After his truck was stolen by law enforcement, this cop is working to reform civil asset forfeiture

Originally published at Rare

Stephen Mills is a 24-year army veteran turned Apache, Oklahoma, Chief of Police. He also owns a ranch in nearby Grady County, where he employed a worker who was arrested for stealing oil field equipment while driving one of Mills’ work trucks. This happened in 2010, before Mills became an officer in the area.

As Mills explained in a video produced by The Heritage Foundation’s The Daily Signal, “I assumed [the police] were seizing [the truck] as evidence of the crime. I called them to ask when they were going to be done with it, and I could get my truck back. And what I was told was it wasn’t being taken as evidence. They were seizing it under civil asset forfeiture, because it was used in a crime.”

The Daily Signal’s Melissa Quinn summarized the problem well:

“Civil forfeiture is a tool that gives law enforcement the power to take people’s cash, cars, and property if they suspect it’s connected to criminal activity. The procedure was expanded in the 1980s and hailed as a tool law enforcement needed to fight the war on drugs.”

While the War on Drugs excuse is a standard explanation used by law enforcement to justify the practice of deeming property, not just people, as culpable in a crime, it’s clear the practice is abused far beyond that scope.

The ranch hand who was arrested in Mills’ vehicle wasn’t charged with drug trafficking. He was caught stealing property from an oil field – in a truck that didn’t belong to him! Yet the vehicle was seized, no questions asked. In many cases, property is stolen by cops under this standard, even when no crimes were committed by the owners.

State Senator Kyle Loveless, an Oklahoma Republican who introduced a bill to reform this practice, explained to The Daily Signal that, “Every way across the board in different agencies, city, county, statewide agencies, the system is fraught with abuse.”

Added Loveless, “Innocent people’s stuff is being taken. The system is so perverted that it is like climbing Mount Everest to get your stuff back.” As Loveless concluded, “[I]t comes back to should the government be able to take someone’s stuff and keep it without charging them or proving it, and I say no.”

While civil asset forfeiture remains a major issue, there’s more bipartisan awareness about its problematic nature now than ever before. State legislatures across the country are working to tamp down on this practice.

Unfortunately, many police unions and prosecutors continue to support civil asset forfeiture, largely because, as State Senator Loveless explained, they use the property seized to make up for budget shortfalls. But reform is possible if there’s enough public outcry about this unconstitutional practice.

Ultimately, Mills is right when he says, “The Constitution protects our personal property. When the government uses civil asset forfeiture laws to go in and deprive a person of their property, whether they’re taking it from drugs or not, they’re circumventing the due process that is written into our Constitution.”

If you film the cops silently, it’s apparently not “protected speech”

Originally published at Rare

Something bizarre happened in a Pennsylvania district court last week, with Judge Mark Kearney ruling that filming the cops is illegal… if you stay silent.

As Bonnie Kristian noted at The Week:

[A] Pennsylvania district court judge ruled against two people who were arrested while attempting to record police activity. One of the two plaintiffs took a photo of a group of officers outside a house party,and the other filmed cops arresting fracking protesters.

Judge Mark Kearney determined that because they were documenting cops “without any challenge or criticism,” the plaintiffs were not engaging in “expressive conduct” and thus do not receive First Amendment protection.

So, apparently, if you respectfully film the cops from a distance without trying to rile anyone up, it isn’t speech and won’t be protected under the First Amendment. But if you were to recite the lyrics to an infamously vulgar song about the cops by rap group N.W.A., you would be good to go?

If this seems strange, that’s because it is. As Radley Balko explained at The Washington Post:

[T]his is the first time a federal court has not found that recording cops while on duty and in a public setting is protected by the First Amendment. Two federal appeals courts, at least two state supreme courts and a few other federal circuit court judges have all determined otherwise.

Currently, the American Civil Liberties Union is working to make sure this strange ruling doesn’t stand.

Said Kristian, “The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) plans to challenge the ruling, because, ‘Without a protected right to film officers, the ability of the public to monitor police activity is really reduced.’”

In the meantime, if you’re filming police activity, be sure to say something at least vaguely incendiary that’s loud enough to be caught on tape.

Rare Exclusive: Would Justin Amash run for president?

Originally published at Rare

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) is considered the most high profile libertarian Republican in Congress after Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), making national waves with his staunch opposition to the National Security Agency’s controversial metadata collection program. Along with libertarian firebrand Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Amash is one of two congressmen who are generally considered the most beloved by the Ron Paul-inspired liberty movement.

