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James Bovard

Bitter Lessons 25 Years After Waco, Texas, Siege

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Twenty-five years ago this week, FBI tanks smashed into the ramshackle home of the Branch Davidians outside Waco, Texas. After the FBI collapsed much of the building atop the residents, a fire erupted and 
76 corpses were dug out of the rubble. Unfortunately, the American political system and media have never faced the lessons from that tragic 1993 day.

Fifty-one days before the FBI final assault, scores of federal Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agents launched an attack on the Davidians’ homespurred by allegations that they had converted semi-automatic rifles to full-automatic capacity. The ATF’s lead investigator had previously rejected an offer to peacefully search the Davidians’ home for firearms violations. Four ATF agents and six Davidians were killed in the fracas on February 28, 1993. At least one ATF agent told superiors that the ATF fired first, spurring an immediate end to the official shooting review. But the media trumpeted the ATF storyline that its agents had been ambushed, entitling the feds to be far more aggressive in the following weeks.

What lessons can today’s Americans draw from the FBI showdown on the Texas plains a quarter century ago?
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Time for the US to End Democracy Promotion Flim-Flams

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Democracy promotion has long been one of the U.S. government’s favorite foreign charades. The Trump administration’s proposal to slash funding for democratic evangelism is being denounced as if it were the dawn of a new Dark Age. But this is a welcome step to draining a noxious swath of the Washington swamp.

Nineteenth century humorist Josh Billings quipped, “A fanatic is someonewho does what the Lord would do if He knew the facts of the matter.” Similarly, the U.S. government intervenes to rig elections in case foreign voters don’t know the facts of the matter. The U.S. has interfered — usually covertly — in more than 80 foreign elections since World War Two to boost its preferred candidates.

Former CIA chief James Woolsey was asked last month on Fox News whether the U.S. government was continuing to meddle and “mess around in other people's elections?" Woolsey replied with a smile and said: "Only for a very good cause. In the interests of democracy." Obviously, democracy is ill-served if any U.S.-preferred candidate lose.

Nowadays, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is the flagship for U.S. political meddling abroad, and Trump proposes to slash its budget by 60 percent, from $170 million to $67 million. When Congress created the agency in 1983, it prohibited NED and its grantees from directly aiding foreign political candidates. But that law restrains NED as effectively as the Fourth Amendment’s restriction on warrantless searches leashes the National Security Agency.
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Gun Crackdowns Have Already Led to Too Many Federal Abuses

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President Trump declared last week that the law enforcement should “take the guns first, go through due process second.” But the history of federal firearms enforcement shows that due process is often a mirage when federal bureaucrats drop their hammer. Before enacting sweeping new gun prohibitions, we should remember the collateral damage and constitutional absurdities from previous federal crackdowns.

Gun control advocates have called for prohibiting possession of AR-15 rifles — a ban that could create five million new felons overnight, since most owners would not meekly surrender their firearms at the nearest federal office. Others advocate outlawing all semi-automatic firearms — an edict first floated by the Clinton administration that would create tens of millions of new offenders.

But before vesting vast new power in federal enforcers, the record of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agency must be considered. A 1982 Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution report on ATF concluded, "Enforcement tactics made possible by current firearms laws are constitutionally, legally, and practically reprehensible.” Outrageous abuses have continued to the present day. An analysis conducted for the University of Chicago found that ATF heavily targeted racial minorities in its entrapment operations. And across the nation, ATF has been caught using mentally handicapped individuals in sting operations.
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Hollywood Hoopla Ignores Media's History of Servility

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Much of the media nowadays is portraying itself as heroes of the #Resist Trump movement. To exploit that meme, Hollywood producer Steven Spielberg rushed out “The Post,” a movie depicting an epic press battle with the Nixon administration. But regardless of whether Spielberg’s latest wins the Academy Award for best picture on Sunday night, Americans should never forget the media’s long history of pandering to presidents and the Pentagon.
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25 Years Ago: Feds Attack at Waco in Name of Gun Control

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Twenty-five years ago today, federal agents launched a military style attack on peaceful Texas residents who were suspected of having modified firearms. At a time when much of the media is in a frenzy in favor of gun control, the ATF raid on the Branch Davidians is a reminder of how armed bureaucrats will convert a right to regulate into a license to kill.

