Question: why is Congress like a rattlesnake?
Answer: because, sometimes it warns you before it bites.
Sometimes it doesn't, of course, but in this case, the passage of a little legislative something callled H.R. 1955, it's rattling its tail off. Only an idiot ignores that particular noise when he hears it.
What's so bad about H.R. 1955? Well to begin with, permit me to acknowledge what some of its defenders -- the kind of individuals Lenin referred to as "useful idiots" -- are saying about it, that it merely authorizes the government study of the matters it's concerned with, that it creates no new crimes or criminals, and makes nothing illegal.
To which I simply add, yet.
Just consider its name: "The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act". I'd be easier to convince if its name were "The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Study Act", but it isn't.
What this new law assumes is that the people of the United States are helpless mind-slaves of the Internet who believe everything they see there (the same way so-called "liberals" insist that our behavior can be modified by advertising -- despite study after scientific study proving that's not the case at all -- which they must be "protected" from).
Like so much other Bush-Clinton-Bush era legislation since 1990, what H.R. 1955 would actually "protect" us from is the first ten amendments to the Constitution, commonly known as the Bill of Rights, most specifically the First Amendment, focusing, as one dissenting Congressional observer puts it, the weight of the entire government inward, against its own citizens, under the guise of preventing their "violent radicalization" by those ruthless fiends of cyberspace, the "Islamofascists".
There are a great many reasons to be deeply concerned about this unfortunate, misguided, and extremely dangerous piece of legislation, which specifically singles out the Internet for encouraging -- or even facilitating -- "ideologically based violence" and "homegrown terrorism". To those with even a passing acquaintance with history and human nature -- not to mention the absolutely corrupting influence of absolute power -- such language is clearly an initial step toward government control of everything we Americans are allowed to see and do online. It would subject each and every one of us (strictly for our own "good", you understand) to exactly the kind of merciless state control of communications that we witness every day in clearly unfree societies like China and Iran, and render the Internet as innocuous -- and useless -- as the broadcast television industry that it is rapidly supplanting.
Another reason to be less than happy about this legislation and those who rammed it through, is that it will set up a new bureaucracy to monitor and further "study" a problem which has not yet been proven to exist. Such governmental entities typically exaggerate or even manufacture "facts" in order to guarantee their future existence and funding -- the technical term is "mission creep" -- in this case at even further expense to our battered constitutional rights and civil liberties.
How can we predict this? If World War I hadn't been used as an excuse to seize control of radio broadcasting, there would be no Federal Communications Commission today, and television would not be the insipid pablum, spiced with government lies and threats that it is.
What's possibly the worst feature of H.R. 1955 is that it swings the door open for the widest definition of key words like "violent" and "radicalization" possible. I was once acquainted with an economist who insisted that a fact of nature -- that we all have to work for a living -- is capitalistic coercion. Since you can define anything any way you want -- if you have all the guns -- many people want to know whether nonviolent anti-tax, antiwar, or pro-self defense groups will eventually fall under the baleful eye of this new Internet-monitoring bureaucracy. Any assurances contained within the legislation are unconvincing.
Be sure to pay special attention to the various "weasel words" -- with any meaning that the government wants them to have -- scattered through the bill. For example, what, precisely, is implied by "social change" and why should something like that be any business of the government?
Another not-so-comforting thought: what if the notorious Waco Killers, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and explosives -- or the equally infamous Federal Bureau of Investigation -- were handed a weapon like this legislation represents, to use in its increasingly vicious war against the American people and their precious Bill of Rights?
As if that weren't enough, H.R. 1955 will create a new Department of Homeland Security-related, university-based body to further "study" radicalization and to "contribute to the establishment of training, written materials, information, analytical assistance and professional resources to aid in combatting violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism." What we who value liberty have to ask is whether this is really a legitimate role for institutions of higher learning in a free society.
It is especially important to note that this legislation was brought to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote under a suspension of regular order. Suspensions of this type are meant to facilitate passage of non-controversial matters, avoiding the need for the more complete and open debate mandated by the usual way of doing things. It's difficult to believe that nobody in Congress viewed H.R. 1955 -- with its severely troubling civil liberties implications -- as "non-controversial".
However it's worth noting that another such suspension of the rules -- a generous gift bestowed by Bob Dole and other prominent Republicans -- allowed the Clinton Administration to pass the Brady Act and what's generally known as the "Ugly Gun and Adequate Magazine Ban".
It's also worth noting that, under the legislation that is bound to result from all these "studies", it could easily become illegal for Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership to publish articles like this, especially if the punishment consists of a midnight knock on the door, arrest, and a free all-expense-paid vacation to sunny Guantanamo.
It's already against the law for us to suggest what can be done to keep this legislation -- already passed by the House -- from passing in the Senate and becoming the law of the land, unconstitutional as it is. But if you've been paying attention at all, you know the drill. You know what has to be said, who it needs to be said to, how to say it.
We've said enough.
Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith
has been writing about guns and gun ownership
for more than 30 years. He is the author of 27
books, the most widely-published and prolific
libertarian novelist in the world, and is considered
an expert on the ethics of self-defense. His writings
may be seen on the following sites: