As politicians exploit the Newtown tragedy to promote new laws to restrict firearms and implement universal background checks that could lead to gun registration and confiscation, another parallel trend– namely, the increasing militarization of law enforcement, most visibly demonstrated by the growing use of massive, SWAT-type raids on businesses and individuals, sometimes with federal involvement or authorization – is heightening concerns that America is moving toward a police state.
Mountain Pure SWAT raid: The Movie
Mountain Pure Water, LLC is headquartered on Interstate 30 just outside the town of Little Rock, Arkansas. The company manufactures and distributes beverage containers, spring water, fruit drinks, and teas. In January 2012, about 50 federal agents, led by Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General Special Agent Cynthia Roberts and IRS Special Agent Bobbi Spradlin, swooped in, guns drawn. Without explanation they shut down plant operations, herded employees into the cafeteria, and confined them to the room for hours. They could not so much as use the bathroom without police escort. Cell phones were confiscated and all Internet and company phones were disabled.
Plant Manager Court Stacks was at his desk when police burst through his office door, guns drawn and pointed at him—a thoroughly unprofessional violation of basic firearms discipline in this circumstance, and the cause of numerous accidental SWAT killings.
According to Mountain Pure CEO John Stacks, the search warrant was related to questions about an SBA loan he secured through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to recover tornado losses to his home, warehouse and associated equipment. Stacks says the SBA apparently doesn’t believe that assets listed as damaged in the storm were actually damaged.
The search warrant was extremely vague and some agents’ actions may have been illegal, according to company attorney, Timothy Dudley. Comptroller Jerry Miller was taken to a private room and interrogated for over three hours by SBA Special Agent Cynthia Roberts, the raid leader. He requested an attorney and was told, “That ain’t gonna happen.” According to Miller, the SBA unilaterally changed the terms of Stacks’ loan. He says he asked Roberts what gave the SBA authority to do that, and that she responded, “We’re the federal government, we can do what we want, when we want, and there is nothing you can do about it.” Miller said during the raid Roberts “strutted around the place like she was Napoleon.”
Stacks said the company has had three IRS audits in the past three years, including one following the raid, with no problems. The SBA has still not filed any charges, continues to stonewall about the raid’s purpose, and refuses to release most of the property seized during the raid.
Quality Assurance Director Katy Depriest, who doubles as the company crisis manager, described agents’ “Gestapo tactics.” She added that they confiscated CDs of college course work and educational materials for a class she had been taking that resulted in her flunking the course. Those materials have not yet been returned.
Attempts were made to contact Roberts for this article, but she is no longer employed by the SBA. Questions were directed to the Little Rock, Arkansas U.S. Attorney’s office. The USA’s public affairs officer had no comment; however they have convened a grand jury to evaluate the case.
Because law enforcement refused repeated requests to respond for this article, only Mountain Pure’s side of the story is known, but its representatives make a compelling case:
- Many company employees were willing to discuss this raid on the record.
- Mountain Pure and several employees have sued special agents Roberts and Spradlin.
- Stacks commissioned a video about the raid, reproduced here.
The video includes testimony from Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO of famed Gibson Guitar Corp., which suffered two such raids, and another raid target, Duncan Outdoors Inc. The video does not attempt to establish anyone’s guilt or innocence, but rather highlights law enforcement’s heavy-handed tactics in executing SWAT-style search warrants against legitimate businesses. Gibson has settled with the Justice Department in a case fraught with legal ambiguities, while Duncan has been indicted for violations of currency transaction reporting requirements.
Stacks claims he has gotten calls from many companies that have suffered similar raids, but they are afraid to speak out. Here are a few examples that have made national news:
- FDA officials, U.S. Marshals, and the Pennsylvania State Police raided an Amish farm in 2011 for selling raw milk.
- A Department of Education SWAT team raided a man’s home, “dragged him out in his boxer shorts, threw him to the ground and handcuffed him” in front of his three young children. They were looking for evidence of his estranged wife’s financial aid fraud.
- Sixty-six-year-old George Norris spent two years in jail following a USFWS raid that nailed him for filing incorrect forms on imported orchids.
- A Fairfax, Virginia optometrist being served a warrant for illegal gambling was killed by a SWAT team member whose firearm accidentally discharged. He answered the door in his bathrobe, unarmed and unaware that he was even under investigation.
War on small business?