After originally supporting Sen. Paul’s presidential bid, who has since left the race, on Tuesday Rep. Amashendorsed Senator Ted Cruz for president. Amash noted in his endorsement in an op-ed at IJ Review, “Ted is not a libertarian and doesn’t claim to be.”

“But he is a principled defender of the Constitution, a brilliant strategist and debater who can defeat the Democratic nominee in the general election,” Amash said, adding that Cruz is “the only remaining candidate I trust to take on what he correctly calls the Washington Cartel.”

Some of Amash’s libertarian supporters cheered his Cruz endorsement while others seemed disappointed. Sen. Paul and Rep. Massie have said they’re not making any presidential endorsements during the Republican primary. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), also a leading libertarian Republican in the House, has endorsed Cruz. Former Rand Paul supporter Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Id.), a liberty-friendly leading member of the House Freedom Caucus and frequent Amash ally has also moved over to Cruz. Other former Paul supporters have also began to support Cruzin various states.

On Friday, Rep. Amash sat down with Rare to discuss his endorsement and what the future holds, both for him and the liberty movement.

Also: Does Justin Amash have any presidential ambitions?

Rare: Is there any context you can provide about the interactions you’ve had with Sen. Cruz that you allude to in your endorsement op-ed that make you believe he’s the remaining presidential candidate most likely to give liberty issues a hearing?

Justin Amash: I’ve seen Ted stand with Rand for hours on the Senate floor in opposition to U.S. drone policy. I’ve watched him vote against the NDAA, knowing he’d face attacks from people like Rubio, McCain, and Graham. I’ve spent time with him discussing our government’s failed interventions in Libya and Syria.

Ted cares about the Constitution, and that makes him a strong ally for libertarians despite our disagreements on some important issues.

Rare: Some of your libertarian supporters seem convinced that there’s no difference between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. You reference Rubio once in your article. Could you expand upon why you think they’re so different from your vantage point as a libertarian Republican congressman?

Justin Amash: While campaigning, Ted and Marco often use rhetoric that unfortunately conflates their very different records. Marco Rubio comes from the McCain-Graham school of foreign policy and surveillance policy. Ted Cruz’s voting record, while not libertarian, more closely aligns with Senators Paul and Lee. When an issue arises relating to war or privacy, I can usually count on Ted to stand with me or at least thoughtfully consider my position. I can usually count on Marco to take the anti-liberty position.

Rare: On one hand, Sen. Cruz opposed Obama’s regime change in Libya and Syria. On the other, he’s talked about carpet bombing and “making sand glow.” What are libertarians to make of those statements?

Justin Amash: We shouldn’t be happy about those statements. And those statements don’t do justice to his voting record, which has been much better than most senators on matters of foreign policy.

Rare: You’ve long said that your work in House has helped to persuade your colleagues toward a more libertarian vision. What would you say to those in the liberty movement who are convinced that working within the Republican Party is a fruitless endeavor?

Justin Amash: Our work in the Republican Party has made a difference. My colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus have told me many times that I’ve made them more libertarian. And it’s evident in the votes. They’ve stood with me against corporate welfare, against unconstitutional NSA spying, against encryption backdoors, against wasteful Pentagon spending, and against arming Syrian rebels. Recently, when a cyber-spying bill was slipped into the omnibus, the House Freedom Caucus jointly offered an amendment to strip that section. We have stood together in support of liberty and the Constitution. With each new Congress, our numbers grow.

Rare: If Trump or Rubio were to become president, do you think that would make the liberty Republican faction even more crucial? To stop them from undermining the Constitution?

Justin Amash: Yes.

Rare: Many libertarians are dying to know: Would you consider running for president some day?

Justin Amash: It’s important that we have a strong libertarian voice running for president. And it’s important that we win. So, yes.

Rubio and Cruz Finally United Against Trump, But is it Too Late To Matter?

Originally published at Every Joe

The last Republican debate before Super Tuesday was one of the most explosive yet. It managed to draw 14.5 million viewers, the biggest audience since December according to CNN Money. Both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz took the fight to Donald Trump in a major way, but it was Rubio who really stole the show with what was largely heralded as his best debate performance of the cycle.

