Good Riddance, George

by Dave Kopel and Paul Danish

May 1995. The Prologue (available free online)of Kopel's book No More Wacos: What's Wrong with Federal Law Enforcement and How to Fix It, details the violent law enforcement abuses at Ruby Ridge, under the George W. Bush administration.


George Bush resigned from the National Rifle Association in a huff last week. We're two NRA members delighted to say "good riddance."

Bush said he was resigning because the NRA had sent out a fund-raising letter referring to rogue agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms as "jack-booted government thugs."

"Your broadside against federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor, and it offends my concept of service to country," Bush wrote NRA President Tom Washington. "It indirectly slanders a wide array of government law enforcement officials, who are out there, day and night, laying their lives on the line for all of us."

Officials like the FBI sniper who shot and killed the unarmed Vicki Weaver as she was holding her baby during the siege at Ruby Ridge. Or the US Marshal who kicked the siege off by fatally shooting 14-year-old Sammy Weaver in the back as Sammy was running away.

Or like the 20 BATF agents who ransacked the home of gun show promoter Harry Lamplugh, a cancer patient, scattered his medications on the floor, waved machineguns in his face, seized money and jewelry from his wife and son, and stomped his kitten to death. But a year later, have failed to file any charges against him, or to return his property.

Or like the multi-agency federal "drug raiders" in California who killed Donald Scott in the dead of night. It later turned out the raid was based on deliberately fabricated evidence, because the federal government wanted to forfeit the victim's ranch.

Or Colorado's own DEA agent Mark Dietze, who got stinking drunk on duty and threatened to kill the owner of the Sedalia Grill because he refused to serve him any more liquor.

One would like to think that these cases are aberrations, but the truth is that in at least two Federal agencies--the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms--brutality and intimidation have become far too common.

Both agencies routinely stage no-knock searches, trash the homes of the people they search, brutalize and intimidate suspects, and seize the of cars, money, and even homes of people accused of crimes for which they are never subsequently charged, much less convicted.

It is sometimes forgotten that the tragedy at Waco began with a wholly unnecessary no-knock raid, which appears to have been staged solely in order to provide television action footage of BATF agents for Congressional budget hearings a few weeks later.

No-knock searches are supposed to be conducted only in cases where there is an imminent danger of evidence being destroyed or of the suspect responding violently if not taken by surprise. In the case of the Branch Davidians, it is unlikely that they would have been able to flush 102 assault rifles and a million rounds of ammunition down the toilet, especially since their compound didn't have plumbing. By the same token, David Koresh could have been quietly arrested during one of his routine solo jogs or shopping trips into town, if the safety of agents was the concern. Nonetheless, the BATF chose to conduct a full-dress military-style raid on the compound, even though those in charge knew that the suspect (and the 126 other people who lived there, and for whom there was no warrant) had been warned it was coming.

Likewise, even if California's Donald Scott had been growing marijuana plants concealed in trees on his property (he wasn't), he was hardly going to be able to run out the back door to his trees, grab the marijuana plants, run back inside, and flush them down the toilet while federal agents politely knocked at his front door for a daytime search. The night-time raid that led to Mr. Scott's death was a wholly unnecessary, but not untypical, example of gratuitous federal violence.

This sort of Federal behavior was not always the norm. The use of no-knock searches became a routine law enforcement tool during the Reagan Administration in which George Bush was vice-president, and intensified in Bush's administration when Bush ginned up the war on drugs while paying scant attention to Constitutional rights.

Although Bush didn't say so, the NRA's criticism of lawless federal law enforcement is indirect criticism of Bush himself. The killings of Donald Scott and the Weavers were perpetrated under the Bush administration. The Waco attack was perpetrated in the early weeks of the Clinton Presidency, but the planning took place under Bush.

George Bush's membership in the NRA was a cynical charade from the beginning. He only joined in 1988, shortly before his run for President, plunking down $500 to make himself an instant "life member." The $500 was a good investment for him, since the NRA made a six million dollar independent expenditure for him in the general election, turning what would have been a close race into a landslide, by providing Bush's margin of victory in states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Montana, and Maryland.

Bush had written a public letter in September 1988, declaring his opposition to banning guns, but the promise did not survive the first few weeks of the Presidency. The Bush administration not only banned the imports of dozens of types of semi-automatic rifles, it proposed a ban on magazines holding more than 15 rounds, offered to sign the Brady Bill and an extensive ban on semiautomatic firearms in exchange for passage of an administration crime bill with other civil liberties restrictions, and never exerted the slightest effort to help pro-gun forces win close Congressional votes.

While the Bush White House treated the NRA with contempt, and froze it out of gun policy discussions, Mr. Bush apparently felt himself wronged when the NRA refused to endorse him in 1992 (a fact which he forgets to mention in his self-righteous resignation letter).

Notably, President Bush proposed completely abolishing the exclusionary rule in all cases where a gun was found. In other words, no matter how flagrantly illegal and violent the police conduct, if a gun was found, the gun would be admitted in evidence. Such a law would, of course, be a green light for jack-booted attacks on gun-owners.

Fortunately, Congress rejected Bush's lawless proposal, but the Bush administration, through deliberate indifference, encouraged the growth and intensification of federal law enforcement violence to its current crisis state. President Clinton hasn't handled the problem very well, but the problem was one that he inherited, not one he created.

Back in 1989, after President Bush had shown that his pro-gun election promises were merely a scrap of paper, grassroots NRA activists in Texas started circulating petitions to have him expelled from the organization. In retrospect, the NRA leadership was wrong in squashing the petition. If federal law enforcement's reputation is suffering these days, it's not because of NRA fund-raising letters; it's because of George Bush's failure to uphold his Presidential oath to defend the Constitution.

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