"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." — Abraham Lincoln
With each passing day, America is inching further down the slippery slope toward a police state. While police clashes with protesters, small farmers and other so-called "lawbreakers" vividly illustrate the limits placed on our freedoms, the boundaries of a police state extend far beyond the actions of law enforcement. In fact, a police state is characterized by bureaucracy, secrecy, perpetual wars, a nation of suspects, militarization, surveillance, widespread police presence, and a citizenry with little recourse against government actions, to name just a few.
Sound familiar? If it does it is only because the signs of an emerging police state are all around us. In Orwellian fashion, it has infiltrated all aspects of our lives, from the mundane to reality-television shows to the downright oppressive.
We were once a society that valued individual liberty and privacy. Increasingly, however, we have morphed into a culture that has quietly accepted surveillance in virtually every area of our lives — police and drug-sniffing dogs in our children's schools, national databases that track our finances and activities, sneak-and-peek searches of our homes by government agents without our knowledge or consent and anti-terrorism laws that turn average Americans into suspected criminals. All the while, police officers dressed in black Darth Vader-like costumes have become armed militias, instead of the civilian peacekeepers they were intended to be.
Moreover, as I document in my new book, "A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State," our freedoms — especially the Fourth Amendment — are being choked out by a prevailing view among government bureaucrats that they have the right to search, seize, strip, scan, spy on, probe, pat down, stun and arrest any individual at any time and for the slightest provocation.
Gradually, but with increasing momentum, a police-surveillance state has gained power over us. This is reflected in the government's single-minded quest to acquire ever-greater powers, the fusion of the police and the courts, and the extent to which our elected representatives have sold us out to the highest bidders — namely, the corporate state and military-industrial complex. Even a casual glance at the daily news headlines provides a chilling glimpse of how much the snare enclosing us has tightened, and how little recourse we really have.
Yet it is through our complicity in matters large and small that an out-of-control corporate-state apparatus has managed to take over every element of American society. Our failure to remain informed about what is taking place in our government, to know and exercise our rights, to vocally protest, to demand accountability on the part of our government representatives, and at a minimum, to care about the plight of our fellow Americans has been our downfall. Having allowed ourselves to descend into darkness, refusing to see what is really happening, happily trading the truth for false promises of security and freedom, we have allowed the police state to emerge and to flourish.
The varied expressions of the government's growing power — the excessive use of tasers by police on nonthreatening individuals, allowing drones to take to the skies domestically for purposes of surveillance and control of free-speech protesters, the National Security Agency's monitoring of emails and phone calls, and on and on — which get more troubling by the day, are merely the outward manifestations of an inner, philosophical shift underway in how the government views not only the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but "we the people," as well. Mind you, in the face of the government's growing power, we are all lumped into the same category. We are all watched and, therefore, we're all suspects: potential nuisances and rabble rousers who must be surveilled, silenced and, if necessary, shut down.
Thus, whatever the issue might be, whether it's mass surveillance, no-knock raids, or the right to freely express one's views about the government, we've moved into a new age in which the rights of the citizenry are being treated as a secondary concern by the White House, Congress, the courts and their vast holding of employees, including law enforcement officials.
The disconnect, of course, is that the Constitution establishes a far different scenario in which government officials, including the police, are accountable to "we the people." For it to be otherwise, for government concerns to trump individual freedoms, with government officials routinely sidestepping the Constitution and reinterpreting the law to their own purposes, makes a mockery of everything this nation is supposed to stand for — self-government, justice and the rule of law.
So where does this leave us?
As a nation, we seem to have significantly passed from a nation of laws to a nation of men. Whereas we once abided by a rule of law — the U.S. Constitution — which guarded our freedoms and shielded us from government abuses, we have entered a phase in our nation's life where the government largely operates above the law, while the law has become little more than another tool for compliance and control.
We must ask ourselves: Is this really the America we want to leave to our children and our children's children?
John W. Whitehead is president of the Rutherford Institute and author of "A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State" (SelectBooks, 2013).