“Donald mentioned… that his position on immigration is what’s driven this debate,” said Rubio. “The truth is, though, a lot of these positions that he’s now taking are new to him,” he added, attacking Trump for his questionable use of illegal immigrant labor, citing the legal trouble it got him into. Rubio also pressed Trump on the fraud cases he’s faced as a result of his defunct Trump University.

And the best zinger of the night might have been when Rubio said, “If [Trump] hadn’t inherited $200 million do you know where Donald Trump would be right now? Selling watches in Manhattan!” Cruz got in his fair share of punches as well, hitting Trump on immigration, how unprepared he is to deal with a Supreme Court nomination, and on the issue of refusing to release his tax returns. Cruz also spent nearly ten minutes of a post-debate interview hitting Trump as well.

I really want to be proud of Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz for the way they tag teamed Donald Trump. I was cheering throughout the debate, especially for Rubio on that front. They both did a great job of revealing Trump as the lying, authoritarian fraud he is. But I’m not convinced that at this point, just days before Super Tuesday, it matters. They should have done this all along. Long before Trump steamrolled his way through New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. Instead, Rubio pretty much ignored Trump the entire cycle, while Cruz tripped over himself to appease him.

Both Rubio and Cruz hung Rand Paul and Jeb Bush out to dry when they went out of their respective ways to attack Trump for being the fake conservative that he is. I suppose they figured they’d benefit by letting those two do the dirty work. Maybe they did, insofar as they’re the last two non-Trump candidates standing. But their decision not to participate in a united attack on Trump directly contributed to his rise. They should be ashamed of themselves for waiting this long. Now, Cruz and Rubio’s attacks look more like desperation than an honest rebuke of Trump; even though I do believe they were both earnest in what they said.

As I wrote after Trump’s decisive victory in the Nevada caucus, Republicans have to come to grips with the fact that Trump might just be the Republican nominee. And now that he’s received Chris Christie’s endorsement, I fear my contention that the Republican establishment will ultimately abide Trump fairly happily will be proven accurate. Yes, it’s true that Trump as the nominee will likely lead to some degree of fracturing within Republican circles. But not nearly to the extent that libertarians who want Trump to “blow up the GOP” hope, I fear.

In my view, with Trump at the helm, we’re in for a dark eight years, whether it comes in the form of him as president, or if it’s his good friend Hillary Clinton in charge. In fact, over at The Federalist, both David Harsanyi and Tom Nichols make what in my view are pretty persuasive arguments that Hillary as president would be better for the conservative cause than Trump. That’s honestly how bad things have gotten, and why I wish Rubio and Cruz didn’t, quite selfishly, wait this long to attack Trump in the way they did at the last debate.

While it’s still possible to stop Trump delegate-wise, it seems a less likely prospect everyday. I hope that if the Trump train has no breaks the GOP will fracture more than I think it will. I earnestly wish for my libertarian friends who think his ascendency will clear the way for a viable third party to be correct. But I just don’t see it. Our government isn’t built for multiple parties the way many European systems are. We will most likely, as I described it earlier this week, end up with two Democratic parties; one focused on big government identity politics for women and people of color, the other on big government for angry white working class men. Unfortunately, both Cruz and Rubio will share in the blame for this if it does in fact happen; which seems likelier with each passing day.

If Trump is Unstoppable, What Happens Next?

Originally published at Every Joe

It’s time for Republicans to dispense with the wishful thinking. For all the hype about Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, for all the breathless calls to narrow the field, Super Tuesday is in less than a week and Donald Trump is dominant. He has won three out of the four early contests by wide margins, and even though Cruz technically beat him in Iowa, he earned 8 delegates and Trump earned 7. Not exactly a huge difference there.

New Hampshire was a fluke, we told ourselves. It’s just that Trump appeals to Northeastern moderates given his New York City background. Cruz was able to hold Trump back, even if slightly in evangelical Iowa, so he should be able to do the same in South Carolina, right? And Rubio grew up in Nevada. Surely his connections there and his appeal to Latinos will help him, no? We were wrong. And I fear we will continue to be.

There are no more excuses to be made. No more hypotheticals to be formulated. Jeb Bush spent $150 million, failed to crack into the top three, and dropped out after the third contest. Rubio was endorsed by South Carolina’s Gov. Haley, Sen. Scott and Rep. Gowdy. Cruz is the self-described savior of evangelicals, many of whom populate South Carolina’s rural counties. Yet Trump blew both senators out of the water in a state where it was said they could hold him back.

