Nullifying the Bullet Fee

America has a new bogeyman—and it’s us. After 20 years of the global war on terror, “contingency operations,” nation-building, random attempts at regime change, and even arming, training, and equipping the very terrorist groups we started out fighting, we are now about to embark on a domestic war on terror. 

Post 9/11, the United States built an entire federal infrastructure to track, surveil, and destroy those it identifies as threats, whether real or perceived. This infrastructure provides enormous power to those who control it, both in the actual wielding of it and in the allocation of tax dollars to support it. (Full disclosure: I spent the majority of my adult working life as part of this system, fighting America’s enemies overseas.) 

As the war on terrorism has waned, the ruling elite and the power agencies they control (Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, and the intelligence agencies) have decided to turn this infrastructure inward onto their political opposition. 

Since this is America—land of liberty, justice, and whatnot—the regime won’t admit that they are using the institutions of national power to rid themselves of their political opposition. Instead, they use the pretext that they are protecting the public from white supremacists and domestic extremists, even though actual examples of either of these are relatively rare in the United States. 

Using the current cultural moment of progressive ideology, they baselessly label anyone who believes in traditional values as a white supremacist, an extremist, and dangerous. From there, it is only a small step to designate these traditional working-class Americans—who just happen to make up a majority of their political opposition—as America’s greatest domestic terror threat. 

At its core, this version of G. W. F. Hegel’s “Othering”—on steroids—has divided the country into a population of future drone targets and future drone operators. Across flyover country, there is already a palpable sense of unease over what will happen next. Guns and ammunition are flying off the shelves, or at least they are when they can be found. And a great political migration has begun, wherein traditional Americans caught behind the lines of blue authoritarian states are moving to freer communities with like-minded neighbors. Like it or not, people are preparing for a real resistance—not the fake pink pussy-hat version led by those brave Twitter blue-checks during the Trump years. This one has the potential to get ugly and escalate into something no American wants to see.

A “principled debate” of classical liberal ideas will not be sufficient to stop this train wreck of a regime before it destroys the country. Traditional Americans will need to take substantial action if they want their children to grow up in a free America. While numerous options are available, the one that provides the most immediate impact is nullification.

Nullification as a Defensive Measure

The government derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed. Nullification essentially withdraws that consent. In practice, nullification is a state (or locality) choosing to not comply with federal diktats, edicts, and laws. It is effective because a state—a collective political body with its own law-making authority, tax revenues, and consent of its own governed—is harder for the federal system to crush than an individual citizen is.

Nullification as a defensive measure provides citizens with relief from unconstitutional edicts and breathing room to develop and sustain the political movements required to make effective changes in the local-state-federal governing relationship.

Blue cities and states effectively used nullification against the Trump Administration’s immigration policies under the sanctuary city movement, and they were supported by a judiciary that handed down precedent-setting decisions in support of the states. We are already seeing burgeoning attempts to nullify the new regime’s threatened gun control policies with Missouri’s Second Amendment sanctuary laws.

The federal bureaucracy has considerable power, but it is not omnipotent. In fact, in most cases, it exercises and enforces its laws and powers through the proxy of state and local governments. If state and local governments withdraw their participation and support, it creates a dilemma where federal officials are then forced to decide whether they can realistically carry out unpopular edicts with the resources they have available and within the restraints placed on them by the Constitution and the individual states. 

A prime example of a potential state and local nullification target is the Department of Justice’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF). JTTFs operate in almost every state and locality and are primarily staffed with state and local law enforcement officers. The FBI directs the actions of the JTTF, and various other federal agencies provide personnel for intelligence and analytical support. The federal government makes partial financial reimbursements to the local governments for the use of these state and local resources and routinely provides hefty discretionary grants. These grants are often used to purchase tactical equipment, surveillance systems, and training at the local level. The state or local government is still responsible for the payroll, healthcare, and pension liability of its personnel. 

On the surface, JTTFs look like free money for the states, with the added benefit of federal support to help rid them of bad guys. However, the JTTF answers to the bureaucrats in D.C., not to the states’ governors or officials.  

In a study titled “National Security and Police,” the Brennan Center found

The most significant oversight problem with assigning police officers to JTTFs is that there is no mechanism geared towards ensuring compliance with state and local laws. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that rules relating to how police officers should act in the event of a conflict between their federal and state/local obligations are sometimes unknown and almost always unclear. Several municipalities and government reports have expressed concern that local officers assigned to JTTFs may be asked to engage in activities not permitted under state and local rules.

