Rep. Chris Stewart: End Federal Agency SWAT Teams
Many today speak of a deficit of trust between Americans and the federal government. And with good reason. Washington has not only done nothing to deserve trust, but has seemingly done everything possible to destroy it.
The simple reality is that Americans will never trust Washington until Washington trusts America. After all, who can trust a government that believes it is ok to lie to you, spy on you, target you and then arm its agencies against you?
Americans were disturbed by recent events between Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents and a renegade rancher in Nevada. A number of us worked strategically to diffuse a potentially deadly – and completely unnecessary – standoff in the desert. As the situation played out I was shocked by much of what took place and wondered aloud, “Why on earth does the BLM have a sniper team! Why are their agents trained in Special Tactics? After all, these are regulatory agencies NOT military units!”
And the BLM is not alone. Almost every regulatory agency now has a special law enforcement division with the capability to bully or intimidate the American people. A partial list of these units includes the IRS, EPA, National Park Service, Department of Education, and Food and Drug Administration. Think about that, the Department of Education has a special law enforcement division! Armed with such units and a distrust of the American people, these heavy-handed enforcement groups are all but certain to abuse their power at some point.
There is a reason that local sheriffs are elected. If they or their deputies abuse their authority, the people can seek redress. If the local authorities do not correct their own behavior, they can be replaced.
Consider the appropriateness of a Department of Education SWAT team that battered down a California father’s front door, placed him in handcuffs, isolated his three children then aggressively interrogated him; or the Food and Drug Administration law enforcement team which raided a family farm in Pennsylvania over the transportation of unpasteurized milk to a co-op of mothers in Washington D.C.
These examples of abuse, as along with countless others, are the reason I am leading the charge to defund paramilitary units for any regulatory agency.
I understand that federal agents must be capable of protecting themselves. But what we have observed here goes far beyond providing necessary protection. It is a demonstration of the federal government’s distrust of the American people, excessive concentration of power and an ability to intimidate us in ways that we never could have imagined just a few years ago.
We are witnessing the criminalization of America, where any one of us may find our front doors broken down and a SWAT team in camouflage standing in our living rooms. It is also why we may find ourselves under arrest for some innocent action that no reasonable person would think is illegal, like helping an injured bird, getting lost on a snowmobile on federal land, or shipping lobsters in plastic instead of cardboard boxes. And as absolutely absurd as these examples sound, they have all led to federal investigations of private citizens.
The militarization of agencies and the criminalization of trivial actions are only symptoms of a much deeper and more troubling problem within Washington.
The heart of the problem is that the federal government no longer trusts the American people. When all of us feel that we are no longer seen as citizens but as potential suspects – a relationship of trust is impossible.
Trust matters. And with the tremendous challenges we face as a nation and the difficult decisions we must make to preserve future opportunities for our children – trust matters more than ever. That is why I’m going to lead a sustained campaign to restore and build trust – beginning with my effort to defund paramilitary capabilities from federal agencies.
America will never trust Washington, until Washington trusts America! I trust America and will continue to work everyday to convince my colleagues in Congress to do the same. Vote by vote, law by law, regulation by regulation, agency by agency, we will rebuild trust in America – and reclaim our future as a nation.
Chris Stewart is a Member of Congress from Utah.