Super Tuesday is around the corner and polling shows Trump, once again, dominating. He’s even close to giving Cruz a run for his money in his home state of Texas, where the near entirety of the state’s political machine backs him. We can no longer tell ourselves that the polls overestimate Trump’s support, that his backers aren’t motivated or that he has no ground game. Conventional wisdom has been tossed aside in nearly every possible fashion this cycle. It’s time to face the music.

We are staring at the very real possibility of a vulgar, narcissistic, Obamacare-loving, Planned Parenthood-supporting, anti-trade, conspiracy-peddling, authoritarian demagogue as the Republican nominee. Realistically, what happens next? Some grassroots libertarians and conservatives, though they disagree with Trump’s policies, believe the Republican Party brought this schadenfreude upon itself and welcome what they see as a necessary destructive force. I wish I agreed with this outlook because I could then convince myself that something good could arise from the ashes. But I just don’t see it that way.

Hours prior to the Nevada caucus, I wrote a piece at directed toward the libertarians who have embraced the aforementioned operation chaos theory. While I appreciate that they believe a fractured Republican Party could clear a path for much needed liberty leaders, I can’t imagine circumstances heading in that direction. Rather, I tend to believe that Trump would pull the Republican Party further to the left than its establishment already is and that it would stay there for the foreseeable future.

As I explained, “Donald Trump as president will not usher in some kind of radical change. He will govern as he’s running: A left-wing narcissist with a disturbing record of racist and misogynistic commentary … If Trump were to … become president, we would simply have two Democratic parties: One focused on big government and identity politics for people of color and women, the other, on big government and identity politics for angry, white working class men … Donald Trump would basically be Hillary Clinton with an even bigger ego. Not to mention Trump’s fringe white nationalist supporters, who mimic their leader’s penchant for insulting anyone who dares to dissent, would be emboldened.”

Perhaps it’s true, as Conor Friedersdorf wrote at The Atlantic, that a portion of the Republican base could mount a third party challenge to Trump if he’s the nominee. As he wrote, “It is hard to imagine any die-hard Bush loyalists supporting Trump after his attacks on Jeb and George. Indeed, it is easy to imagine them delighting in denying Trump the White House. Putting them altogether, that’s quite a diverse anti-Trump coalition.”

Added Friedersdorf, “If Trump wins, there will be a lot of establishment campaign professionals who’d benefit financially from a third-party challenge by a movement conservative (and who wouldn’t fear being branded disloyal for staffing one).” He also notes that this type of scenario might help down-ballot Republicans who would suffer if conservative voters stayed home absent a decent presidential choice.
But where exactly does that leave libertarians and conservatives who oppose both the welfare-warfare state mentality of the Bush era and Trump’s racially-animated left-wing economics? In my view, even further behind than we were in the darkness of the post-9/11 era. If our choices are Trump’s borderline fascist Republican Party and a Bush establishment alternative, that doesn’t exactly sound appealing. Some might argue that this fracturing leaves room for a Libertarian Party candidate to make a splash. Maybe? But I don’t think it’s likely.

In my view, this cycle has unfortunately proven that there’s little to no appetite for that message on a presidential scale right now. Trump sucked up nearly all of Rand Paul’s oxygen. What makes libertarians think the populace wants to listen to Gary Johnson talk about marijuana policy? We have Bernie Sanders for that. And frankly, evidence shows that a lot of left-libertarians, who care primarily about social and foreign policy issues, are already in his camp. When Sanders loses to Hillary, those types most likely won’t vote at all.

Call me crazy, but for a libertarian, I’m just not that much of a radical. I prefer watching Rand Paul and Justin Amash influence the Republican Party from the inside, working for change in an institutional context. I know that’s not sexy enough for people who want to wield torches and pitchforks, but I think there’s evidence that it’s working – even if the voting populace is busy embracing a demagogue on a presidential level. I fear that with Trump as the GOP nominee, Republicans will lose the Senate handily, and that even the House could be in jeopardy.

I just see very little good coming out of a Trump nomination, but we do have to start bracing for the reality. I hope my libertarians friends who think the chaos will ultimately help us are right that something good can come of this. But I tend to think Trump will do nothing but irreparably damage the Republican brand for decades to come, and we’ll get eight years of Hillary – likely without being able to retain our congressional majority; the one thing that would make her even vaguely tolerable as president. Nevertheless, it’s time to strap in and face the facts. The Trump train might have no brakes. And we’re in for a bumpy ride.