ATF agents never rehearsed how to conduct a legal, non-violent search of the Davidians’ residence. Instead, it was “Showtime” – the code name for the raid – and ATF invited television crews to film their triumph against bad guys. Federal agents shot first, apparently awarding themselves a divine right to kill the dogs outside before charging into the house.

With the profusion of politician calls for prohibiting semi-automatic weapons, Waco offers a somber reminder of how any such ban would be enforced.
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George W. Bush Doesn't Deserve the Media's Efforts at Rehabilitation

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Our democracy is only as good as people trust the results,” former President George W. Bush declared in a presumably well-paid speech last week in the United Arab Emirates, a notorious Arab dictatorship. Bush is being exalted as if he is the second coming of George Washington thanks to his implied slams against the Trump administration. But Bush’s actions during his eight year reign did far more to ravage democracy at home and abroad than most people realize.
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Guilt by Musical Association

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Should the feds be permitted to treat anyone who is not a choirboy like a criminal suspect? Unfortunately, local, state, and federal agencies have a long history of targeting, harassing, and entrapping fans of untraditional music. Because so many innocuous activities have become criminalized in recent decades, it has never been easier for the feds to tar any group they please. Precedents established against devotees of unruly music could be used in the future against peaceful libertarians.

From the 1930s onwards, the feds often went after jazz musicians in part because of their frequent use of marijuana — which was proscribed nationally by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. After the end of Prohibition, there were plenty of unemployed federal agents, and the launch of a new war — spurred by films such as Reefer Madness — provided full employment for meddlers with guns and badges.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the feds launched vendettas against Grateful Dead fans. Although the name “Deadhead” sounds ominous, Dead- heads tended to be aging hippies or naive college kids in ancient Volkswagen buses, lost souls who loved to talk about peace and nature and happiness and love. Cynics often joked that Deadheads should “Get a life!” Instead, the DEA acted as if Deadheads deserved prison sentences long enough to destroy their lives. Use of LSD — a hallucinogen — was widespread among Deadheads.
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Golden Boy Robert Mueller's Forgotten Surveillance Crime Spree

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When Robert Mueller was appointed last May as Special Counsel to investigate Trump, Politico Magazine gushed that “Mueller might just be America’s straightest arrow — a respected, nonpartisan and fiercely apolitical public servant whose only lifetime motivation has been the search for justice.” Most of the subsequent press coverage has shown nary a doubt about Mueller’s purity. But, during his 11 years as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mueller’s agency routinely violated federal law and the Bill of Rights.

Mueller took over the FBI one week before the 9/11 attacks and he was worse than clueless after 9/11. On Sept. 14, 2011, Mueller declared, “Thefact that there were a number of individuals that happened to have received training at flight schools here is news, quite obviously. If we had understood that to be the case, we would have — perhaps one could have averted this.” Three days later, Mueller announced: “There were no warning signs that I’m aware of that would indicate this type of operation in the country.” His protestations helped the Bush administration railroad the Patriot Act through Congress, vastly expanding the FBI’s prerogatives to vacuum up Americans’ personal information.

Deceit helped capture those intrusive new prerogatives. The Bush administration suppressed until the following May the news that FBI agents in Phoenix and Minneapolis had warned FBI headquarters of suspicious Arabs in flight training programs prior to 9/11. A House-Senate Joint Intelligence Committee analysis concluded that FBI incompetence and negligence “contributed to the United States becoming, in effect, a sanctuary for radical terrorists.” FBI blundering spurred the Wall Street Journal to call for Mueller’s resignation, while a New York Times headline warned: “Lawmakers Say Misstatements Cloud F.B.I. Chief's Credibility.”
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Destroying, Suppressing Evidence is FBI Standard Procedure

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Congressional investigators were rocked this weekend when the FBI notified them that five months of text messages from a top FBI investigator into the Trump campaign’s Russian connections had mysteriously vanished. The FBI-issued cell phone of Peter Strzok, whose previous texts to his mistress (also an FBI employee) showed fierce hostility to Trump, suddenly had problems due to “software upgrades” and other issues — and voila —all the messages between the two from Dec. 14, 2016, to May 17, 2017 vanished.
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