceptance of moronism reaches its peak.

This brings us to Pedobear.

If you have been on the internet much, you've probably seen references to Pedobear — a crass, semi-satirical, semi-gross reference to pedophilia in culture, sometimes employed to criticize the culture's grotesque sexualization of children, sometimes to make light of abuse. Pedobear is a meme, a reference, an internet in-joke.

At least, that's what people with a clue — people who habitually employ critical thinking — realize.

But law enforcement is notoriously incapable of separating internet memes from reality. That's why some local law enforcement officials have put out "warnings" about Pedobear, suggesting that references to him may denote actual pedophile activity, and that Pedobear stickers are a method for actual pedophiles to communicate with each other. In terms of credulity, this is roughly the equivalent of the Department of Education decrying a startling decline in grammar amongst photographed cats.

In New Mexico, the Attorney General's Office issued such a warning about Pedobear, leading first to gullible media warnings and then to embarrassed and resentful backtracking by the media . In response, Phil Sisneros, communications director for the Attorney General Gary King, wrote the ultimate apologia for stubborn irrationality in law enforcement:

For the record, of course our investigators know that the Pedobear symbology began as an Internet meme joke, poking fun at pedophiles, and yes, we know that anyone who has the bad taste to display a Pedobear symbol is not necessarily a pedophile…emphasis on the word "necessarily." If you are a parent of a three year old, can you really take a chance? This is most assuredly NOT fear-mongering by "well meaning government officials," as one journalist seemed to wonder about. Law enforcement personnel across the country know about Pedobear, they are also concerned. This is the Attorney General's Office simply trying to make New Mexicans aware that the Pedobear symbol is out there and we think the general public, especially those who are not clued in to today's Internet culture, deserve to know what the Pedobear symbol is about and how it is interpreted by law enforcement. Individuals can make their own conclusions as to the relative importance of this information. You don't have to drink the Kool-Aid to know what's in it, right? Lastly, if the Attorney General's Office is lambasted for being too cautious by doing anything and everything we can to help protect children from pedophiles…we're OK with that.

Remember, "it's for the children" — like "remember 9/11" and "War on Terror" — means never having to say you're sorry. It means never having to offer plausible explanations that can withstand rational inquiry. If you don't agree, what kind of parent — what kind of American — are you?

You have rights. Those rights include the right against self-incrimination, the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, and a right to think critically. Exercise them — even though a substantial segment of law enforcement thinks that doing so makes you a bad citizen.