According to Brandeis University’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, JTTFs under the FBI have been responsible for hatching and financing more terrorist plots in the United States than any terrorist group since 9/11. The Terror Factory by Trevor Aaronson analyzes over 500 JTTF terrorism cases and documented numerous instances of entrapments, financially compromised FBI informants, false testimony under oath, and violations of the FBI’s own rules on terrorism investigations. 

In the 10 years after 9/11, Aaronson writes, the FBI indicted more than 150 people on terrorism-related charges. Few of the defendants had any connection to terrorists, and those who did, had only tangential connections and no ability to plan, equip, or carry out an attack. FBI informants actually led one out of every three fake terror plots and provided all the necessary weapons, money, and transportation. 

The current and most pressing problem with the JTTFs is that the current regime in Washington, D.C. has arbitrarily decided that a significant portion of any given state’s population is now a target for federal counter-terrorism operations—solely on the basis of their First Amendment-protected political beliefs. 

To reinforce this point, one only need to listen to the February 22 testimony of attorney general-nominee Merrick Garland, in which he identifies the new bogeyman of white supremacy as the nation’s greatest national security threat—greater than Islamic extremist terror groups, greater than Iranian terror proxy Hezbollah, greater than the heavily militarized narco-cartels on our southern border, and greater than Chinese espionage against our elected government officials, academia, defense industries, and economic system. He proclaimed that his most urgent duty as attorney general would be to track down and prosecute citizens who attended the January 6 Trump rally in Washington, D.C. If confirmed, this is the man who will set and control the JTTF’s priorities and activities in every state and locality.

iStock/Getty Images

The Worst of War Repackaged for a Domestic Audience 

In the early years of the Global War on Terror, we were fighting actual terrorist groups and their support networks with transnational capabilities and motivations. As the years wore on, however, we often ended up fighting people who were only fighting us because we were fighting them.

War is never surgical or without error, no matter what the Washington establishment portrays. There is always something—an incident, a mistaken identity, or an operation based on bad intelligence—that creates animosity within the local population. Thus, sons will avenge their fathers, and fathers, their sons. It is the way of war.

The story would be no less true if the JTTFs were to be unleashed on traditional Americans. These incidents inevitably would create a backlash from a citizenry that rightfully does not see itself as a legitimate target of federal counterterrorism operations. This would begin the ugly cycle of retaliation and escalation that was an unfortunate hallmark of the Global War on Terror—except now it will be here, in America.

For red-state governors, legislators, and other locally elected officials concerned with the peace and well-being of their people, now is the time to begin discussing nullification. We need to take a hard look at withdrawing state and local resources from federal entities that have already set their intent to target citizens for the crime of thinking differently. Those local resources can be redirected to protect and serve the interests of their local communities, instead of the ruling elites in Washington, New York, and Silicon Valley. 

In his recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Garland made it clear that his Justice Department will not be focusing counterterrorism operations on the individuals and groups red-state citizens see as actual threats to their security and prosperity. Given that, the risks outweigh the benefits for red states to maintain and support federal terrorism task forces that present a potential threat to their citizens. If states are to pursue nullification, this is the place to start. 

To Protect and Serve 

Elected officials have a moral responsibility to represent the priorities of their constituents and countrymen. They are obligated to provide a community free of tyranny, and to defend the core rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The state should not subordinate itself to the federal bureaucracy when it is clear that bureaucracy will unjustly infringe upon these core rights. Nor should the state use its taxpayer dollars to support or permit federal entities to persecute its citizens for participating in constitutionally protected First and Second Amendment activities.

There will always be those officials who see the federal money associated with these joint task forces as too important to turn down. But what is the cost to the citizens whom they allegedly serve? How is it morally or socially acceptable to sell their constituents’ liberty for 30 pieces of silver and a pat on the back from the Securitate? How is it acceptable to use the citizen’s own hard-earned money, in the form of tax dollars, to subsidize the very institutions that will destroy his life in a politically motivated blood sport?

In authoritarian countries such as China and Iran, the security services routinely abduct dissidents off the streets and from their homes. They disappear them into the gulags and camps run by the internal security services. The Disappeared remain there until they are executed, with a bullet to the back of the head. When the security services return the body to the victim’s family, they charge the family for the bullet. This is called the “bullet fee.”

In red states across America, citizens are just beginning to see the authoritarian leviathan coming their way. They don’t want any part of it, they just want to be left alone to work, to raise their families, and to worship their God in the manner they choose. Their tax revenues shouldn’t be used to subsidize the state’s participation in federal entities like the JTTF, which is run by an FBI that considers them to be America’s most dangerous threat. They shouldn’t have to pay the bullet fee.

About Max Morton

Max Morton is a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, former CIA paramilitary operations officer, and a veteran of multiple armed conflicts, revolutions, and contingency operations.

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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