In 2006, the IRS announced it would shift its focus to audit more small businesses. IRS data on tax audits seems to bear this out. Between the first and second half of the last decade, the audit coverage rate on businesses with assets between $10 and $50 million increased by 42 percent. Between 2001 and 2005, an annual average of 13,549 returns were audited for businesses with assets of less than $10 million. Between 2006 and 2011, the average was 19,289, an increase of over 42 percent.
The Sharpsburg Raid
This has paid off in increased enforcement revenues, but are massive SWAT raids an essential part of this new strategy? In addition to the potential dangers and the outrage of having company employees treated like drug dealers or terrorists, the cost of these raids is staggering. Agents told Mountain Pure employees they had flown in from all over the country.
Sharpsburg, Md., population 706, is a quiet little town bordering the Antietam National Battlefield in rural Washington County. On Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, at about 12:30 p.m., the quiet was shattered by an invasion of over 150 Maryland State Police (MSP), FBI, State Fire Marshal’s bomb squad and County SWAT teams, complete with two police helicopters, two Bearcat “special response” vehicles, mobile command posts, snipers, police dogs, bomb disposal truck, bomb sniffing robots and a huge excavator. They even brought in food trucks.
A heavily armed MSP Special Tactical Assault Team Element (STATE) executed a no-knock search warrant, smashing through the reportedly unlocked door with a battering ram. They worked until after 7:30 p.m., ransacking a modest, 20 ft. by 60 ft. single-family home for weapons, and searching for its owner, one Terry Porter. For hours, neighbors were left worrying and wondering, while countless police blanketed the area.
Local resident Tim Franquist described the scene:
“The event, or siege as we are calling it, involved convoys of police speeding to the area, two helicopters, armored vehicles, command centers, countless police cruisers and officers. They blocked off the roads and commandeered a campground as their staging area.”
Terry Porter is married with three children, has lived in the town all of his life, and owns a modest welding business. He is also a prepper. His preparations include an underground bunker, buried food supplies and surveillance cameras. Porter really doesn’t like Obama and tells anyone who will listen.
Unfortunately, one listener was an undercover officer for the Maryland State Police. The police had become interested in Porter through an anonymous caller who claimed that Porter “had been getting crazier and crazier …” and that he had “10 to 15 machine gun-style weapons, six handguns and up to 10,000 rounds of ammunition …” The MSP performed a background check and discovered Porter had a 20-year-old charge for aiding marijuana distribution, a disqualification for firearms ownership.
MSP detailed an officer to visit Porter’s shop on Nov. 16posing as a customer. The officer said Porter “openly admitted to being a prepper.” Not a crime. Porter also allegedly claimed to have a Saiga shotgun, and was willing to use it “when people show up unannounced.” Based on the Russian AK-47 design, some Saiga variants are fully automatic. On Nov. 27 MSP obtained a search warrant.
Two days later the Maryland State Police appeared at Porter’s door but could not find him. Porter later disclosed he “left out the back door.” Where he went has not been disclosed. However, blogger Ann Corcoran, who lives nearby and followed the issue closely, claims he hid out in fear for his life. Given highly publicized, accidental shootings involving SWAT teams and the overwhelming force present, that’s a reasonable assumption.
The following day Porter turned himself in and took the police through his property. The raid produced a total of four shotguns, a 30-30-caliber hunting rifle and two .22-caliber rifles. He was charged with firearms possession violations and released on a $75,000 bond.
The raid was one of the largest in recent U.S. history, twice the size of the 1993 Branch Davidian raid in Waco, Texas, which initially involved 76 ATF agents. It almost rivaled the recent 200-strong statewide manhunt for California cop-killing cop, Christopher Dorner. Yet only a few local stories emerged and those presented a hysterical portrait of Porter while largely under-reporting the police presence.
Why the raid?
The Maryland State Police did not notify town officials or Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore, who learned of the raid after it began, when it requested the use of his SWAT Team and Bearcat. The MSP also set up a command center at a campground within the national park without notifying the Park Police. Bills have since been introduced in the Maryland legislature by Washington County Delegate Neil Parrott (HB 0219) and State Senator Chris Shank (SB 0259) to require notification of local law enforcement before any outside agency serves a warrant.
