February 27, 2013


This video montage of people refusing to cooperate with DHS "requests" at non-border checkpoints has been popping up hither and yon lately:

The message is, I gather: that you're not actually obligated to obey the agents' directives and if you refuse to follow the them they have no choice but to wave you through; and that this is because they have no legal authority to detain you or force you to answer their questions, routine and silly though they may be. So the way to interpret "I need you to pull over into the secondary checkpoint area and get out of your car" is merely as an expression of a personal desire that is meant to sound like a lawful order, and an acceptable response to it is "no thanks, I'll just be on my way." And they have to let you go.

Is this true? Or is it just a case of these people in these particular instances being so difficult that that the agents wave them through to get them out of their hair? If the agents really wanted to, could they legally force these people into submission? (As in, like, "all right all right, I am an American citizen okay? Stop tasing me…") The cases depicted seem to indicate they can't, or don't, and it sure seems like they would if they could.

If it is true, the point of the checkpoint program, in essence, is expressly to attempt to trick people into "voluntarily" surrendering their rights. Actual law enforcement does that, too, of course, routinely, and with more serious potential consequences, apparently, to those who demur. Such trickery is legal, I know. But it seems crazy that we employ armed public servants and specifically empower them to try to trick us into giving up our rights. In my naive view of the way things should be, such public servants would respect, preserve, and defend the rights of the public rather than seek clever ways to violate them.

Anyway, here's hoping the "sequester" hits this asinine "are you a citizen?" interrogation program as hard as it hits puppies and rainbows and butterflies and pretty ribbons in your hair.

And I still wonder if the message of the video is actually true.

added: from what I can tell, this is the guy featured in the first few clips, and evidently this stunt doesn't always end so well:

A difference there, I guess, is that a dog allegedly alerted to something or other. And yeah, the guy is a bit of a nut, but that doesn't mean he's wrong to question the notion that everyone should be subject to random searches and interrogations for the mere act of traveling through the country.

The Fourth Amendment is so riddled with exceptions and work-arounds that it is hard to guess what it may or may not protect or prohibit. The answers can be surprising even to the cynic, as with these border control checkpoints that happen to be located a hundred miles from any border, or, say, New York City's stop-and-frisk "program." Indeed, the Fourth Amendment, in practice, seems more and more like a ceremonial atavism that doesn't appear to prohibit very much at all. I'd like it to have turned out that the theory propounded in that video (that people, despite appearances to the contrary, are in fact free to travel through this country "unmolested") was true, but it doesn't seem to be quite true enough. Still, it's nice to see some people, nuts though they may be, challenging it, though I'd never be dumb enough or bold enough to challenge it myself.

Posted by Dr. Frank at February 27, 2013 05:52 PM