The "Ratchet Effect" in Real Time

What’s going on in America’s cities?

The Trump administration says that gangs and violent anarchists are out of control, and that governors and mayors aren’t doing enough to stop them. Accordingly, they’re sending in the feds, and we are witnessing Robert Higgs’s “Ratchet Effect” in real time. Federal Government is using the latest crisis to justify new incursions on our liberties.

Patrick Eddington, a research fellow in homeland security and civil liberties at the Cato Institute, says that the recent DHS action in Portland is an experiment on unwitting human test subjects. The preliminary results seem to have emboldened the administrative state to push forward with “Operation Legend” – an aggressive federal law enforcement action in cities across the country. President Trump says that an alphabet soup of agencies - led by the DOJ - has “no choice but to get involved.”

“The FBI, ATF, DEA, U.S. Marshals Service and Homeland Security will together be sending hundreds of skilled law enforcement officers to Chicago to help drive down violent crime,” said Trump on Wednesday, before Attorney General William Barr took to the podium to justify his deployment of anti-gang task forces engaged in everything from a ramped-up War on Drugs to counter-protests against Black Lives Matter and related groups.

Eddington positions this rhetoric squarely within the “American authoritarian tradition” – running through the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, Lincoln’s suspension of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War, Wilson’s Espionage Act, FDR’s Japanese internment, the HUAC… the list goes on.

Most disturbingly, we have seen the past two administrations suspend the Posse Comitatus Act - the 1878 Law preventing government from using soldiers to enforce ordinary law - in progressive increments. First, President Bush’s 2002 Homeland Security Act allowed the DHS to deploy federal agents to protect federal buildings. Next, Obama’s 2012 authorization of the National Defense Authorization Act redefined U.S. territory as a battlefield and legalized indefinite detainment of American citizens without access to a trial or attorney.

We now have DHS officials in military uniform taking American citizens into unmarked vans by without clear probable cause.

Leftist mayors and governors who now complain about the use of unconstitutional force against protestors in Portland were silent during the Obama years. Are the chickens coming home to roost?

Regardless, libertarians must be vigilant in standing against unconstitutional violations of due process and the separation of powers.