A meeting following the raid attracted 60 concerned Sharpsburg citizens and leaders. Sharpsburg Vice Mayor Bryan Gabriel characterized the raid as “overwhelming” and said it “could have put a lot of people at risk.” Erin Moshier, a citizen who attended the meeting, added, “We all felt there was excessive force involved, and we felt that a member of our community was victimized and we wanted to get to the bottom of it and get some answers.” Both Gabriel and Sheriff Mullendore have issued statements of support for Porter, who they know personally. Citizens created a “Friends for Terry” website to help with his legal costs.
When asked why the police did not simply detain Porter in town or at a traffic stop, MSP Hagerstown Barracks Commander, Lt. Thomas Woodward, said the police only had a property search warrant and had no authority to arrest Porter. However, police do have authority to “detain the property owner for 24 hours” when executing a search warrant, so Porter could have been intercepted elsewhere, but police chose to execute that authority as part of the raid.
Lt. Woodward said the state police have a good working relationship with Sheriff Mullendore. If that is the case, why didn’t they consult the sheriff first? If Porter were really that dangerous, wouldn’t it be helpful to get more information from a trusted source better acquainted with him? Mullendore said they usually do give notice. Reportedly several state police who personally know Porter reside in Sharpsburg. Why were they not consulted?
Does the Maryland State Police detail SWAT automatically for gun search warrants? Some other police forces do. For example, in one fatal Florida SWAT shooting, a 21-man SWAT team was called in merely because the target had a concealed-carry permit. Are SWAT raids to become the order of the day for gun owners?
If Porter is indeed adjudicated a felon in possession of firearms, then he was in violation of the law. He didn’t help his case by bragging to the undercover officer about his doomsday preparations, especially the Saiga—which turned out to be nonexistent.
There is nothing wrong with being prepared, or even describing the actions you might take in a hypothetical “doomsday” situation, but in fairness to police, with all the lunatics coming out of the woodwork these days and the heightened atmosphere of mutual distrust between law enforcement and citizens, the MSP might be excused for presuming the worst. But 150 police?
Recent events such as the kidnapping/bunker standoff in Alabama, and cop-killer Dorner, provide apt examples. Police never know what to expect. Still, in this case at least, it seems a little more investigation and consultation with local authorities could have resolved this issue quietly and with much less risk and cost.
Cost of the operation
Neither the FBI nor the MSP have publicly disclosed how many of their officers were involved in the raid. However, Senator Shank and Delegate Parrott were told in a meeting with top MSP officials that the total, including federal, state, and local police, exceeded 150. From public information requests it is known that the Washington County Special Response Team (SRT) sent 17, including four snipers, two medics and their Bearcat driver. Only two of these actually participated, the driver and a sniper who accompanied him.
The FBI personnel were training nearby and when their assistance was requested, many, if not all, chose to participate. A witness on the scene guessed there were approximately 40 officers at the campground where the FBI staged. Assuming a total of 150, that would leave 93 MSP. The following table, based on police salaries gleaned from public sources, provides a rough estimate of the personnel cost for this operation.
The MSP argued that only variable costs—those directly related to the operation—are relevant. By this logic, the operation cost very little, as salaries and other fixed costs are incurred anyway. But the personnel and resources involved would otherwise have been engaged elsewhere: tracking down criminals, enforcing other laws, and assisting in emergencies. There are clearly other, potentially more beneficial activities they could not simultaneously perform. This is called opportunity cost and must be considered.
This raid cost approximately $11,000 per hour, which dramatically illustrates one reason government spending is so wildly out of control. If agency managers considered the true cost of their decisions, they might work harder to prioritize their activities and not waste valuable resources on errands of questionable value.
High visibility events like the Sharpsburg raid present a one-sided picture of police as out-of-control, wasting time on seeming trifles. But their daily efforts, which go largely unreported, paint a much more balanced picture. For example, the MSP Gang Enforcement Unit has aggressively investigated violent street gangs, one of the largest sources of gun violence.
Between 2010 and 2012 alone, the Gang Unit made 621 gang arrests and seized 94 firearms. This does not include their extensive work with multi-agency task forces. Here, they have participated in successful operations against such violent gangs as the Crips and Bloods, Wise Guyz, B-6, the Black Guerrilla Family, Juggalos, the Dead Man Incorporated crime syndicate and others, and have brought many of these offenders to justice.
Militarization of police
The SWAT concept was popularized by Los Angeles Police Chief Darryl Gates in the late 1960s in response to large-scale incidents for which the police were ill-prepared. But the use of SWAT teams has since exploded. Massive SWAT raids using military-style equipment are becoming routine methods for executing search warrants. One study estimates 40,000 such raids per year nationwide:
“These increasingly frequent raids… are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers.”
John W. Whitehead writes in the Huffington Post that “it appears to have less to do with increases in violent crime and more to do with law enforcement bureaucracy and a police state mentality.”
The ACLU recently announced its intention to investigate the militarization of law enforcement. Ironically, despite the perception of heightened gun violence due to incidents like Newtown, ACLU points out that both crime rates and law enforcement gun deaths have been declining for decades (see chart).
Yet police forces are becoming increasingly militarized due to huge subsidies provided by the federal government:
“Through its little-known “1033 program,” the Department of Defense gave away nearly $500 million worth of leftover military gear to law enforcement in fiscal year 2011 … The surplus equipment includes grenade launchers, helicopters, military robots, M-16 assault rifles and armored vehicles … Orders in fiscal year 2012 are up 400 percent over the same period in 2011 … .”
Congress created this provision in 1997 for drug and anti-terrorism efforts. It has since provided over 17,000 agencies $2.6 billion worth of equipment at no charge. One local agency now owns an amphibious tank, while another obtained a machine-gun-equipped APC.
Additionally, Department of Homeland Security grants have allowed state and local agencies nationwide to purchase Bearcats. These 16,000-pound vehicles are bulletproof and can be equipped with all kinds of extra features.
Ironically, while SWAT teams probably got their biggest boost initially from conservatives, many fear law enforcement is becoming a tool to enforce leftist ideology. University criminal justice programs turn out graduates indoctrinated in liberal ideology which carries into modern law enforcement bureaucratic culture.
Today this trend is reflected in reports coming out of the Department of Homeland Security, the military and various law enforcement “fusion” centers that identify gun-owners, patriots, ex-military, Christians, pro-life activists and tea party members as “potential domestic terrorists.”
The perpetrator of last summer’s attempted mass shooting at the Family Research Council headquarters now admits he was prompted by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hate Watch” list. The radical leftist SPLC is now “consulting” with the FBI and DHS regarding “rightwing hate groups.” The group labeled AIM’s Cliff Kincaid a member of a sinister group of “Patriots” for writing critically of the United Nations, President Obama and the homosexual activist lobby, among other things. Ironically, the SPLC “Teaching Tolerance” project ran an article praising unrepentant communist terrorist bomber Bill Ayers as a “civil rights organizer, radical anti-Vietnam War activist, teacher and author,” with an “editor’s note” going so far as to say that Ayers “has become a highly respected figure in the field of multicultural education.”
Ammo, military equipment and domestic drone use
The Internet is abuzz with news that the Department of Homeland Security is purchasing over 1.6 billion rounds of pistol and rifle ammunition, 2,700 Mine Resistant Armored Vehicles (MRAP), and 7,000 fully-automatic “personal defense weapons.” Some of this is worthy of concern, some maybe not so much. Meanwhile, the expanded use of aerial drones within the continental U.S. has created anxiety among the public and political leaders alike.
Reportedly, the order for 1.6 billion rounds of pistol and rifle ammunition would fulfill DHS requirements for the next five years, or 320 million rounds per year. DHS has 55,471 employees authorized to carry firearms, which comes to about 5,800 rounds per year per employee. For perspective, during the first year of the war on terror, approximately 72 million rounds were expended in Iraq and another 21 million in Afghanistan by an estimated 45,000 combat troops. This amounts to about 2,000 rounds per war fighter.
Yet the requisition may not be unreasonable. The largest order, 750 million rounds, came from DHS’s Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) for training. FLETC Public Affairs Director Peggy Dixon said that the purchase request was “a ceiling. It does not mean that we will buy, or require, the full amounts of either contract.” Another 650 million rounds are being purchased by Inspections and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to cover the next five years.
Since these are maximum figures, it is difficult to conclusively evaluate the purchase. Some have asserted that the practical effect—if not the deliberate intent—is to dry up the private market for ammunition. Congressmen are now demanding answers from DHS regarding these purchases. But most ammunition shortages are likely due to civilian demands. Obama and the Democrats’ palpable hostility to gun owners has caused ammunition and firearms purchases to skyrocket.
There are 80 million gun owners in the U.S. If each just purchased 100 rounds of ammo—enough for one afternoon at the range—that would equal 8-billion rounds. Many are purchasing significantly more.
Instead of asking why DHS needs 1.6 billion rounds of ammo, the real question is, “Why does DHS need 55,000 law enforcement officers?”
MRAPs and submachine guns
The original story regarding a purchase of 2,700 MRAPs s was in error. The confusion centers on a 2011 order from the U.S. Marines to retrofit 2,717 of its MRAPs with upgraded chassis.
DHS has been using MRAPs since 2008 and currently has a fleet of 16 received from the Army at no cost. They are used by DHS special response teams in executing “high-risk warrants.”
Similarly, the purchase of 7,000 “Personal Defense Weapons” is not extraordinary for an agency of this size.
DHS’s Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) has been operating Predator drones since 2005, with a current fleet of nine. Some in Congress seek to expand their use. In February 2012, Congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which includes a provision for commercial drone regulations. The FAA projects that up to 30,000 drones could be flying by 2020. A requisition memo describes these requirements for drones operated by CBP against border incursions by frequently armed drug traffickers and coyotes, but concern exists that this use will extend to U.S. citizens inside the border.
Sen. Rand Paul, R.-Ky., filibustered the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director in order to obtain answers about lethal drone use against American citizens within the U.S. Holder finally sent Paul a letter, which said:
“It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ The answer to that question is no.”
Paul said they had been asking Holder for about six weeks. But Holder didn’t answer the question at all. Paul did not specify Americans “engaged in combat on American soil.” He asked about attacks against any Americans on U.S. soil. Holder had said in earlier testimony that the President did have the authority to kill Americans on American soil in certain circumstances.
Given the Obama administration’s contempt for the Constitution and its broad definition of “domestic terrorists” to include pretty much anyone they don’t like, there is cause for genuine concern.
The Sharpsburg raid occurred prior to the Newtown tragedy, but nonetheless reinforced the widespread impression that the Maryland State Police is an anti-gun organization. Did the MSP decide to make an example of Porter to send a message to Maryland gun owners, or were they genuinely afraid that Porter was about to go postal? That question is unclear, but a Maryland law enforcement source who has attended briefings on the subject said state police are “gearing up for confiscation.”
In 1989, Patrick O’Carroll of the Centers for Disease Control stated:
“We’re going to systematically build a case that owning firearms causes deaths. We’re doing the most we can do, given the political realities.”
The CDC further revealed its strategy in 1994:
“We need to revolutionize the way we look at guns, like what we did with cigarettes. Now it [sic] is dirty, deadly, and banned.” Dr. Mark Rosenberg, Director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Control and Prevention. (Washington Post, 1994)
Do these themes sound familiar? They represent a single component of a vast effort by media, politicians, Hollywood, educational institutions and professionals to vilify gun ownership. One left-wing organization, Third Way, created a “messaging strategy,” encouraging the term “gun safety” because “gun control has become a loaded term that leads voters to believe that the candidate supports the most restrictive laws.”
Since Newtown, however, gun-control proponents have pretty much dropped any pretense. Here is a small sampling of recent anti-gun actions:
- Florida Democratic state Senator Audrey Gibson has proposed a bill requiring anger management classes for would-be ammo purchasers.
- Colorado State Senator Evie Hudak told a rape victim testifying against gun control that having a gun was a waste of time as the rapist would have killed her with it.
- A Democrat activist says we should train rapists not to rape, rather than using guns to stop them.
- A Baltimore, Md., seven-year-old was suspended from school for two days for biting a pastry into a shape that looked like a gun.
- A five-year-old was suspended from school and branded a “terrorist threat” for telling a classmate she was going to shoot her with her Princess “bubble gun.”
- A Philadelphia 5th grader was called “murderer” by classmates and yelled at by her teacher for having a piece of paper cut into a shape that looked vaguely like a pistol.
- A New Jersey family was visited by police and the Department of Youth and Family Services because of a photo of their 11-year-old son posing with a rifle.
In an unguarded moment recently, U.S. Rep Jan Schakowsky, D.-Ill., revealed the intentions of some Democrats:
“We want everything on the table … This is a moment of opportunity. There’s no question about it … We’re on a roll now, and I think we’ve got to take the—you know, we’re gonna push as hard as we can and as far as we can.”
The increased militarization of police forces and the associated use of SWAT teams for routine law enforcement are a dangerous trend. Given President Obama’s seeming willingness to abuse the power of his office on so many fronts, it is reasonable to expect more, not less, of the kind of abusive police overreach described in this report, while police forces and capabilities will continue to grow.